Plan 9 and Malachi agree! It’s time to act on Climate Change

Every once in a while, there is a perfect storm. A moment in time when all the elements necessary to define and structure flawlessness of form and function come together. These moments are rare. It takes the magic of coincidence. The alchemy of circumstance, combined with a kind of purity that only occasionally emerges. Such was the case in 1959 when Edward D. Wood Jr. wrote and directed the most astonishing film ever made. It is without a doubt my favorite movie. I’ve watched it many times and have never found it tiring or hackneyed.There is something insightful to be drawn from each viewing. In the opening dialogue we see its power:

Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown… the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places. My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?

Yes. All the writing in the movie is this bad. The acting, the directing, the cinematography, and the story itself are all so perfectly awful that one wonders at how so many elements of such dreadful creativity can exist in a single place. So bad that Mystery Science Theater 3000 never touched it. What could they add? What snide comment could point out the absurdity of that which defines the absurd? It is a masterpiece of rare anti-genius. Plan 9 from Outer Space: there has never been anything like it.

Its wisdom continues to teach:

This is Eros, a space soldier from a planet of your galaxy. I fully realize our language differences, however I also know you finally have perfected the dictorobitary, or as you on Earth put it, the language computer. So you can now understand that which I speak. Since the beginning of your time, we have been far beyond your planet. It has taken you centuries to even grasp what we developed eons of your years ago. Do you still believe it impossible we exist? You didn’t actually think you were the only inhabited planet in the universe? How can any race be so stupid? Permit me to set your mind at ease. We do not want to conquer your planet. Only save it. We could have destroyed it long ago, if that had been our aim. Our principal purpose is friendly. I admit, we have had to take certain means which you might refer to as criminal, but that is because of your big guns which have destroyed some of our representatives. If you persist in denying us our landings, then we must only accept that you do not want us on friendly terms. We then have no alternative but to destroy you before you destroy us. With your ancient, juvenile minds, you have developed explosives too fast for your minds to conceive what you were doing. You are on the verge of destroying the entire universe. We are part of that universe.

Ah, the destruction of the universe. We humans. Ya’ gotta love us. So let’s go back to global warming, which some people believe will destroy, not our universe, but a piece of it that will make our life more difficult in this little corner. So what should we do about it? Here I’m going to pull the same stunt as I did on my Climate Change Blog when I refused to talk about the data. Here, my friends, I’m going to refuse and talk about specific solutions. I recognize that there are deep complexities in the topic that stir together a strange mixture of ecology, economics, sociology, and a host of other things. So as to specifics on solutions, I’m still exploring. However, I believe something needs to be done. And that is what I want to make a plea for. Because I believe that whether you are convinced of CC or not, there is warrant enough for action. We need to be actively trying to do the things we know need doing and looking for earnestly for solutions to the myriad problems that now confound and confuse us and may become exacerbated in years to come.

This is because the question of whether we should act at this point bears not only on the probabilities, but the dire consequences if we are wrong. Consider this argument of a lawyer to a jury.

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, we will show that when all the evidence is in, that the unfortunate toddler only had a 0.1 % chance of going over the cliff, and therefore the child’s father was justified in not getting out of the lawn chair to stop him.”

How many of you carry catastrophic accident insurance even though it is likely that you will never use it?

When consequences are weighed with probabilities, the warrant for action goes far beyond just what is dictated by the probabilities.

I think the evidence for human caused CC is good. But even if you don’t, even if you are going to side against science and keep visiting the non-peer reviewed literature, and listening to the voices who trace their intellectual genealogy through big oil, think to yourself about what the consequences are if you are wrong. If you will admit to any probability of possibility (that might just define a new statistical field!) of CC being human caused, then we should act. The consequences of being wrong are frightening. I’m not talking about deep doomsdayers who worry about the Earth–becoming-Venus scenarios, I’m talking about increased storms, droughts, expanded range of tropical diseases, habitat destruction, political turmoil—the light, highly probable stuff, the stuff we are seeing the leading edge of right now. Stuff that our children and their children could pay dearly for, because we wanted more evidence before convincing ourselves that action was warranted. “Oh sure kids, you face political instability (think Katrina) and environmental disasters, but you don’t know how much of a hassle it was not having a SUV. And besides we weren’t sure it was caused by humans, it was only a bunch of scientists saying it, and YOU KNOW they’ll say anything.”

