The Future of My Trick or Treaters

By James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 31, 2014

Tonight while I sat near my front door waiting for the kids to come begging for candy I read The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. This is a very slight book, only 105 pages, that costs $6.31 for the Kindle edition. I read it so fast that I felt it should be priced like a Kindle Single, probably at $1.99. However, what it has to say should make you do at least $6.31 worth of thinking. If I reread it several times I’ll probably get a hundred bucks worth of thoughts out of it because it does present a tremendous amount information to think about. It condenses many heavy-duty ideas into powerful phrases and concepts.


Oreskes and Conway are known for their brilliant Merchants of Doubt which explains how conservative politics corrupts science to achieve its goals. Their new book is a kind of science fiction story, set in 2393 and told from a future Chinese historian about how the failure to heed science’s warnings led to The Great Collapse of 2093. It accuses science and scientists of being too timid in it’s statements about climate change.

As I frequently got up from six o’clock to nine, to give handfuls of candy to little kids in their Halloween costumes, I imagined their futures. Many will live to see 2093. If Oreskes and Conway are right, they will see more upheaval and misery than we saw in the 20th century. The Collapse of Western Civilization is the scariest horror book I’ve ever read on Halloween. It’s too bad I couldn’t have filled their sacks with science books, instead of sugary addictions.

Oreskes’ and Conway’s main points boldly states our political ideology and economic theories are outdated for dealing with climate change and the current mass extinction. We are doomed, we know how and why, and we choose to do nothing about it. Human life will not come to an end, but the effects of carbon pollution will be devastating.

Climate change deniers shout that science hasn’t offered enough proof is ridiculous. Oreskes and Conway claim science has the proof, and accuse scientists of being too timid to promote their results. The authors assert that scientists feel that unless they have 95 percent testable certainty they shouldn’t speak out. But if you were told you had a 10 percent change to contracting Ebola you’d panic. The collective results about climate change is often 95-100%, and yet we ignore it. If you were told going to a shopping mall or flying in an airplane involved a 1% chance of catching Ebola you wouldn’t go. Yet, science is confidently saying our children have a 95-100% chance of having a catastrophic future and we ignore it.

After reading The Collapse of Western Civilization I started The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014. Reading the introduction to the collected essays I knew if I took the time I could list 1,000 examples of how climate change is impacting us now. One of the first essays I read was how animals species all over the world are mixing with their cousins to produce hybrid species because of changing habitats caused by climate change. This is not new or unnatural, but the frequency is. One example they give is the mating of grizzly bears with polar bears. I could probably list 1,000 different hybrids to get to my 1,000 example count, or I could use it as just 1 of 1,000 and still find 999 articles about other specific examples of climate change happening now.

It is insane to deny climate change. To promote ones self-interest over the future of mankind is a crime against humanity. The Republican Party has a good chance of taking back the Senate in this week’s mid-term election. Their political religion is the exact wrong solution for saving the Earth. But Obama and the Democrats have done nothing significant to help either. The free hand of capitalism will always ignore the future. Choosing a smaller government and deregulation is sticking our heads in the sand and our asses up in the air. The trouble is every citizen of this country, of this world, must change the way they live. We need to go cold turkey on our wasteful way of living.


The Impact of Atheism on Well-Manicured Lawns

When I think of good Christians I think of close-knit families with spotless houses and beautiful lawns.  The most successful people I know, those whose lives are full of love and happiness, are my Christian friends, because I equate big loving families with social success.  These same people have great houses and yards.  Most of my non-believing friends tend to be childless, and like myself, self-centered, and our homes and yards show a difference.  Its odd, but I think our philosophical differences are reflected how our lawns compare.  My neighbors with the best lawns seem to be family oriented and Christian, whereas my own lawn is weedy and chaotic.  And the lawns of my Christian friends who don’t have children seem to fall in between.

The history of western civilization and Christianity has been one long war with nature.  Christians believe they have dominion over the Earth and wish to subdue nature.  That’s reflected in their lawns and gardens.  A well ordered yard reflects a well ordered mind, or so we thought.


The faithful think atheists are amoral, but most ardent nonbelievers I know tend to be liberal with strong beliefs about improving society, helping the needy and living ethical lives, but sometimes our personal habits reflect disorder.  Atheists I would contend, lean towards embracing nature, rather than ruling over it.  If I had my druthers I’d let my yard run wild and encourage more wildlife to settle in it.  We use to have a fox that lived in my neighborhood that would run through my backyard, but sadly it was killed by a car.  I’m not totally crazy—I don’t want nature coming in my house, but as long as fellow creatures don’t attack me, I don’t mind sharing my yard with as many plants, animals and insects as the natural ecology allows.

