Monday, April 2, 2012

2 April 2012 Scientists discover source of fossils

          This Toles cartoon appeared in this morning’s Washington Post.
I write this commentary at the beginning of April 2012, at the end of one of the warmest winters I can recall.
          It is technically spring, early spring if one goes by the astronomical markers that govern the solar year that determines the life cycles of plants and animals on this 3rd planet outward from our sun.  The plants seem greatly confused.  We reside at the altitude of 1804 feet, 550 meters. Our latitude is North 36.12.  This location has normally recorded snowfall and hard freezes as late as 17 April.  We would expect the floral indications of spring’s arrival about 2 weeks later than residents at similar latitude but 0 meters of altitude.  During our first spring residing here, we did, indeed, have a hard freeze and snow on17 April that severely damaged crops in the fields.  This year, many trees have already bloomed and are leafing out.  Local strawberry crops may actually be ready a month ahead of normal.  The potential for a cold snap destroying berry harvests is all too real.  But the short-term forecasts don’t include over-the-Canadian-border assaults by the northern jet stream.  Instead, the earlier than normal warm-up predisposes toward severe thunderstorms with wind and hail damage. 
                   The polar icecaps are melting at rates previously unheard of until now.   The long-sought Northwest Passage actually existed last summer and will most likely exist again this coming summer.  This is not to claim that many or most merchant ships could or should attempt to force that passage.  Those vessels trying it should have an unlimited fuel supply, immense reserves of food with respect to the crew’s size, at least one icebreaker on call, long range logistic, medical, and other resources not commonly carried by cargo ships.  But the passage has been forced and a changed route will likely be forced again this summer.    In truth, both the U.S. ballistic missile submarine fleet and that of the former USSR ran numerous patrols under the Arctic ice cap once the navigational difficulties were worked out.  The same icepack conditions that made under-ice submarine patrols feasible with respect to vessel and crew safety and recovery in the event of fire, collision, or other accidental damage; make the trip feasible for surface vessels too.  Thinned icepack with numerous polynyas would allow a submarine to force through thin ice or perhaps blow a hole using a torpedo in order to allow emergency surfacing in the icepack. The same conditions make forcing the route with icebreakers feasible if not yet cost effective.
          Still, with decades of polar icecap photos, hundreds of temperature graphs from above, upon, and below the icepack, the GOP propagandists continue to deny any change in the icecap.  With the increased rates of ice shelf calving in the Antarctic, the GOP house organs still find some reason to deny change despite the increased presence of ice sheets the size of Florida.
          The GOP/teavangelist alliance plays to the inability of its base to understand basic science.  Candidates like Rick Santorum claim that mythology intended to explain physical occurrences such as lightning, thunder, volcanism, and floods is somehow more to be believed than the actual science-based causation that can be demonstrated, quantified, and repeated on demand.  Other religious fanatics such as Sarah Palin routinely encourage the teavangelist voter base to ignore reality and to focus on placating an imaginary deity hiding unseen in the stratosphere in order to assure rain, a harvest, and escape from an endless dance with minor imaginary enemies in an as-yet-undetected chamber in the core of the planet. 
          I no longer have any hope of convincing any GOP/teavangelist that climate changes are real, or that climate change has a human component.  I find it frightening that the same people who have no belief in science are being asked by the GOP/teavangelist party bosses to push their religious fanaticism into the school systems, into health care, into private matters concerning reproduction, and into the politically-driven revision of history textbooks so that minorities and non-Christians are being removed from history by such groups as the Texas school board. 
          Science is based upon repeatable demonstrability, upon quantifiable observations and results.  Measuring the rise in sea level over a century is science.  Counting the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin is idiocy.  Praying for rain in a long-standing drought is not a workable state policy to prevent crop loss.  Developing drought-resistant species of plants used for food is a scientific approach to conservation, to modern agriculture, and to evolution.
          Prayer in school does not prevent crime, and never has, despite the huge number of chain letters currently being forwarded around the internet.  There will never be a shortage of historical fossils to examine as long as the United States is unable to realize that religion is irretrievably linked to magical thinking, and that neither religion nor magical thinking will ever provide answers to the questions that scientists answer every day.
          Ask any woman who has ever suffered from a UTI, been successfully treated, and then developed another that required a different medication to treat if evolution is real.  She may not understand the mechanism for bacterial resistance; but she has just demonstrated proof that evolution takes place in biological organisms. All the prayer and religious intercession imaginable will not change the course of the infection although man-made antibiotics will. 
          If we can identify and quantify the effects of human interaction with microbes, if we can demonstrate the effects of Freon on the ozone layer, we can also demonstrate and quantify the impact that 7 billion of us have on the greenhouse effect and on the icecaps.  Now we just need to breed a population of voters able to discern and discard the lies spread by the GOP/teavangelists.

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