SWIMMING WITH THE ORCAS


“In nature, there is no right or wrong, only consequences.”

An Alaskan cruise ship happened upon several deer swimming across an inlet.  Suddenly, several Orcas appeared, attacking the deer, killing the whole group.  The passengers screamed, begging the captain to “do something.”  There was, of course, nothing the captain could do.  Or should have done.  This is how nature works, predator and prey, survival of the fittest.  It is terrible to see it, but deer feed other animals as well as to breed and make more deer.  It is the way of the world.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like the way of the world when lightning caused Minnesota’s Pagami Creek Fire,  It was monitored, because wilderness fires are beneficial phenomena to the ecosystem. Jack pine seeds can only open after a fire, and I’ve seen large forests of young jack pines 10 years after a major burn. Unfortunately, one day the fire exploded, running 12 miles, ultimately burning 92,000 acres.  Regrowth has already begun, but I will never again travel my favorite route to Lake Insula.  It is the way of the world.

Large fires have burned huge swaths of Minnesota, the last big one in 1918.  That fact has not stopped many on the Iron Range from blaming the fire on the Forest Service or “radical environmentalists” like me. Scientists know fire belongs; if there is anything “radical”, it is the idea that forests, like life itself, are immutable.

Often, those who decry big government are first to ask where government is when there is a disaster.  FEMA was decimated in the name of smaller government, until Katrina, proving the adage to some that government can’t do anything right. I might counter with “Lehman Brothers.”  Wildland firefighters, who save so much property and risk their lives, are part of “big government”.  A PCMS member once made a pejorative remark to me about “government doctors.”  I think those of us who were medical officers, including the VA physicians who trained all of us, might feel differently. The previous Vice-President, who never wore a uniform, referred to those 16% of us against the Iraq invasion as traitors.  I want every president to succeed, because if they fail, we are in big trouble. If being against a war is treason, wishing a president to fail is the same, unless there is a double standard.

Big government cleaned the air (under Nixon) and the rivers, because corporations would not do it voluntarily. Accountants do not factor environmental costs in the bottom line.  When free markets fail because of greed or poor planning, big government must step in. If government is bad, then it must not interfere in the bedroom, marriage, and how I should decide to die. Drowning government in a bathtub would appear, in my world, to drown national defense. I don’t want that.

We did canoe in Minnesota, just not where we had hoped. While the fire was beneficial, we are likely to see more of these as boreal rainfall patterns are changing to a savannah-like ones with floods and droughts, rather than even, a phenomenon ascribed to climate change.  The oceans are more acid, the Ksp (solubility product) of calcium and phosphate will now, with 30% more hydrogen ions, cause deterioration in shell formation.  This is a major concern, since the oceans are acidifying at a rate 100 times faster than ever recorded during the past 20 million years.  Carbon dioxide + water=carbonic acid.  Nearly every glacier is retreating, and the volume of cubic kilometers of fresh water entering the ocean will further change the climate.  This isn’t bad, it just is, unless you are human, live on a coast, eat seafood, or get your water from a glacier, as do Peruvians and Indians, in which case it is a huge concern.

Every prediction of the future must quantify uncertainty; to do otherwise is unscientific. Not one argument I have heard against climate change has stated a p-value, confidence interval or margin of error. The late Sen. Moynihan said “you can choose your opinions but not your facts.” The IPCC is 95% confident, which we statisticians consider high. Using a cold week or a record low as a counterexample shows an inability to distinguish between local weather and global climate, which is basic to understanding climate change. For the record, in Tucson there have been 6.5 times as many record highs than lows since 2001 (142/22). This is a fact.

Not one argument I have heard against climate change has been free of personal attacks.  These attacks, having nothing to do with science, obscure the issue, ironically diluting and degrading the writer’s thesis. The subject is climate change, not what hikers wear.  I have discussed the science using statistics, which may be confirmed.  To clarify, I have been to ANWR twice, hiked 120 miles in three of its major river valleys, including 1002, and I find it and Antarctica among the most beautiful places on Earth.  I strongly disagree with those who disparage ANWR or climate change without having ever seen or understanding each respectively, and I have considerable knowledge of both topics.

Of course, some scientists, ever fewer, do not agree, but the vast majority of reputable scientists believe manmade climate change has occurred. Per cent occupancy of the globe is statistical misuse: 70% of the planet is water, and vast stretches are desert.  Fukushima is 0.0003% of Japan’s area, but radioactive Cesium contaminated 10% of the country. It is the way of the world that as a statistician, I frequently see statistics misused (99.999996% of aircraft flights in the US were not hijacked in 2001).  Mankind has never encountered CO2 levels this high.  We are running an uncontrolled experiment; worse, models are under-predicting the consequences. The average temperature has risen, overall weather patterns have changed and the higher sea level has already caused problems. These are facts.  It is the current way of this world.

When I was a neurologist, I often delivered bad news.  I do so again as a scientist and writer.  As a physician, I changed my patient management in the face of convincing evidence.  I believe I have convincing evidence about the world’s climate. I believe if nobody speaks out against those who disagree, and I continue to be polite with my word choice, misinformation will continue. I am calling them out; I will not be silent.  It is the way of my world.

The voters who elected this Congress believe that they will benefit from smaller government.  Ironically, many of these voters will need SSI and Medicare, which may be cut.  They are deer, and they actually want to swim with the Orcas.  It is, sadly, the way of their world.

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