Who’s Spinning the Planet?

I saw a sign the other day that nearly made me drive off the road. It was in front of a church. (Yup. Buckle up.) It said:

“Did the LORD wake you up this morning? No? Who rotates earth?”

Oh, where to begin.

First of all, I instantly got this image of the sign creator gleefully looking at his work and saying, “Yes! Finally! Proof that God exists that NO ONE can argue with!!!!”

I weep for humanity.

To be absolutely clear, this blog post is not about whether or not God exists. I’m not going there. I have a cold, and that’s much too meaty a topic for me to dig into at the moment.

No. This post is about the ignorance of Man and the stupidity, in particular, of this sign.

In the Trump era, I’m kinda getting used to people taking absurd leaps in logic. Mostly I just shake my head sadly and move on. But to ask who’s spinning the planet, you must first believe that in order for the planet to spin, some entity or other must be spinning it.

To that, I can only respond, “Kindly get your head out of the stone age and join the rest of us in 2019.”  Anyone with a passing concept of the laws of physics knows that there’s no one sitting at a gigantic pottery wheel in the sky, tediously spinning, spinning, spinning our world for us. If that were necessary, it would be a horribly cruel job to saddle someone with. It sounds more like a task to give someone who is residing in hell.

That there are people out there who have never taken physics or learned of gravity or heard of Copernicus doesn’t surprise me overmuch. (Saddens me, yes, surprises me, no.) But in order to take this sign seriously, you have to believe in witchcraft. Your society would have to be at the developmental stage where you think that you must provide a blood sacrifice in order to make the sun rise each day. You’d have to wear bones in your nose and club your women and drag them into your cave.

If your spiritual belief includes a higher power, I hope that he, she, or it is sophisticated enough to not be wasting time on the minutiae. Because there’s a lot of work to do up in this mo’ fo’. There’s no time for dilly dallying.

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Assumptions

“My coworker is a slob. She says she cleans up after herself, but she doesn’t. I can tell. She has no respect for me, or for the job. She has a bad attitude. She can’t be trusted.”

Wow. I’d hate to work with someone like that! It must be so frustrating. That can’t be doing good things for your morale.

Here’s the problem with that assessment, though. It includes no fewer than 6 assumptions. The speaker is viewing those assumptions as fact. Let’s pull back the veil and look at the actual situation.

Your coworker isn’t more or less sloppy than the average person. You, in fact, are obsessive compulsive and hypervigilant. She does clean up after herself. It’s just that by the time you come along, several other people have been in the work area, and your coworker has no control over that. The state of the office is not a reflection of her respect or lack thereof. She actually loves the job and takes it very seriously. Her attitude is quite good, but she admittedly is on the defensive in your presence because her experience with you is that you are judgmental. She’s extremely trustworthy. (You might want to ask yourself if you find it possible to completely trust anyone.)

That kind of sheds a different light on the subject, doesn’t it? We all see the world through different lenses. We are the sum total of our past experiences. We all have our weaknesses and strengths.

Viewing assumptions as truths is life’s shorthand. It sure makes things go faster… but often in the wrong direction. As a coping mechanism, it does not serve us well. But it takes practice, being self-critical.

When is the last time you asked yourself what proof you had for a particular conclusion? How do you know people are thinking what you think they’re thinking? Have you asked? Mind reading is a heady power, but it’s the worst assumption of all.

Another assumption would be that I’m an expert at identifying my assumptions simply because I’m writing a post on the topic. On the contrary, I struggle with this concept on a daily basis. I’d like to think that I’m getting better at separating fact from fiction, but I suspect this will be a lifelong exercise in self-improvement, and one that’s entirely too important to pass over.

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Faith Ain’t Reality

I admire people who have faith. Religious faith in particular is a quality that seems to have eluded me most of my life. I would truly love to be able to let go and let God, as the saying goes.

It has to be comforting to think that there’s a higher power who has ultimate control. It must be liberating to not have to think you are the primary decision-maker in your own life, that the buck doesn’t stop here after all, that some cosmic being is on your side, and therefore a large amount of the responsibility belongs to someone or something else. It would be so nice to guess that your fate has already been mapped out for you. That there’s a plan. What a weight would be lifted from my shoulders! I’d also love to think that prayer could solve my problems.

I just can’t do it. I like facts. I want evidence. Proof. Otherwise, how is it different from believing in unicorns?

I wish there were unicorns. I’d love to see a unicorn. I’d love to live in a world where unicorns wandered the streets. But I live in the real world.

Here’s what gives me comfort: we’ve learned so much about the universe and how it works that it becomes increasingly easy to not rely on the great unknown to answer the decreasing number of unanswerable questions. We know what causes eclipses these days. Nothing is devouring the sun.

