Dimensions of Happiness and Fulfillment

My grandson is just past halfway through his second year, and I’m pushing seventy-five. I think about all that he must learn to prepare for his world and his life. It seems overwhelming. Don’t misunderstand, his parents deserve an A-Plus so far, and his grandparents and others are doing their part as well. He’s off to a very good start on his journey!

All of this has caused me to consider the responsibilities of parents and others in raising a child in this complicated and dangerous world. What should we teach our children, and when? What qualities assure happiness and fulfillment? There are no easy answers to these questions.

I’m reminded of something I wrote a couple of years ago about the qualities of a president that we should expect. Wouldn’t those same qualities apply to each of us, whether we choose to be a leader of nations or the best hamburger flipper in the universe?

In a speech at a university some years ago, Steve Jobs challenged the graduates to find what they love and get really good at it. I’m asking a deeper question. What qualities would help us figure out what we love and then give us the drive to pursue excellence? Here is my answer. These are qualities all of us should embrace and reward in ourselves and in others. These are qualities we should nurture in our children and grandchildren.

Humility – It is important to know oneself, to understand one’s own limitations, and to appreciate the extraordinary potential from hearing and considering other voices and ideas. Effective individuals surround themselves with excellent people, and they are good listeners. They readily give credit when it is deserved. They deflect attention away from themselves recognizing the value of teamwork, everyone having something important to contribute.

Eloquence – People who develop the ability to communicate their ideas are more likely to earn the respect of others in their lives. They possess the wonderful ability to explain and to paint a verbal picture that others understand. They may not always agree, but at least they understand. That understanding encourages meaningful and constructive dialogue. They know each other’s thinking on the issues they face, small or great as they may be. Sometimes in life there are no good choices, but being articulate and eloquent helps us to explain what we believe needs to be done.

Courage – Effective people exhibit the courage of their convictions. They consider the ideas of the others, but they decide what is right, in the best interest of everyone and for the long-term. They reject emotional impulses and seek rational and logical responses. They are not afraid of pressure groups, bullies, and special interests. Being popular is not always being wise or honorable.

Compassion – We appreciate individuals who care about other people from all walks of life. They genuinely strive to find solutions that will resolve difficult problems and improve lives. They do this without regard for personal benefits that might accrue to themselves or others in their immediate circle. They are focused on the important issues of the day, and are genuinely troubled by our failing to mitigate society’s calamities. They are tireless in their efforts to aid and comfort those in need or turmoil.

Principles – We respect people who have an ideological framework, a moral compass, and a thorough commitment to the critically important ideas that ensure human flourishing in any society. In the United States, we respect individuals who understand and appreciate the underlying philosophy behind the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with all its personal freedoms and security.

Wisdom – Intelligence is an important character trait, but wisdom is the ability to use those gifts to make good decisions. Wisdom anticipates the future and prepares for consequences. Wisdom considers alternatives and uses rational methods to ascertain the relative viability of options and alternatives. Wisdom is not swayed by false prophets nor by populist purveyors. Individuals with wisdom understand people and the infinite complexity of social systems. They take appropriate action when time and pressure demands it. They are decisive but thoughtful. They always do what they believe is right and smart.

Integrity – Perhaps the most important quality is integrity, but it goes beyond honesty. Integrity is in the heart and soul. It guides us, and it gives us strength and conviction. We appreciate those who tell us what they believe, without concern for political correctness. Individuals with integrity remain immune from conflicts of interest. They place the rights of people foremost in their thinking, and they never attack others for purposes of self-aggrandizement. Integrity is an essential quality, and we shun those who do not tell the truth and who are morally insecure and vulnerable. Nothing surpasses integrity as a quality we should expect in our children, our grandchildren, and everyone we love.

Now the hard part.  How do we teach these personal qualities? We model them, but first we have to work on improving ourselves.

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Winning an Argument

The two men argued. They debated emotionally, raising their voices, often interrupting. They attacked each other’s character, belittling, condescending, and dismissing the other’s talking points. This was not going to end well.

For many reasons, neither man could possibly admit or even hint at defeat. It was televised. Each man represented millions of like-minded viewers, not to mention competing advocacy groups paying their salaries and counting on them to win the debate while crushing their opposition.

The topic, network, and individuals involved are not relevant. It could be any argument among thousands occurring daily on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, CBS, ABC, PBS, and countless radio stations or podcasts. It could be among any number of people representing just about any cause or issue.

