Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chicken Little Lives

The more you know, the more you know you don’t know. As I learn new things, I’m aware of how ignorant I am. After more than thirty years of teaching, I find myself qualifying what I claim to be true with phrases like, “The best analysis indicates . . .” or “We don’t know for sure, but we think . . .” I believe there is an objective reality out there, but the brightest among us perceive it imperfectly at best. As a history teacher, I know how much disagreement exists about past events - even those to which we were eyewitnesses. As my wife often points out, I’m not always aware of what’s happening around me in the present. As for the future, we can know very little beyond what Little Orphan Annie told us: “The sun will come up tomorrow.” Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Thus, I’m acutely aware when Chicken Littles like our former vice president (and almost president) tell me the sky is falling and we must run and tell the king. We’re seldom able to predict the weather accurately beyond three or four days, yet Mr. Gore claims an ability to predict it decades and centuries into the future. That would be okay, except that he wants to institute some drastic changes that would affect what I do every day and people who think like him have taken control of Congress. They think humans can reverse climate change by limiting carbon emissions. What hubris.

As a history-loving boy, I was fascinated by pre-Columbian discoveries of America, especially those close to my region of the continent. I read about Vikings going to and from Greenland and veering off course. A thousand years ago, Greenland was able to sustain a colony of 1500 people agriculturally, something that wouldn’t be possible today. Off-course Vikings described coastlines encountered with great detail and their descriptions were recorded in “Icelandic sagas” subsequent to their wanderings. Historians in Iceland tried to match Viking descriptions with existing coastlines of eastern Canada and New England, looking for places described as, for instance, “a broad, shallow bay bordered by a spit of land on the southwest,” and so forth, but without success.

However, when they considered the coastlines with a rise in sea level, as would have been the case a thousand years ago in what climatologists called at the time a “little climatic optimum” or what today is called the “medieval warming period,” historians discovered that what had been described as a broad, shallow bay would today be a salt marsh. With such modifications they noticed striking similarities between Viking coastal descriptions and what’s visible today. Some of the studies I’ve seen purposely overlook this warming period in charts that show temperatures over millennia. They make dire predictions of flooded cities, droughts and hurricanes with data that describe conditions which seem no more worrisome than those prevalent a thousand years ago.

Clearly, Mr. Gore wants attention. It must be hard to have lost the White House after winning the popular vote and see the guy who beat you in the spotlight endlessly. I seldom think of Al Gore inventing the internet when I go on line every day, but I do think of him after I flush my toilet. Thanks to his support of the National Energy Policy Act, toilets manufactured after 1994 must have a maximum capacity of 1.6 gallons of flushing power. I bought my toilets in 1987, but I’ve replaced the flush valve and ball cock in the one I use most and now it doesn’t flush very well. There’s something still floating around afterward because Gore’s 1.6 gallons don’t get rid of everything. It’s that brown-stained toilet paper or that little piece of turd that remind me of the former vice president. Gore thinks I need government to tell me how much of my own water I’m allowed to use to flush my own toilet.

He warned us we were running out of water and now he’s doing his Chicken Little act about carbon emissions. He’s pumping up Turkey Lurkey environmentalists who claim a lawn mower running for an hour on Saturday pollutes the atmosphere as much as an automobile on a 100 mile drive. So, in 2007 we’ll have emission standards for lawn mowers. What’s next? An inspection sticker for my snowblower? My weed whacker? My chainsaw?

As I get less certain about what the future holds, Gore gets more certain. He knows what’s best for me and for everybody else in the world whether we like it or not.


Anonymous said...

Tom, The first two lines in this editorial are the most profound,insightful words I have heard from you in the short time I have known you!!! The more we know, the more we know that we do not know! The only thing we know absolutely is this very moment in time because we are experiencing it....but it is gone as soon as the next moment takes it's place. If we are fully present in the moment, we are fully alive....the past and the future become irrelevant.

I think we can know more of the future than the sun coming up tomorrow because everything we think, say and do is creating the future. I don't know if I already told you this but the greatest compliment I have ever received came from a 7th grade student I had when I was teaching Social Studies in California....she said "thank you for teaching us not just about history, but that we make history."

Robert Dow P.S. (I finally responded again to the other 2 posts....looking forward to your replies from them as well as this one)

Tom McLaughlin said...


I'm trying hard to do the one day at a time thing. I'm making slow progress but I'm prone to backsliding several times a day. As a history teacher I have to visit the past often, but I'm trying not to obsess about my personal history while I do so.

As for the future, I've been too often surprised and humbled by how far off target my predictions are and I'd rather let it take care of itself.