The second reason for action is I believe that the LDS people have a higher responsibility to take care of the earth because our doctrines are so deep and significant on the matter. We’ve seen the Earth weep in our scriptures. We are reminded every time we go to the temple that we have a stewardship over this planet. And like Hugh Nibley I have a hard time interpreting these scriptures as an injunction to get rich and to use up the earth’s resources only for secular, economic, and recreational ends (although there was a player in the Garden who did argue for these things). While I don’t take the story of Noah literally, I do take it seriously. The Lord cares for his creatures. Notice in the scriptures after the flood, the Lord makes and convent with Noah AND with his creatures. All the inhabitants of the earth stand in a covenant relationship with God. When Christ returns, for some reason I don’t see him touring the malls and walking through a WalMart parking lots saying, “I like what you’ve done with the place.”

When you garden, you take actions on probability all the time. You might treat for insects that are not there yet, you provide soil nutrients that you recognize the plants may need. Part of our responsibilities, laid out so clearly in Eden, are that we here to tend and care for this place. If there is a chance that we are causing the warming, I think we have warrant and responsibility to act. Even if it proves unnecessary, it’s the right thing to do. We owe it to our children and theirs. We need to turn our hearts to our children, or the Earth might be smitten with a curse.

Tanna: Mad? Is it mad that you destroy other people to save yourselves? You have done this. Is it mad that one country must destroy another to save themselves? You have also done this. How then is it mad that one planet must destroy another that threatens the very existence-
Eros: That’s enough!! In my land, women are for advancing the race, not for fighting man’s battles. Life is not so expansive on my planet. We don’t cling to it like you do. Our entire aim is for the development of our planet.

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18 comments to Plan 9 and Malachi agree! It’s time to act on Climate Change

  • David Gonzalez

    Steve,

    I was so tickled to find your blog. I have had my times of skepticism, certainty and frustration with respect to CC. Lately I feel too many politically vacant arguments like “save a tree” and “save the earth” (which are little more compelling than the antithesis “Christ will come before it all goes to Hell)”.

    Your Pascalian argument I think is the most relevant, most actionable and likely to garner the most political traction (on both sides of the aisle).

  • Cap

    First off. Great movie. I can’t think of a time I’ve laughed harder. Good stuff.

    Second, great blog! I believe that if there is ever a time that we need to act it is now. It is pointless to wait for more evidence, or for something dramatic to happen. We are the stewards of this planet. Being pro-active on this can only benefit us. I can not see any reason or excuse to why we should not do everything we can to act on climate change, and ways to prevent it.

    After all if Malachi and Plan 9 are in agreement then I can’t find any excuse to not be pro-active.

  • Zen

    Far be it from me to support the unsustainable plunder of our resources, but I don’t see as many alternatives as greens proclaim there is. Much of what is proclaimed as the most virtuous of action, makes little sense environmentally or economically.

    Rather than worrying about CO2, I think that air and water pollution and over-fishing are topics that will give us far more ‘bang for our buck’, as far as environmental improvement goes.

  • Zen–the thing is, the plunder of natural resources (including water, forests, and ocean resources) is highly impacted by climate change. It’s very likely that the habitat for most species will shift, and some species we rely on will end up with smaller, and others with larger available habitat space. The faster this happens, and the larger the difference between what we have now and what we end up with the more difficult it will be for us to adapt.

    CO2 is a complicated problem, but there are steps we can take that in respect to this post I’ll refrain from discussing. What I will say is that our individual efforts aren’t going to be enough. Getting a Prius instead of an SUV is wonderful, but does surprisingly little to reduce an individual’s carbon footprint, largely because so much of the carbon we emit is what I would call institutionally derived–coming from power plants, mostly. We need cheap and carbon-free energy, and there are options out there that people are working on (in spite of myself, I’ll mention two–solar power derived from organic molecules and nuclear, specifically pebble-bed reactors–as some of the more promising prospects I’ve heard of), but without a strong commitment to developing them, and a strong commitment to providing them to developing nations it’s not going to make a difference. Al Gore’s challenge is a great one, and is basically what it’s going to take.

  • ed

    Hmmm…not sure it makes much sense here to advocate action while “refusing to talk about specific solutions.” I’m reminded of the common policy making fallacy:

    Something must be done.
    This is something.
    Therefore, this must be done.

    That said, I think a carbon tax would be a pretty good idea. But overall I’m pessimistic that there is any realistic possibility of significantly slowing the worldwide growth in C02 emissions. The oil and coal is in the ground for the taking, and if we don’t burn it, someone else will.

  • e rich

    Great post!

  • Very well put, Steve. I am reminded of Pascal’s Wager: a person should “wager” as though CC exists, because he has so much to gain, and very little to lose.

  • Dan

    I agree that we need to be aware of our planet as well as its inhabitants. That being said I whole heartedly am against a carbon tax or any other government control. I am tired of giving up rights in the name of the “common good.”

    Let me decide what is or isn’t good. Satan loves coercion.

