7 Scary Traits of Climate Change Deniers

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, January 30, 2017

We’ve been hearing about climate change for decades. We’re bombarded with scary documentaries, long range forecasts, books, essays, news reports, science fiction on what global warming will do to Earth.

What I find even scarier are the psychological traits of climate change deniers.

climate-change-NASA

The power of denial might be eviler than actual climate change. Those traits reveal the limitation of the human mind. Our species, even with the best brains on the planet, might not be smart enough to save ourselves from self-destruction. Here are some psychological traits that could be more dangerous than increase CO2.

Egotism

Climate change deniers reveal their massive egos by their righteousness. The world has spent trillions of dollars on supercomputers, satellites, monitoring stations, laboratories while hiring vast armies of scientists with Ph.D.s to use that equipment.  97% of scientists analyzing the results show climate change is real. As long as we have a significant percentage of human population thinking they are smarter than all the scientists, computers, and science, we’re in big trouble.

Anti-Science

Science is our only tool for consistently understanding reality. Science is based the statistical consensus of evidence. Its methodology is designed to be immune to nationality, race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, philosophy or other biases. To reject science is to reject any hope of objectively understanding reality. People who trust science by flying on an airplane or having brain surgery but deny other scientific results indicate that humans might not be rational enough to survive as a species.

Greed

Greed is the main reason people believe they’re right and climate scientists are wrong. Solving climate change requires global cooperation, powerful governments, and taxes, three concepts hated by fundamental conservatives because it undermines their essential gospel of no taxes. In other words, they’d rather get rich than save the world.

Rationalization

The percentage of people who can brainwash themselves into denying climate change is terrifying. Their egos can embrace poorly educated talk show hosts over legions of highly trained scientists reveals a limited grasp of reality. Part of this comes from our ability to believe. The same trait allows humans to accept Jesus and positively know they’ve gained immortality. We can rationalize anything, and that’s dangerous.

Religion

Religion isn’t inherently anti-science. In fact, some churches are embracing global warming as a moral issue. However, hatred of science is a trait of many religious believers. They see science in opposition to religion, and since climate change is on the side of science, they have to choose the other side. To them, the choice is everlasting life and science.

Anti-Fate

Many people deny climate change because they hate fate. Climate change feels too much like fate, even though it isn’t. We can avoid global warming if we choose. Ironically, by denying a possible future they are creating it. They feel climate change represents an inevitable future, and they reject that.

Anti-Responsibility

Another trait of deniers is they deny responsibility to their descendants even when they’re family oriented. Instead of wanting to protect future generations, they shove their heads into the sand. They are denying an obligation to their children, grandchildren, and future generations. Climate change deniers deny the sins of the fathers.

JWH

Counting My Worries

by James Wallace Harris, Monday, November 21, 2016

My friends and I are hyper-worried about the future, now that Republicans have gained control of all three branches of government. I suppose that could be a signal to stop worrying, since they now have the reigns, and thus the worries. Of course, both parties have always assumed the other side would destroy the future, explaining each side’s endless worrying.

What if I stopped worrying about politics and only worried about things I could actual change? What if I was granted the serenity prayer?

Serenity Prayer

If I only need to worry about those things I can change, then how many things do I need to worry about? What world problems can I change on my own? Would rephrasing that be more illuminating? How many problems do I make worse? My wife and I never had children, so we don’t add to overpopulation. I’m retired, get out little, and live off a plant based diet, so my carbon footprint is relatively small. Except for an occasional roof rat, I don’t kill anything. I’m not a terrorist or hate anyone. I don’t drink, do drugs or commit crimes. I’m rather bland and innocuous. I’m a watcher and a reader, observing reality as I wait to die. By this accounting, I have little to worry about.

A major increaser of worries is trying to convince other people to be different. Whether its getting a spouse to do more housework, a friend to eat healthy, or everyone to stop using coal, convincing people to be different creates endless worries. I could vastly reduce my total worry count if I stopped trying to change people.

What about worrying about myself? For example, I’m currently worried about writing a new essay for Book Riot. My choices are either to write or not write, but I spend a lot of time either worrying about not writing or worrying about what to write. The Zen thing to do would be either to write or not write and forget the worrying.