Now, the trick is to maintain a moral compass when you technically don’t answer to anyone other than yourself. Perhaps that’s the kind of faith I need to nurture: the concept that humans have the maturity to be capable of morality without oversight.

Wish me luck.

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What the Clouds Can Teach Us

When you go for weeks on end without seeing the sun or the stars, it’s easy to start to imagine that they’re not there anymore. (And I live in Seattle, so I know what I’m talking about.) The clouds seem to be pushing down on the earth, and there’s this free-floating feeling of claustrophobia that permeates the atmosphere. The world seems a lot smaller than it actually is

At times like this I kind of get a sense of what it must have been like to live in a world without advanced science. If all you can believe is what you see with your own two eyes, it would be easy to think that the world is flat. Magic must seem real. It would be much simpler to believe in a higher power when you yourself feel so utterly powerless. (And by that I mean leaders of any kind who are willing to tell you what you want to hear even though it’s based on no evidence whatsoever.)

But I can live with clouds, despite their ability to obscure and cause despair, because I’ve flown in airplanes above them, where the sun is still shining brightly. I’ve seen photographs of the big blue marble on which we live, and I know that the clouds are shifting and temporal. There is no need to make ritual sacrifices, as the sun will rise again without our help. Just speak that truth as often as you can. Spread the word. Let no one forget.

The scientific method has proven many things I cannot see. That may sound like faith, but faith is a belief in things without proof, often based upon the words of people who lived without science. And even those who choose that fundamental path rely on science every single day, even as they discount it.

If you’ve ever ridden in a car, used electricity, taken advantage of modern medicine, or communicated with anyone by any method other than smoke signals, you are benefiting from science. You cannot function in the modern world without it. But of course you still have the right to believe that it’s evil, if that’s what you really want.

But in the meantime, I will look up at the clouds and know with certainty that the sun is shining above them. And one of these days, I’ll see it again. Because when all is said and done, science prevails. It’s in the very gravity that keeps you from floating away.

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“Are you incapable of complexity?”

I read a fascinating book recently, Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder. It’s about, among other things, Dr. Paul Farmer and his amazing work in Haiti to help stem the tide of Tuberculosis. As you can imagine, as a man of science it could sometimes be hard for him to be able to allow for local customs and superstitions.

At one point, while he was wrestling with the concept that people can maintain two disparate philosophies simultaneously, a very wise woman said to him, “Are you incapable of complexity?” That’s really profound. I totally get it.

There are people in this world who struggle with the thought that there could be shades of gray. Everything has to be wrong or right. Black or white. True or False. These are the type of people who think that if you believe in the theory of evolution, then you cannot be the least bit spiritual. You HAVE to be a full-blown, unwavering atheist.

These people never understand me at all. I am completely capable of accommodating science and spirituality. Granted, I don’t rigidly adhere to all things that were written thousands of years ago before science really took a foothold. But I’ve seen too many unexplainable and awe-inspiring things to believe that science can answer every single question. I believe that the universe is too beautiful to simply be defined by mathematical equations. And I believe that the fact that we are such complex creatures that we are able to come up with and adhere to the scientific method is pretty darned amazing in and of itself.

I think the wisest, most admirable people are the ones who are open minded. They are the ones who can believe in proof and yet still have faith. They are willing to concede that not everything is known, but they’re capable of questioning and exploring and learning. They can be flexible. They do not hide in a comfort zone. They embrace a diversity of thought. Yup. That’s my tribe.

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Okay, so this has very little to do with the subject at hand. I just found it on Amazon.com art, and I liked it. See how complex I can be?

Climate Change: Points to Ponder

I think the worst thing that could have happened to those of us who hope to educate others about the dangers of climate change is one word. Warming. If it weren’t for the term “Global Warming”, people would be more able to focus on the facts rather than the terminology. Climate change deniers cling to the word warming as if it were a life ring in storm-tossed seas.

“Look! We had a snow storm in May!!! See? Global WARMING doesn’t exist!”

Poor short-sighted, deluded people. Because of increasing temperatures there is more moisture in the air. Ever notice that it’s more humid in the summer than in the winter? When increased moisture hits a cold front, what happens? Snow. And a crap load of it. Yup, snow is cold. But that doesn’t mean the earth isn’t getting warmer. It’s a complex system, people, and one which we learn more about with each passing year. But before I get into some facts that can’t be ignored, I have two sets of questions for those who so desperately want to cling to the status quo:

1)      What do you think scientists would gain by making all of this up? Do they WANT the end of the world as we know it? Why? Do you really think there aren’t plenty of other areas of scientific pursuit that they could, well, pursue? Do you really think that thousands of scientists, from various countries, races, religions and creeds are in a global conspiracy to terrify the populous so that they can keep their jobs or alter the economy in some diabolical way? You give them a great deal of power.

