Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Inner Light, The Outer Darkness

by William S. Kowinski

Update: The first and last sections that follow deal with the Climate Crisis and its outcome if we don't meet this challenge. For a practical and hopeful view of how things might be changed, there's a new Rolling Stone interview with Al Gore that makes the case better than anything I've seen.

As the first run of Star Trek: The Next Generation came to an end, fans voted for their favorite episodes. Only the two-parter about the Borg invasion, “The Best of Both Worlds,” and “Yesterday’s Enterprise” were voted ahead of “The Inner Light.” It won a 1993 Hugo Award, the first TV episode to win one since the TOS story, “City on the Edge of Forever”. In the years since, esteem for this fifth season episode has only grown. Some now consider it is the best of the Next Generation, and even the best episode of any Star Trek series.

But I’ve been thinking about it recently not because of its excellence, though I’ve always admired it since I saw it the night it first aired. I’ve been pondering it lately, and drawn to see it again on DVD, by thoughts I’ve been having about the real and fairly immediate future of the earth.

Others may be thinking about it, too, right about now. “An Inconvenient Truth,” the documentary film about the Climate Crisis featuring Al Gore, is gradually opening in more and more places. In its first week it was #11 at the box office, despite being in only four theatres. The #10 film was in 1265 theatres. A couple of weeks later, it broke into the top ten, though it was still in only 77 theatres. Its per-theatre take was higher than that of the #1 movie that week---and higher than X-Men 3. The book version is high on the best seller list. (Here's the web site.)

The future it depicts, as determined by the phenomenon known as global warming, is dire. The changes are already underway, caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases. Glaciers and icepacks in the Arctic, in Greenland, in the Antarctic are melting. They are likely to cause sea levels to rise, flooding coastal cities. They may cause shifts in major ocean currents that will in turn cause radical changes in climate. On the day I write this, a new report by the National Center for Atmospheric Research confirms that “global warming accounted for around half of the extra hurricane-fueling warmth” in 2005, so Katrina and the record hurricane year were largely a product of the Climate Crisis, and not natural variations. Storms like these are likely to increase in number and ferocity, in various parts of the world.

Heating is already changing ecologies. Various studies suggest it will bring new diseases to larger areas, change rainfall patterns and create drought in some places, if it is not doing so already. Because of time lags between cause and effect, these current effects are from greenhouse gas buildups that occurred perhaps decades ago. The planet will feel the effects of current greenhouse gas emissions in decades to come. And if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t curtailed dramatically soon (some say five years, some say twenty, but most say 10 years), the climate change may reach a “tipping point,” after which nothing can stop a phenomenon that feeds on itself until it plays itself out. The result could very well be an inexorable dying away of life on earth as we know it.

“The Inner Light” is not strictly speaking about a planet suffering from global warming. Its sun is going nova, causing a gradual global drought. The sun's flaring and dying eventually will extinguish all life. Even at worst, the actual effects of our global warming are likely to be different, especially in different places on earth. But the applicability of this story to fears for our future is inescapable.

With great and concentrated effort, humankind may be able to prevent the worst effects of global heating in the future, and create remedies for the major problems it will cause in the next few decades. It looks very much like a challenge that human civilization must meet in order to go forward.

But what if humanity doesn’t respond? What if all an individual or a family can do, perhaps living in a town outside the great places of power, is watch, measure the changes, and await the end?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well, it's quite a stretch to connect the events depicted in The Inner Light to the politics of global warming here on Earth. I suppose the one thing which connects them both is Fantasy. For me, I'll take Star Trek's kind over Al Gore's kind any day.

That said, TIL is a great episode. It's too bad Berman and co couldn't generate that much passion out of the existing ensemble of STG cast. They had to go outside the box so to speak to achieve a great episode.

Also, I read once that Patrick Stewart can actually play some flute-type instrument; it's too bad they didn't match his ability with the instrument used in the ep instead of that stupid fake fluke pipe.

So many mistakes and missed opportunites in Star Trek--TNG but mainly VOY through ENT. If we are to connect Star Trek to any real life politics, it should be to Clinton's presidency--so much promise, a few flashes of brillance, but mostly flawed efforts and tragic consequences.

I miss Trek--good Trek--not Nemesis hashed over trek.

Captain Future said...

Thanks for your comment. But the Climate Crisis is not fantasy. It is a clear and present danger, and even more, a threat to the future. There is not a reputable scientist in the field who disagrees.

Mindscaper said...

The first post scares me.

William,

This is the best entry in a while. Not that the others aren't good, but when you apply Trek to our world today as a means of showing us the way forward it is captivating. More like this.

-Mindscaper

Captain Future said...

Thank you, not only for the compliment but for the encouragement--it is my principal "mission."

Dave said...

Well, I for one don't buy any of this global warming nonsense. And by nonsense, I mean Al Gore's (and others of a particular political persuasion) assertion that MAN is causing these problems and that MAN has any power to do anything about it.