What, Me Worry

Should I worry about anything? Is not worrying shirking a duty? Shouldn’t we all be taking turns worrying about the world’s problems? Everyone should contribute to charities, right? Is worrying helping those causes? Maybe giving or volunteering to a charity is the only way to solve their problems. But many charities spend their income trying to convince more people to worry about their cause. The solution, give to charities that do rather than worry.

I’ve convinced myself I have little to worry about, so why do I worry so much? My mother was a worrier. I called it gnawing her bone. She believed that worrying about bad things kept those bad things from happening. The evidence suggests all my worry about climate change and Republicans had no effect on the 2016 election.

Maybe I should stop gnawing my bones.

JWH

You’re Going to Need a Bigger Wall

By James Wallace Harris, Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The UNHCR recently reported that 65.3 million people were displaced around the world in 2015, or 24 people per minute. All indications suggest a higher figure for 2016. Civilization is a thin veneer, and when it rubs too thin, people move to a thicker location.

Donald Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico because he’s worried about immigration from the south. The British voted to leave the European Union partly because of fears over immigration and refuges. Yet many of these same fearful people refuse to believe climate change. Now that might seem like an abrupt change of subject, but it’s not. The major consequence of climate change is mass-migrations. Just look at the University of Notre Dame Global Adaption Index (ND-GAIN). It ranks countries based on projected impact of climate change.

You can see the full ranking of 180+ countries here. Sooner or later, all the top ranked countries will want to build walls to keep refuges from the bottom rankings moving in. The United Kingdom is ranked #4, which makes it a prime destination for most folks fleeing collapsing civilization. The USA is #11. (Maybe England needs to worry about their American cousins moving back home.) Living in a top ranked country might seem lucky because you’ll avoid the worst of climate disasters, but it also means your country will be seen as a lifeboat to those who are drowning.

I have to wonder if climate change deniers are only pretending not know the truth. Just look at ND-GAIN’s map.

Climate Change Vulnerability Map

Most people in trouble will be moving north. I think wall building is either a conscious acceptance of climate change, or an unconscious awareness. It’s reality is starting to sink in.

Notice that most of the refuges the wall builders fear are coming from countries ND-GAIN are listing as vulnerable to climate change. Have climate change migrations already begun? Many countries in the southern hemisphere are suffering from economic collapse, and countries in the middle east are experiencing political, economic and social collapse. All of those locations also suffer from poor weather and limited natural resources. To solve climate change and mass migrations means solving wealth inequality. That’s a very liberal solution, which probably explains why so many conservatives refuse to accept climate change.

Will walls protect the haves from the have-nots? And why haven’t wall builders proposed programs to create stability in countries that are coming undone? Wouldn’t that be more realistic than building Maginot lines on our borders? Instead they want to tear up international trade agreements, which will only make things worse, and thus accelerate mass migrations. If they’d put the money they’d spend on a US-Mexico wall into the Mexican economy, wouldn’t that be more helpful? Wouldn’t a thriving Mexican economy become more effective than a wall?

Venezuela is #107 on the ND-GAIN list. Just read some of the news stories about Venezuela’s economic collapse. Will they become the new Syrian refuges? Brazil isn’t doing well either. How many wealthy South Americans are currently flying over where Trump wants to build his wall? Isn’t it in America’s best interests to make sure South America doesn’t collapse? If the goal of wall building is to stop refuges, isn’t it more practical to stop the creation of refuges than build walls to keep them out?

Rich people have always built walls to protect themselves from poor people. Whether it was walled cities in ancient times, castle walls in medieval times, or gated community walls in modern times, the solution is always the same – protect what I’ve got and to hell with everybody else. And if past walls are indicators, walls only work when the poor aren’t desperate. When wealth inequality gets too extreme, walls fail. And besides, do rich Americans really want to live like Israelis on the West Bank, or Rhodesians in Zimbabwe? (By the way, aren’t the sales of AR-15s a kind of economic indicator? Who are buying more assault rifles, the rich or the poor? And how many of the 99% think they will be walled in with the 1%?)

Donald Trump and all his wall building followers might do well to get into the wealth redistribution business like Bernie Sanders. I highly recommend they read the following books:

These books show us the future. We can solve our problems, or hide behind walls (for a little while).