I’m finding this increasingly annoying. What’s the point? For the stations, its ratings and the money that follows those ratings. What’s the point for the audience? Enlightenment? Are we learning something? Are we just being entertained? Are we being persuaded? Perhaps it’s a bit of all of these, or none.

As a sport’s fan, I like good competition in which one side or the other wins. Sure, occasionally in some sports there is a tie, usually an unhappy outcome for everyone. In these contests, there are rules and scores that determine winners and losers. This is not the case with arguments. Surely there are formal debates with rules and scoring mechanisms, but 99.9 percent of arguments do not follow any rules other than those ascribed by show producers or the FCC. I suppose we might remember the way Hamilton and Burr settled their differences. Now that’s entertainment!

Many years ago, as a young man, I read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. One of the chapters titled You Can’t Win an Argument includes the following explanation.

Nine times out of ten, an argument ends with each of the contestants more firmly convinced than ever that he is absolutely right.

You can’t win an argument. You can’t because if you lose it, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? Well, suppose you triumph over the other man and shoot his argument full of holes and prove that he is non-compos mentis. Then what? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior. You have hurt his pride. He will resent your triumph.

A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.

Ben Franklin went even further on this point. In his autobiography, he wrote the following.

. . . My list of virtues continued at first but twelve; but a Quaker friend having kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud, that my pride showed itself frequently in conversation, that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any point, but was overbearing and rather insolent, of which he convinced me by mentioning several instances, I determined endeavoring to cure myself, if I could, of this vice or folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my list, giving an extensive meaning to the word.

I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it. I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, agreeably to the old laws of our Junto, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so, or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering, I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appeared or seemed to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this charge in my manner; the conversations I engaged in went on more pleasantly.

The modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevailed with other to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.

And this mode, which I at first put on with some violence to natural inclination, became at length so easy, and so habitual to me, that perhaps for these fifty years past no one has ever heard a dogmatical expression escape me. And to this habit (after my character of integrity) I think it principally owing that I had early so much weight with my fellow-citizens when I proposed new institutions, or alterations in the old, and so much influence in public councils when I became a member; for I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my points.

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility. . ..

When I observe the angry divide in our country, I cannot help but wonder why we don’t consider the wisdom of Carnegie or Franklin. Would we be more enlightened, or more persuaded to a right course of action, if the arguments were offered with some humility or empathy?  Shouldn’t we want outcomes we could all embrace? Apparently, few of us learn to argue this way.

Even in sporting contests, most of us were taught to be gracious winners and good sports in defeat by sincerely congratulating the winners.  Those on the losing teams even honor and respect their opponent’s victory in a fair contest. Successful teams learn critical lessons from their losses, the silver-lining. That surely helps them improve and prepare for the next contest. Shouldn’t the same logic apply to competing ideas?

When congress or the local village board decides on some policy, shouldn’t those who argued for something else, respect the will of the majority and help to make it work, at least until some better idea surfaces and wins the day.

What we observe at this moment in the history of our country is destructive. We have winners who want to bury their opponents, and we have losers who want to take away the victory.  This cannot end well!

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The Ends Don’t Justify the Means.

It’s a simple idea and it’s been with me all my life. I’m not sure when I first heard it. It was before I understood its profound meaning. My parents and grandparents repeated it often to me and my sisters when we were children. Teachers reminded us about it from my earliest schooling experience. I’ve heard it so often, I don’t remember its origin. It’s ingrained. It’s one of those notions we might call a universal principle as it should apply across all cultures.

I had an epiphany, a new understanding of this old idea. It was January 20, 2017, Inauguration Day in the United States. A day we peacefully transfer our government’s executive branch from one steward to another. About half of the US population did not support the person who was about to take the oath of office to become our President for the coming quadrennial. This is not a new circumstance. The same could be said four, eight, twelve, sixteen years ago, and many inaugurations before that. We attach great importance to the Presidency of this republic.

img_3032It came to me as I observed the violence on that day, that many of my fellow citizens never learned that the ends do not justify the means. Another possibility is that they learned it, but were so emotionally hijacked that they’d lost all ability to reason. It was obvious to any observer that countless people felt justified to commit bizarre acts of violence and destruction in violation of laws and morality. I kept thinking to myself, how can they justify their behavior. The answer, they believe their goal is the justification.

