Thursday, August 2, 2007

Junk Science

It was 1983 - 1984 and I won 2nd place (aka: the first loser) in the school's Science Fair. I had continued a project I began in 1982 - 1983. The premise was sound enough, I suppose. But the outcome and my promotion to the State competition was akin to global warming: junk science.

As a kid, we often went boating in the local river. And each time, the propeller would get clogged with anacharis, a common river grass. Being a teenager, I knew that the solution to that problem was simple: eliminate all river grass. But take advantage of it - ferment it and use it to fuel a harvesting machine to result in a net-zero operation cost. One container contained water, grasses, and sugar. The other contained water, grasses, sugar, and yeast. Obviously the yeast additive resulted in more rapid fermentation and, I vaguely recall being able to substantiate the position that the byproduct was indeed flammable. Today, I reflect back and wonder two things: 1) what was I thinking, and 2) what were the teachers thinking? Fortunately, at State, I was disqualified on a technicality that no living organism would be part of the display. They didn't consider the plants living, but the yeast.

Even today, I have a tendency to both over-think and over-simplify things; indeed, that might seem counter intuitive and it's probably just the first of several steps en route to the Happy Place in the woods with nice rocking chairs and padded walls to keep us safe from all you "normal" folk. But I digress.

At no point did my study consider the environmental impact of the grass removal. I didn't consider the filtering benefit that the grass afforded to the river. Nor did I consider the food and shelter it provided to countless aquatic life. I did not consider the potential for the downstream (no pun intended) effects of altering the aquatic environment in this way. Nay, I didn't even consider the fact that there was no internal combustion engine presently designed to run on fermented river grass nor did I assess the potential BTU output of the fermented byproduct. It was all theory - and a bad one at that.

Yet, I took 2nd place and proudly displayed that silly ribbon in my room for several years. Today, I'd like to give it back. I want no part of that so-called honor. Not because the teachers failed to see my short-sightedness, but with the benefit of 20+ years of hindsight, I failed to see my own myopia.

But let this serve as a warning to those who so willingly embrace the notion of global warming, or its latest politically correct term, global climate change. Perhaps it IS getting hotter; perhaps sea temperatures are rising. But science suggests that it's getting hotter on Mars too. Science also tells us that our sun is going through an extended period of increased solar activity. As such, perhaps human activity and cow flatulence are not the most significant contributors to this change. As yet, we have not learned how to control the weather, despite China's insistence that they can prevent rain during the Olympics . . . riiiiiggghhhhtt. But, whether you embrace "intelligent design" or not, the Earth is able to manage itself, even with an excess of 6 billion human viruses running about. Indeed, warmer seas mean more intense hurricanes and typhoons. These storms are nature's way of releasing energy; they also result in death and destruction. Call that "natural population control." The internal combustion engine has only existed for 100 years. Yet science informs us that the global climate has changed multiple times in both micro and macro cycles. Science also told us that the world's oil supply would run out by 1980. Then 1990. Then 2000.

With such uncertainty within the scientific community as to cause and effect, it would seem to be as much a leap of faith to embrace global warming as a human-borne event as, say, the fact that humans are an accident of Nature. Did Nature not realize that we would destroy it? Or is this, like my science projects, a pile of cow manure?

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