Building walls are a last-stand tactic. Think how well walls work with zombies. Which makes me wonder if zombies aren’t modern metaphors for poor people, revealing everyone’s underlying fear of being overrun by world poverty. If you don’t want millions of people moving to America, fight climate change and wealth inequality.

What we want is a sustainable economy that is environmentally friendly. Capitalism, as it currently exists, is a Ponzi scheme that’s transferring wealth from the many to the few, with the huge side-effect of creating climate change. It will collapse if we don’t fix it. And we can’t fix climate change without fixing capitalism. If we don’t change things, the 1% will try to wall off us 99%. Trump’s wall is just the first of many that will fail. Denying climate change is merely sticking your head in the sand. Building Trump’s wall is acceptance of climate change, but no actual protection. Trump’s wall is no more practical than The Tower of Babel.

Update:

After writing this I began to wonder how often people and society change. Are we condemned to always follow the same behaviors? That made me think of When Everything Changed by Gail Collins. After I had read that book I realized our society had changed more because of women’s rights than the introduction of computers and smartphones. We’re constantly adapting. And that’s hopeful to realize.

JWH

A Vote for the GOP is a Vote Against the Earth

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, March 18, 2016

64% of Americans say they worry about global warming in a March 16th Gallup poll. That’s an eight year high, and up from 55% in 2015. 59% now think global warming has already begun, as oppose to 31% thinking it will happen, and 10% who think it will never happen. 41% of those polled now believe global warming is a serious threat in our lifetime, and 65% believe humans are the cause. Even Republicans are worried (40%), believing global warming has already begun (40%), will be a serious threat in our lifetime (20%) and is due to people (38%). But their worry hasn’t grown as fast as Democrats. 84% of liberals fear global warming, 77% think its begun, 58% think it’s a serious threat in our lifetime, and 85% think we’re to blame. See Gallup site for changes in opinions over time.

energy policy

With a clear majority of Americans worrying about global warming, even believing we’re the cause of our problems, you’d think we’d want to fix things before they got worse. On the same day as the Gallup poll, Business Insider published “the energy plans of the top 4 presidential candidates.” The Democrats want to save the planet, but the Republicans continue full-speed ahead to use Earth up. (Sarah Palin’s “Drill, Baby, Drill” is still their rallying cry.)

I understand why the Republicans want to ignore global warming. Trillions of dollars are in the ground and the plutocrats who own those resources don’t want to give up that wealth. But what about the rich people who own South Florida, Manhattan, or living along the coasts of our nation? Digging up one rich guy’s treasure, means sinking somebody else’s fortune.

New projections estimate between 4.3 and 13.1 million Americans could end up climate refugees before the end of the century. Miami is already sinking, even though Marco Rubio stood in his home state and blatantly made all kinds of silly denials. Was Rubio the first Republican to be victim of his party’s stance against global warming? Could he have carried Florida if he hadn’t said such asinine lies of self-interest? Who knows.

The GOP lost it’s presidential bid in 2012 because they didn’t foresee rising diversity in the U.S. They’ve spent the last four years fighting immigration and gerrymandering. Many states even tried to bar African-Americans from voting. But what if they’ve built another Maginot Line?

What if beliefs in climate change foils the GOP in 2016? Should they be thinking, “It’s the climate, stupid!” The GOP is making the choice quite clear—vote for Republicans and we’ll keep doing what we’ve always been doing.

And I could link to thousands of articles about how we’re screwing over the Earth, but I don’t think I need to. Everyone knows already, even the conservatives. You don’t need to be a liberal to know which way the wind is blowing.

JWH

Can Science Fiction Save Us?

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, February 12, 2016

Science fiction has always used world-wide worries to inspire story ideas, and since we have more problems than ever, no science fiction writer should have writer’s block. Science fiction about climate change is a growing sub-genre, and our lists of future-shaking events keeps growing. Any current concern in the news can be extrapolated into the future, becoming a muse for science fiction. But how effective is fiction at solving real world problems? Can science fiction save us?

