Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Adam Savage isn't the only Mythbuster

I just started reading Christopher Hitchens' book, God is not Great. He (Hitchens not God) opens with a story about being in grade school in England and having an epiphany based on something his teacher said. She said to the class something along the lines of isn't it wonderful how God created the grass and trees in the colour green, for green is pleasing to the eye, whereas orange or purple grass would have been terrible. That's the gist of it anyway. Hitchens' epiphany was that his teach had got it wrong. The earth was not created for our enjoyment, rather we adapted the perception of beauty and comfort. Our eyes and sense adapted to what was already there.

I remember a similar moment when I was a young Anglican boy in a Catholic private school -St Joseph's in Victoria, BC. In grade one we were given a small book, sort of a primary study guide of the bible. We had a religion period where we would learn the classic stories of the Old Testatment and learn that if you live against God you'll surely go to Hell. Things began falling apart, or perhaps falling into place is a better term, for me and religion when we got to the story of Noah, the ark and a great Jesus-big flood that wiped out life on earth. Noah, apparently built the boat that God wanted and put two of every animal on board, thus saving the "good" fauna and his family.

I lived next to an ocean in a particularly rainy part of the world. Getting 40 days and nights of rain in BC's south west is not unheard of. Also, oceans are really, really big. I had never seen it rain so much that the ocean could rise and eat Victoria. I also had a really great grasp on nature from watching Wild Kingdom and all the rest of them. Even at seven years old, I knew there were a hell of a lot of animals in the world and that keeping two of each of them in a boat was beyond ridiculous.

I also was allowed to watch Nova occasionally, Cosmos regularly and had parents who would do their best to answer any question I had. So, when we got the sections about creation and it's six days of work and one day of rest nonsense... well, I had already been exposed to the big bang, light speed and the concept that the earth was 6 billion years old.

Adam and Eve couldn't hold a candle to Jane Goodall, Diane Fossey and Richard Leakey and their explanations of how we had descended from a common ancestor that we shared with Chimps, Gorillas and Gibbons.

Information is powerful. Truth is scary. Myth and story are comforting. Because I didn't believe any of the heaven/hell stuff I spent a lot of sleepless childhood nights, worrying about death and nothingness. I just couldn't go to that place that other people have that tells them "It's ok, when you die you go to heaven to be with Jesus".

I even remember having a kid-size dispute with Sherry Noel about it. Our families were camping one year and she said that if she died young that would be ok because she'd get to see Jesus early. Being that I was a polite kid I didn't outright call bullshit but, I do remember telling her that she was wrong. Pretty mean in hindsight. But, I was probably 8 years old to her 6.

Myth, as I said, is powerful stuff. All myth is about deluding ourselves that we are somehow unique and special among the cosmos; that other things may have exploded into being or evolved from something else, but we were created by a diety in his image. This is not limited to the Abrahamic gods either. Every human culture has given themselves privilege over everything else in the universe and decided that some other force created us, just for us.

These myths stand up with remarkable and unfortunate resilience in the face of science. Not to saw an old log but by way of illustration, school districts in the States are requiring science classes to include the bullshit, pseudo-scientific nonsense that is Intelligent Design.

And we keep creating new myths. Climate change denyers, oil-sands developers, land-developers, captains of industry, all cling to the myth that there is no environmental problem and, if maybe there is, that we can fix problems after we find them, but we sure as hell didn't cause them. What really gets me though is why conservationists, environmentalists, environmental scientists, environmental educators are portrayed as the deluded ones.

The environmental movement as a whole is not interested in taking away anybody's quality of life or their jobs. They aren't trying to hurt families or kill off hard-earned savings. They simply want to use science and evidence to build a cleaner, more efficient, more advanced, less impactful society; one that uses less water, less land, less fuel. They are attempting to build a world where your kids can drink from a stream without worrying about what may be leaching in from upstream. They are attempting to create transportation that won't poison the air you breathe. They are attempting to produce food that is nutritious and equitably available. They are attempting to keep the oceans' smallest life alive; the life that creates the oxygen we breathe.

What these people are trying so damn hard to do, is preserve the planet as the place that will sustain us. They understand that the technologies of a hundred years ago must pass and that new, cleaner tech must rise up to take it's place. They also understand that that tech will create jobs and profits.

And yet, myth continues to win the day in a lot of the world. Myths are the old stories we tell ourselves that things are ok; that we're special and doing just fine. The new myths are that we can't possibly poison the air, there's too much; we can't affect the ocean temperature, it's too big; we can't alter the climate, carbon's a trace gas.

History has shown that all myth passes into legend. New information is assimilated as new truth rises and old myths are put to rest. At this point, I'm hoping that our current myths of self-importance, profit as the final end and wanton environmental pillage for our new shiny toys, can be overcome by science and truth.

Because honestly people, if God is real He's gonna be pissed at us for messing this place up and we can't afford another damn flood.

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