Wake Up Call

Plants have a sort of consciousness, don't they?  At least they behave as if they do.  They know light from darkness and up from down, and they have an exquisite sense of the chemistry of their surroundings; they can find water in soil better than we can.   Not bad for beings without nerves.  Plants are in a sense aware of their environment, but (we think) not of their existence. Or at least we hope not, because it would make being a vegan morally suspect. 

One can also suppose that the planet has an awareness of its own, perhaps similar to that of plants, but even more basso, very very slow and considerate.  It is the environment, and perhaps it is aware of itself in some incomprehensible way. this awareness emerging out of the enormously complex nonlinear dynamic systems that make up the planet: the weather, the tectonic movements, the heat budget, the composition of the atmosphere and the waters, the great currents and gyres and tides of the oceans.  She is not like us.  

Human civilization cannot have yet come to the attention of this entity.  Our lifespan as a species is short compared to the lifespan of old Mom, and the emergence of civilization infinitesimally short.  It is like expecting an oak to notice the fall of another raindrop on its leaves. 

But now, for the first time, it seems we are about to change that.  For the first time human civilization is having a measurable effect on one of those systems, the problem we know as global warming.   Now it's not a raindrop falling on the oak, but a beetle boring into its bark.  Plants have neither white cells nor fingers, but the species at least doesn't have to sit there and take it.  Some trees will succumb to infestation and some will barely survive due to some chemical peculiarity, and you know the Darwinian course after that.  The oaks will contain the beetles and maybe the beetles will evolve to live more peaceably with up-armored oaks.  Or go extinct. 

So it is with us, if global warming is real.

I happened to be in grad school at a marine lab when the first ice cores came back from Greenland. All the climatologists and oceanographers were on fire with the idea that ancient atmospheres could be analyzed using air trapped in the ice as bubbles.  People were in the halls grinning, like scientists do when their field is hot.  I mention this not only because fossil air from ice is one of the basic supporting data sets in the argument that carbon dioxide increase is anthropogenic, but because its just so weird to have in your head the thought that global warming is a hoax.  Not just an error by incompetent scientists, but a conspiracy involving virtually every prominent climatologist on the planet, this conspiracy designed out of pure malevolence and hatred of America to interfere with the basic right of every American to burn as much fossil fuel as he can personally afford. People who think that can never have met an actual scientist or understood how actual top-flight scientists feel about their work. Suppose some nasty liberal said,"It's obvious that every single Baptist in Texas, except three guys, is a drug addict pedophile."  Every knowledgeable person would instantly see this as insane, absurd.  Yet that it what it means to call global warming a hoax.

It it an error?  A different question.  There's a tract that runs from the brain's amygdala, the seat, it is believed, of emotional processing, out to the higher centers in the forebrain devoted to logical thought.  It turns out that if you sever this tract, what you get is not a Spock-like logical thinking machine but someone who can't make up his mind about anything, a helpless wreck.  It's the emotional center that tells us when something is right; in fact, we actually say, "it feels right," even when we have come to a conclusion based on logical analysis.  Yes, the climate models have flaws, but they all tend to converge on the same answer, and the answer feels right.   It is difficult to exaggerate how difficult it is for scientists to arrive at a consensus or how deeply they cling to an existing one.  What the consensus on global warming means is that virtually all scientists agree that it's the most reasonable solution to the data we have.  There would have to be a very large quantity of high quality data to make the consensus change; and as yet there is no such data. That is what we mean when we say that warming is a fact.  

So we are causing the atmosphere to change, the earth is warming.  Let us say that the earth is conscious of this, as the oak was of the beetle, and it moves to correct the imbalance.  This planet has long been an hospitable place for us, and it will now become less so, maybe be radically less so, in a number of unexpected ways..  We have absolutely no idea how this would work, but it's obvious from a strategic point of view that the fewer of us there are and the less civilization there is, the less CO2 will be emitted. We can imagine a future conversation in the Planetary Bar & Grill:

    "There, that's better," the Earth will sigh, having scraped most of us off her hide. 

     Mars says, "The earthquakes worked?"

     "Yeah, them and the droughts.  Also, did you know this? There's a thing you can do that increases the mutation rate.  I had just started with that when the whole problem went away."

      "Ever find out what it was?"

      "Beats the hell out of me," says Earth.  " Some kind of glitch in the CO2 system.  Anyway, it's fixed now."