I think we might witness sudden conversions to environmentalism."**
Environmental effects of human activity remain controversial, particularly because of the active opposition of conservative political groups. We've been slow to halt or reverse air pollution, and we're dragging our feet one climate change--the two are of course connected because of the burning of fossil fuels. Because it has economic implications, the problem clearly mixes science and social politics. But if some consequences of climate change were to be more in hand, and thus very clear, the otherwise rather vague idea might, by being brought so closely home, be a springboard to corrective action. A recent report** alerted us to a consequence of environmental degradation that, if more widely known, might help reduce the controversy, and get everyone moving toward the same goal, reversing the damage.
Global warming has many consequences, but most of them rather general, gradual and of only ambiguous long-term implications. Thus, perhaps no implication can hit home more poignantly and persuasively than one that directly impacts our most intimate personal lives. As background to this report, we know that carbon (denoted C) and oxygen (O) in molecular combination are greenhouse gasses that are accumulating in our atmosphere, arguably at least in major part because of human combustion of fossil fuels.
Briefly, excess carbon dioxide (CO2) in the upper atmosphere, and carbon monoxide (CO) lower down have been steadily increasing and are widely believed to have caused many changes in both natural and human ecology. But the data are so complex, involving sensitive measurement challenges of many different global factors, that they are rather hard to get one's head around. The result has enabled opponents of environmental action to dispute whether climate change is real, and even if so, whether it has done more than cause things like occasional smog alerts in Beijing and overall mean global temperature to increase, with consequent glacial melting. The skeptical opposing view is that all that the data are suggesting, at most, is temporary natural variation in the normal earthly ecology.
Those who resist the climate scientists' idea that we need to change our behavior to prevent further damage, or who may even think the whole idea is some sort of plot by Democrats (or worse, tree-huggers), do not react to these climate changes with alarm. Even if they believe the data, and indeed even if they say, for the purposes of argument, that climate change is caused by humans, they simply point out that people have always had to deal with one sort of crisis or another, often even ecological ones like the decline of Mayan or Mesopotamian or Indus Valley civilizations. It's the natural course of events, whose personal consequences for us are hardly experienced. As for future human generations, the argument is, they will just have to adapt, as humans have always done, even if that means major dislocation, food or resource wars, or societal disruption. We ourselves should not be asked to give up our quality of life to give future generations a kind of free pass that neither we nor our forebears ever had. Future quality of life may be different from ours, but people will recover or adjust in their own way.
However, the new report** hits right at the heart of the latter assumption, the very notion of future generations!
|COnic section (dotted line); schematic|
The new data differ from the existing climate reports because they finally show an important effect of ecological damage. It is a rather sensitive or awkward finding to discuss and perhaps has received less publicity as a result. But the fact is that there is a strong correlation between reduction in penis size and global warming. We find that this is based on COnic section samples from the organ at birth (shown in a hopefully respectful schematic way in the above figure). These appear to be hard data, not just whimsical speculation with a political agenda in mind.
The second figure, below, shows the relationship over the past 50 years, the period for which there are reliable data. Clearly, as air pollution levels rise the cross-section size declined. The smaller size may be a direct ecological effect on the quality of life or, indeed, on the very future of humanity. Whereas in the past, climate change data were rather abstract, the new data hit so close to home that one would expect sensitive people finally to stand up and take note. Even scientists care about such things in a way that goes beyond the impersonal nature of Big Data spewing from their computers. "These wee willies just give me the willies!" one investigator said as part of our inquiry.
|Pollution (black) vs organ size (red), 1957-2013|
Genital size is relatively easy to measure, a single, simple indicator that does not require the expensive instrumentation, not to mention computer modeling that is required to analyze more general figures on global warming. While scientists are careful to caution that it is very difficult to claim that global warming is causally responsive for the observed organic change, the clarity of the data suggest that one can at least hope that some parts of our society will try to rise to the challenge. Even if one dismisses the association as not clearly being a directly causal one because, for example, it is ultimately due to a correlation with some unmeasured factor(s), a reduction in global warming could also reduce those intermediate influences, and thus halt the observed trend.
Many effects of ecological change have been dismissed as fads, falsely reported 'trends', or even faked evidence, a kind of self-supporting conspiracy for funding and attention among the climate and ecological scientists, who urge their view as a political tactic to rankle their politically conservative opponents. Communication on the subject has become so angry that in our society today the one hand doesn't really know what the other hand is up to.
The importance of the new data is that even after many years of steady stories on climate change and its implications, as a society in general, we seem not to have been able to take abstract facts, like sea-level height or the bushel yield of wheat, seriously, because they don't appeal to our deepest or more immediate emotions. We must acknowledge even as we urge respect for the sciences that face complex analytic data problems, that not all the abstract science in the world can change that. But wee willies may entail the emotions that one needs to reach, if widespread political change is to be hoped for.
This new report gets to the nub of the effects on human behavior of our wanton destruction of the environment. But, sensitive though the subject is, or perhaps because of that, we may finally have the kind of hard-hitting report required to shake the complacency and stir up a call to action.
**This post reflects my reading of original reporting by U. Eco, as published in the recent issue of Numero Zero, which is widely available. Interpretations are of course my own.