2)      Even if you are right and global warming doesn’t exist, why would you NOT want to do things in an environmentally friendly way? Are you in love with garbage, pollution, undrinkable water, the death of one species after another, and air that is increasingly dangerous to breathe? Do you want that for your children? Is it just laziness, or do you really prefer that sort of planet?

Okay, here are some points to ponder and some facts to feast upon:

  • I often hear people say that a few degrees temperature difference won’t matter much, surely. But if your baby’s average temperature is a few degrees higher, especially on a regular basis, you’d panic. You’d take that child to the hospital, as you know that such things are fatal. So too with our life on this planet.
  • Hurricanes are decreasing, but becoming stronger, and now they’re coming as much as 100 miles inland.
  • Islands are disappearing. The sea has risen 8 inches since 1870. It is expected to rise anywhere from 16 to 56 inches by 2100. The following island groups are already threatened: Kiribati, Maldives, Seychelles, Torres Strait Islands, Tegua, Solomon Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Carteret Islands, and Tuvalu, as well as the country of Bangladesh, where they’re learning how to grow their crops on floating rafts. They never had to do that in the past. Don’t believe me? Talk to the people who are on the brink of being displaced.
  • Most scientists agree that temperature stability relies on 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere or less. Anything more than that spells disaster. This carbon comes, for the most part, from the burning of fossil fuels. Coal is carbon. Oil is carbon. When we burn it, it doesn’t just disappear. That carbon still exists, and it’s now in our atmosphere. Humans are responsible for this. There’s no getting around that. Sadly, in 2012, we were already at a steady 390 parts per million. On May 9th, for the first time, NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory recorded daily concentrations of 400 parts per million. This doesn’t fluctuate downward. It’s a steady and ever increasing rise.
  • Deserts are burning. Other areas are flooding. You’ve seen it.
  • Arctic summer sea ice has shrunk roughly 34% since 1979. The arctic summer could be ice free by mid-century. In the past 50 years glaciers have lost more than 2,000 cubic miles of water. That can be observed by the human eye, and all that water has to go somewhere.
  • Ice reflects the heat of the sun back into space. When it’s gone, what you have is dark land and water, both of which hold heat. This is a downward spiral that any person with a modicum of logic can follow.
  • For the past 3 decades the oceans’ surface temperatures have been higher than any other time in recorded history.
  • Coral reefs are dying.
  • A lot of Australia is in permanent drought. Farms have been abandoned forever because of firestorms. Just ask the people of Victoria about the walls of fire that killed hundreds. This has never happened before.

I know what you’re thinking. This is just a cycle. The planet has gone through cycles before. That’s true. It can’t be denied. In the Pleistocene we had ice and arctic deserts. At other times the ice caps melted and the planet was mostly ocean. The earth is a subtle system with subtle cycles that are millions of years apart. The creatures living during the Pleistocene wouldn’t have noticed a change, however, because it wasn’t occurring within decades like it is now.  It wasn’t even occurring within centuries. We’re talking millions of years. The change we’re seeing now is not a cyclical planetary change.

And another argument is that scientists make mistakes. True enough. People once believed the earth was flat. They also believed the sun rotated around the earth. Does that mean that all science should be discounted? We learn more and more over time. We stand upon the shoulders of those who came before us, mistakes and all. The more data we accumulate, the more accurate our knowledge becomes.

Argument number three: Al Gore is an idiot who doesn’t practice what he preaches. Okay, let’s stipulate that that’s true if it gives you some sort of perverse comfort. How does that negate the findings of thousands of scientists? I personally think Carrie Nation was an extremist crackpot, but that doesn’t mean I discount the fact that alcohol ruins many people’s lives. Go to any AA meeting throughout the world and you can hear it firsthand.

Stop listening to the lunatic fringe. Stop desperately clinging to beliefs that are not based on evidence simply because you would rather not alter your current lifestyle. Think for yourself. Look around. Apply some common sense before it’s too late for you, because here’s the thing: the earth will survive, even if it’s just a barren, lifeless rock floating through space. It’s humanity that’s in danger. And you can see that with your own eyes, once you let go of the word “warming” and actually pay attention. And yet half the people I know don’t even bother to recycle, which is the world’s simplest of first steps. How hard is it to recycle? Come on.

Here’s another thought: if I’m right about global warming, then we all need to make changes. If we don’t, it will be fatal. On the other hand, if I’m wrong about global warming, then we don’t need to make changes, but if we do make them, how’s it going to hurt? Is there something wrong with the concept of conserving our resources, for example? I say it’s better to err on the side of caution, especially if it’s something that has to do with life on earth. To do otherwise would be the height of stupidity and selfishness.

If you want to get some amazing ideas about things you can do in your community on a grass roots level, things that can only be good for the planet whether you believe scientists or not, then visit the website 350.org.

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(Image credit: debonofoods.com)