Admittedly, some were peaceful protesters who just wanted the world to know they didn’t approve of the incoming administration. That’s fine, it is their God given right to express themselves peacefully if they don’t deprive others of their constitutionally guaranteed rights in the process.

It was sad to see some of the protesters as they were interviewed by the intrepid reporters mingling among them. It was clear that many of them could not explain their motivation. They were just angry. Again, this is understandable and expected after a political contest where both sides are demonizing the other without much restraint or conscience. Does this justify burning someone’s car? Does this justify destroying someone’s business establishment? Does this justify injuring another person, or worse.

I was struck by the way the different networks covered inauguration day. CNN, MSNBC, and others decided to focus their coverage more on the protesters and the rioters than other networks that chose to cover the Inauguration more extensively. No problem! Each media outlet is entitled to their editorial perspective. Freedom of the press is another right that is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Fast forward to February 1st and head west to Berkeley. Some students at the University of California don’t agree with Milo Yiannopoulos, an author and editor of Brietbart news organization. They are angry that he was invited to speak at the University by a group of Republican students. The University says it is prepared for protesters, but an hour before the speech is to commence, violence breaks out, and the protest is now a full-scale riot. The speech is cancelled and the speaker is removed from the University to safety. The protesters and the rioters obviously had a couple of goals in mind. Stop Milo from speaking to other students who invited him to the campus, and send a message to anyone who has an interest or sympathy with Milo or Brietbart, they are not allowed on this campus. Any means to that end was justified in their minds, including, intimidating and assaulting people who wanted to hear the speaker and destroying personal and university property.

These people would use any means to achieve their desired outcomes. I cannot imagine the horrific consequences if the speaker had been allowed to continue with his presentation as planned.

Following my epiphany, I’ve realized countless examples where people act in a manner they justify because they are convinced their goal is worthy. Consider the extremists who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Only God knows what other ends they intended to achieve without concern for human life. These people never learned the lesson.

Consider the thousands of angry women who gathered the day after the inauguration across the country and around the world.  I’m not referring to those peacefully protesting the new president or any number of other causes they deem honorable. I’m talking about the ones that justify taking the life of an innocent human for no other reason than they can’t be bothered to have a child of their own. I don’t think these people learned that the ends don’t justify the means.

Then we have elected representatives who boycott senate hearings to prevent an outcome they don’t like. Boycotting is certainly an expression protected by the Constitution, but character assassination to destroy the reputation of another human being is not.

Speaking of character assassination, what about calling someone a denier of science just because the person embraces different scientific ideas. It has become a common practice to discredit legitimate scientists who come to conclusions about their science that differ from the ideas of the bullies. These ad hominem attacks go far beyond the scientific community. The goal is to shut down debate. Any means to that end is justified, including distorting the science.

Since my epiphany, it has dawned on me that virtually all criminal activity from thievery to murder, in fact most if not all uncivilized behaviors are justified solely by the desired outcome. Didn’t these people learn the ends don’t justify the means. Apparently not. It’s time for some education.

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National Popular Vote: Profoundly Meaningless!

The Sunday morning news shows offered some much-needed amusement following the thorough elephant stomping my beloved Gators suffered in the SEC Championship game Saturday afternoon. At least it was expected this year. For some deeply psychological reasons, that made it easier to take.

Before I expand on the Sunday follies, I’d like to divulge the defense mechanism that my son and I engage to cope with such disappointing defeats. It’s simple, we have several teams and sports we follow, so at least one of the favorites is bound to win just enough to keep us happy. By winning on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers salvaged an otherwise miserable sports weekend. They could even make the playoffs this year if they hold together for their final four games. Fingers are crossed. Now, we need the FGCU eagles, both Gator basketball teams, and the Miami Heat, among others, to save us from a highly possible and historically common collapse of the Bucs.

img_0407Back to my Sunday morning amusement. Almost all the talking heads obsessed somewhat apologetically about the national popular vote won decisively by their favorite presidential candidate. Of course, they ignored the overwhelming electoral defeat at the hands of the much derided rival candidate. Does this seem analogous to my coping mechanism? I suppose it’s like looking for the silver-lining.

My amusement at this untethered rationalization is just this. The national popular vote is profoundly meaningless. (Oxymoron intended.)

