With other animals

“Think of the disproportion,” Lord Edward was saying, as he smoked his pipe. “It’s positively…” His voice failed. “Take coal, for example. Man’s using a hundred and ten times as much as he used in 1800. But population’s only two and half times what it was. With other animals… Surely quite different. Consumption’s proportionate to numbers.

Illidge objected. “But if animals can get more than they actually require to subsist, they take it, don’t they? If there’s been a battle or a plague, the hyenas and vultures take advantage of the abundance to overeat. Isn’t it the same with us? Forests died in great quantities some millions of years ago. Man has unearthed their corpses, finds he can use them, and is giving himself the luxury of a real good guzzle while the carrion lasts. When the supplies are exhausted, he’ll go back to short rations, as the hyenas do in the intervals between wars and epidemics.” Illidge spoke with gusto. Talking about human beings as though they were indistinguishable from maggots filled him with a peculiar satisfaction. “A coal field’s discovered, oil’s struck. Towns spring up, railways are built, ships come and go. To a long-lived observer on the moon, the swarming and crawling must look like the pullulation of ants and flies round a dead dog. Chilean nitre, Mexican oil, Tunisian phosphates–at every discovery another scurrying of insects. One can imagine the comments of lunar astronomers. ‘These creatures have a remarkable and perhaps unique tropism toward fossilized carrion.’

POINT COUNTER POINT, by Aldous Huxley, 1928

Wet Behind the Turnip Truck Yesterday

Pierce calls this the Dare to be Ignorant Protection Act of 2013 and I’ll have a hard time swimming up the Nile on that one:

In biology class, public school students can’t generally argue that dinosaurs and people ran around Earth at the same time, at least not without risking a big fat F. But that could soon change for kids in Oklahoma: On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Common Education committee is expected to consider a House bill that would forbid teachers from penalizing students who turn in papers attempting to debunk almost universally accepted scientific theories such as biological evolution and anthropogenic (human-driven) climate change.

Gus Blackwell, the Republican state representative who introduced the bill, insists that his legislation has nothing to do with religion; it simply encourages scientific exploration. “I proposed this bill because there are teachers and students who may be afraid of going against what they see in their textbooks,” says Blackwell, who previously spent 20 years working for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. “A student has the freedom to write a paper that points out that highly complex life may not be explained by chance mutations.”

Stated another way, students could make untestable, faith-based claims in science classes without fear of receiving a poor mark.

HB 1674 is the latest in an ongoing series of “academic freedom” bills aimed at watering down the teaching of science on highly charged topics. Instead of requiring that teachers and textbooks include creationism—see the bill proposed by Missouri state Rep. Rick Brattin—HB 1674’s crafters say it merely encourages teachers and students to question, as the bill puts it, the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of topics that “cause controversy,” including “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Eric Meikle, education project director at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) in Oakland, California, says Oklahoma has proposed more anti-evolution legislation than any other state, introducing eight bills with academic freedom language since 2004. (None has passed.) “The problem with these bills is that they’re so open-ended; it’s a kind of code for people who are opposed to teaching climate change and evolution,” Meikle says.

You don’t say, Eric. Friday reading, indeed.

No Metaphor here, Move along!

Unique bird and reptile species of the Galapagos Islands vs. 180 million rats:

A helicopter is to begin dropping nearly 22 tons of specially designed poison bait on an island Thursday, launching the second phase of a campaign to clear out by 2020 non-native rodents from the archipelago that helped inspire Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

The invasive Norway and black rats, introduced by whalers and buccaneers beginning in the 17th century, feed on the eggs and hatchlings of the islands’ native species, which include giant tortoises, lava lizards, snakes, hawks and iguanas. Rats also have depleted plants on which native species feed.

The rats have critically endangered bird species on the 19-island cluster 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from Ecuador’s coast.

Missing the Mark

So… it’s probably important to note how alternative energy antagonists fund misinformation and disseminate it into the public sphere.

In 2010, New Jersey passed the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act. This act “require[s] that a percentage of electricity sold in the State be from offshore wind energy” and will be financed through $100M in taxpayer subsidies. But is this a good deal for ratepayers? Americans for prosperity commissioned the Beacon Hill Institute to find out – and the results are devastating.

What’s devastating is how utterly easy it is for people with deep pockets to spread misinformation. Whether it’s taxes or creationism. All you need to do is syphon a few of your millions toward some pliant writers or scientists and suddenly you have bogus evidence! to pass around. Michael Conathan at TP:

  • The study dramatically underestimates the economic savings realized from the environmental benefits by assuming a static price for the valuation of reduction of greenhouse gasses – which will inevitably rise over time – and by applying an absurdly high discount rate of 10 percent to the benefits when most economic studies use rates of 3-5 percent.  The discount rate mistake alone could lead to underestimating the benefits of offshore wind by as much as 50 percent. (This Bloomberg article contains a concise description of how an excessively high discount rate dramatically undervalues future benefits.)
  • It also artificially inflates the costs of the project compared to fossil fuel generation by failing to account for the reality that as costs go up, people will reduce their consumption thereby partially offsetting the price increase. Furthermore, the study estimates the cost of natural gas and coal based on historical prices rather than based on forecasts of future market conditions. While natural gas prices are difficult to predict, experts believe coal prices will rise in the future.

And this isn’t some game for the vast majority, or even for the lucky few believe it is. The consequences of this kind suffused idiocy becoming dominant in our so-called culture provide all kinds of new growth opportunities, though not the good kind. When journalists get to be more coy about serious matters, politicians can be more craven on behalf of corporations that support them. Apparently, less 40% of Americans now believe in evolution. Ask yourself how that is even possible.

Think of it as Layers of Sediment

This was taken today at a special ‘In the Shadow of the Dinosaurs’ exhibit at the Musee Nationale de Histoire Naturelle. The accompanying text: Layers of sediment pile up as they are formed, much like newspapers are stacked, with the oldest on bottom and the most recent on top. By reading them from the bottom up, we can cover millions of years of geologic time.
And indeed, we can. All this talk about mass extinction is making me thirsty.