Humans and Their Love/Hate Relationship with Science and Knowledge
Have you noticed lately that science and intelligent thinking have become items of contention with a certain crowd, to the point where some even refer to them as religions. A religion is of course a closed system of belief with the more fundamentalist sects having a strict focus to one ideal and a definite end. Science and knowledge are open-ended and have no goal other than revealing reality, wherever that leads. Therein appears to lie the rub with the anti-science, anti-knowledge crowd. Science and the knowledge it uncovers are welcome as long as they don’t disturb traditional views. But the age old battle between religion and science has diminished over the years only to be replaced with another opponent that finds science to its dislike as it impacts its realm – corporatism.
A conflict between corporations and scientific knowledge you may think would be an oxymoron. Science and the knowledge it obtains have allowed entrepreneurs to flourish commercially through the discovery of how things work and how such things can be employed to manufacture products for general consumption. This relationship has allowed the development of science to get a foothold over the traditional authority of religion as man’s ingenuity has shown that scientific discovery can fulfill the central basic desires of all humans and which is expressed as the main principle in capitalism – satisfying our self-interests.
Religion fulfills the spiritual self-interests of humans but it doesn’t directly impact our physical needs to sustain life. If we could all turn water into wine and a few loaves of bread into abundant supplies to feed thousands, some religions at least would look very different today and malnourishment rates around the world would disappear. So man’s ability to develop artifacts from the earth’s resources and generate an economic system that allows population growth and longer life have prompted an autonomy by humans away from religious authority and towards a social set of rules to govern us. Clearly religion has not faded from the scene and has recurrent periods of strong influence but it no longer rules the roost of human decision making.
In its place however has arisen another monolithic force to influence the general public’s view of life and has become equally restrictive in what it will and won’t allow to prevail in human thought as religion did centuries ago. Corporatism has evolved as the middle ages of the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries passed into the Renaissance era. Mercantilism became the economic system by which people began to provide for themselves as they left their indentured servant way of life. Mercantilism and the entrepreneur spirit it created developed and spread throughout Western European cultures first as people overthrew their Lords and Kings for a more democratic form of government. The principles of mercantilism became codified into what has become known as capitalism, detailed in Adam Smith’s tome, Wealth of Nations; the bible for corporate minded people the world over today.
As a power and a political force large multi-national corporations are able to influence the decision making process of so-called democracies to insure their survival. The legislative process in this country has been the laboratory for this relationship where very wealthy people in industry have peddled their ideas to men in politics as they keep their campaign coffers filled. Thus when certain threats to their economic well-being expose themselves, the captains of industry go after them with a vengeance that a mother bear has for her cubs with the aid and support of those who make the rules.
So comes the situation where the nexus between scientific knowledge and commercial enterprises that benefit from it are at odds with each other. The climate science that has slowly evolved over the last few decades has painted a view that warns us of impending doom do to actions we began two centuries ago. That action was the discovery and use of fossil fuels for running the commercial enterprises within our capitalistic economy. One of the downfalls of science is its true preciseness usually develops over long trial and error periods where cause and effect conditions can be confirmed.
The early warning signs that were emanating within the scientific community were small and nonthreatening as they began to form in 1960’s and 1970’s. But by the 1980’s it was becoming clear that discovering and sharing this knowledge with each other was not going to accomplish much if the public was going to be served with it. So, in 1988, when Dr. James Hansen, a conservative Republican went before the U.S. Congress and warned the Senators there that a threat he referred to as “global warming” was occurring at a rapid rate not seen before and was due to the use of increased rates of CO2 from spent fossil fuels gathering in the atmosphere, a flag had been raised that posed a challenge to the fossil fuel industries that produced all of our energy sources from coal, oil and natural gas.
It was becoming clear to the far-sighted views of those within these industries that this knowledge could threaten their existence as people became aware that it was ultimately threatening the existence of the human race. If this idea caught on by Joe Q. Public the fossil fuel industry would go the way of the horse and buggy as new ideas surged to take their place. This in fact was happening as new technologies in the field of solar panels and wind turbines were having success generating small amounts of kilowatt power, but their potential had yet been unleashed.
It apparently became clear to the industry thinkers that taking on an anti-science approach to stop this information would be viewed as hypocritical by the public. They may be dumb but they weren’t stupid. They were however self-centered, so if they could be convinced that the science was not only questionable but a plot by a perceived enemy to create a new world order, Big Oil and Big Coal could fight to live another few years, at least until their depleting resources ran out and they could walk away with their billions to see them through the hard times any effects of global warming would cause; or so they might have thought.