  • steve

    Let’s not talk about giving up rights until we’ve decided on what it means to take up responsibility.

  • Dan

    “Let’s not talk about giving up rights until we’ve decided on what it means to take up responsibility.”

    Why?

    Because that is more convenient for your agenda? Or some other reason?

    People posting here are talking about carbon taxes. You have a problem with me voicing my opposition to that in the name of ‘responsibility’?

    You have every right to voice your opinion on the matter. You have no right to force that opinion on anyone regardless if it is right or wrong.

    Speaking of responsibility – it is the RESPONSIBILITY of every elected official in the United States to uphold the Constitution of the United States. That Constitution is given power by the people. This government is given power by the people. You as an individual have NO power over me or anyone to force me to be a responsible citizen. As such you have no power to grant that power to the government – to do so would be unlawful.

    That being said, none of that has anything to do with whether or not I CHOOSE to be environmentally concious and act accordingly.

  • ed

    I think we should have a carbon tax and use the proceeds to lower other taxes, like the payroll tax. I hardly see how that constitutes “giving up rights.”

  • Cap

    Well, obviously depending on people to do things on their own and take apropriate action isn’t enough. The problem is only increasing because people, or dare I say America, is so apathetic when it comes to so many issues. Especially Global Warming. There is so little action being done. I don’t want to pay more taxes anymore than the next guy, but if that is what it takes then so be it.

  • Ed Gulachenski

    Cap, if you liked the movie you will also enjoy the following story originally posted by Jim Peden. It is not about CC. It is about another fictional global crisis and how herculean efforts are undertaken to stave off the impending disaster even though there was no evidence that it might happen. Sound familiar?

    http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2008/04/for-the-childre.html

  • Rich Knapton

    I am an old kayaker. I don’t mean I’ve been kayaking for a long time; I mean I’m old and I kayak. I love gliding through the water looking at the beauty of the water and of the land. I’m thrilled when I see close to me the arching back of a gray whale as it moves through the water. It is shear poetry to watch a bald eagle dive and then ascend heavenly with a salmon in it’s claw. There is nothing that will bring a smile to my face as I spot a seal popping his head up to watch me like a tiny Killroy. There are a thousand an one unique experiences I’ve been blessed with while paddling in my kayak.

    I want to know that this reality will be there for my children when I’m gone. I try to run 7 miles a day when not kayaking. I want to know that the air I’m drawing into my lungs is pure and healthy for me. To help do my part for the earth I follow the admonition to leave nothing behind when I leave those precious areas. I support efforts to keep our waters and air as clean as possible. I take seriously the command to Adam (and his posterity) to tend and beautify this earth.

    I also believe in global warming. But then, I also believe in global cooling. I see this current warming as simply part of that natural circle of change. A thousand years ago people were farming on the western coast of Greenland. Today this can’t be done. Perhaps in the future farming will once again be done on the west coast of Greenland. It is simply a part of the natural cycle of climatic change which the earth has undergone for as long as it has existed as an earth. The length and severity of that cycle may differ but the reality of change remains.

    As such I don’t believe there is anything we can do to affect the natural cycle of climatic change. Nor do I believe that this is an aspect of the challenge given to Adam and us his children. I would rather put my energy into efforts tend and beautify this earth. Our efforts, I believe, are best placed in keeping the land beautiful, the air clean and the waters pure. If we do this, the Lord will bless us.

    Rich

  • steve

    Thanks Rich, that was a beautiful description. I can tell you care about nature. But do you want to risk that Nature. This warming is way outside of what’s natural and Nature isn’t keeping up, especially in alpine and arctic regions where the warming is most pronounced and where the species can’t adapt fast enough. If there is something we can do, shouldn’t we?

  • milo

    Rich, that was indeed beautiful. But Steve, your response still has little veracity to it. You might be right. You might, however, be wrong that man is such a huge cause of CC. I am still not sure we are when we see such massive events triggered by our beloved (and ravaged) planet that contribute as much CO2 in a day as man does in a month or a year.
    But having said that, I agree with your conclusion only for this reason: being good stewards of this great planet is what we all should do because it is the right thing to do. The Earth gives us so much.
    Dan is right: coercion never produces any sustainable change. It occurs only when each individual makes the CHOICE to change.

  • Rich Knapton

    Today can the west coast of Greenland sustain agricultural pursuits. Is the ground warm enough to sustain farming? It could around 1000 AD. So I don’t believe what we are going through is anything other than a naturally occurring event. The earth gets warmer the earth gets colder. We simply happen to be in a warming phase.

    Rich

  • steveP

    Rich that is a well studied-event. It’s not like climate change scientists haven’t looked very closely at the differences between that event and what is going on now. This is way outside of natural. Way outside.

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