The Great Barrier Reef, Swamp Hobos, and Jaeger Shots


A few months ago, while we all reeled in the somehow shocking revelation that Donald Trump is a sexist pig, (mere weeks from the shocking revelation that 30-some-odd-percent of American voters didn’t mind that) the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living structure visible from space, responsible for supporting a massive ecosystem stretching from the depths of the ocean to surrounding landmasses… the Great Barrier Reef, which is the size of Germany, which managed to endure for over 25 million years, and which has been a source of food and even shelter to stone age humans when parts of it were exposed above sea level during ice ages….. The Great Barrier Reef quietly passed away.

It up and fucking died. Well, not entirely dead. I mean, the obituary was largely hyperbole. But it did briefly bring to public awareness the terrible condition of the reef as a whole. And taken as a whole organism, with consideration given to the realities of the forces killing it and the unlikeliness of them suddenly changing, a disease trajectory becomes apparent and obvious.

There comes a point in the face of great sickness when expectations must be managed and the unrelenting enormity of causal pressures acknowledged; the reef is terminal and that time has come. If it were a cancer patient, this would be the stage at which oncologists conduct their final interview and inform the patient that treatment is no longer an option and the only goal now is to manage pain and provide comfort.

Close family members are encouraged to come and visit. Pare that bucket list down to the most easily do-able and check them off. Go home and make the most of your final days.

I hate saying I told you so, but WE ALL FUCKING DID.

And the constant response from people who understand too little about science and nature to fully grasp just how narrow the margins are for life, is laughter. They shake their heads and muse openly about how silly concern over something like climate change seems. ‘Too big to fail’ is their comforting motto of indifference.

“A two degree increase?! I think I’ll live.”

“Carbon dioxide makes up only 0.04% of our atmosphere! And that’s all you’re worried about? Wow. White people problems.”

What no one commonly likes to bring up is that while CO2 is currently at 400 ppm (and still rising), it sat at 280 ppm for ten thousand years before we began burning coal. So, yeah… There’s that.

It’s funny how strongly people can cling to a weak argument. Amazing, really, in light of how pitifully dumb the argument against climate change has become. I say that because there is no argument. At least not an intelligent one. All anyone has to say in excusal of their denying scientific fact has all of the rationality and clout of a child’s shrug and a mumbled, “Idunno”.

And that’s a disgustingly appropriate metaphor, because they don’t know, and that is really the root of this crisis. We aren’t just experiencing a climate change problem – we have an ignorance problem. Despite the rising trend of nerd culture and the popularity of the internet, personal gadgetry and science fiction, there is this growing anti-intellectual movement that stands in violent opposition to overly complicated thought – and in some cases, thinking at all.

It’s a corporate-driven subculture personified by redneck comedians and gravelly-voiced character actors, urban pop country music stars, bearded swamp hobos, and millionaire reality show stars running for public office. It glorifies the rustic charm of the uneducated and embraces emotion over reason. And it frighteningly promotes the idea that education is somehow short-sighted and corrupting; a form of sociopolitical brainwashing that must be fought for the sake of all the good things wrought by industry and progress which it seeks to undo.

The overwhelming idiocy of this concept is almost too profound for words so I’ll completely skip over the obvious ocean of myopia here and jump to a much more beautiful ocean. A black one.

If you look up into the night sky – assuming you’re not in a city where the light pollution bouncing off the smog gives the sky the appearance of something you puked up after a night of Mexican cheese fries, Jaeger shots and the suspension of all sexual decency…..

Let me start again.   If you look up at night, you should see a sea of stars….

Of the stars which have names, approximately two thirds of those names are Arabic. Stars like Rigel, Betelgeuse, Altair, Aldebaran, Vega, Arrakis – each the fodder for various science fiction franchises….. Each of those stars is Arabic. Now, the constellations – Leo, Cassiopeia, Ursa Major, etc – they have Latin and Greek names, but the stars are predominantly Arabic. Why?

Because things are named by the cultures which discovered, invented, or documented them.

Given the current state of war and fanaticism that the Middle East lies broiling in, one would be forgiven for not immediately thinking of Arabs as a society of great astronomers but in fact, during its height, the Islamic civilization celebrated scientific achievement and contributed more to medicine, surgical procedures, math, astronomy, chemistry, physics, engineering, metallurgy and biology than any other society of the day.

Many of the things we use every day but take for granted had their roots in the Golden Age of Islam. The numbers we write with, the algebra we hate, the algorithms we swore we’d never use – all had their start in Islam, along with the scientific method, controlled drug testing, the hospital system, many surgical instruments and procedures, anatomical knowledge, celestial navigation…. Even the process of evolution was suggested by Islamic scholars and referred to as ‘the gradual process of Creation’ – a concept that the American education system still seems to be wrestling with to this day.

All of these things and much more were discovered and developed between the 8th and 12th centuries in a society which valued education, created hospitals and schools, and had enough foresight to separate religion from science. So what the fuck happened?

Well, al-Ghazali happened. He was a Muslim theologian who, despite arguing for the separation of mosque and state, also literally demonized numbers. Math became the work of the devil and he took it upon himself to set a rigid code for what Islam should or ever would be. In a time when the state already faced attacks from outside forces, he caused a sort of fundamentalist revival that ultimately destroyed the best parts of his society from within.

That forced a dramatic shift in their mindset and how they viewed the natural world. It ended centuries of cogent thought and discourse. They went from curiosity and questions, experimentation and investigation, to mysteries and revelation. In an astonishingly short time, that Golden Age of scientific investigation, exploration, discovery, innovation, and naming those new things ended.

And it never got back on its feet.

Which brings us back to today, when the former center of the academic world, Baghdad, home to the House of Wisdom, a city which was open and welcoming of all faiths – people of The Book, people of other books, people of no books – Baghdad is now a smouldering, mildly radioactive, pile of rubble where various extremist factions murder each other along with the troops of half a dozen other countries.

This is where the persecution and ridicule and demonization of science gets you.

That should scare the shit out of each and every one of you, not because of the very real threat that your own country might one day descend into war and be consumed by a dark age, but because now we are playing on a grander scale.

You may be able to flee the burning city, but you cannot flee the gasping planet. The Earth is most definitely a woman. She may be fragile, she may be fickle, but if you keep hurting her, one day she’ll wake up early and cut off your head and hands while you sleep.

So you – we, actually, all of us – need to literally wise up.  We desperately need to stop trusting convenient fallacies just because they’re comforting and told to us by charismatic men with southern accents projecting the sort of image we wish to convey ourselves. That’s not evidence-based decision making. It’s demagoguery. It’s discipleship.

It’s following the guy you most want to identify with and styling yourself to match, trimming or growing out your facial hair like his, talking like him, and saying the same things that he says, regardless of whether or not they make sense. That’s not science. That’s not even adulting.

That’s what you did when you were 6 and wore your tighty-whities over your sister’s tights and tied a bath towel around your neck and refused to go anywhere in public not dressed JUST LIKE THAT because you wanted so desperately to be Superman that you blindly hoped that if enough people just accepted you that way and said, “Oh my, you look just like this guy I know at the Daily Planet,” that sooner or later you’d gain the power of flight and be as invulnerable as Cal El and develop X Ray vision…

And just like then, America, we’re all as embarrassed as your mother was and praying to God, Odin, Allah, and Vishnu that it’s just a phase you grow out of before you leap off a tall building.

And you too, Canada. You’re supposed to be the responsible one. You should bloody well know better! Oh, stop apologizing.


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