Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Kansas

My iPod shuffle ran out of podcasts to listen to just before I got to Colorado Springs. I really should have saved them as I drove across California, Nevada, Utah, and western Colorado. The scenery was enough to keep my mind occupied. There’s a division across America, running down the front range of the Rockies. Both sides get called “America the Beautiful” and I wouldn’t say that the east side is ugly; It’s just more like America the Boredomful. There aren’t many radio stations in the sparsely populated West. Driving east, the scenery runs out a state-and-a-half before the radio stations pick up. This gap is called Kansas. (To my mind, the eastern half of Colorado is just an extension of Kansas, though I’m sure if I dared to stop, the locals would correct me.) So I faced Kansas without podcasts, or CDs, cassette tapes, or 8-tracks for that matter. Fortunately, my dad reminded me of the existence of AM radio just as I entered the Great Plains.

I tried listening to Air America, but it was mostly commercials, and what content there was was disjointed and insubstantial. The rest of the AM dial is filled with religious and right-wing talk, which is actually an advantage when traversing the country. The increased blood pressure makes it difficult to fall asleep at the wheel. Thankfully the topics du jour weren’t gays or the war, or I might have had an aneurysm at the wheel—which would be worse than falling asleep. Right now they’re mostly concerned with slamming Sicko, sight unseen, and “debunking” global warming.

All the stuff we’re hearing these days about climate change—melting glaciers, higher sea levels, more intense storms, widespread drought—I first heard in 10th grade when I did a project for biology class. That was 18 years ago! I was shocked to hear a caller start ranting about how global warming is made up, and certainly not man’s fault. He criticized the liberals for not backing up their assertions with any facts. The host concurred, and explained that liberals don’t base their thinking on facts, their arguments are pure emotion. My blood was boiling.

Two days earlier, I’d listened to a Talk of the Nation podcast with several scientists representing teams who are spending a year studying the effects of climate change on Alaska. Glaciers have retreated miles. The Arctic Ocean is losing its summer sea-ice. Thousands of square miles of permafrost have melted causing forests to fall over. Normally inch-high tundra plants have turned into shrubs that stick above the snow, absorbing more sunlight, causing further heating in the spring and fall. It was also pretty clear that scientists hold back their emotions. They refuse to say how bad they think things really are because they don’t want to make assertions until the facts incontrovertibly point to those conclusions.

The AM radio host finished his fact-free emotion-laden rant and went to break with the words “Fox News Radio—Free and Balanced.” Another enraged dose of adrenalin shot into my veins. I listened to conservative and evangelical talk radio for 24 hours driving from Colorado Springs to Asheville, and I’ll be damned if I ever heard anything remotely grounded in fact. Fortunately there will be a pilot flying me to South America and I won’t need to subject myself to such deluded rhetoric (giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming it isn’t simply deceitful) to stay awake. I can just sleep my travels away and awaken somewhere with its own problems and politics that, for a while at least, I’ll be oblivious to.

2 comments:

Eli said...

when i did the drive across kansas it was by myself and without a radio at all, both ways. i don't know if i was better off that way, i guess it was pretty zenic.

SLC said...

I'm just now catching up on your blogs. Of course, anything about political talk will get me thinking. And here's what I'm thinking: I say all the time the things that you're saying-- that people who want to discuss whether or not global warming is 'real'are ignoring the facts. What's most interesting to me is that the people on these talk shows claim the same thing-- that people who argue for global warming are not using facts but are rather part of some environmentalist conspiracy. I assume, in this line of thinking, that the conspiracy has nothing to do with ensuring that we maintain a healthy balance between humans and the rest of the planet, but rather is about getting political power. So, the theory is that environmentalists or other people "on the left," and apparently scientists too, are making up global warming to scare people into voting for them?

Why is it that it's a free for all when it comes to "facts"? Either something is happening or it isn't. Are we dealing with the postmodern condition? Political manipulation? Science vs. religion?

Or are we dealing with the problem of causation in argument? If scientists can't show 100% that humans are the direct cause of global warming then there IS room for doubt. And even if they do, scientists have been wrong before.

That being said, I believe global warming is happening and I believe that humans are, at the very least, one of the major causes. I believe this because scientific evidence seems to support the claim.

On these talk shows, and I don't listen, so I'm assuming. But I'm assuming that the religious element says exactly this-- global warming is a belief. Just like evoluation, right? So the question then is who/what are the sources being used? Science or god? For this crowd science is fallible and god is not. So there you have it-- an impossible rift because one source of evidence always trumps the other.

What else can do we do when we don't trust the source of the evidence? We say that someone doesn't use "facts."