A Savanna Life in a Technological World

Respectful Discourse is More Important Than Global Warming

Respectful Discourse is More Important Than Global Warming

The following is a comment from someone I will call Jacob to last weeks blog post. Following that, my response to the comment.

“As much as I would like to share his optimism, I believe this quote is utter nonsense and I would back up my more pessimistic perspective (provided we stick to the head in the sand approach to climate change) with the article below:”



Thanks, Jacob, I appreciate you reading the blog post and participating in the discussion. It takes a lot of different perspectives to build a picture of reality. And I definitely could be wrong about all this, I think I am interpreting ideas regarding around the paleoecological background atmospheric gas levels correctly, but I could be wrong. I am certainly not an expert in Paleocene/Eocene climate, but my understanding of the science is as I outlined in my previous blog post. More on that disagreement later. My role in paleoecology is to take paleoecological research and try to glean lessons for my own management and any other managers who want to listen. In the process, I will offer my observations as a person who is constantly interacting in a visceral way with these dynamic ecosystems. Sometimes I feel that researchers get so wrapped up in their different methods that they lose sight of the ‘forest for the trees.’ I am here to remind them that most of them are never interacting with the living breathing ecosystems that they purport to study. But that means that I need to learn about tractor maintenance and local politics as much as paleoecology so I cannot immerse myself in the methods of these researchers as much as I would like. In addition, I have a tendency to be most interested in and favor ideas that are novel and different. It’s just how I am hardwired. I probably should have disclosed that to readers of my blog earlier.

I am, however, confused by one part of your comment, the ‘utter nonsense’ part. I read back over my post and while as usual I often lapsed into passive voice and I wish I had another two weeks to really work that post outright, I think the things that I wrote were discernible to anyone with a ninth grade education. Since it seems obvious that you have a higher level of education than that, I have to infer that you disagree with what I wrote. That’s great, as I say, I could be wrong. But disagreeing with an argument is very different than finding it unintelligible. As a society, we need to get that straight.

In your Facebook profile you don’t mention being a climate scientist, but maybe you are. In which case I would really like some help in sorting through the relative merits of these competing arguments. If not, I wonder why you have such a strong emotional reaction to the statements that I made in my post. After all, I’m just some nobody blogger. Maybe it is because those ideas conflicted with your previously held beliefs. But I think that it is really important that we not conflate things that are counter to our prior beliefs with things that are divorced from logic and reality. That’s what climate denialism is all about after all. We all have to remember that we were not born with everything we need to discern truth from falsehood regarding atmospheric gas levels fifty-five million years ago and the manifold consequences of those atmospheric gas levels. We need to find truth, out in the real world.

Or maybe the emotional strength of your comment comes because you view me as a hostile party, an evil climate denier. I think if you re-read my post you will find that I am not, at least I am not like any climate denier I’ve ever met. So I’m on your side. But much more importantly, is that the way to sway someone on ‘the other side?’ And much much much more importantly, this is an example of holding ideological purity over facts. If we are going to be the side of science and truth, then it is important to say that, over the history of terrestrial life on this planet average CO2 levels were at least twice the current level. Again, that is not management advice. I am heavily invested in making sure sea levels don’t rise more than a few feet. Literally, invested; my life savings would be wiped out in that scenario.

Of course, your comment is not equivalent to your average troll. Oh boy, not by a long shot. You even offer competing facts and science. And the study you cited was a big driver for me writing my original post. The science you present regarding the Paleocene/Eocene transition event conflicts with my interpretation of the paleobotanical consensus on this issue, as presented by for instance Burnham and Johnson 2004, Jaramillo et al 2006, Morley 2011, Wolfe 1985, and Mosbrugger 2007. But I would love to hear from some researchers that know the ins and outs of all this stuff and can help me parse the relative merits of the different arguments. I am confused about why one interpretation got so much popular media attention and the other did not. And no matter what happened in the Paleocene, that doesn’t mean our current climate scenario will shake out the same way. Novel climates do happen. As I say in my original posting, messing with climate is risky. No matter the arguments, a disagreeing perspective over scientific facts is very different from “utter nonsense.”

Now, everyone, this brings me finally to what I really want to talk about. I’m new to Facebook and social media in general. I am shocked at the way people talk to each other around here. Maybe you guys have become numb to that fact. Before that happens to me, I need to say something. Again, Jacob’s statement is tame by social media standards, but that highlights the point. If someone has to look someone in the eye and deal with their humanity, conversely if they have to be brave enough to say crap like that in person, they are just going to be a lot more careful with what they say.

Another sub-specialty of the Bentgrass Blog is to discuss ways that our technology undermines the important traits of our species that evolved over many millions of years. For instance, two generations ago, the internal combustion engine completely changed the way that we as organisms move. Over the course of millions of years, our physiology came to depend on walking and running as a way to do other things besides ‘just move;’ it became important for regulating our blood sugar, releasing hormones that regulated our mood, gave our heart practice pumping blood, and on and on. Over the last seventy years, we have experienced a “slow-moving health emergency.” Lack of movement is the principal cause in most fatalities in the developed world. Social media is eroding our social homeostasis the same way that internal combustion eroded our physiological homeostasis.

Anthropologists that study and studied the Hadza and the Kalahari Bushman hunter-gatherers describe them as very pleasant people to be around. I don’t think that there is a mystical reason for this. They had to live with all these people their whole life. If they said stupid things they knew it would continue to haunt them. If you were rude enough, for instance, every male in the society carried deadly weapons, and everyone spent a lot of time alone out in the bush. Maybe worse, everyone could decide that they don’t want to live with you. Respectful means of discourse evolved to prevent things from coming to that. We need to find a modern way back to respect. Global warming is one of the most important issues we deal with as a civilization. Respectful discourse is more important

2 thoughts on “Respectful Discourse is More Important Than Global Warming”

  • I think your approach of looking at paleo history is a good one. It also seems likely to me that the earth’s climate will stabilize in a warmer more productive state. The problem that pains me is that process of change is dramatically simplifying the diversity of life on the planet and some scenarios of large methane releases could easily make humans and most complex life extinct in the transition. It’s very hard to communicate complex ideas to a global audience and I think climate change discussions can be a proxy for a bigger question of whether humans should take responsibility as a keystone species for working to protect and enhance life on the planet. That’s my intent with my work in grazing and land stewardship. Sadly I don’t seem potential for a large scale effort needed to do this kind of work. With climate change, soil loss, habitat destruction and man made toxins, we are choosing a future with few or no humans. Do you see a hopeful path with your paleohistory study?

    • Hi Jon, thanks for reading and commenting. My knowledge of paleoecology suggests that the warming itself would be pretty normal and managable. What would be unprecedented is our civilization’s reorganization as a result of even a small amount of climate change. That reorganization is probably where all the damage would be done. And it might be a lot of damage. The paleoecological record is no help with unprecedented things. But Unprecedented things are never good for biodiversity. But we have overcome a lot as a species and we will probably overcome this too. Maybe I will think on that question and make a post around it.

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