Saturday, May 11, 2013

Honeysuckle Spring

Well, here we are at spring time again. The weather is heating up in Texas, and the wild fields are full of blooming honeysuckle. I know this subject may be tiresome as I've mentioned it around this time for the last three years, but when Abigail and I take our evening walk, and that heavy, romantic smell is in the air it makes me feel as if the warming is a good thing. Of course, the fact that it comes earlier and earlier, and that earth has just now passed the supposed tipping point of 400 PPM of carbon in the air, and then I feel as if I should not allow myself to enjoy the moment. I do manage to watch Abigail enjoy chasing a squirrel or a rabbit, and then I realize that these pleasant moments are all we really have. The fact that we have now passed that carbon milestone tells us it is too late, and that there has never been the will to make any changes that would keep earth's environment in the balance that has allowed us to enjoy several millenia of a fairly balanced climate. So, now we are fighting about the Keystone pipeline, and some experts warn that this, and other methods of keeping our addiction to fossil fuels fed will prevent the changes from escalating. And we are on the way through one one geologic/climactic cycle to another. First there were bacteria and other living creatures that gave off carbon as a byproduct, and humans would never have been able to survive there. But then, as a result of this, plants began to thrive and they gave off oxygen as a byproduct, and this allowed the animals to spring up; each of these eras lasting multi-millions of years. More years that most of us can imagine.

Yes, I'm giving up my liberal, tree-hugging cred here (not the first time) because I see the pattern here, and I'm not about to start hyperventilating (too much carbon release.) This occurred to me last week en we had a very unusual cold snap-if you can call it that. The daytime temperature dropped from upper-80s to the mid-60s for one day. A coworker and I were standing at the fax machine, and she (who is a raging conservative, fundamentalist) made a snarky remark to me about how true global warming is. I didn't bother to mention that science has nearly 200 years of daily records to watch long term trends, and the long term trend is warming. One odd cold snap can't erase that, but the conversation would be wasted with someone who is so certain of her certainty. But as I was thinking about it later, and watching a four-part series on PBS about the evolution of life and how well preserved it is in Australia, I realized that a HUGE part of the reason people can't grasp the facts of global climate change is that almost no one, particularly laymen, can wrap their heads around the amount of time it takes for these changes to occur. Just like the folks who say that we couldn't have come from the sea because their is no fossil of a fishman, and we couldn't have come from apes because their is no fossil of an apeman-they will never understand that we have large numbers of transitional fossils. They just simply show small changes for millions and millions of years before they show another small step. Yes, there are some animals in which we can see evolution take place in real time-such as the British coal region moths, and beaks of finches, etc. But for very, very long times that we cannot fathom because of our very limited lifespans.

So this post was really supposed to be about the long term costs of doing nothing. Not willing to pay the true cost of fossil fuels today is creating changes so immense that we cannot perceive it. Not willing to pay the true cost of keeping water clean, reducing family size, stopping the waste of food and water, and on and on. But my mental acrobatics and ADD simply will not let me stop in the next fifty years, or the next century. If earth survives, and it may not, the animal life will be so different than humans that we would not recognize them as our descendants if we were able to travel forward in time to see them, any more than the sea worms that spawned us would recognize us as their infinitesimally related great grandchildren. It's about time, and we can't conceive of it. All we know is what we are, and that the things we are doing will change our chances for survival. But, as I've said before, we will simply become something different. If the giant meteor, volcano or earthquake don't end it all sooner.

The truth is that I have kept a note about watching people in Texas taking their children and puppies for photos in the large fields of bluebonnets that bloom here in the spring. The pictures are undeniably beautiful, and the fact that a couple of people start it, and then everyone does it until the wonderful blooms are trampled and won't come back until next year. How many golden retriever puppies have been sold by being photographed in a fabulous field of these wonderful blue/purple flowers. I always wonder about fire ants, too, in those wild fields of flowers. Their bites are pretty painful, and they are everywhere!!! Sorry I got distracted by laymen's level evolutionary biology. I still admit to being an unapologetic science groupie.

Another thing I've thought a lot about the last few weeks is an explosion that happened in a plant about
100 miles from where I live. This (ironically) happened while the governor of my great state was traveling about the country bragging about how little regulation occurs in our businesses in Texas. The truth about Texas and business regulation is that in Texas we may have lots and lots of jobs, but we also have a much larger percentage of low wage jobs, and uninsured workers than many other states. So the truth is that unless the governor is bragging about being a shark in an ocean full of defenseless baby seals, there is little to brag about. It turns out that this plant was in violation of hundreds of business regulations, and had not been inspected since 1985. That this explosion happened should not surprise anyone. It's not a tragedy, it's a travesty. And the truth is that this is an endemic problem-and the reason that there will have to be a giant worker's rebellion and a return to unions before anything at all will get better. Business will never, ever regulate itself. Those at the top have only one goal in mind, and that is to make more money. In order to do that, short cuts must be taken, and they must ensure that the smallest possible workforce must do the most possible work with the fewest possible benefits. This fact should not be read as anything explosive-I try to be rational and reasonable, though I often fail. But I think this one succeeds in that. The explosions will be coming from more factories and plants that are unregulated in Texas, and the injured from these explosions may well be without health insurance, and will be among the millions in this country that we hear about who go bankrupt due to medical bills.

Lastly, I would love to get away from the gun debate. I haven't seen any reasonable or rational discussion of this since December, or ever, truth be told. But last week I was driving home from work, and saw a bumper sticker that said, "The Constitution Guarantees My Right To Bear Arms." This is true. There can be more than one way to interpret the Second Amendment, but the words do say what this bumper sticker asserts. And then a thought washed over me, which may not be original to this argument, but I've never heard it before: The Declaration of Independence guarantees me The Right To Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." These two needn't be mutually exclusive if reason were to prevail. But reason doesn't seem to do that in this conversation, in my opinion, particularly on the gun rights side. Reason would not suggest that an AR15 would prevent the government from becoming tyrannical. Reason would not suggest that such guns would be useful in a home invasion in which there was more than one person in a household. Reason would not allow that a locked up gun with a safety lock would be useful to a homeowner with an intruder in the home. Reason WOULD, however, allow that if your aim hits me just right, whether deliberately or by accident, you have taken away my right to life. If that shot doesn't kill me, but paralyzes me, you have denied me my right to liberty. And if your gun kills my child, or if your gun designed for a child is used by your child or my child to kill one of my children, you have denied me my ability to ever, EVER pursue, let alone discover happiness. The parents who have lost children to gun violence will never recover, though they may find a way to carry on. Balance that, People of Reason.

Whether these are formed as questions or not, there are still intense questions being asked here, and likely no answers to be found. But, as always, I welcome conversation, debate, answers and more questions. 

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