I want a Darwinian lawn.  I also want a lawn that helps the Earth and our species.  I want to lawn to helps other species from going extinct.  I want to coexist with nature and not dominate it.

I’ve often wondered about landscaping my yard so it would be perfectly adaptable to our changing climate.  I’d like the plants and other living things to adapt to the emerging weather patterns so I wouldn’t have to fertilize and water anything.  I’m not sure my neighbors and zoning czars would think about that though.  However, as soon as the perils of climate change are accepted by good Christians and they realize they must be stewards of the Earth and not conquerors, they might change their minds too.

For all their talk of heaven, Christians embrace life on Earth.  Deep down they aren’t the kind of people who commit suicide or pull the plug when the going gets tough.  They fight for life to the bitter end—and when it becomes all too obvious that they are committing species-cide they might change their minds.   We atheists accept personal extinction, but we hate the thought of humans dying off.  One day, both sides of the spiritual divide might agree on a new approach to lawn care.

For every gallon of gas you burn the warmer you make it for your descendants.  For every pesticide you add to the environment the more you poison your children, their children, and their children’s children, and so on until the Earth is cleaned up.  Denying manmade climate change is denying your own sins against the Earth, and the crimes you are committing  today will burden far more than three generations.  Easy Christianity has convinced millions to shirk their debts, because isn’t sin incurring debts to others? 

Okay, I’m an atheist, so I can’t expect you to speak my language, so let me try to speak yours.  One Christian book that impressed me was The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.   Modern Christianity has made the pardon of sins way too easy.  There has to be more to grace than just claiming belief.  What humanity has done to planet Earth is one giant cross that we must all bear.   You can’t escape your sins by denying they exist anymore than running away from them by believing.  We live by our actions, and any grace you seek must be earned by how you live and not how you think.

JWH – 5/12/14

Climate Change Observations #1

Here’s a week’s reading about climate change happening now.

  1. The Face of Climate Change: Walloped Wildlife and Flowers in the Colorado Rockies
  2. Scientists Adopt Tiny Island as a Warming Bellwether
  3. Climate change helps local man set Arctic sailing record
  4. Warming Lakes: Barometers of Climate Change?
  5. Climate-change denial getting harder to defend
  6. Climate change may force evacuation of vulnerable island states within a decade
  7. Dutch Drinking Water May Be Hurt by Changing Climate, Pollution
  8. Polling climate change in thirteen countries
  9. Climate Change And Seafood Supply: Developing Countries Most Vulnerable To Ocean Acidification
  10. Pentagon Study Cites Climate Change as National Security Threat
  11. Climate Victims Deserve a Hearing, Whether Here or in The Hague
  12. Climate Change’s Effect On Marine Life Will Leave Winners And Losers
  13. Climate change cripples forests
  14. Global Warming Is Already Causing Loss of Life and Damage to the Economy Around the World: New Report
  15. Climate change is already damaging global economy, report finds
  16. Research reports climate change could cripple Southwestern forests
  17. Are we wrong about climate change?
  18. Carbon Feedback From Thawing Permafrost Will Likely Add 0.4°F – 1.5°F To Total Global Warming By 2100
  19. Unanimous vote to support climate change refugees
  20. Climate Change Offers Grim Long-Term Prognosis for Seafood

I have Google Alerts configured to send me links to anything published about “climate change” every day.  Often the daily update links to climate change deniers, or just to articles about climate change in general, but frequently enough, it finds articles that relate stories about places around the world where climate change is happening now.  The links above are just a week’s worth of stories I found interesting.  I get many more links total.

I am not a scientist, but like Bob Dylan’s famous line, “You don’t need a weather man To know which way the wind blows,” I feel keeping the pulse of what’s happening is revealing.  I’ve given up thinking humanity will work on limiting climate change, so now I’m just an observer.  Go configure a Google Alert for yourself and read the stories.   [Or for that matter, create an alert on any topic and just watch it.  It’s a real learning experience.]

And there’s more than one story happening.  The political fight against even believing that global warming is happening is fascinating.  It’s the forces of greed versus the forces of science.  It’s a story of how delusion works wonders on minds who refuse to listen.  It’s a story of psychological warfare and FUD.

I don’t know what will happen.  However, if the liberals are wrong, the worst that happens is we spend billions making America very energy efficient.  If the the conservatives are wrong, millions die and suffer.  In making a moral decision, it’s not about who is right, but the harm you cause by thinking you’re right.

