A little while back, I was at Utah State University to give a public talk about the threat from asteroid impacts and what we can do to stop them (PLUG ALERT: if you want me to come talk at your venue, my agent would love to hear from you).
While I was there I was interviewed by Utah Public Radio, and that interview is online.
I was also chatted up by the local TV station, KSL. I think it went OK, and they put it online as well:
[You may have to refresh this page to get the video to load.]
While I rather wish I had stated succinctly that even the basis of the "Mayan 2012 doomsday" nonsense is itself a gross misinterpretation of Mayan history, culture, and calendar, I think I was pretty clear. I have to walk a fine line sometimes: debunking crap doomsday scenarios like 2012 while also warning of real dangers like asteroid impacts… while neither over- or understating that danger. It’s a delicate balance.
A balance, I’ll note, which is apparently completely lost on some of the commenters on the KSL website who are saying I’m totally wrong and that the doomsday is coming in December [Note: I checked just before posting this, and most of the really over-the-top comments have been deleted, and I thank the forum moderators for that]. The sheer blind eye some have toward reality is stunning.
I know some people have deep beliefs they hold true, and are willing to deny what’s right in front of their face if they have to. I also know it’s the Internet out there, where people don’t read past the first line or watch a video past the first few seconds. Still, the denial and — to be blunt — dickery is breathtaking. One person actually said they hoped the Universe kills me so they don’t have to listen to my "drivel" [that was one of the comments deleted, BTW].
Of course this isn’t the first time I’ve had someone wish me dead, or that I’d shut up. Duh. But what I find fascinating is the irony. One complaint I hear about critical thinking is that it takes away hope, takes away beauty, and replaces them with despair and the ugly nature of reality. And yet here we see people shredding their critical thinking to hold fast to a doomsday scenario that is as ugly as it is hopeless.
If they actually applied a bit of skepticism, they’d see the 2012 doomsday garbage for what it is. But they cleave unto it as fervently as a drowning man to a life preserver.
I don’t think I have anything particularly profound to add to this; I’m just shining a light on it for you to see. Be aware of this, and always remember people’s ability to be paradoxical and completely embrace a nonsensical danger while denying the real one.
– Re-cycled Mayan calendar nonsense
– My asteroid impact talk is now on TED!
– MSNBC interview: 2012, the year the Earth doesn’t end. Again.
– Betelgeuse and 2012
– Giant spaceships to attack December 2012?
– No, a pole shift won’t cause global superstorms
My stance on climate change is clear: the scientific evidence that we’re getting warmer is overwhelming, and the most likely cause is that it’s human-produced. The first is fact, the second is a conclusion based on a lot of evidence.
Climategate showed us that the noise machine is in full swing; nothing in those emails takes away from the fact that there are multiple and independent lines of evidence that we’re warming up. And the talking heads on Fox and other right-wing media saying that the harsh winter is evidence against global warming shows how dumb of an argument they’re willing to make.
But it’s not just the stuffed shirts in the media making their own reality as they go along; some people in the government are trying to legislate it. Climate change deniers in both Utah and South Dakota have passed resolutions essentially condemning the science and reality of climate change. In Utah it was just a broadside at the science; in South Dakota it’s aimed at a "balanced teaching of global warming in the public schools."
Yeah, sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Besides the creationist analogies, the South Dakota resolution sounds like something out of 1984:
WHEREAS, the earth has been cooling for the last eight years despite small increases in anthropogenic carbon dioxide;
Wrong! The Earth has been warming overall, and the last decade was the warmest on record, with records going back to 1880.
WHEREAS, there is no evidence of atmospheric warming in the troposphere where the majority of warming would be taking place;
Wrong! The troposphere is warming.
WHEREAS, historical climatological data shows without question the earth has gone through trends where the climate was much warmer than in our present age.
Yes, and the Earth went through a period of heavy bombardment from asteroids and comets a few hundred million years after it formed. Just because something happened once doesn’t make it safe.
WHEREAS, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life on earth. Many scientists refer to carbon dioxide as "the gas of life";
Wow. I mean, wow. Let’s lock these guys in a room filled with CO2 for an hour or two and see how much life is left in them. And I love the "many scientists" line. You know what? A whole lot more scientists call it a greenhouse gas.
WHEREAS, more than 31,000 American scientists collectively signed a petition to President Obama stating: "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, or methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the earth’s climate…"
This petition has been thoroughly debunked before; it’s nothing more than an attempt to muddy the waters by deniers.
However, my absolute favorite part of the South Dakota resolution is this next bit. Are you sitting down? Good:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED […]
(2) That there are a variety of climatological, meteorological, astrological, thermological, cosmological, and ecological dynamics that can affect world weather phenomena and that the significance and interrelativity of these factors is largely speculative; and
Wait, what? Did those guys in the South Dakota legislature actually say astrological?
Geez, no wonder they can’t figure out that global warming is real. They think they’re reading their horoscopes! It makes me wonder if they just want the planet to warm up so that their state has milder winters.
It angers me that the science of so many topics has been warped and mutilated by people with a political agenda. I have no such agenda, except to speak the truth as I see it. I make no money if global change is real, I get no power, no thrill. In fact, the idea of a substantially warmer planet scares me, if not for myself, then for my daughter and everyone destined to live in that environment.
The politicians who would vote yes on these resolutions are doing so out of a near-religious belief that global warming is not real — they’re the otter in that picture. Contacting them probably won’t help; I suspect that if every last constituent they had contacted them, they would still cleave to their beliefs.
But I urge people to write their congressional representatives anyway. And spread the word; if these two states deny reality this blatantly, then others will follow. Bet on it.
And if other states follow suit, they may doom all of us.
Utah is only one state over, so when I see a website that tells me a fragment of a comet will hit it on March 1 of this year, I sit up and take notice.
Then I see the flashing text. The multiple colors. The GIANT FONT. The URL: satansrapture.com. Well, still. It can’t be all wrong can it? And then I see the title: "BIBLE CODE PREDICTIONS 2010".
Oh. I guess it can be all wrong.
OK, Utah, you can rest easy. I’m guessing March 1 will come and go with no comet impact, fragment or otherwise. The Bible code is a long debunked piece of antiscience garbage, basically just people looking at random patterns until they find one that kinda sorta if you squint your eyes and plug up your ears and yell LALALALALALA looks like it might say something sorta correct.
Anyway, I wouldn’t normally link to such low-level and obvious nonsense, but no matter how silly a doomsday claim is, there will always be people out there who take it seriously. So just in case, here you go: there are no scientific predictions that a comet piece will hit Utah, and the Bible Code is total 100% fictitious nonsense.
Unless… hmmm. The Earth is hit by about 100 tons of cosmic debris every night. A lot of that is from comets, small (and I mean small) bits of fluff shed off of previous comet passes. And if you live in Utah and go out March 1, you’re sure to see at least one or two shooting stars…
So maybe that website is right!
Or not. I’m guessing not.