When I was growing up the future was so bright we had to wear mirror shades. Now, our tomorrows are clouded over by menacing speculative storms. Most of the 7.3 billion passengers on spaceship Earth are so preoccupied with their day-to-day survival that any thoughts about the future are reserved for escapes into imaginary wonderlands. And I can dig that too — who desires realism when its dreary? Anyone who has seen Sullivan’s Travels, a Preston Sturges film about The Great Depression misery, knows that people don’t want stories with messages, but stories that let you forget your problems. I assume Lois McMaster Bujold has more fans than Paolo Bacigalupi.

dark clouds 3

Science fiction has always taken two paths. The first, and most common, is to entertain. The second, and harder to travel, is to philosophize about the discoveries of science and imagine what they mean to the future. Science fiction has always produced wild speculations, but for most of its history, was never taken seriously. SF was often ridiculed, even though it can be considered a cognitive tool for a highly specific task. Serious science fiction can warn us about emerging dangers through extrapolation, but it also has the potential to create desired goals with creative speculation.

Yet, I’ve got to wonder if science fiction can save us. When I was growing up you’d hide your Heinlein inside a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover to avoid the embarrassment of being caught reading science fiction. Science fiction was childish fantasies for weirdo kids. Trufans rationalized science fiction was serious stuff, claiming it prepared readers for the future, but that was mostly laughed at. Things changed May 25, 1977 when Star Wars came out, and science fiction became the favorite form of fairy tale for the information age. Now, billions say they love Sci-Fi, but few take it seriously. Should they?

The future is shaping up to be everything we never wanted. Maybe it’s time to reconsider’s science fiction’s role. Christians believe that studying the teachings of Jesus can save people, at least after they die. I’d like to believe studying science fiction could save our species before we reach self-extinction. I’m not asking that science fiction become boring and pedantic. I’m just wondering if it’s possible for science fiction to imagine desirable futures that are sustainable. Project Hieroglyph was one attempt.

Novels like Among Others by Jo Walton and All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders convey how painful it used to be growing up nerdy. SF fans were outcasts. In my day they’d call us zeroes. But now that the geeks have inherited the Earth, science fiction fans seemed to have taken over the world. Is its appeal large enough to be influential? Science fiction must compete with two older literary traditions, The Bible and The Quran, for explaining reality. Science offers the only consistent explanation of reality, but evidently the majority of folks on this planet can’t comprehend it. Science fiction is only slightly more rigorous than religion, but it might be a step in the right direction since religion desperately seeks to focus on the past.

Just because pop culture has embraced comics and science fiction, doesn’t mean they have social impact. Can any novel change society? Maybe. Consider George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. That tale of Big Brother and newspeak did more to undermine communism than all the John Birchers put together. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe shamed a nation against slavery, so we know novels can help reshape morality. How many Victorian minds were blown by H. G. Wells? And didn’t Catch-22, M*A*S*H and Slaughterhouse-Five convince many Americans to turn against the Vietnam War?

Every day the mass media brings us more stories about how the future is going to bring humanity retribution for its evil ways. Political conservatives and faithful fundamentalists from around the globe have dedicated themselves to denying science. If billions refuse to listen to scientists, why should they pay attention to science fiction? Christianity uses Hell as an effective tool to sell salvation, so why doesn’t frightening futures work for science fiction? Of course Christianity has made the purchase price of salvation so ridiculously cheap that most people figure why not buy. Saying “I believe” is a micro-payment compared to the painful expense of self-disciplining our souls.

Where the rubber hits the road to tomorrowland is the fact that we all need to change the way we live. Most people can’t lose weight even when the incentive is not to die a miserable death. As a species we’re very adaptable at surviving in diverse environments, but we can’t adapt ourselves to stabilize the environment. In 1968, I read Stand On Zanzibar by John Brunner. I was horrified by his vision of 2010. Brunner claimed two common themes would exist, worldwide terrorism, as well as daily TV news stories about crazed individuals committing mass killings. I really didn’t want to grow up to live in that future. But we all have. Could we have studied Brunner in the sixties to avoid the now in which we live? Brunner didn’t offer any prophecy. By the way, prophecy isn’t about predicting the future, but about convincing people how to live, so as to create a desired future. Can any science fiction novel be truly prophetic? Science fiction can create elaborate extrapolations leading to scary tomorrows, but can it find paths to greener pastures?

