07 September 2014

"Yesterday I Couldn't Say 'Scientific Illiterate' ... Today I Are One"

My father, born in the 1920s, was raised in a desperately poor family and had to drop out of school in grade 8 to take a $7 per week job. A few years later, he moved up to sales and started making a better living. He used to recount the day that a few other salesmen confronted him in a diner. "Jack," they said, "if you're going to make it in the world of sales, you need to shine your shoes and start talking better."

From then on, he shined his shoes regularly and (before I was born) read a dictionary every day to improve his vocabulary. He read newspapers and watched and listened to the news. He was well read and quite smart -- if a little too opinionated (now you know where I get it from).

So perhaps it's understandable that my dad wasn't a big fan of school. Sure, we had to do our homework and graduate from high school, but beyond that, he didn't hold the education system in high regard. He was a "self-made man." 

"Yesterday I couldn't spell teechur and today I are one," he used to tease. So you can imagine the ribbing that began when I actually became a teacher. It ended, however, when I spoke up and challenged him (at his favourite pub, in front of all his drinking buddies, after he'd started pontificating about how overpaid and underworked teachers are) to spend two weeks in my class with me -- and still believe that I wasn't earning my salary. He never took me up on that challenge, but he sure shut up about it, at least when I was around.

But I'm at the point now where I'm starting to feel furious at the (North American) education system. I cannot believe the scientific illiterates we're turning out ... the graduates who can't think logically, or critically, or even creatively. It's like they can't think at all. And then there are the bullies (probably sociopaths by now) who make it all the way through school still not able to find it in their hearts to think about others in the world. (And the apathetics ... let's not even go there.)

Yes, I'm talking about climate change deniers -- again. Apparently they haven't gone away. Or read up. Or crawled back into their heartless holes. Why aren't they embarrassed? (I guess they don't know what they don't know -- and don't care.) How can they be so illogical? (I suppose the social media echo chamber makes it more than possible to believe unreasoned, unjustifiable, groundless, unfounded, incorrect, erroneous, invalid, spurious, faulty, flawed, fallacious and unscientific drivel because it's repeated over and over again.)

Where is their shame? How can they close their eyes and their hearts to all the people around the world who are already being impacted by climate crises? (Maybe we threw the baby out with the bath water when we turned away from religion. Or maybe it's the fault of Faux TV-style media outlets, which have been tasked with creating a whole populace that doesn't give a flying leap about others.)

In the interests of taking back scientific literacy, truth and compassion, here are some of the latest egregious examples of the BS flying around the internet ether.

Randall S poses: "What is Carbon? Black soot? It's carbon dioxide, a colourless, odourless gas necessary for life on earth and beneficial to plants at levels 4X current levels. In fact, you could say we are in the midst of a global atmospheric CARBON DIOXIDE DEFICIT." (Sure, Randall, we're pumping out 90 million tons of CO2 every day, but we're in a carbon dioxide deficit. That makes a lot of sense. And yes, black soot is carbon, too, and happens to be the second worst cause of global warming.)

Paul c-o's shares a quote from "Geologist Leighton Steward": "There is not a single professor of chemistry that I have come across that can give one single example of carbon dioxide being a pollutant." (Oh, I'm sure geologist Steward hangs out with all sorts of chemistry professors. And oh, let's just check out Steward's credentials, shall we? He's the spokesman for the denial front group Plants Need CO2 (as though those concerned about climate change ever said that plants don't need CO2), and is affiliated with oil and gas companies (he's a retired energy industry executive and is still sitting on fossil fuel energy boards). But I'm sure that hasn't coloured his understanding of global warming at all.) 

(BTW, the definition of pollution is: "the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance or thing that has harmful or poisonous effects." When too much CO2 is introduced into the atmosphere or the oceans, harmful effects arise. Ergo, we have turned CO2 into a pollutant.)

bluecougareyes is feeling all smart with his contribution to the discussion (and look, so nicely laid out): 

"Warming and cooling come and go over 100's of Millions of year.


Earth’s temperature is always changing.


CO2 levels will change with or without human contributions.


There is no one “right” temperature.


(I should have guessed that scientific illiterates might be historically illiterate, as well. Are you listening up, teachers? The reason we have over 7 billion human beings on this planet is that the stable climate -- the "one 'right' temperature" -- of the last 10,000 years or so allowed agriculture to proliferate. We've become a species dependent on agriculture and agriculture depends on a stable climate ... something we've said goodbye to. Hello, heat waves, droughts and floods. Hello, crop failures, higher food prices, conflicts and revolts, and famines.)

I could go on and on (but it's a beautiful day here). Practically everywhere one goes on the internet, the comments sections are filled with diatribes and misfacts and downright made-up stuff from scientifically illiterate armchair pundits. I'm starting to think that it's not the doom and gloom of our climate reality that's getting me down these days (there's actually some good news on that front), but the free-for-all democratization* of commentary, even for those who don't know what the hell they're talking about. Forgive them, Climate, for they know not what they don't know.

Teachers, any chance we could teach some climate science and thinking skills in school this year?

p.s. If you'd like to hear about the science of climate change from actual climate scientists, have a look at 97 Hours of Consensus.

* Democratization of the Comments section just when the United States has been officially designated an oligarchy. Kind of ironic, eh? But that's for another post.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?