What is the deal? Truly. I turn on Larry King Live tonight and it's a discussion about whether or not global warming is happening or not. "Is it real? Is it man-made? How scared should we be?" Come on now. Why is Inhofe even being given air time? Why is this still a debate?
And on the eve of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 4th Assessment Report being released. I think it's due to be released on Friday?
Fifteen days until my grant is due. A grant that focuses on why corals are dying - how the coral holobiont (the coral and it's symbiotic microbes) progresses from a healthy to a diseased state. So I keep my head in the sand, trying not to listen to the news, trying not to listen to the political bantering, the backdrop of everyday. The politics are distracting, annoying - and oddly seem irrelevant to statistics like: by the year 2030 60% of the world's coral reefs will be dead. The science drives the grant - not the politics that are buzzing all around.
But unfortunately, I know that isn't true. Tonight I sadly learned that Molly Ivins lost her battle with cancer. I remember first hearing her years ago - and just making a mental note that here was a woman who was openly (and loudly!) shouting her opinions out to the world. I liked that. Tonight as I was reading a tribute to her, I saw this quote attributed to Ivins that seemed oddly pertinent to my thoughts today:
Politics is not a picture on a wall or a television sitcom that you can decide you don't care much about.
Well, I'm certainly guilty of that. When I'm busy, or annoyed - I just push it aside, stop paying attention, make fun of it - laugh. But the politics of global warming in reality affects me everyday - affects the systems we study. One coral pathogen that we are looking at is only pathogenic at warmer temperatures - and just a few degrees makes all the difference. This pathogen seems to be becoming more prevalent - and in studies in the lab we haven't found a single coral-associated microorganism that can inhibit it. It's robust as hell. So here I'm reading an article on Molly Ivins on MSNBC and another article is about how scientists believe that 'germs' communicate. As if that's something new - we've known about this for years now. And this all makes me think that as scientists we suck at communicating what we do. Maybe I need to ignore the academic 'we' for now - and just say that I do.
But it's difficult. I'm often asked why I don't get involved in more environmental causes and organizations - and it's hard to explain how our 'process' is so different from theirs - and sometimes in surprising ways. Do you remember when they were trying to ship plutonium from the Charleston Harbor to France for re-formulation? I was asked them to speak to a group that was against the shipment - because they knew that my laboratory conducted research on crude oil degradation. They assumed - falsely - that because my laboratory promotes the use of microorganisms to biodegrade crude oil that we actual think that crude oil isn't so bad. Personally, I think that nuclear energy is a good thing - and that we should invest more in it. When we study microorganisms that degrade crude oil, what we're actually observing (even on a good day) is a consortium of microorganisms that can at best biodegrade only about 30% of crude oil. Which means that an awful lot of that oil remains in the environment. When I told the group that I wouldn't exactly give the kind of talk that they thought I would - they were insulted, and asked me "How can you call yourself an environmentalist?" I am an environmentalist, but not one defined by any special interest group. Because of interactions like that one, scientists (well, myself) tend to retreat into their own world. We like data. Figures and tables. We like discussing experiments and evaluating the work of others. We present what we've learned and observed. We're not skilled at venturing out.
The environment is far from simple, and global climate change issues are complicated and convoluted and challenging. I'm tired of comments like 'but it's really cold this week in New England' or 'but we didn't have a bad hurricane season last year' - this isn't about casual observations. I can say that the tiny flower above, Spring Snowflake (Leucojum vernum), bloomed almost a month earlier this year - but it's not about this observation either. It's about scientific consensus - numerous observations coming together, observations from many different laboratories from many different institutions from many different countries. Of course there are people that disagree with this consensus - there should be people who disagree - but the few voices of those who disagree shouldn't be given the same weight as the thousands of scientists who are in consensus.
What's frustrating is that while all of this discussion continues - we're wasting time when we could all be moving forward in environmentally positive ways. There are alot of small things you can do - I mean, check out Governor Locke's webiste. Take a look at stopglobalwarming.org. Read this and this. I don't know - just read anything. And maybe turn off the TV when these stupid debates are on...'Is it real?' Geez, this stuff drives me nuts. CNN and Larry King should be ashamed.
Back to the grant. But after I get it turned in, perhaps I'll take Molly Ivins advice and get out there and toss my two cents into the ring. Especially since I can't simply turn it off.