According to one of the world's most acclaimed climatologists from MIT,
it's all a bunch of political crap. As others have mentioned, mother earth has been warming since the Ice Age - it's a natural process. The articleoints out that man-made carbon dioxide (anthropogenic C02) accounts for only 3.2% of the greenhouse gases, but when you take water vapor(humidity) into account, anthropogenic C02 accounts for less than one-tenth of one percent of the causes of global warming. In 1997, when 189 countries sent representatives to Kyoto, Japan for the big global warming conference they decided that although over 99.9% of the problem was beyond our control, they couldn't vote to do nothing so they voted to attack that .1%.

A study published in 2000 in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate titled "Yuan, X. and Martinson D.G "Antarctic sea ice extent variability and it's global connectibility" demonstrated the Antarctic polar ice cap has been EXPANDING. Roughly 18 years of satellite data indicate the
Antarctic sea ice edge has expanded by .011 degrees of latitude towards the equator EACH YEAR.

For every 'scientist' and 'fact' that pro-human-caused-global-warming proponents can produce, I can show you two that disagree.

I appreciate that folks are concerned about the planet on which they live, but this topic was born of, and exists in, a political tug-of-war with little 'real' fact to back up liberal claims of mans part in global warming.

I encourage anyone who wants to educate themselves on this topic to do their own research. Don't reply on one side only when forming an opinion on this topic.

Dave said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Captain Future said...

In peer reviewed research on the subject, there are no climate scientists who disagree with the fundamental Climate Crisis conclusons: that the planet is heating, with measurable consequences, and the heating is the result of human activity, namely the dispersal in large quantities over time, of greenhouse gases.

But researching the topic is a good idea. Here are some places on the web to start...A history of the subject by a recognized (non politician) scholar:
climate history
The scientific consensus:
assessment
And a site that deals with objections to the consensus on the climate crisis:
skeptics

Dave said...

Well, the IPCC is very much a liberal organization so I don't put much faith in their 'findings'. Also, you mention that the 'recognized scholar' isn't political, but have you looked into the organizations that he works with? They are some of the most liberal 'institutions' in existence! He may not be a 'politician', but he is most definitely of a left-leaning political influence!

Nice try - 3 outta 10 for effort.

Now, how about showing us some infomation that shows ALL scientists in agreement over this topic? Can't? Hmmm... Wonder why?

Please check out this link:

http://tinyurl.com/elnor

Now, granted, this group isn't of the liberal persuasion, so some folks might not like it. But it is one of MANY such studies/sites/articles that demonstrate a counter-opinion to those of the belief that humans are causing a global warming (and in fact, it questions whether global warming is taking place at all!).

Here is another good article published in the Canadian Free Press. I had to use the Google cache as it looks like someone either hacked the site, or it was otherwise corrupted (the link worked just a couple days ago):

http://tinyurl.com/euk49

These sites that counter the hysterical claims of global warming by way of human activity are every bit as valid and anything you can show me. How can that be if "all" peer-review research says there is a human caused global warming happening? Could it be that the very 'peers' you speak of happen to be of the same political persuasion? I'm guessing yes...

Captain Future said...

This is a typical political move--simply declare institutions that don't agree with you as "liberal." The IPCC is an organzation of the world's scientists organized by the UN. Which according to the right wing is obviously a liberal organization, much too diverse, too reality-based. Harvard University Press is the other "liberal" institution. And since it isn't a right wing think tank or fundamentalist Christian college, it's political. You define anybody who doesn't agree with your view as liberal. I get it. Unfortunately, "peer" means qualified scientists in the field who review the data and conclusions, the same process as in every scientific article on any scientific subject in scientific journals.

All the "facts" you cited have been refuted in terms of being evidence against the reality of the climate crisis. The science is as near to 100% as science ever gets. Most of the scientists who dissent are paid by the big oil companies--but of course they aren't "political" and certainly not "liberal." Nice try yourself, Dave. Keep cool.

Dave said...

Well, you've not provided one shred of scientific evidence that isn't funded by institutions that are, classically, in not politically, liberal (I believe they are indeed political, but for the sake of this conversation, I'll concede). You say that the facts I believe and the points made in the links I provided have been refuted? By whom? Some of the information I provided was a refute to the 'facts' YOU provided. So who is right?

You believe in the liberal institution, that is obvious. Whether you like it or not, this IS a political debate and your stance IS classically liberal. Oh sure, you can attempt to make it look otherwise from your point of view by citing junk science as the basis - but it's still not from a truly 'neutral' conglomerate and it results in a specious argument.

You claim that the science is near 100% as it gets - based on whose studies? Who was that again? Which political party do they cater to? Do I need to dig up the 'facts' that show your information is indeed, quite factually, funded by liberal "think tanks", SI groups and the like? Did you read any of the links I provided (especially the Free Press piece that illustrates my points quite well)?

