Most Thankful

I saw an incredible sunset yesterday, occurring as the weather was changing and the low clouds were clearing far to the west, allowing the sun to accent the dark gray with bright orange.

I've heard songs that moved me and continue to stir emotions even on hearing recordings many times over. I have wonderful friends whom I care about and who care about me. I have food and shelter better than what kings had 300 years ago. I live in a world where clean water runs from taps on demand. Reliably. Every single day.

But I also live in a world where one man can kill another and be exempt from facing a jury of his peers. A world where many many people live without the shelter and food, security and friendship that I often take for granted. Where the richest people extort the poorest. Where we are changing the world's climate for the worse and, collectively, ignoring it. And we are poisoning our water supplies so we can have more fuel to burn.

I watched it grow this way. Coming of age in the late 1980's, I embraced the flashy world of limitless riches. I foolishly thought Jimmy Carter and his ilk were fools for being such a failure in the face of the anti-environment, pro-business world of Ronald Reagan. As I grew I knew something was amiss, but I did like everyone else did: I had a good job. I drove to work each day. I bought lots of stuff.

But now it's really starting to look bleak—the end of the party is at hand. We have tremendous social inertia to continue to get high-paying jobs, drive to work each day, and buy lots of stuff. But all that excess is from checks cashed from the Earth. As climate change wreaks havoc on our crops, the last survivors will surely be the genetically modified purebreds of the giant corporations. And when they fail, there won't be enough seeds of adaptable varieties remaining to save us. And as we continue to drill wells that pollute the huge aquifers and lakes we get our drinking water from, again it will be the giant corporations surviving last—selling water at prices that would make an oil-baron blush. But when they fail, there won't be any way to get clean water.

"But technology will save us!" Yeah … up to a point.

We'll make electric cars that let us keep the exact same standard of living—but at all new expenses of obtaining elements like lithium through mountaintop mining … perhaps we can grind down Everest. And we'll keep making more and more that will keep the economy chugging along full-throttle ensuring more money and more jobs (well, more money at least, as technology makes more workers obsolete and the money flows into fewer and fewer hands.)

But making food out of nothing?: can't be done. Clean water from dirty water?: very expensive and very energy-intensive (only exacerbating the problem.)

The wisest, smartest people have spoken, and the message is: stop. Stop using more energy. Stop making more stuff. Stop driving everywhere. Stop flying everywhere. Stop polluting water. Stop polluting the air.

But that message isn't as alluring as a flashy world of limitless riches. So this is the start of a very long, very dark time—for humankind, especially.

Fortunately for me, I never wanted children of my own. In 2008 I had a vasectomy and made that decision permanent. I consider myself lucky that I will never have to watch as my children suffer an awful world.

I am so thankful.

Comfort Zone

I managed to get to the Little early enough to get a ticket to see Comfort Zone before it sold out — its solitary screening (for now). It centers around how climate change will affect Rochester. It was made by local filmmakers Dave Danesh, Sean Donnelly, and Kate Kressmann-Kehoe: all are concerned, but each have different perspectives, and their on-camera discussions help us understand where they are coming from.

I thought the film was brutally honest and pulled no punches. I presume the filmmakers used reliable sources — after all it's only pseudo scientists who refute climate change altogether, and only a tiny percentage of legitimate climatologists don't believe it is caused by human CO2 production. In other words, it's peer-reviewed, proven theory that the excessive carbon dioxide produced from the burning of fossil fuels is causing a dramatic change in climate.

The climate of upstate New York will change over the next 50 years to be more like what it is today somewhere between South Carolina and Alabama, depending on how well we change out habits as a species. And that's only if a cataclysmic tipping point is not tripped — one that, say, changes the oceans so they no longer absorb as much CO2, or if the melting permafrost releases it's sequestered methane and, well, snowballs the whole greenhouse effect totally out of control. But assuming we don't have a cataclysmic disaster on our hands, we can expect changes in this area.

For instance, elm trees well all likely die since freezing temperatures over winter help them fight certain kinds of diseases — once hard freezes over winter are gone, so go the elm. Likewise, apples won't produce nearly a much fruit and lilacs will flower less. Numerous plant and animal species will disappear or go extinct entirely. Things are changing; they always change, but this is a lot.

The film, in a way, projects a bleak view of what's to come. But the focus is really on what can be done now to make things less worse, and given the predicted climate change, what is to come and how we should adapt.