Who received the most votes in a national election makes as much sense as claiming the Gators won the SEC Championship because they possessed the ball for 35 minutes compared to only 25 minutes for elephants from Alabama. You see, neither team was trying to possess the ball to win the game just as neither candidate was trying to win the national popular vote. You can’t change the rules after the game is over.   Different rules would result in a different game and a completely different election outcome. We will never know who would win a different game or election. It was never contested.

In a national popular vote election, how often do you think the candidates would hold rallies in New Hampshire? Rarely! They’d be vying for every possible vote in the population centers. It wouldn’t make any difference that California, New York, or Illinois would support one candidate over the other, because in a national popular vote contest, state election victories would be irrelevant. There would be incentives for wooing everyone in those big one-sided states.  On the other hand, the voters in New Hampshire, Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii, North Dakota, etc. could be largely ignored by the candidates. Campaigning in those states represents a colossal waste of time. Most importantly, how much incentive would the candidates have for focusing on the interests and needs of these small states? Very little, indeed. We’d soon experience the Tyranny of the majority, something our Founders and our Constitution strived mightily to prevent.

We live in a republic, the United States of America, for which our American Flag stands tall and proud. Elections are held in the states by the states for the people of the states. We elect a president for all the states by an indirect method, called the Electoral College.  It takes into consideration both the number of states won and the size of each state. The candidate that wins most votes in a state or the District of Columbia gets all the Electoral votes of that state (with two usually unimportant exceptions).  The margin of victory in each state makes no difference.  Winning by one vote out of 10 million in a state is the same as winning by 3 million votes.  How much time did the candidates spend in the three biggest states of California, New York, and Texas?  Almost no time at all, because the candidates knew they had a majority of the popular vote, and getting more would make no difference.  Ironically, in this election each candidate ended up with about ten million votes they did not need.  For the losing candidate, nearly all of these surplus votes were in California and New York where they did no good toward securing an electoral victory.

A national popular vote election would result in different campaigning patterns by the candidates and different turnout by the voters. It’s a different election and it never occurred.  I find it absurd to surmise what might have been, and amusing to witness the obsession of the disappointed losers.

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Burdened by Dogma

As a science educator, I began every course trying to help my students understand this human endeavor we call science. Most beginning college students come to class with an idea about science, a belief. For sure, different students embrace different ideas, but there is a common meme in the public mind.

We generally believe that science is about finding truth. The same could be said for religion and the criminal justice system, but we know these institutions are different. In religions, there are articles of faith, beliefs that remain constant over time among the devout. Our criminal justice system seeks the truth by determining a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Science has no absolute articles of faith, and science cannot remove all doubt. Science seeks to understand, but science can never know everything. The best science can do is develop amorphous theories, constantly changing bodies of knowledge no matter how well accepted they might become. Verdicts may be settled, your spiritual beliefs may resist change, political contests result in elections that are over and done, but science is never settled. No matter how much we know about anything, there is always more to learn.

Science is about the process. It is a method for seeking greater knowledge. Settled knowledge is dogma and dogma is not science.

CraziesThe history of science is replete with well-accepted ideas that turned out to be wrong. Some of these ideas caused death. George Washington most likely died before his time because of bad medical science. Low-fat diets contribute to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes because of bad nutritional science thrust on an unsuspecting public by our government. Now we have people who believe in their hearts that we can stop the planet from warming if we just stop burning fossil fuels. And if you disagree, they will call you names like “denier” or worse. They might even try to assassinate your character, even destroy your career.

Governments are the worst offenders because they have the power to create laws and regulations that institutionalize bad science. For decades, people bought low-fat foods without realizing they were eating excessive quantities of unhealthy carbohydrates. This led to fatty tissue compromising the functioning of vital organs such as the liver and even the brain while depriving their bodies of essential nutrients. Even the labeling of certain foods can be very confusing, misleading consumers to purchase or not purchase certain foods contrary to their best interests.

How easy is it to change a law or a regulation that is based upon bogus science? Imagine a coalition of state attorneys-general who seek to prosecute people who embrace a different understanding or challenge conventional wisdom.  Someone should write a book about bad science through the centuries and the tragic consequences. Perhaps it has already been written. Bad science is made worse by zealots and dictators who use their powers to stifle open enquiry.

Scientists themselves can be very dogmatic. After all, they are human. Like the rest of us, they like to hold onto ideas they find emotionally satisfying. Other ideas might be threatening to them, requiring the overturning of long-held beliefs. Remaining open-minded is not easy for us humans.