How often has the fate of the Earth been the plot driver of science fiction? 99% of the purpose of science fiction is entertainment, and even that 1% of serious speculation needs to be entertaining secondarily. Some science fiction writers have been prophets. Unfortunately, as people who read The Bible know, few people listen to prophets, which probably answers my title question.

I bring up this question now after reading All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, the first SF/F book I’ve read for 2016. Anders’ book is getting great reviews and buzz around the net. It’s a wonderful YA/SF/F/Literary mashup about many things, including the forces of magic and the forces of science separately fighting climate change. Not to give anything away, but I found their desperate solutions rather horrifying, which I think was Anders intention, but other recent science fiction stories have also come up with similar solutions that are even scarier.

The most extreme example is Interstellar, which preaches sacrificing all to build spaceships to seed other worlds before Earth collapses. Their logic is we’ve used up Earth, so let’s abandon it and go find a new home. There was never any suggestion that we try to save our planet. It’s the ultimate example of disposable consumerism. Our home world is a used Kleenex, so toss it out and get a new one.

In Seveneves, the latest novel by Neal Stephenson, the Earth is destroyed by an astronomical event, but humans were given enough time to build a fleet of Noah’s arks in space. This avoids the ethical issue of self-destruction. The story is extremely optimistic about our technological potential. But one of the common reasons now given to justify the colonization of other worlds is that we need to get all our genetic eggs out of one basket. Even scientists like Stephen Hawking are promoting this idea. And it’s logical. We could claim that science fiction inspired this philosophy. If we ever spend the money to colonize the Moon or Mars, we can give science fiction the credit. However, humans haven’t left Low-Earth orbit for over forty years, even after an explosion of science fiction popularity since the last man walked on the Moon. Taking care of Earth should be our prime priority — but it seldom is in science fiction. When will everyone realize that Earth might be our only home for millions of years?

We’re starting to see more science fiction deal with climate change. One very vivid novel last year, The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi, focused on water wars. Bacigalupi doesn’t offer any instructions on how to avoid that future, but does paint such a scary picture of climate change’s side-effects that he’s trying to scare us straight. The novel got some good reviews, but I’ve yet to meet anyone else who’s read it and haven’t heard any buzz about it on the net.

Is preaching fire and brimstone futures the only tool science fiction has to convince us to avoid our life of sin? And let’s fess up here, climate change, mass extinction, polluted land, sea and sky, economic inequality, sexism, racism, xenophobia, and all the rest, are our sins. Yes, the world sometimes ends in a comet collision, gamma-ray burst or super-volcano eruption, but most of the time, Earth gets trashed by us.

There’s a growing library of climate change science fiction (Cli-Fi). But will reading such stories make us consume fewer resources? How many people read science fiction? Well, not that many. But multitudes go to the movies to see science fiction. What if HBO offered a mini-series based on The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi? Would it influence politics and lifestyle? The Windup Girl illustrates the results of climate change, monoculture farming, and using up all the oil. Even though it’s a very colorful future, it’s not one that most people would visit if they had a time machine.

All the governments around the world are working on reducing C02 in the atmosphere. Ninety-eight percent of the scientists and a large percentage of the general population know about the dangers of increase C02. The problem is many people refuse to believe there is a problem, including the Republican Party. Would more science fiction illustrating what life might be like after “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” make a difference? If all of us believed the science of climate change absolutely, would we change the way we live? Or are too many Homo sapiens fatalists?

1998 brought two films, Deep Impact and Armageddon about big rocks crashing into our planet. Since then, governments around the world have been spending money to develop early warning systems. And can’t we claim all the SF stories about malevolent emerging AI made the current client of skepticism of artificial intelligence what it is today? Hasn’t the phrase “living off the grid” come from SF-awareness? Haven’t all the Preppers gotten their philosophy from science fiction? Didn’t we go to the Moon because of science fiction? Cold war politics paid for the Apollo program, but wasn’t science fiction the original inspiration?

Science fiction can give us thousands of scenarios about ecological catastrophes, mass extinction events, and AIs transforming society, but are they useful? Do we all just read the stories to be thrilled, and then continue on with our excessive lifestyles, ignoring daily species extinctions, and even wanting our computers to get smarter and take over more jobs?

