by John Bos
In a 1948 speech to the House of Commons, Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” He was paraphrasing George Santayana in 1905 who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Both men, politician and philosopher, were correct. Until now. We can no longer rely on history to predict or respond to the current climate crisis.
In one of my exchanges with a person who does not find evidence that we are warping the natural climate variables, he wrote, “What I’ve learned about climate history [is that] we are still in an ice age that started 2-3 million years ago. That ice age is composed of periods of glacial advances lasting over 100,000 years interrupted by interglacial periods that last 10,000 years. We are at 10,000 years into the current interglacial period.
“Current global temps are about the same as they were 1000 years ago (maybe warmer, maybe cooler) and cooler than during the warmest phases of this interglacial 3000-8000 years ago. It cooled from about 1000 years ago until about 200 years ago and has been warming since then.
“I am unmoved from the position that we don’t account accurately for natural factors. We ignore or zero out natural inputs that are likely significant variables. My position is that until we have a better understanding of the natural inputs, we cannot make definitive statements about the significance of anthropogenic CO2 in climate variation.”
I responded by asking him if the almost eight billion people who live on this earth impact the natural climate variables.
He responded with “I do sense the human impact on earth. I make an effort to find subjects where man’s impact is not obvious. It’s getting tougher to do.
“But we are not an alien infection on earth. We were born from earth. We were made by this planet. We didn’t seek this out, yet here we are.”
“Ultimately,” he wrote, “Earth will have created a species that can carry parts of itself into the universe beyond or it will consume every last one of us until we no longer exist. All of the toxic materials we concentrate were born of Earth or transformed by this Earth born species. When we fail or die, what created nature will transform, disperse, and reconfigure. There are billions of years to go. We are a unique natural experiment. A flash in the pan. Our success or failure is meaningful to us, but ultimately, if we fail, all will be reconfigured, erased and forgotten as the ages roll [on]. I try not to let our dubious fate torment me, or as I recently heard, don’t live in the wreckage of some imagined future. Peace brother!”
What gave us the umbrella under which we could talk civilly about one of the most polarizing topics in America and elsewhere in the world was synchronicity. I had interviewed this man for the Greenfield Recorder. After many years of community service for his town on the Select Board and other committees, his primary passion these days is painting. He is an excellent artist of landscapes near and far away.
I subsequently learned that he is a conservative and invited him to participate in a facilitated dialogue workshop sponsored by Braver Angels. Braver Angels (originally Better Angels) is a national organization working to “building a house united” by depolarizing political conversation (see www.braverangels.org). It was in that workshop that I, a liberal, discovered his view about our climate crisis. He is the only conservative in our local Braver Angels group that I can have a non-abusive conversation with about all things environmental.
He recently wrote that Braver Angels “has re-enforced an approach I adopted in the last ten years. I realized that I had never changed anybody’s mind through argument. I’m not particularly good at it to begin with, and I allow emotion to creep into my voice. My mind has been changed on subjects only through observation. I would come to realize that those I disagreed with were right all along, but it wasn’t them that changed my mind.”
“So, like you,” he continued, “I state my position and try to explain why I hold that position. I do not question, for instance, my brother’s beliefs. ‘Andy, I’m not arguing with you. Since you offered your thoughts, I just want you to hear mine and why I hold them. That’s all.’”
Actually, to tell the truth, he’s better at this than I am. But I’m trying!
It boggles my mind that so many people don’t see, can’t see, or won’t see the evidence of humanity’s impact upon our planet and are so damned strong in their beliefs. It’s about accepting facts, not beliefs. And those facts continue to change. It’s called science.
I’ll close with another Santayana quote, “The empiricist…thinks he believes only what he sees, but he is much better at believing than at seeing.”
John Bos has researched and written about climate change for the past ten years. He is a contributing writer for Green Energy Times. Comments and questions are invited at firstname.lastname@example.org.