Thoughts on Complicated Issues

Dealing with complicated issues is a complicated issue. I find that it is impossible for a non-expert to rationally debate a complicated issue. Instead, it all comes down to belief.

Take global warming, for instance. There are people in the world who have spent their lives studying this: climatologists. As scientists (the real climatologists anyway) they posit a theory, test it against empirical evidence, publish the results, and let their peers (other real climatologists) analyze, critique, and collectively approve or reject it. The Wikipedia article references a separate page that cites hundreds of scientific organizations who collectively agree that the world is warming overall, the climatological system is changing, and that these changes are attributable to human activities. More conclusive, though, is that aside from four groups who stand by non-committal statements, "no scientific body of national or international standing has maintained a dissenting opinion" (the last was the American Association of Petroleum Geologists who updated their stance in 2007 with a non-committal statement.)

However, I am not a climatologist by any means. As such, I'm left to judge by belief alone: I believe that climatologists have studied this issue and agreed that humans are causing climate change, and that these climatologists do not have sufficient ulterior motives to lie. I don't think it's possible to predict exactly how these changes will manifest themselves, but as a believer that humans are well-suited to the current climatological situation, I can't see any change being likely to give advantage to us — almost all climatological changes will be unpleasant to our situation.

Some people choose instead to believe what they hear through the media, or from someone they respect (regardless of their true expertise as a climatologist), or from a celebrity or public figure, or from their personal experience, or from their non-climatological-expert analysis. Some believe much more strongly in the predictions than the assessment. But in all those differences, people are trying to debate with insufficient information. Belief is irrational and can't be debated: all that can be done is to explain one's rationale and listen to another's rationale and decide for yourself whether you want to change your mind.

Health care, on the other hand, has three sets of experts: one for the health facet, one for the money facet, and one for the moral facet: I have not encountered rigorous scientific analysis from any group, nor on the system as a whole. Doctors (while their medical practice is scientifically based) can only say that most people will live a comfortable life and may need temporary corrective care to maintain that, that any corrective effort is exponentially less severe the earlier it is started, and that a few people will require more constant care to permit a comfortable existence. Insurance companies and nations with nationalized health systems provide data indicating cost; as best I can tell, any system has approximately the same cost across its whole population. Finally, philosophers can provide the moral facet by asking, "is health valuable?" The answer transcends the other two groups as doctors' Hippocratic oath implicitly declares it so, and it is certainly a lucrative proposition as no parent would keep any wealth or a specific possession in preference to their child's life and health.

Without the benefit of a quality analysis, we are left to muddle through argument without full knowledge, again leaning on belief. Do we have more faith in government or corporations (as if they are different masters)? Should we help strangers? Will people we don't know exploit our generosity? Would we be willing to watch our own child die? Would we wish that on someone else?

My point of this exercise is to say that we all select where we get our knowledge and we use our beliefs to decide which knowledge informs our decisions. Implicit in that statement is my own belief that rational, reasoned discourse is the superior form of changing opinions.

Bob Spahn Talks About Climate Change and Bird Migration at Thursday Thinkers

I went to The Rochester Public Library (115 South Ave.) to check out the Thursday Thinkers lecture: Bob Spahn was to talk about The Earlier Springs, Later Falls in terms of whether birds are extending their migratory stay in the north owing to a warming climate. He rephrased the question: "do we have bird record data to show changes in arrival dates indicating warming climates?" and to that he said no.

He examined the data from several regional ornithological groups' records of arrival dates of birds in New York State but found no statistically significant difference in dates over 25 years of records. At first I wasn't satisfied with his analysis, but as the lecture continued, I realized it was the data that was the culprit. He mentioned that when you set out to analyze data, you need to carefully specify how to collect the data so it's relevant and useful.

The idea behind the data collection in New York State was to determine the number of each species of bird. As such, there were also notes of the first recorded sightings of each species. Additionally, the state is divided into 5-mile-by-5-mile regions for analysis. The criteria for observation seems specific, but even as Spahn noted: he recorded data for one region for several years until someone else took over and there was a huge disparity between their reports.

An alternative question to ask is, "is there a correlation between bird arrival dates and climate temperature?" The answer is "probably not". Spahn said that it's believed that bird migration is dictated by light levels. According to the WikiPedia article on bird migration, the purpose of migration is believed to do with the longer days in northern climates in the summer (i.e. more hours of daylight than the tropics) providing more hours to feed their young. Thus, even if there were climate change, it would likely not be shown in bird migration.