I have to be cynical here. Could science fiction be like religion, in that we’re willing to talk the talk, but not walk the walk? How many of the faithful swear absolute belief, yet make no attempt to live divinely? How many eco-evangelists live green lives? For the prophets of science fiction to succeed they must first imagine livable lifestyles, and then convince readers to live them. And isn’t the record for famous Biblical prophets something like Prophets 0, People 7? I don’t think we escape our fate by self-flagellation and choosing to live like ascetics. We need visionaries that can imagine new kinds of urban lifestyles that protect the environment yet offer self-sustaining forms of abundances to seek, rather than our rampant destructive consumerism we chase now.

Science fiction has always excelled at imagining Hells, but it’s awful at inventing Heavens. In fact, dystopias are what kids love today. Why? Isn’t it kind of sick that the chosen setting for escapist literature is a dystopia? Why have utopias gone out of fashion? Sure utopias are impossible almost by definition, but getting close might be possible. Utopias were popular hundreds of years ago, but I guess most of humanity gave up on Heaven on Earth back in the 19th century.

Donald Trump campaigns with the slogan “Make America Great Again” so we know a better future is a popular want because of his success. Yet, Republicans are so adamant about no new taxes that they are causing the country to slide into ruin and disrepair. You can’t make a great nation by penny pinching. All the anti-tax revolutionaries have done is ruined K-12 and higher education, neglected the infrastructure, deflated the middle class, fired first responders, teachers and other valuable governmental employees, gutted libraries, let parks run down, defund science and research, and the list goes on and on. America was great when we had the Apollo Moon program, or when we were fighting WWII—and we all paid a lot more in taxes. We weren’t cheap, and knew building a great nation costs money and requires sacrifice.

We have the scientific knowledge and technology to solve all our problems, but we don’t. Why? Because we’re not unified. All across the globe populations are divided between conservatives and liberals. Most of the Muslim world, and half the Christian, want to return to the past, to embrace an Old Testament view of reality. We all live in the same reality, but we each perceive it differently. Until we reach some kind of consensus about the nature of reality, we’re not going to solve our problems. This is where pop culture comes into play, it’s a kind of peer pressure of ideas.

At some point we have to do what the prophets ask, or face extinction. Did all the prophets of the past fail because they imagined unappealing lifestyles? Evidently convincing people to do what’s hard never succeeds over people choosing to do what they feel like. Can science fiction ever make us disciplined?

I didn’t write the above to make a political point, but to show that we lack vision for making life better. Most conservatives are arming themselves for the Armageddon, while liberals focus on their own brand of gloom and doom. Science fiction needs to stop thinking about the end of the world and focus on the goal of surviving a million years on this planet. If we don’t think about the future, then the future becomes whatever we’re doing without thinking.

JWH

How Old Do You Need To Be To Avoid Climate Change Disasters?

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, December 18, 2015

Using the Life Expectancy Calculator at the Social Security Administration website, here’s what they predict for me:

My life expectancy

If I live another twenty years it will be 2035. Many predictions about the future use the years 2020, 2025, 2030, 2050 and 2100 as landmarks. I doubt I’ll make it to 2050, when I’d turn 99. Most of the current political discussion about climate change suggest making fixes by 2030 or 2050, but scientists are saying that’s too late. More than likely, the rest of the 21st century will be filled with climate change disasters.

My friend Connell and I were wondering this morning if we will die before the shit hits the fan.

Do most climate change deniers feel they will just avoid the issue by dying sooner than the eco-apocalypse? Won’t most older people checkout before things get bad? But when will things get bad? If it’s in the 2020s, then you need to be well into your 70s to feel statistically safe. If it’s the 2030s, then you need to be like me, in your 60s. If it’s not until the 2050s, you can be in your 40s. If it’s not until 2100, then you have to start sticking your head in the sand at age 15.

Yesterday I read, “The Siege of Miami” by Elizabeth Kolbert, author of the influential book, The Sixth Extinction. Is Miami the next New Orleans? What would happen if Miami is the next eco-catastrophe and it happens before 2030? What if rising oceans destroys South Florida’s fresh water and millions of people have to move north? Of course, the wetter it gets in Miami, the wetter it will be in other coastal cities, like New York City.

