Mother Nature doesn’t care if you believe in science or not

It seems to be fashionable these days for people to pick and choose among scientific theories and advice, depending on whether they like the implications of that scientific advice. They may treat one scientific theory like the gospel and another theory like a hoax, to be ignored at all costs. It’s called the post-truth world: whatever we want to believe to be true is true and whatever is troublesome to be taken seriously is not true. How is this working out for you?!

As convenient as this is for personal and political decision making, presumably students are still taught and tested on established scientific principles. And while I can identify with not knowing the answer to every question on a science test, it never crossed my mind to just dismiss the question as wrong if I couldn’t get the answer. Maybe too difficult to understand without having done enough studying, but not wrong. I guess that’s because I was pre-post-truth!

There is no doubt that for many people these days, including, sadly, some powerful political leaders, the economic, social, and/or political expediency of denying and even disparaging the findings of science wins out with depressing frequency. This is our post-truth world.

The work of scientists is to try to understand the structure and behaviour of our physical and natural world – aka Mother Nature. Much of the work scientists undertake in furthering our understanding of our physical and natural world is for the betterment of mankind. How to predict hurricanes and earthquakes with more accuracy in order to save more lives. How to develop medicines and vaccines to treat an increasing number of new viruses. How to cure cancer. You get the picture.

Scientists rarely discover a theory that won’t eventually be improved upon as more observations are made, that’s the nature of science. But they are working with the best possible knowledge at the time. For example, although bacteria was first “discovered” in 1676 by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, using a very early version of a microscope, it wasn’t until 1928 – 250 years later – that Alexander Fleming made the serendipitous “discovery” of penicillin, our first large-scale successful anti-bacteria treatment. I put the word “discover” in quotes because the bacteria was always there, we just didn’t know about it. In fact, there is evidence that bacteria has been around for as long as 3.5 billion years. And penicillin was already there, too, waiting for humans to notice.

Since the advent of antibiotics, less than 100 years ago, scientists have learned many, many things, but there’s always more to uncover and understand. And understanding something is just the first step in solving whatever challenges this new understanding might pose to humans. Scientific knowledge evolves, that’s how it works. But we ignore what we do know at our peril.

In the 1850s there was a terrible outbreak of cholera in the heart of London. Nobody knew what caused it. People had all kinds of theories and treatments, based on superstitions and gossip. People were dying in droves. It took one pharmacist to make the connection between the filthy water people used at the public wells and the disease for the cholera epidemic to be brought under control. Before then, nobody had understood that there could be a problem with using water contaminated by sewage and rubbish. Believe it or not. And not everyone bought into the idea of not using the water they had always used, just because some know-it-all said so. Those people kept dying. That’s less than 200 years ago. It would appear that we’ve been fighting every step forward.

We’ve cleaned up lots of things. The big cities that used to burn coal finally realized (or admitted) that people were dying from breathing in the particle-laden dirty air and stopped allowing it to be burned in home furnaces and fireplaces. That was only in the 1960s. Did that finally happen because you could actually see the coal particles on your clothes and skin, as opposed to carbon exhaust from automobiles and heating plants, where the haze hanging over the cities now is somehow less obvious?

We finally acknowledged that cigarette smoking killed people (duh), after decades of having been told so by scientists. And, lo and behold, after 20+ years nobody can imagine having to go into a restaurant or airplane and be overcome by second-hand smoke. But we all did, for decades, until finally public interest won out over profit. The tobacco lobby was very powerful, as have been the oil and gas industries. But we continue to hesitate to follow the science – and our own common sense – at our peril and to the peril of our planet.

More extreme weather events can be expected. The horrific wildfires in the western U.S. are symptomatic of climate change, as were the horrific wildfires in Australia last year and the unprecedented wildfires in Siberia and other parts of the Arctic. The weather in these places has been hotter and drier than anything on record. The fires are not because of poor forest management. You can believe that – it’s your right – but that’s not going to change the march of man-made climate change. Sorry, but things will undoubtedly only get worse as climate change advances.

