22 April 2009

So it's Earth Day...


So today marks something called Earth Day and as a blogger, I'm somehow expected to prattle on about saving the earth today. Well, I would if the earth indeed needed to be saved. 

The simple fact of the matter is that the earth doesn't need to be saved. The earth will continue spinning away as it circles the sun and so it will go until it meets a force strong enough to stop it. If this were about avoiding a collision with another planet I'd be all about saving the earth. But that's not what this is about. This is about preserving an earth fit for human habitation. For the life of me I'll never understand why, but that underlying motive never makes it into discussions about Earth Day. Ignoring self interest will doom a movement that has some real potential to bring about meaningful and lasting change and that's a shame.

Into the void left by an unspoken motive floods all manner of absurdity that culminates in a rejection of science and the scientific method. Odd, since science is the only means to identify a problem and the only valid way to prescribe a course of corrective action. 

It's an unarguable point that's it's better practice to use natural resources efficiently so that they'll last longer. Equally valid and unarguable is that the judicious use of limited natural resources saves money. Why then is it laudable to switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs to "save the earth," but making the same switch in order to save money is suspect? Why set a side a day to plant a tree in your front yard so you can "save the earth?" If that tree gets irrigated with potable water and fertilized with phosphorus and nitrogen that foul whatever waterway your street drains into, what' the point?

I was going to write something flippant and caustic for today so I went to Treehugger.com to gather some of their inflammatory rhetoric to pick apart. That site gets on my nerves in more ways than I can count, mostly because I agree with them in principle. It's their delivery, the environmentalist pose, that I can't bear. The occasional valid point made gets lost in a fog of irrationality and emotion and in the end they lose me. As a case in point, I came across an article by Jasmin Malik Chua there that I found particularly enraging, No Kidding, One in Three Children Fear Earth Apocalypse.
There's a new bogeyman lurking in the closet, and this one isn't imaginary. Us. One out of three children aged 6 to 11 fears that Ma Earth won't exist when they grow up, while more than half—56 percent—worry that the planet will be a blasted heath (or at least a very unpleasant place to live), according to a new survey.

Commissioned by Habitat Heroes and conducted by Opinion Research, the telephone survey polled a national sample of 500 American preteens—250 males and 250 females.
The results of that poll are reported as cold, hard fact by Chua and received as good news by most of the commenters. The idea being that children have a wisdom all of us corrupted adults lack. Please. As if these kids came up with these irrational fears on their own. These poor kids are parroting back the fuzzy-headed propaganda they hear from every quarter.

Congratulations to Treehugger, Earth First, the Animal Liberation Front and all of the rest of the nutjobs who set the agenda for what's now a mainstream movement. 25 years worth of emotion-led, irrational arguments have succeeded in scaring the crap out of a generation of kids. It's unnecessary and it's also dishonest. This does little to advance a goal of having people use resources more intelligently.

Not only that, you've set yourselves up for a backlash that gets played out every afternoon on such popular entertainments as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

Yes, the earth is getting warmer and what there is to do is minimize the coming changes and prepare for the changes that can't be avoided. Telling a generation that they have no hope for a future doesn't do that. In fact, it does the opposite. It encourages them to do nothing because all hope is lost. All the energy spent on fear mongering could just as easily have been spent on explaining scientific concepts and introducing them to a framework of critical thinking. But I suppose it's easier to manipulate than it is to educate and that seems to work on both sides of the aisle.

So on this Earth Day, and the 364 earth days that follow it, why not ignore the hype? When you see Gwenyth Paltrow start to move her pouty lips, turn off the TV. Rather than listening to Gwyneth or Madonna or Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly, whattya say you get your science from scientists and entertainment from entertainers?

As a species, we have a couple of situations that need to be addressed, sooner rather than later. These problems are by and large human-caused. The solutions will also be human-caused in the form of human endeavor, human technology and human science. It's in our best interest to adopt the behaviors suggested by the greatest minds in our time and it's OK to call self interest self interest. Be more efficient, be smarter, spend less money, think about the long term. Most important of all, elect politicians who are capable of thinking in the long term.

Earth Day? Eh. Being smarter and more rational every day? Sign me up.

7 comments:

  1. Tag you are it. Thanks for the nice comments and a provocative post. Yes, as a parent of four kids under 12, I can attest to the powerful fear of an environmental Amageddon. It's their generation's nuclear war with the USSR. While fear is powerful motivator in the short term, it doesnt result in smart strategic action. Lets hope that days like today do more than result in token gestures.(like the earthday cupcakes we made yesterday)

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  2. That's it exactly --this generation's nuclear armageddon. Thanks for checking in from Argentina.

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  3. You're the greatest and so is this post. I don't have a whole lot of hope for Americans to act on this issue thoughtfully using scientifically-based evidence. After all, this is a nation who would prefer a president with whom they feel they can sit down and have a beer as opposed to one that is a brilliant human being.

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  4. Thank you Melody. Watching the snake oil and pseudo science being peddled makes me want to lose hope too. Somewhere between the stupid notion that the technological clock needs to be set backwards and the equally stupid notion that there's no problem is a way out of this mess. A White House with a firm commitment to evidence-based science is a positive step.

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  5. Brilliant post! I just stumbled on this. Anyways, I agree with you on most fronts, but I'd be careful before I jump on the new light bulb bandwagon. Not only do they have mercury in them, which is already infecting waterways and fish, but they're made in China, which means the factory they're made in probably runs on dirty coal and the transportation probably isn't all that clean either. Wind power is another "new" thing I'm doubtful of, since the amount of songbirds and hawks it kills doesn't really offset the comparatively small amount of energy that is made, IMO. A lot of the "going green" stuff is shameless consumerism and/or fear and guilt-mongering, too. Thankfully, our school has turned it into more of a charity-supporting week than anything, but there's still those elements to it, which makes me less-than-enthusiastic about the whole affair.

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  6. Paul, WELL SAID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  7. NM, it's funny your should mention compact fluorescent light bulbs because that's what I'm writing about tomorrow. Thanks for the compliment and don't believe the hype about "dangerous" mercury levels in CFLs either. So please tune in tomorrow while I slay another dragon. Don't be afraid to take me task if you disagree though. Just be nice, remember I decide what end up on this site. Hah! But thanks for dropping by today.

    And Brenda, thank you.

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