Be very afraid of the scientist or anyone who claims to know scientific truth. Be especially concerned about any person who insults and tries to intimidate others who hold different ideas. Many scientific breakthroughs occur because a lone voice challenges a well-accepted theory.

In science, dogma is a burden. It closes our eyes and our minds to possibilities. It gives license to people who want to control the lives of other people. Let’s not let this happen.

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Choosing a President: Reconsidered

Exactly one year ago, I wrote about choosing a president for our country. In that piece, I described seven personal qualities of an effective president with the most important being Integrity followed by wisdom, principles, compassion, courage, eloquence, and humility.

IMG_0628That seems like a long time ago, and only two of the 20 candidates in the race at that time remain for our consideration. A handful of other candidates will appear on ballots in some states, districts, and territories of the USA. These additional candidates cannot win, but as certainly happened in 1992 and other years, they could affect the outcome of the election.

Over the course of the campaign, neither of the final two major party candidates earned my respect. Using the personal qualities outlined in my earlier piece as criteria for evaluation, Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton represent the least satisfactory of those seeking the office.  It’s almost a sure thing that one of them will take the Oath of Office as President of the United States next January. There is something terribly wrong with the way we nominate and elect a president.

It’s a quandary, a predicament. The Republican candidate is essentially clueless, undisciplined, self-centered or even narcissistic, and seemingly unprepared to be President. The Democrat candidate is dishonest, manipulative, corrupt, incompetent, and in the words of the Director of the FBI, “extremely careless”. I would add, she embraces positions on important issues that are antithetical to our Constitution and to a government of the people. Either way, tomorrow we elect a president considered unsatisfactory by most Americans.

I have close friends, and family that I love deeply, that support or at least intend to vote for each of these imperfect candidates. Those of us who differ on this decision, mostly avoid political discussions. Our strong bonds will continue no matter the outcome of this election, but I’m worried about our nation and its future. It is obvious to me there is anger and even hatred across the country. As we have often seen, some of this finds expression in destructive even murderous behavior.  I lay some of the blame for this at the feet of national leadership, or the lack of it.  Each of us also shares responsibility.

Which outcome will be worse for our country; the media’s predicted Clinton victory or an epic Trump surprise?

On this day before the election, I’m unsure of the outcome, because I’ve grown to distrust just about anyone who reports, writes, or comments for one of the major news organizations. The fact that 50 top newspapers endorsed Mrs. Clinton tells me that Mr. Trump might have a small chance, because apparently only seven percent of us respect journalists and the media’s talking heads. The public opinion polls have their problems as well, and there are too many of them. Averaging their erroneous results only obfuscates the analysis. My skeptical and perhaps cynical side tells me that some of them are pure propaganda and just plain malicious with their distortions.

Like many Floridians, I voted early. So how did I vote? For a time, I considered a write-in for Evan McMullin, but quickly realized, his only possibility of winning would be hindered by my vote for him. McMullin’s opportunity to become our 45th President arises from a tie between Clinton and Trump or neither reaching 270 votes in the electoral college with McMullin winning in Utah. In this scenario, the U.S. House of Representatives would select the next President, and the Senate would choose the Vice President. In Florida, any vote not for Trump reduces McMullin’s nanoparticle of chance for this unimaginable outcome.  But that’s not how I decided on my vote.

It was not a difficult decision for me. The Presidency is much bigger than the person in the office. There is a platform of policy initiatives to pursue, there are thousands of people involved. There is the Congress and the Judiciary to consider. We might elect HRC or DJT to the office, but we get much more. That makes the decision easier, because it’s the resulting executive administration that offers the best outcomes for our future that should earn our votes. Which one will work best with the other branches of government to bring about necessary reforms? Which one will appoint competent people to the judiciary; judges and justices that understand our Constitution and the important rights it is designed to protect? Which one will appoint talented advisors and cabinet officials who believe in a limited federal government and embrace subsidiarity; the idea that the best government is that which is closest to the people it serves? Which Presidency will understand the importance of a strong military and national security?

From my perspective, a Republican Presidency offers the best long-term answers to these questions, and it isn’t even a close call. I voted for Donald Trump, and I have no misgivings.

