Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Calling A Charade A Charade

"We are all worms, but I do believe I am a glow worm." - Winston Churchill
The most current issue of SIERRA Magazine includes a short editorial which I found interesting, and true enough to inspire this blog, which borrows heavily from it.

Citizens the world over are glad that the US now has an administration that emphasizes thoughtfulness and discipline over extreme partisanship and gamesmanship.
As President Obama stated during his January 20 inauguration, 'It's time to put away childish things.'
One of those 'childish things' was a palpable disdain for science when it didn't happen to support partisan politics!
Can you imagine us Americans putting up with that kind of thinking for long?

Fortunately, governmental appointments are now being made more on the basis of competence and honest concern for the long term welfare of people and our environment.
And, what could possibly be more important than these?

For example, instead of arguing endlessly using unfounded opinion instead of best scientific wisdom, we need to move past the easy roadblocks so easily thrown up by a few self-serving naysayers.
This often refers to energy issues that connect directly to environmental issues, including the narrow, individual debates over oil, coal and nuclear power.
All of these established industries are more concerned with maintaining their profitability based on the status quo, than looking clearly into the future to see where this leads us.
That's the easy thing to do, but it is also the most 'childish'.

Eminent physicist, John Holdren, our new National Science Advisor, has been clear on these issues at least since 1981, when he co-authored a book which contained the following excerpt:

'The most important environmental liability of oil as an energy source is probably not air pollution or oil spills but the chance that war will be waged over access to the world's remaining supplies.
The most important environmental liability of coal is not the occupational toll of mining... rather it is the threat of global climate change posed by the accumulating atmospheric carbon dioxide...
The most important environmental liability of nuclear fission is neither the routine nor accidental emissions of radioactivity, but the deliberate misuse of nuclear facilities and materials for acts of terrorism and war.'

Wouldn't it have been nice to have had this perspective since 1981?

The editorial continues:
Even more stunning than the accuracy of these predictions is that so many commenters in the major media are still denying them.
Stories on oil independence ignore the war in Iraq; the relationship between coal and global warming is still "in dispute"; and the spread of civilian nuclear energy is seldom linked yo terrorist' potential access to weapons of mass destruction.
Few of the reporters who write these stories are in doubt themselves.... But many media outlets insist on treating obvious truths as doubtful if someone can be found who doubts them. If there is a dispute about facts the facts, however self-interested or discredited a perspective may be, both sides get equal weight.

Think about it. Haven't we all seen evidence of this happening? Sometimes, its so obvious that it appears a mistake or just a bad joke being played on readers or listeners.

Consider the myth of so-called 'clean coal' which is being advertised and reported so seriously;
The coal industry defines the term as 'any technology to reduce pollutants associated with the burning of coal that was not in widespread use prior to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.

This doesn't have anything to do with reducing CO2 at all... but the media continue to report about 'clean coal', as if it had something to do with protecting the climate.
Journalists who know better are trapped by the idea that their job is to report a debate - not judge it or even referee by calling obvious fouls.
For the media to refuse to describe what we have learned about the way the world works is one of those childish things it's now time to put away.'
In my estimation, there is much here that resonates as true.
And, the analogy can probably be extended further to other topics, too.
Maybe anytime that tilted opinions are so ardently expressed - and seem at variance with what seems reasonable and true - is an indication that 'childish things' are being attempted?
At a minimum, it probably means it's time to be careful and ask better questions of several informed sources.
On the other hand, kids do enjoy charades...