Monday, June 20, 2011

Even columnists need editors

In an otherwise thoughtful column today, a local writer shows the need for fact-checking.

In recent months, catastrophic weather events have dominated headlines as rarely before — earthquakes and tsunami in Asia; volcanic cloud in Europe; massive ice melts at the poles; tornadoes, floods, and fires in America. “Records are not just broken,” an atmospheric scientist said last week, “they are smashed.” Without getting into questions of causality, and without anthropomorphizing nature, we can still take these events as nature’s cri de coeur — as the degraded environment’s grabbing of human lapels to say, “Pay attention!”

I am pretty sure that earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes are not "weather events." And, I do not believe any one has suggested that human influence has yet reached the point of intrusion into geological events of this magnitude.


BenK said...

It seems unlikely that the same person who wrote that paragraph wrote 'otherwise thoughtful' material in the same column. The entire column is based on fanciful claims of a religious nature - which are obliquely denied in the statement 'without anthropomorphizing nature.'

That neo-pagans are nothing like the older religions they pretend to descend from is obvious to anyone who has read much about them. Their claims are as silly as those of the Freemasons. That this columnist states these claims to antiquity as fact and thinks that modern policies should be informed by them is a statement of faith on his part, just as is his belief that earthquakes and volcanic eruptions reflect a tension between a wounded nature and wicked humanity.

One can accept these religous claims or deny them, but one cannot mock a single point in isolation.

Seth said...

From Facebook:

Paul, I think you are only partially right. He is specifically not talking about causation here - although he does muddy the waters by slipping in stuff like extreme weather and climate where there is some real causal evidence. The larger point is that when we didn't see intercontinental flight as a normal thing volcanic eruptions in distant places didn't disrupt our lives. And ancient japanese villagers who put stone markers on seaside hillsides warning that building closer than that point was vulnerable to tsunami were indeed "closer to nature".

Carroll's point is not that we should reject all technology and modern society - we should just be aware that there is a price for all this change and progress, some of it actual impacts (like health and climate effects of emissions from the power plants that make this computer work) and some deeper and more general like the "distance from nature" which is inevitable in our lives.

David said...

From Facebook:

Thanks for noting Carroll's column. It worships an idealized past nature unharmed by the effects of humans, like McKibben's absolutist "The END of nature", and both naively assume that the unharmed past nature was better. Carroll wildly overdoes it, conflating earthquakes and tsunamis with weather so everything can be thrown into the naturist case, hurting his credibility. But he's right that our role as a species, a PART of NATURE, technologies and all, has certainly changed things dramatically and not in all cases for the better.

Paul Levy said...

Seth, I am pretty sure I am not partially right about those events not being weather related! That was my only point.

Seth said...

I agree that Carroll used clumsy wording - read like he thought it all was weather related. Clearly not what he intended.