At some point even the disciples of Donald Trump will have to admit that those pesky scientists were right about climate change. The choice then will be to do something heroic or immigrate. Will folks living on higher ground want to ban immigrants from coastal regions? If you think Syrians and Mexicans pose a problem, wait until climate change refuges start moving in.

If people secretly think climate change disasters won’t hit until the 22nd century, 21st century folk are willing to wait and do nothing. What I’m asking is: What if you’re too young to avoid the suffering? What if the ball drops where you live well before 2100, or even 2030.

Connell and I think we might avoid the start of terrible events by only living another twenty years. But what if you’re in your thirties and have two little kids? You aren’t old enough, and that’s not saying anything about your children.

Should old Republicans be allowed to make decisions about climate change? Their philosophy is, “I’ve got mine and I’m going to keep it.” If Republican leaders are allowed to ignore climate change, can they be held responsible if they are wrong? If you read the article about Miami, Florida politicians are going well beyond denying climate change, they want to legalize denial. And it’s obvious why. If they admit Florida has a problem, property values will sink long before Florida will. Who’d want to retire in a flooding state?

That’s why I believe if you’re a certain age, I’m wonder if your inaction is due to thinking you won’t live long enough to suffer. How ethical is it to make a mess and then die to avoid cleaning it up?

Essay #989 – Table of Contents

Our Fantasy For Interstellar Travel is Dying

For over 50 years I’ve been reading science fiction hoping humanity will someday travel to the stars and settle other planets. Obvious other people do too, just witness the frenzy behind the new Star Wars movie, which opens on the 18th. Galactic empire stories are the new locale for big sword and sorcery epics. (Isn’t it bizarre that both are enamored with aristocracy?) What deep rooted drive makes us want to colonize distant lands? Why are we enchanted by alien landscapes, strange superior beings and their surreal cultures?

Of course, the film Avatar probably reveals our true intentions. We’d do to other worlds, what we’ve done to ours.

A Heritage of Stars - Clifford Simakavatar

I just finished A Heritage of Stars by Clifford D. Simak, which questioned our desire for interstellar travel. It was published back in 1977. A Heritage of Stars is a quaint little book, not particularly good, unless you relish 1950s style science fiction, where Simak, in his seventies, questions many of the tropes of our genre. This same questioning was evident in Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel. Both Simak and Robinson wonder at the wisdom of traveling to the stars. The distances are beyond fantastic, almost beyond comprehension. Characters in Star Wars zoom between planetary systems quicker than we travel between cities on Earth in our jet airliners. The absurdity of that strains the boundaries of absurdity. It’s only slightly less delusional than thinking we can travel to other worlds by dying.

Aurora KSMCity - Clifford Simak

Simak covers many of the most famous themes of science fiction in A Heritage of Stars. The setting is in the far future Earth, a thousand years after the collapse of a great technological civilization that went to the stars, and built intelligent robots. In some ways, it’s a variation of Simak’s classic City. America is now a post-apocalyptic landscape of roving tribes who collect the heads of robots for ceremonial voodoo. They are primitive people who can’t conceive of space travel or intelligent machines. The story is about a young man named Cushing who takes shelter in a closed-wall town, built around a former university. Cushing learns to read, discovering that humans used to be great. Cushing eventually finds mysterious references to “Place of Going to the Stars” and sets out on a quest to find it. Much like a L. Frank Baum Oz book, Cushing gathers along the way a motley assortment of strange characters to take up his quest too. A witch, a surviving robot, a horse, a man who talks to trees and a autistic like girl who can commune with the transcendental.

Along the way, Simak’s characters discover what happened to mankind, and allows Simak to philosophize about why we wanted to go to the stars. Simak also wonders if mankind is smart enough to survive his addiction to technology. Even forty year ago Simak realized that interstellar travel isn’t very practical, questioning his science fictional roots. Had Simak given up on the Final Frontier dream because he was getting old? He was in his mid-seventies at the time. I’m in a my mid-sixties and I too have given up on colonizing distant worlds. Does getting older make us realize our childhood fantasies have no foundation in reality?

