Robert Fulghum said, “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten.” Essentially, once you reach the age of 11 or 12 what you learn requires life experience for context. They say youth is wasted on the young; in truth history is wasted on the young. How can 100 years of history be relevant to young people who consider a week a long time? Even at 18 most people are still learning who they are and yet are expected to have a career path. I used to tell confused and worried students to ask as many 40+ people as possible if they could have predicted at 18 where they are now.
To say something is purely academic means it is irrelevant to the real world. How different would academic thought and approach be if all faculties were required to serve on committees and commissions? What if they had to work for at least 5 years before they could teach and research? Too many are never outside of education from the time they enter kindergarten until they retire as faculty. Somebody purportedly said universities are the only truly incestuous systems in our society. Everyone teaching or researching in them is a graduate and only academics are appointed as deans and presidents.
My education path was not the same that most follow. I was fortunate to have a very strict formal education as a child including Latin and Greek. I then essentially dropped out of the system, only returning when I was in my late 20s. This meant I went back on my terms, knowing a little more about life and who I was. My long-term career goal changed as progress was better than expected, but the central theme remained.
Many things formed the theme, but three events were pivotal. One was the privilege of extensive flying over and visiting the vast and magnificent landscapes of Canada, especially the Arctic. Another was the almost complete lack of evidence of humans throughout most of the areas. The third was the awareness that humans were not considered as an agent of change to the landscape among the general population until the 1960s.
Vast Unoccupied Areas
There is no doubt humans alter the world; however, it is far less than depicted in environmentalist reports and documentaries. The world map shows vast areas virtually unoccupied. Years ago, while on a search in northern Canada for a missing US private airplane, the brother of a missing passenger flew as a spotter. By noon he angrily accused us of flying in circles. We had actually covered most of Wood Buffalo National Park (Figure 1), which is three times larger than Connecticut. It all looked the same with no evidence of humans at all. We flew him back to Fort Chipewyan along the Peace River letting him follow on a map. His only comment on landing was, “I will never worry about overpopulation again.”
Most of the world is essentially unoccupied and populations are confined to coastal plains and deltas. Major questions include “how much and how detrimental are the impacts of human activity?” and “why are human impacts considered unnatural?” The answers are complicated by an underlying assumption of the new religion of environmentalism that humans shouldn’t be here, so anything they do is wrong. The other is that the ‘damage’ is irredeemable. It is complicated by political exploitation from the Club of Rome through to the IPCC.
A huge deficiency in the debate is the lack of detailed reconstruction of natural conditions before human impact. We still have extremely limited information and understanding about nature and natural mechanisms. This is especially true about climate.
Measuring Human Impacts
An undergraduate course on Soils spurred my interests. The formula for soil-forming factors included parent material (rock), weather, and the letter “O” for organic that included everything except humans. Why? Which animal has had a wider impact? Early German geography recognized the impact by distinguishing between Landschaft (the natural landscape) and Kulturschaft (the human modified landscape). However there were few measures of the difference over time. I knew about George Perkins Marsh work Man and Nature (1864), but it was William L Thomas’ 1956 publication Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth that gave me a theme for my major research interests.
An Honours thesis titled Some Philosophical Considerations of Humans as a Source of Change tried to put the issue in a historical and intellectual context. Although human population numbers were low through most of history they could have quite extensive impact, especially through use of fire. Before World War II, the debate was about humans being environmentally and climatically determined; passive products of the environment. During and after the War intellectual interest was driven away from those ideas by Nazi use of climatic determinism to promote racial superiority. After the war the shift to considering human as an active agent really expanded along with the new paradigm of environmentalism.
A Masters thesis titled The Significance of Grain Size and Heavy Minerals Volume percentage as Indicators of Environmental Character, Grand Beach, Manitoba developed understanding of the relationship between energy inputs and how they shape the environment. It was a pure science study necessary to enhance those skills required for measuring and quantifying nature.
My doctoral thesis was designed to address the growing schism between arts and science. A research paper on the relationship between climate and history introduced me to the work of Hubert Lamb and Reid Bryson. It underscored the lack of long detailed weather records and that became the focus of a doctoral thesis. In his autobiography, Hubert Lamb said he founded the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) in 1972 because
it was clear that the first and greatest need was to establish the facts of the past record of the natural climate in times before any side effects of human activities could well be important.
The situation is worse now, sadly due to people at the CRU and government weather agencies.
A proposal to produce a long record using the Meteorological, Daily, and Ships journals of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) that covered from 1714 to 1952, was initially rejected. The Committee said this was simply producing data and what was needed was a new theory. The second proposal was to produce daily weather maps, based primarily on wind directions to reconstruct isobars, for the decade from 1740 to 1751 for a large area of Central Canada. The idea was rejected because they said there were insufficient stations for the size of the area. They were not amused to learn there were more recording stations than are used for the modern weather maps. Eventually the conflict was resolved with a thesis that recreated long weather records that challenged the problem of blending historic records with instrumental records.
The HBC records also provide the most detailed descriptions and maps of a vast land area prior to the Industrial Revolution. They offer an opportunity to determine the pattern and rhythms of a natural landscape so that we can compare it with today’s conditions. It is an invaluable project if we are to bring calm and scientific reason to the debate about human existence and impact on the landscape.
I quickly learned firsthand how wide the schism was between arts and science. An application for funding went to the Canadian agency set up to fund science at arm’s length from government. My research area was historical climatology – that is, producing data from historical records. It was rejected because they said it was arts, not science. When I asked the arts funding agency, they rejected me, saying climate was science. I was very fortunate that the National Museum of Canada, which deals with human history in the natural world, understood the problem.
When I started my academic career in climatology the general view was the world was in a cooling trend and it would continue. Climate variation and its impact on history and the human condition was a fascinating area with no political conflicts or clear exploitation. However, the Club of Rome was already pursuing the idea that the world was over-populated and could not support the demands on resources that were to evolve into the destruction of the environment, especially through climate change. The adaptation of environment and climate as a political vehicle to push their anti-capitalism, anti-development, and in extremes anti-humanity, were already under way. Unknowingly, I was to run headlong into their agenda.
…The blackest billingsgate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded. But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will soon find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your legs and hands, and fly into your face and eyes. John Adams
Adams is talking about people who challenge prevailing opinion. He sees them as a positive force in society, but the high priests of the status quo don’t. Now those pushing the myth that humans are causing warming or climate change want society to think it is a negative force. As Adams notes, in order to create a negative perception of these people, they are subjected to nasty attacks. They are accused of not caring about the environment, the planet, the children, or the future.
This is part of the claim to the moral high ground by environmental groups and extremists. Only they care. They hold that others don’t care as demonstrated by their actions or their failure to speak out. Silence is not an acceptable option. They believe that every change is caused by human activity and it is always negative and unnatural. This underlines the assumptions and structures and research objectives for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claim that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is due to humans and is almost the sole cause of global warming since the 1950s. The reality is the claim is not proven except in their computer models and cannot be proven until we understand how much climate varies naturally. The inverse of that is how much change is due to humans.
They attacked contrarians as Adam’s predicted, but they distorted and distracted from the real question and measurement of how much things change without human activity. Resolution is almost impossible until we have adequate long-term records. As Alexis Carrel wrote,
A few observations and much reasoning lead to error; many observations and a little reasoning to truth.
This confirms and restates the Mark Twain quote placed under my picture:
There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.