By creating the illusion that there was a legitimate scientific body out there disputing the real climate science along with exploiting the disdain many Americans had developed recently towards Liberals, the CEOs of Big Oil, Coal and Gas paid handsomely anyone in any scientific and broadcast field that exposed this so-called “hoax” to generate enough fear to counteract the science and knowledge used to build the very industry that profited from it. They had plenty of time to develop this ruse because the signs of global warming were not obvious to the casual observer. They also knew from previous experience using marketing techniques that the public could be easily convinced that their reality was only as secure as their shallow and uneducated minds could be convinced of after redundant and cleverly designed messages had been sent to them through media sources.
The basic science of climate change points out that as CO2, along with other green house gases (GHGs), accumulates in our atmosphere more and more heat is trapped, thus warming the earth. To a certain point this of course is a desired condition. Without a degree of warming we would all perish in mile deep glaciers. But this relative warmth can only be sustained when the levels of GHGs are within the narrow limits that nature has defined over the millennium.
Once these levels are even slightly tipped the sustainable conditions of life as we know it are negatively impacted. The climate science revealed that levels of CO2 in our atmosphere that exceed 350 ppm endanger the earth. We currently are experiencing 392ppm of CO2. The effects of this are massive ice melts impacting sea levels and temperatures that throw our hydrology system out of whack, creating both excessive flooding and droughts in different locales around the globe and at different times.
One of the arguments that the fossil fuel industry has generated with a naive public is that CO2s are part of the natural order of things. As was pointed out, we need a composition of them with other GHGs in the atmosphere to keep us warm. We also need CO2 to convert into oxygen through the process of photosynthesis in order to breathe and live. One of the climate denier proponents on the air waves, Glenn Beck, ridiculed the notion that CO2 poses a threat to us by inhaling and then exhaling to show how he had just created CO2. How in this simple logic could CO2 be life threatening Beck queried? The simple answer would have been to put a plastic bag over your head and repeat this experiment.
But a better response would have been to acknowledge that life as we know it depends on a delicate balance of our ecosystem. We need so much sun light and geological matter arranged in certain ways for the earth to exist in a manner where plants and animals can live. Clearly if this were a condition by which all planets were subject to we would we see similar earth-style planets not only in our solar system but in other galaxies. The fact that we are so unique as one of millions of objects in the vast space of the Universe may be attributed by some to archaic thinking where we were specially created by an unseen super power. But it is also conceivable too that we are what we are because we are in a position where all these delicate forces were able to combine. Any alteration of this balance can send us into a state not unlike what we see on other planets.
In fact we have undergone such changes over the millions of years earth has been around. Nature has altered long before homo sapiens arrived where we have gone from a planet covered with ice to one where the heat was so intense that many life forms today could not exist. The glacial and interglacial periods however occur very slowly and transitions back and forth over hundreds of thousands of years. We came out of our last glacial period, known as the Holocene, about 11,000 years ago and have been warming up ever since. Under normal conditions it would have gradually warmed until natural events again were set in motion to create unbearable cold climates.
This knowledge has also been subverted by the climate deniers who work for the fossil fuel industries. Pointing out that global warming is indeed natural and we need only adapt to it is messaged by every right wing pundit that hasn’t left earth completely thinking that there is no such things as global warming. But what is omitted is the science that points to a rapid rate of warming unseen before and strongly correlates to our use of fossil fuels beginning with the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700’s.
The power that corporations hold with their combined wealth has built a 21st century age not unlike the period where the religious authorities during the Inquisitions kept the general public in line through fear and information that was connected more to sustaining their authority and well-being than it was to reality and the needs of those who trusted them for guidance and truth. History always seems to repeat itself and millions die and suffer needlessly because our general resistance to accept new knowledge that overturns dated views we have been comfortable with acts as a stumbling block.
So it was and so it shall be based on where we are at today in terms of dealing with our understanding of knowledge that seeks to save us while simultaneously asking us to move beyond our comfort zones. The conflict is underscored by the efforts of corporatism defending its turf. Once again the general public has to come to grips with a force that seeks to preserve its own self-interest if we are to advance democracy and individual freedom to a higher level from where we found ourselves 300 hundred years ago.