More pandemics can be expected. Sorry to burst your bubble, but this is caused by another outcome of human interference with nature: destruction of wildlife habitats. We have been destroying them through carbon emissions that are responsible for the melting polar ice (polar bear habitats, etc.), but also by cutting down huge swaths of tropical and sub-tropical forests in order to plant non-native single-species crops, primarily for the first-world consumer market. It’s not that this revenue is not vital to the local economies, but an unintended outcome is that as wildlife habitat is lost the wildlife starts competing with humans for the limited remaining space, and their viruses spread. This isn’t going to stop with COVID-19. You can believe it’s a hoax – that’s your right – but believing that will not make it disappear. Believing that it’s a Chinese plot won’t make it go away either.

More extinction of animals can be expected. Scientists estimate that animals are going extinct at a rate that is 1,000 to10,000 higher than the “background” rate one would expect from historical extinction rates. Wrap your head around that figure. And by the end of this century, large mammals such as the elephant, tigers, rhinos, and polar bears could no longer roam our planet, thanks to us. Thanks to man-made climate change, wildlife habitat destruction, and illegal poaching. I weep.

Attending to the destruction we have wrought on our planet and attending to the gross inequalities around the world is what we need. Desperately. Now. And that requires countries around the world working cooperatively and collaboratively to solve what are world problems. That requires world organizations to be accountable and to know they are supported. That requires international agreements to be respected and protected. That requires us all to understand that we have to be in this together. Why are we going in the opposite direction??!

Mother Nature doesn’t care if we listen to our scientists. Mother Nature doesn’t care if we get it right or wrong. The natural world will just keep responding to the harm we’re causing it as best it can. And if we cause our own complete destruction, which we just might, nature will pick up the pieces and do just fine without us. Sad but true. Believe it or not. Truth or post-truth.

 

Image credits: cbc.ca, bbc.com

This entry was posted in Climate change, History and Politics, Social justice Saturday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Mother Nature doesn’t care if you believe in science or not

  1. Roy McCarthy says:

    Great piece Jane – lucid, perceptive, scary. Now can I go back to pretending it’s not happening?

  2. It’s a tragic situation. What will it take to make politicians, corporations, and those in power start working for the betterment of our planet instead of their own personal interests. It makes me weep too.

  3. I remember being a kid at the doctors back in the 70’s and 80’s and the doctors would smoke in their offices with their doors open. I was an asthmatic but that didn’t matter to them. So much nicer now to go into buildings without second smoke everywhere.

    I am so sadden by the fires. Just can’t watch the news anymore. There are also fires deliberately being set as well that are so frightening to me. When everything is so dry from no rain why would anyone do that. I have seen some horrible footage of people deliberately starting fires where people have died in those buildings.I just don’t understand any of it.

    Here in our neighborhood there was a fire that started in our alley on a really windy day. They don’t know how it started but it is looking like it was deliberate. Lots of fires this summer in our city. We were so lucky because the vine that caught on fire connects and grows on three houses with our house being one of them. The wind was blowing away from the most dangerous corner to burn, which is where our neighbors store building supplies for their cabinetry business they do from home. If that would have burned down then it would have gotten to our roof and house. Our house could have burned down. What a day for someone to start a fire, so windy. And what a place to start it because that vine connected three homes to burn down. We were all lucky. I will share photos in my monthly update.

    We also had a drive by shooting, a couple in fact, in our normally quiet and peaceful neighborhood. My daughter was so frightened for two weeks when the “Peaceful” protest started because someone kept driving down our street playing that song from the movie The Purge. Then my husband found a bullet in the middle of the street when he was taking out some garbage.
    At the little park in our neighborhood where our kids used to play when little, there was a young man slashing tires on vehicles. When he was confronted he tried to attack the guy with the knife he had but the other man was able to restrain him until the cops came when another witness called the cops.

    Up north in the small town where Our Little Red House is there were several witnesses to vans dropping off people at campsites going around being loud and trying to stir up things with other campers. This was during a holiday when the campsites were full of people from the city.

    They trouble makers were eventually kicked out and some ran off when they realized a lot of out door types have protection on them. These are not just stories and gossip. We are witnessing some of these things as well as getting reports from friends up north. Now days, this is the only way we can get our news most of the time. It is so frightening.

