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February 22, 2007

Mr. Crichton goes to Washington

I liked both the Parris and the Crichton articles. It is refreshing to read someone that isn't just throwing shame on all of us but rather stepping back to analyze popular belief. The arguement in the Parris article may be incomplete, but the logic is compelling.

Science is diluted when mixed with advocacy, especially political advocacy. Science becomes filtered and only catchy sound-bites are extracted. Facts (or stats - even catchier), are put through the spinner and become the popular talking points. When it comes to environmentalism this is all compounded by the fact that science has not yet encompassed all the complexity and nuance of our planet. How many systems are actually in place to keep our decadence in check?

This all is well illustrated by the issue of global warming. I am admittedly inconclusive about this issue, thanks mostly to Michael Crichton. Michael Crichton wrote a book called "State of Fear". It is a fiction novel, but Crichton did a lot of research and incorporated a lot of real facts. I only read certain sections in which he brought up evidence that gives reason to doubt global warming. One of the main points that I remember is how the calculation of the Earth's average temperature can easily yield any result one desires. Crichton inserts graphs of average temperatures of certain locations over large time spans (usually 100 years I think). Crichton shows a lot of extreme areas that were apparently used (yes, in the real world) for a widely distributed calculation of the change in the Earth’s average temperature. The impression is that the areas used for the calculation were selected deliberately rather than at random. Crichton shows data for many other regions that were not included in the calculation. Many of these even show a cooling trend. In the midwest for example, temperatures were all fairly flat. Most temperatures in this region have come nothing near as high as they were during the dust bowl. Climate trends are still largely mysterious. Using random samples from all across the globe doesn't always show a correlation with greenhouse gas measurements at Mauna Loa, but it could if you wanted it too.

This is not to say that I have no guilt when I drive my car that has no catalytic converter. I tend to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach when it comes to environmentalism. I recycle. I dispose of my motor oil correctly. I am worried. I have no doubt that we have the capacity to destroy the planet, but is our current lifestyle a real threat?

I would prefer it if we were all conscious of our relationship with the Earth, however unknowingly impactful we may be. What I don't want is to be scolded by a self-righteous hybrid driver that has done nothing more than to feed into the popular pseudoscientific conclusions about global warming (to be clear: hybrids are a good thing, but being smug about driving one isn’t). To these people, environmentalism is a religion. It gives them some meaning that they’re apparently missing as well as this obnoxious sense of self-righteousness.

Here's an excerpt from Crichton's book "State of Fear". It's called "Why Politicized Science is Dangerous". It shows parallels between global warming and the embarrassing theory of eugenics. Also check out excerpt #4 - author's message from the same site.

February 15, 2007


Environmentalism is based mostly on the science of ecology. Ecology is a branch of biology that deals with the relationships between organisms and the environment. Ecology recognizes that there is a delicate balance in any ecosystem. This balance can be easily disrupted and environmentalism is all about preserving this balance.

I personally feel that religion should mesh more easily with environmentalism than it seems to be. Ecology is a science, but not one so offensive to religion as evolution or a heliocentric model of the solar system. The religious environmentalists in Barcott's article say how we are the stewards of God's creations. God found value in his work and so should we.

One non-environmentalist in the article didn't like how environmentalism seems to imply that humans are like scabs on the Earth. I understand how this message can come across, but that is not how environmentalism should be viewed. Business-oriented conservatives like to accuse environmentalist as being anti-corporate. I think environmentalism at its core implies nothing other than that we need to take care of nature. It’s our responsibility and it’s necessary for the longevity of the human race and the planet as a whole.

For the most part Evangelical Christianity and conservative politics are allies. A lot of the resistance to environmentalism in the religious conservative community comes from fear of being associated with tree-hugging liberal hippies. I felt that the author was not being obtuse in using these words. It seemed that he was being satirical and plucking these words from the minds of the religious conservatives in order to show the reader how they view environmentalists. These strict varieties of Christians are especially large supporters of conservative politics, and politics still shapes to its constituents.

So it is easy to see why there is friction between environmentalism and conservative religions, but this friction is largely illogical.

The author walks the neutral line, but the environmentalist side seems more persuasive. Illyan, the llama guy, believes environmental stewardship won't even be a question in ten years. One commenter compares it to the toppling of bigotry, likely referring to the civil rights movement, which is now widely agreed to be a necessary aspect of our country.

Here's the official NRPE (National Religious Partnership for the Environment) website.

February 8, 2007

Faction of Nature

I like how Couturier makes the reader imagine our greatest metropolis as a conglomeration of human anthills. Skyscrapers are anthills - pillars of cooperative human efficiency. New York City is a sea of scurrying creatures, human and roach alike. The biggest of cities are just the human take on adapting to nature. Couturier after all does explain how everything we use comes from nature and is therefore natural. We are nature and everything we use comes from nature, even burning fossil fuels and the machinery they power were forged by particularly intelligent animals advancing their world.

Natural though it may be, we have created a new world. Our natural camp has estranged us from the wilderness. The roaches and mice and pigeons of Courtier's piece have all adapted to whatever extension of nature we might construct, but most of us are not so thrilled about the integration. We have grown fat off nature and many scavengers have grown fat off of us, but we don't usually accept these creatures into our lives. Roaches are still disgusting. We know we are one with nature, but we still seem to be trying to pry ourselves away. Maybe we're too proud.

Here's an article about a documentary on rats in NYC. It is predicted that there is a rat for every person in the city.

February 1, 2007

Annie Dillard likes nature, but maybe not steer or water bugs

Dillard has a carefree writing style. It never really goes anywhere that you would expect. When reading it I felt absorbed as she described things in ways I’ve noticed, but never put real thought to. Her observational skills are astounding. She can focus on the smallest thing in the greatest detail and relate it to you in a very poetic way, but it’s like she has plucked the imagery out of your own head.

I was not able to discern if she feels humanity is just an estranged part of nature, or if we have some kind of right to rule over it. Is nature just our playground that we have "so startlingly been set down on", or is our equal companion in our journey through time. She speaks of the steers' many uses without a hind of remorse. She feels no connection to them or to the water bug and she can't enjoy the nature of night. When it comes to frogs or falling birds or illuminated sycamore however, she sees the “beauty and grace? that we should try to be there for. Do things have value if we don’t label them as useful or pleasurable? Were the crueler things in nature created “in jest? or do we need to look at every facet of nature to see a manifestation of the grand scheme? Dillard’s stance on these questions is not apparent to me when reading this excerpt.

Here's the Wikipedia page about giant water bugs.