On the other hand, electing Hillary Clinton would turn the executive branch of our government over to a corrupt Democrat Party. Goodbye Supreme Court! Goodbye affordable and accessible energy! Goodbye 1st and 2nd Amendments as we know them! Goodbye private health care! Goodbye strong military! Goodbye immigration controls! Goodbye right to work laws! Goodbye economy! Goodbye corporate America! Hello socialism! Hello international tensions! Hello high taxes! Hello racial tensions! Hello pay equity! Hello unaffordable minimum wages! Hello hyper-regulations! Hello pay-to-play corruption! Hello chaos!  Hello bimbo eruptions! . . .

Nothing requires me to say that a Trump Presidency is acceptable, just our best choice. Others will disagree, but that’s life.

As a postscript, allow me to offer this message to President Obama, Secretary Clinton, Democrat Party officials, and their media enablers. Republicans are not racist; we are not homophobic; we are not sexists; and we are not stupid. Your extreme demonization of this entire 40 percent of the adult population of our country is more a reflection of your attitudes and ambitions. If you ever want our support, I suggest you might get to know us a little better.

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North to Alaska and Earth’s Wild Journey Through Space and Time

The always effervescent one and I just returned from a memorable trip to Alaska via British Columbia and the Inside Passage. We traveled by plane, train, and automobile, but also by cruise ship, over a period of 19 days seeing many amazing and overwhelming sights. It will require some considerable time and certain discipline to absorb and appreciate all that we experienced, and to recover completely.  Shedding the extra pounds from cruise ship gluttony represents, perhaps, the greatest challenge.

img_9816

We enjoyed this journey of a lifetime for sure, and we met fascinating naturalists and guides with obvious expertise in so many fields. They told us of human history, they explained changes in the natural environment, and they described the flora and fauna with obvious delight and fascination. These were dedicated professionals and it was a pleasure to hear their stories.

nls_9403We also enjoyed meeting fellow travelers, although I must admit that Nana is more the gregarious one.  I tend toward more solitary introversion, preferring to indulge in hyper-analysis of experiential minutiae. To illustrate this point, I spent much of my time thinking about what I was hearing and seeing.  I especially tried to comprehend the journey of our planet through time and space. I listened carefully to the explanations of the many experts we encountered, but I also tried to understand their perspectives, as well as their motivations. They were good people, every one of them. I only wished that I could engage with them in more depth, but usually surrounded by dozens of fellow travelers, that was not possible.

As those of you who read my offerings on this website know, I believe that our planet is dynamic, always changing as a result of natural forces and as a result of our civilizing activities. You also realize that I am humbled by what I don’t know, and by what science cannot yet discern. I completely reject the idea that humans are the primary cause of changes in our climate that have occurred in my lifetime. In fact, I believe that we render a potentially dangerous natural world much safer as a result of our efforts.

Without exception, the guides who shared their expertise with us on this journey, assume that humans are the primary and only important cause of dangerous changes on our planet. The important word here is “assume” for they don’t appear to know this from extensive study. I would argue that most have not given it much consideration. They read and absorb the common notions, perpetuated by the media and many political leaders, of a “consensus” that does not truly exist, and even if it did, would be meaningless. History is full of consensus-thinking that was wholly ignorant and unencumbered by the facts. They also suffer from confirmation bias, choosing to focus on observations that seem to confirm their assumptions while ignoring other possibilities, turning a blind-eye to contrary observations.

img_3296It is obvious that a majority of the glaciers in Northwest Canada and Alaska are receding while a relative few are advancing. This is not something new. We were handed a brochure illustrating the positions of the glaciers going back to the first records from the Eighteenth Century. We could see the positions of these glaciers in 1750, 1845, 1907, and many other years between and on to the present. It is obvious that the glaciers in this part of the world have been moving back since before the industrial age and before significant contemporary human impact. The present glacial retreat is not accelerating at an unusual rate, and not all glaciers demonstrate the same rates of change. The indigenous peoples who settled in Glacier Bay many hundreds of years ago, for example, experienced both advancing and receding glaciers at rates even greater than seen in modern times.

For context, we must realize that we live in an ice age, named by scientists as the Pleistocene, which is characterized by periods of extensive and perpetual glaciation over the continents. In all of Earth’s history, there have been probably four or five such great ice ages, and each one is unique. The Pleistocene ice age goes back about 2.5 million years. The accepted age of the planet is 4.6 billion years, so the Pleistocene is but a small fraction of the age of the Earth. To understand the expanse of time involved, imagine that the age of the Earth could be described as one year, then the Pleistocene would represent about four hours of that year.