JWH – 10/7/12

Two Species of Human Beings

One of my all time favorite experiments dealt with visual perception.  I’m recalling this from memory of a book I read long ago, but maybe someone can let me know the original source.  In this experiment scientists raised two batches of kittens in different controlled environments.   Half the kittens were raised in a room with no vertical lines and the other half brought up in a place with no horizontal lines.  After six months they let the kittens out into the normal world.  The kittens who were raised without horizontal lines would not jump up onto a flat chair seat or shelves, and kittens raised without vertical lines would walk into chair legs.

When I read this I wondered what was missing from my vision because of my limited upbringing.  This current election makes me think of that experiment, because the Republicans are shouting at the Democrats, “Hey, Liberals, can’t you see the vertical lines, they’re right in front of your face!”  And the Democrats are yelling back, “Dudes, can’t you see those horizontal surfaces, they’re right there!”

Global warming deniers are making me wonder if there’s two different species of human beings living side by side.  Their absolute refusal to see the problem is so adamant that I have to wonder if it’s a matter of failed perception.  I don’t know what to say to them.  They clutch their false out-of-date data like it was handed down from God on stone tablets and they refuse to look at any new data because they think it’s from false prophets.  No matter how much information I’m willing to provide, they deny that it’s valid or that it really exists.  They are like the kittens raised without vertical lines that can’t see chair legs.

But the implications are far greater than this.  The division of the two species divide other issues like politics and religion.  How can we as a nation solve our problems, especially big problems, if we’re always polarized?  I wonder if the deniers have an innate sense of the cat in the quantum box, knowing at an unconscious level that as long as they don’t look inside the box the cat will be okay?  Will a global warming denier even understand what I just said?

To me the issue has gone beyond global warming.  I’m starting to worry that there is an even more dangerous problem than climate change, and that’s this division of perception that polarizes the population.  Is it like a law-of-nature barrier that keeps anything from going faster than light.  What if the average intelligence of the human race limits how far we can progress as a species?  We’re seeing more and more big problems that will require us to work cooperatively if civilization is to survive, but we’ve reach a total impasse on communication, refusing to do anything because we can’t agree.

Let’s avoid the global warming issue for the moment since it’s such a touchy issue.  Many of the climate change deniers scoff at climate predictions because various scientists have made predictions in the past that have apparently turned out not to be true.  Or appeared that way for awhile.  Two books, The Population Bomb (1968) and The Limits of Growth (1972) are often used as examples of failed predictions.  The trouble is, these deniers didn’t wait long enough to give the forecasts time to unfold.

Forty years later, many people think the world is just fine with 6.7 billion people and figure we can grow much larger, and they don’t think our rich lifestyles show any limits.   Perception is everything, but we’re on a roller coaster that’s climbing to the peak of the Kingka Ka, because we haven’t started the blazing ride down yet.  Now that China and India have taken up our American consumer habits, and resources are starting to be fought over, and hundreds of little stories tell me that The Limits of Growth is about to come online,  I’m getting the feeling that we’ll arrive at the peak of the climb soon.  Hold on for the ride down.

The people with rose colored corneas, obviously don’t watch a lot of documentaries, or keep up with diverse science magazines.  Conservative news shows tend to focus on the same old tired issues while ignoring the little stories that shows a whole lot of different barometers are all falling.  It’s funny that millions welcome the Christian apocalypse, but can’t see the world possibly ending in some other way.  The trouble is, the world doesn’t end, we just end up in a big mess that we’ve got to clean up.

It worries me that so many people enjoy the end-of-days stories that are so popular.  Why is it so easy to believe that an imaginary superior being will destroy us, but so hard to believe that we can destroy ourselves through pursuing those same old seven deadly sins that that same superior being warned us against?  You can not drive a SUV through the eye of a needle to get to your destination.

Maybe it’s a matter of language, and science is not the language to use to communicate across the gap that divides us.  I’ve been listening to the Bible this past year, on my iPod.  I know it’s an odd thing for an atheist to do, but I consider it learning a language.  I find it fascinating that all the things that the New Testament teaches are the things we need to do to change ourselves to avoid problems like global warming, over population and dwindling resources.

I have been thinking for days on how to reply to global warming deniers, and it is now occurring to me that I can’t recommend studying science.  That isn’t their language.  My reply to them is to buy an iPod and get a good audio edition of the Bible and really listen to it.  Listening is far superior to reading, and start at the beginning.   Pay attention to what’s happening chapter by chapter.  I know you conservatives don’t like the word “evolution” but the Bible shows an evolution of spirit.  Pay particular attention to the transition between the Old and New Testament.  Fundamental thinking is based in Old Testament philosophy.  It teaches about nation building.  The New Testament teaches about soul building.  For the people of the Earth to survive climate change will require a lot of soul building.

It is my belief that climate change deniers are worried that changing the world requires changing themselves, and they just don’t want to change.

JWH 9/22/8

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