Earth Abides - George R. StewartThe World Without Us - Alan Weisman

Science fiction is mostly high tech fantasy that reveals the same impulses humans have always shown. This world and life doesn’t seem to be enough for us. We want more. But the reality appears that this life and planet is all we’ll ever have. Like many other science fiction stories Simak wonders if the future of humanity will be one where we give up technology and live nomadic lives much like how Homo sapiens lived its first two hundred thousand years of existence. I can’t help but believe Simak was greatly influenced by Earth Abides by George R. Stewart. And I believe Simak would have been blown away by Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, a philosophical thought experiment that wonders what Earth would be like if humans just disappeared.

Shouldn’t we psychoanalyze why science fictions two strongest themes are space travel and the post-apocalypse? Why are galactic empires always suffering collapse and revolutions? Isn’t it rather telling that our favorite fantasies feature feudal governments and primitive weapons? The heroes of Star Wars fight with swords made of light. Is the reason why conservatives want smaller governments is because they don’t have the genes to imagine large ones?

Childhoods End - Arthur C ClarkeMore Than Human - Theodore Sturgeon

Strangely, Simak reveals a problem that NASA wouldn’t discover until years later. Mainly, we can collect the data, even store the data, but we won’t always be able to access the data. One of the conundrums that Cushing and his crew face is humans went to the stars but what they discovered is locked up in technology that their post-apocalyptic world can’t access. I felt let down by Simak’s solution. Let’s just say that Simak’s hope for humanities failures is to discover supernatural powers. That was a common theme in 1950s science fiction, especially Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and its 1960s retelling, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Theodore Sturgeon was never much of a technological science fiction writer, and went right for the ESP solution in More Than Human. Even the hard science Heinlein had hopes humans would discover magical powers. I guess they all grew up reading Oz books.

I feel let down by Simak, although I enjoyed A Heritage of Stars well enough. I believe he ends his story with false hope. Simak believes humanity can keep trying until it gets it right. Yet, he doesn’t attempt to describe what is getting it right might be. Not long ago I read a passage about Neanderthals that shook me up. It stated for the entire length of its long species’ lifetime, Neanderthals never showed any progress after achieving a certain level of development with their stone tools. For hundreds of thousands of years they made the same tools. We Homo sapiens feel superior because we’re quite dazzling with our technological innovation. However, I’m not sure we’re not like the Neanderthals in that we’ve continued to follow the same emotional and psychological patterns that we have for the last two hundred thousand years. We can’t get away from our Old Testament mindset, and without technology, we’d all live pretty much like North American tribal people before the advent of Western invaders, or the people who lived on the Russian Steppes and spoke the language that inspired all the Indo-European languages.

Kim Stanley Robinson has a much more sophisticated lesson about why we won’t be colonizing planets orbiting distant suns in his book Aurora. We are adapted to our biosphere. It’s extremely complex and interrelated. It’s extremely doubtful. even if we could travel the distance to another stellar system, we could integrate into another biosphere. Humans were made for this planet and biological landscape. We could probably export our biosphere to other barren planets if the conditions were right, but even that is doubtful.

Simak doesn’t give much focus to the intelligent machines of his story, but I’m guessing artificial intelligence has more potential validity than any other theme that science fiction explores. Simak points out that robots are the true species for interstellar travel. If Star Wars was realistic, galactic empires would be governed and populated by C3POs and R2D2s. Biological creatures would always stay on the planet of their origins, comfortably bound to their biospheres.

Simak wrote A Heritage of Stars near the end of his life, probably speculating about what will happen to humanity after his death, and revealing a certain level of age related pessimism about the future. I don’t know if he was aware of environmental catastrophes—he seemed to fear our mishandling of technology. Forty years later, our race doesn’t seem any wiser, but it does seem more suicidal.

More and more, I’m becoming an atheist to the religion I grew up with, science fiction. It’s not that I’m going to stop reading science fiction, but I no longer believe it. I study science fiction like many former believers still study The Bible. Both The Bible and science fiction reveal our deepest inner hopes. For some reason humans want to go to Heaven or Alpha Centauri. We need to understand why, and also need to understand why we’re turning our own biosphere into Hell.

Essay #984 – Table of Contents