Archive for December, 2009

If you don’t recycle, you are kind of a jerk

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Recently, I was drawn into an argument (of sorts) at work, on the nature of climate change. My interlocutor insisted that he did not recycle because:

a) the whole climate change thing is not man made but a big conspiracy by scientists who are making money from supporting the claims and would be out of work if they didn’t


b) the zealotry of environmentalists is akin to that of fundamentalist religion, in that anyone who doesn’t agree is ostracized and condemned.

This individual, who, according to a recent poll, is one of about half the population of the UK who holds such an opinion, was brought to this point of view by Nigel Lawson (whose book on the subject is favourably reviewed here and by a climatologist here), not, unsurprisingly, a scientist, but a conservative politician.

To address point a), here is a thorough list of the arguments against climate change and the appropriate scientific proof refuting them.

I want to skip quickly past that point, since I think it’s been handled adequately elsewhere. It boils down to a refusal to understand the scientific method, the water cycle, and the carbon cycle.

Moreover, the idea that there is some evil consortium of mustache-twisting scientists bent on filling the world with windmills, rather than a varied group of climatologists, oceanographers, entomologists, meteorologists, geologists, biologists, microbiologists, astronauts, rocket scientists, ecologists, and other ‘ists’ and ‘auts’, who spent several years in school learning about how science works, stumbling across information in their research which all points to the same conclusion, is as absurd as thinking that the whole ‘world is round’ thing was a conspiracy of cartographers and sailors bent on making millions with new and more complicated maps rather than a discovery of something already extant.

Which brings me to his point b. While at first blush one can see the same kind of passion in really enthusiastic environmentalists as one sees in evangelical Christians or Mormons – people who desperately try to convert you because they really, honestly think that you will suffer endless torment if they don’t – a little more attention uncovers the problem with the comparison, which is the same problem that religious people come across when railing against atheists:

Religion is based on faith. Science is based on observation, tests, and adequate repetition proving causation. Religion is about convincing yourself, science is about letting the data convince you.

People who accept (rather than ‘believe’) climate change is man made and harmful react negatively towards those who don’t not because of some religious fervor, but because the deniers’ behavior (voting, not recycling, driving SUVs) affects them.

Deniers aren’t skeptics, looking askance at meager and poorly conveyed dogma, they are jerks who don’t want the hassle of changing their behavior, or people who don’t like or ‘believe in’ science.

But the thing with science is, you don’t have to believe in it, it’s there whether you like it or not. No matter how confusing math might be to any given person, 2 + 2 = 4. The world is round even if you’re not high enough up to see.

On (Seasonal) Generosity

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Whatever ones position on the existence of Jesus C and his supposed birthday, the holiday season brings with it an inevitable attention on generosity. Some might be inclined to wave this off as mere consumerism, and given the panic and bedlam that can be inspired by a single popular toy, they may not be far off.

Much ink is spent on the creation of suggested gift lists, and many spend hours pondering what might be the perfect present, feeling something like euphoria if an idea is hit upon, and despair if one ends up settling for a sweater; not to mention the embarrassment if one receives a gift without having one to give, or one of vastly different value.

But there is something behind the mania for tchotchkes, electronic doodads, and various fine comestibles – the idea that at bottom, the holiday is about showing appreciation for those we care for (or, possibly, to whom we feel obligated), which has evolved into a spree of orgiastic spending as a result of capitalism, consumerism, and marketing.

In a culture where identity is so closely tied with our belongings, the value and brand identity (or lack thereof) of our gifts can translate into a declaration of an understanding of our gift recipient’s personality (real or aspirational).

However, in light of the recent economic downturn, many, if not all, have been either crushed or encroached upon. With limited resources and ongoing financial anxiety, the enjoyment of finding and delivering gifts can becomes less complete, polluted by resentment (if one feels one must provide something and has not the means to do so), or regret and shame (if one gives something of lesser value than one deems appropriate).

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=cookies&iid=101836″ src=”0098/d195ebfe-4a84-4710-8970-f852ee092b05.jpg?adImageId=8029961&imageId=101836″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]It is all well and good to suggest, at this point, that a box of homemade cookies, with love in every bite, would be just as appreciated as a new video game or first edition, but, as much as I love cookies, sometimes it’s just not enough. For friends from work? Absolutely. For Mom and Dad, who would rather have a box of cereal than cause you financial anxiety? Clearly.

But, if one is aware that someone between those two ends of the list will or has already dropped a large sum on something carefully considered, how can they refuse to do the same if it is at all possible? How can they allow themselves to be so miserly? And yet, if they do make whatever financial sacrifice is necessary, how to avoid those aforementioned sullen feelings?

The less one has, the more mercenary one can become. Some can maintain the emotional and intellectual equilibrium and fortitude to remember that money is just money – something to be spent on necessities and enjoyment, that if they were to die tomorrow, having a small sum for a rainy day would be worse than useless, and that making the smallest amount of happiness in the world is (scientifically proven) contagious.

The less equable will be tormented by the bills expected in January, wanting to be kind and thoughtful, but unable to turn off that evolutionary advantage of thinking ahead to avoid danger and difficulty.

Perhaps the best than can be hoped for these sorts, of which I fear I may be one, is that the anticipation of shame and unkindness will create more anxiety than a temporary (one hopes…) reduction in funds.