Bottom line is, you have facts you believe, I have facts I believe. I have facts that refute yours, you claim to have facts that refute mine. Until I see a bona-fide NEUTRAL study (one that is NOT funded/granted by a liberal political group) that shows one way or the other what is really happening, I'll lean towards the right as I am decidedly not a liberal.

Oh - and if you are to have me believe that the UN and the others you listed has MY best interests at heart, you really need a wake-up call. The UN is NOT todays version of the Federation and they do NOT have your best interests at heart. They are as liberal a political group as it gets. Sorry if that fact irritates you, but there it is.

At any rate, I'm as cool as ever, thank you! You also try and keep cool and have a good one!

Anonymous said...

You have a great site, and your articles are very well written. However, the man made global warming argument is drivel.

I am sorry, but Al Gore is nuts..lol Although there is acedotal evidence of some warming in some places, there is zero evidence that anything man does, or is doing has anything whatsoever to do with it. As Dennis Miller (the comedian)aptly said:
"During the dustbowl era (1930's great plains) did you think people blamed global warming or just stated "hell, it hasn't rained in a while""

Please read Michael Chriton's (sp?) State of Fear about "consensus science" and the dangers thereof.

His excellent point is whenever someone states that there is consensus in science, it is always wrong. There was consensus that the sun revolved around the earth back in copernicus' day, and their was overwheming consesus on the usefullness of social darwinism in the 1920's which led to nazism.

Tom Brokaw recently did a sympathetic global warming hour long report for NBC in which one of the main scientist for global warming stated "we can't wait for proof because then it will be too late", in response to criticism that there was a lack of proof about global warming.

I usually don't criticise people beliefs, and have not written on here before, but there are real dangers about this debate. Thre main one is that extremist and former communist (where did everyone think they went in 15 years, New Jersey?) want to ruin capitalist economies with a boogey man they stumbled onto named "global warming", where there is no proof, and even little understanding of climate and weather.

Captain Future said...

The consensus on the climate crisis is a consensus of climate scientists, not liberals. Many of the principal organizations endorsing these findings are organizations of scientists, not liberals.

An objective source? There are many, but the National Academy of Sciences is one. Even the recently revealed memo by the coal industry admits that there are few skeptics among those who study climatology.

Here is a short article by the author of the study in the scientific journal Science of peer reviewed research into the subject. The "peers" are not liberals, they are scientists, applying scientific criteron to the data and the conclusions. Here is part of it:

"My study demonstrated that there is no significant disagreement within the scientific community that the Earth is warming and that human activities are the principal cause."

"Papers that continue to rehash arguments that have already been addressed and questions that have already been answered will, of course, be rejected by scientific journals, and this explains my findings. Not a single paper in a large sample of peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003 refuted the consensus position, summarized by the National Academy of Sciences, that "most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations."

I find it difficult to believe that people who dismiss the information that Al Gore presents in "An Inconvenient Truth" as political have actually seen the movie or read the book. There is nothing partisan in the information or the presentation. It is others who have made this a political issue.

When hundreds of separate scientific studies on various phenomena, and using a variety of methods, come to the same general conclusion, and that conclusion requires attention and action for the wellbeing of much of humanity it seems to me we ought to pay attention to it. It is the same kind of data-based science that Picard performs in The Inner Light.

I understand how painful it is to accept this. It means that in the ordinary course of our lives, we've been contributing to a massive problem. It means that we must make changes, although they are not as awful or wrenching as some of us may imagine. But we need to accept at the very least the probability that what our scientists are telling us is right, and we need to act on their findings. It's our responsibility.

And Dave, I was unable to find those urls. Your MIT scientist's objections are dealt with in the linked essay above. As for the last anonymous poster, dismissing the consensus of global climate scientists as well as millions of others who accept these conclusions as former communists is evidence of an extreme right wing perspective that bears no resemblance to reality. Nor will recognizing the reality of the climate crisis necessarily wreck anybody's economy. But refusing to deal with it surely will have devastating economic as well as environmental and human consequences.

Captain Future said...

Maybe by coincidence, there's an oped today by the scientist who Michael Crichton and other climate crisis deniers cite, who says his study on cooling of part of Antarctica has been misused:

"I have never said that 'the unexpected colder climate in Antarctica may possibly be signaling a lessening of the current global warming cycle.' I have never thought such a thing either. Our study did find that 58 percent of Antarctica cooled from 1966 to 2000. But during that period, the rest of the continent was warming. And climate models created since our paper was published have suggested a link between the lack of significant warming in Antarctica and the ozone hole over that continent. These models, conspicuously missing from the warming-skeptic literature, suggest that as the ozone hole heals — thanks to worldwide bans on ozone-destroying chemicals — all of Antarctica is likely to warm with the rest of the planet. An inconvenient truth?"

So I point out that the two principal climate scientists that deniers cite to support their denial, are on record saying their work has been misused, and they believe that global warming is happening, due chiefly to human dispersal of greenhouse gases.