    I hate what is happening, so disgusting. We are not kind to our planet, nor to each other and this is what happens. I wish things would turn around and people would start caring more for not only this beautiful planet we live on, but also the animals, as well as each other. I watched a doc about the Polar bears, it made me cry. I couldn’t watch the whole thing. It has been a rough summer that’s for sure. Please stay safe, you and your family.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh, LRH, all of this is just unbearable to read. Aside from what nature is contributing to the tragedies (exacerbated by our role in climate change), it sounds like large parts of the US are becoming armed camps. This is just too frightful for words. It almost makes the thick secondhand smoke we used to suffer through seem like nothing. I’m so sorry to read your horrifying report. Gosh, you stay safe as well. We’re in a far more peaceful place.

      One of my worst smoke memories were flying, when the smoking section was always in the front part of the cabin and then the rest was non-smoking, with no barrier whatsoever. It was terrible, especially if you were immediately behind all the smokers. What a strange species we humans are!

      • I remember those days of flying with second hand smoke and you are right, it was awful. This past week it has been eerily quiet all of a sudden in our neighborhood in the city. My daughter said it reminds her of being up north in the woods when we are up there with nature. Very unusual in a city. We all are wondering where all the sirens and city noises went.

        I heard there is a big protest planned in Washington D.C and a lot of street people are being bused in. I don’t know what the truth is anymore, what is all conspiracy, or what is going on. All I can do it report and write to what I am seeing and hearing with my own eyes and ears. And this week, we are all experiencing a creepy quiet, like right before a bad storm hits, like a tornado.

        I normally don’t get creeped out so much that I decide to miss my late nighttime swims. Walking outside in the pitch black to jump into the pool and not hearing noises of a city life made we walk back into my home and lock the door behind me. I normally don’t lock the back garden doors. Now I am.

        I fear my country is in a battle that is so bad it will hurt so many people if my fears are correct. I know this whole country feels it right now. We are all afraid of what this election could turn into. Our family may have no choice but to head up north away from the city. It is a hard decision because the wooded areas can be dangerous in times of civil unrest with how dry everything is from no rain. There are people who are angry and sometimes it is lightening from dry storms that cause the wildfires but sometimes it is someone evil and sinister trying to create chaos and pain for others.

        Up north, lots of strangers have moved into the woods surrounding the valley our place is. Young men in groups of three that stand out as strangers, this I have witnessed myself. It is all very unsettling. I can only pray and hope that things start turning around and we can have some peace.

        • Jane Fritz says:

          OMG, LRH, you’re unnerving me and I’m not even on that side of the border. And you live in the state that was so well represented by John McCain and Gabby Giffords. I can’t believe people really want to live with this level of fear and hatred. Time for goodness and kindness to prevail.

  4. Right on, Jane. So glad to you mentioned all species and their survival. Chinese plot indeed! – Marty

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Marty. What we’re allowing to happen to the planet is shameful. Recognizing that the issues exist and assigning false blame rather than addressing the issues is a complete failure of responsibility and leadership.

  5. AMWatson207 says:

    Well said. Our conceit as a species is that we’re an ascendant species. So we cut down rain forests to graze cattle so we can have dollar cheeseburgers. Hello! You’re not supposed to be able to buy a cheeseburger for a dollar. The post-truth guys keep denying climate change though, because it’s in their financial interests to push franchise lifestyle.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Boy, you’ve got it, AM. It’s astounding how money, and political expediency (and lobbying/money) and short-term self-interest win out over responsible action. Coordinated responsible action. We’re failing our species.

  6. Epi B says:

    Post truth. That sounds like a clever thing a teenager might say to its parents when faced with an inconvenient reality. But it’s actually a thing. Post truth is the truth. Gee wizz…

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I know. Isn’t it astounding? We read about it and discussed in our philosophy group last year and I felt the same way. But as utterly depressing as it is to contemplate, it explains, for example, the two alternate universes of Fox News viewers and MSNBC viewers. 😥

  7. Kristel says:

    I weep too.

  8. Hear, hear! In fact, hear, hear, hear! You laid it right on the line. When will we, as a country, learn? Very, very discouraging. In our personal lives, Clif and I are trying to live lightly and use as little fossil fuel as possible. Not always easy as it often crimps what we would like to do. But climate change isn’t exactly a walk in the park, either, is it?

  9. Reblogged this on Musings and Wonderings and commented:
    Excellent article mirroring my thoughts of Nature and it’s recuperative power without us!
    Thanks Jane for a hard hitting, well written article.

  10. Very solid and relevant stuff Jane

  11. Jill davies says:

    Hard hitting reality, Jane, and very appropriate. Thank you, again

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