What If They're Right, What Then?


There are few things good about becoming a senior citizen except that this is probably a good time to be nearing the station.

I do not envy those who will be living in 2050 or even 2040. I have a reasonable prospect of making it to 2030 and I'm not eager to see what that will bring.

Today there's a story in most of the papers. Big news. The ice caps, the glaciers and the sea ice are melting 60 per cent faster than they did in 1990. For years I've followed climate science quite closely but, as I read the latest report, all I could muster was a "so, so what? All we're seeing is what we've been warned for year after year that we would see. This is a story that merely proves that dire predictions past were accurate. 

Isn't the element of accuracy the real story behind today's headline? The science types got it right - again. They keep getting it right and, when they're wrong, it's almost always an underestimation. They sugar-coat it. They self-censor, sometimes to keep their political masters off their backs, sometimes to avoid demoralizing the public.

A climate scientist from the University of Hawaii created a stir among his peers by writing an op-ed that addressed a taboo subject, overpopulation, in the context of climate change. He had been born into a poor family in Colombia where he gained personal experience of food shortages and how  crises can plunge what had been civil societies into savagery. He added that, while many of his peers lauded his op-ed privately, they refused to speak out for fear of possible career consequences.

These science types aren't always right. There are exceptions but they're usually right. That's because their knowledge isn't belief based. It's not ideologically filtered. It's hard science - physics, geology, hydrology and oceanography, atmospherics, glaciology, botany and agronomy, biology.  These are sciences where experiments are easily chronicled, easily reviewed and challenged. You took physics in high school, right? 

Scientists don't know everything. There's a lot they don't know. We are in unprecedented times as far as the human experiment is concerned. That makes predictions a bit hazier. They know it and usually allow for that. That explains why their conclusions are often understated. 

Justin Trudeau promised, in 2015, that his government would "follow the science," a pledge now shared by president Joe Biden. That's a promise easier said than kept. How do you get the voting public onside? Look how much trouble we're having with face masks and social distancing in the midst of a worsening pandemic. Even those in high office, our leaders, imagine it's okay for them to quietly fly off to holiday in other countries, assuming they'll never be found out. 

What if they're right?  The smart money would bet that they're right - because they've got a solid track record of being right. The safer bet, however, is that we'll ignore their science, their warnings. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I do get the sense, Mound, that there is little evidence that our collective egos will ever admit to the reality that we are not top dog and masters of nature and the universe. Thinking that way has led us to our dire predicaments; we seem fated for only more of the same in the time ahead.

    BTW, I deleted the earlier comment due to one of my frequent failures to carefully proofread.

  3. We've made almost godlike advances. In the span of just one lifetime we went from the development of heavier than air flight to landing humans on the moon and bringing them back safely. We eradicated smallpox and provided mass protection against all manner of poxes and contagions from measles, mumps and polio to hepatitis. This came in the wake of millennia of lichen-speed progress. Per capita GDP soared and we saw no end to what we could achieve.

    We were too busy growing and spreading and advancing to pay much heed to the realities that are now pushing back. We never did figure out what to do with a painfully finite planet, our one and only biosphere. We ignored the limits of our specie's footprint as we pushed other life out of their natural habitat, sometimes to extinction. It seemed preposterous that the singular, dominant species could be brought low by some of the smallest - pollinators. Without the natural community, we were finished.

    As the fire alarms blared, we stayed in our legislatures, our offices, our factories heedless of them. One decade, two decades, three decades of increasingly dire warnings went unheeded. We put our efforts instead into denial and we kept on edging to the abyss.

    Eventually, almost too late, we claimed to get it. We declared emergencies. Then we went back to business as usual. By then the mortal threat we faced thirty or forty years ago had grown almost immeasurably. Our resolve to meet the challenge never matched the pace of the peril itself. I expect it never will and this is one contest for which there is no second prize.

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