During the Pleistocene there have been numerous periods in which the glaciers advanced, interspersed with time periods known as interglacials during which the Earth’s glaciers generally receded and covered less of the continents. All of these time periods, the ice ages as well as the glacial and interglacial periods, have been shown to relate to changes in the position and motions of the Earth in the solar system and relative to the galactic plane.  Many other factors act on longer time scales such as plate tectonics, changes affecting the positions and extent of continental land masses and oceanic basins.

Human flourishing and the resulting migrations out of Africa track back several hundred thousand years, during interglacials as well as in times of a glacial maxima when mile-thick ice sheets covered most of the continents in the Northern Hemisphere. All of human civilization has come into existence during the current interglacial, known as the Holocene, which scientists mark as beginning about 12,000 years ago.

All through the Holocene, glaciers have generally receded, ice sheets have melted, and sea level has risen by several hundred feet. At the same time, land that had been covered by massive ice sheets continues to undergo isostatic rebound at measurable rates, measured in inches per year in some places like around the Great Lakes in North America. The Holocene has also brought changes in the atmosphere including a steady rise in carbon dioxide.  The rate of change has not accelerated in recent times. Much of this carbon dioxide seems to come from the oceans which have been generally warming for at least 12 thousand years. Remember that the oceans cover more than seventy percent of the surface of our planet. There are active rift zones, 40 thousand miles of them, and hot spots on the ocean floor releasing enormous quantities of carbon dioxide, other gases, and heat into the oceans.

During the Holocene, the Earth has been warmer than present, and other times when it has been relatively cooler. The warmer times include the Minoan, Roman, and Medieval Warm Periods, all of which were warmer than the so-called Modern Warm Period. Since around 1750 to 1800 the Earth has been warming, coming out of the coolest episode of the Holocene, commonly known as the “Little Ice Age”.

Greenland Ice Core Temperature and CO2 11000 BP

All over the Earth, there are hundreds of thousands of glaciers, some advancing, some retreating, but most do both over time. There are many reasons why this happens, and temperature is only one of many causes. Changes in precipitation, amount and type, make a huge difference, and these changes more likely result when prevailing wind patterns shift coupled with quasi-cyclic ocean currents. This is definitely the case in Alaska and this part of the world.

Glacier Bay, College Fiord, and Portage Lake are beautiful places in Alaska filled with ice and water that shaped and will continue to shape the landscape over the coming centuries and millennia. The magnitude of the landscape is incomprehensible. We could see and hear the thunderous calving of the oddly blue glaciers. I separate “see” and “hear” because they reach our eyes and ears at different times. We observed these enormous rivers of ice from a safe distance. I was so in awe of this whole experience, that I snapped over 2,500 digital images trying to capture the incomprehensible.

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nls_9277Toward the end of our journey, on our last excursion, our naturalist guide announced to our group of travelers, as he probably announced to hundreds or even thousands of other similar groups during his career, that Alaska has experienced a seven-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature over the past 30 years as a result of global warming.  He joked, somewhat seriously, that this was caused by our driving of SUV’s and other vehicles. Ironically, this was on a bus trip to Denali, one of the wildest and least impacted places in the world. At the next scenic stop, I took him aside and showed him the official Alaska temperature record from NOAA which I had saved on my iPhone. He looked somewhat bewildered and muttered something to himself that sounded like, “I’ll have to look into that.”

Yes, he should. You see, over the past century, there is no measurable increase in the average temperature of Alaska as recorded and documented by scientists. There is tremendous variation in temperature and precipitation from year to year.  Surprisingly, the coldest year on record in Alaska was 2012.img_0893

Temperature change is not the reason the glaciers are receding in this beautiful place, it is snowing and raining less at this time in history, but this too shall pass. This well-meaning naturalist was just repeating the talking points he had learned from his teachers, who had learned it from others. This is how ignorance is spread, and this is how nations and their leaders go blindly forward like lemmings over a cliff.

Just as my life partner of 40 years and I enjoyed this unique journey, so it is also true that the Earth, our home in this universe, is on a journey of discovery, an ever-changing trip through time and space. It is a wild journey difficult if not impossible for us to understand or even appreciate.

My message is simple, be humble in all that you know. Nothing is more dangerous and threatening to our future than the marriage of ignorance and arrogance.

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