Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Of Not Seeing the Sun in the Sky

The study was just another one of those temperature-taking exercises.  It was a national poll, one that looked at American attitudes towards climate change and the possible causes thereof.

On the one hand, more of us are aware that this is actually an issue, that it's a real thing.  The world is warming, and the impacts are visible and tangible.  We see it in storms, in strangely intense weather, in encounters with things we've never seen before.

In my little corner of America, I've seen two five hundred year floods in the last ten years, as the little stream that burbles along the bottom the valley in which I live has turned into a raging torrent hundreds of yards wide.  Twice in the last two years, we've had fierce bursts of graupel, a peculiar winter precipitation that isn't snow, hail, sleet or freezing rain.  It's an alpine phenomenon, or used to be, and one I'd never heard of before I saw it rushing down as I drove.  When you see precipitation, and you're 50 years old, and you don't know what it is?  That's a thing.

The weather has been "Biblical," which is generally a hopeful adjective until it's applied to meteorology.

So we all know things are off.  The majority of human beings recognize that this is a crisis.

But when asked why things are happening, we still seem to struggle.  The poll showed that we thought all manner of things might be the cause of climate change.

Like, say, the thirty seven percent of Americans...more than one in three...who believe that the world is getting warmer because the sun is getting hotter.

I've heard this before, as something pitched out to explain the obvious changes in things.  "Well, it's just part of a natural cycle of the sun."  This sounds like science, and it would be, if it were true.  But it isn't.   Solar energy has been static for my entire lifetime.  There's no change coming from our G-type main sequence star that can be tied to the increase in temperatures on our little world.

No space scientists are suggesting this.  No astrophysicists are suggesting this.  There's no data coming from our observatories or space-based instrumentation to affirm this idea.  It seems to come out of nothing.  It's just not true, and not in an "it's debatable" way.  There is no evidence for it, and all of the evidence is against it.

Why, then, do we believe it?

It seems that there are two reasons: disinformation and self-deception.

The first is part of the plague of our social age, the passing on of malicious misinformation by actors who do so to sow discord and hatred to their own benefit.  Like, say, the folks who insist that 9/11 was an inside job coordinated by Republicans.  Or that Sandy Hook was a hoax.  Or that an international cabal of child sex slavers were running a secret warehouse of captive children out of the basement of a neighborhood pizza joint.

These wild, unfounded, inflammatory fantasies are almost impossible to escape, as they are shared by earnest friends in our endless online rumor chamber.  They come from conspiracy theorists, glazed-eye ideologues, and bad state actors whose cynical interests lie in the continued use of fossil fuels.  Why do we share them?

That is the human part, our deep seated ability to see only what we want to see.  All of us fall prey to this, particularly when we encounter realities that aren't the reality we want to see.  Rather than open ourselves to the thing right there in front of our faces, we turn our eyes to the thing that affirms what we would like to be true.  It isn't necessarily malicious in intent.  But it has malicious effect, as our ego-driven blindness causes just as much harm as had we meant to do ill.

So when we'd rather not change our lives, and see a bit of information that seems to affirm our current position, we grasp after it.  We want to believe it.  We hunger for it to be true, even if there's nothing behind it.  We see what we want to see.

To the point, apparently, where the sun can shine in the sky, and we can't even see it.