Climate Change: Rain Follows the Plow

mjmmmIn the mid to late 1860’s geologists, governments and folktales confidently stated that human cultivation brought improved weather conditions. Where water was scarce rain would fall and wells would burst with life giving force. This fiction stated as scientific truth (a grand delusion) led many a hopeful farmer across the plains into regions only occasionally moist and mostly unfit for farming.

“God speed the plow…. By this wonderful provision, which is only man’s mastery over nature, the clouds are dispensing copious rains … [the plow] is the instrument which separates civilization from savagery; and converts a desert into a farm or garden…. To be more concise, Rain follows the plow.
Charles Dana Wilber

During the 1870s and early 1880s, unusually heavy rainfall made these claims sound plausible, and within ten years nearly 2 million people had sunk their roots into the prairie soil. But when the wet years finally came to an end, the high plains became again a place where only the most determined could hang on.”

francis murphyThe tale is often told from the prospective of modern, seemingly more intelligent people looking down their noses at the railroad advertisements and government grants that led many families into despair and poverty. Yet there were voices, skeptics who questioned a scientific community too intricately tied in with the government and big business.

Most did not listen unfortunately. Buffalo herds were killed off (on land even the buffalo were having trouble surviving in the best years) to make way for better weather and more lucrative herds of domesticated creatures. Scientists, landowners, schemers,  industrialists and government officials at the expense of the common “folk” lined their pockets. Some laughed up their sleeves while some were just delusional.

john francis murphyAnd so it is even in our modern times that skeptics who go against group think are ridiculed and lambasted for questioning global warming/climate change. I stand back thinking of the many times powerful authorities got it wrong throughout history. I read  the now debunked scientific pronouncements about race and climate, the stars and the seas, medicine and the psyche and wonder at the arrogance of well-meaning people who stridently seek to silence skeptics. It’s human nature to assume the other person has no idea what they’re talking about–it’s called pride.

I’m not really sure what I believe ( history suggests we don’t have all the answers and a certain amount of humility is in order), but my concern is more about the mindset of people who in the face of skepticism resort to infantile name calling. Sneers are not pretty, my friends. I was taught to question authority. If I question Monsanto science, then shouldn’t I question all science especially since so much of scientific research is fueled by corporate interests? A healthy interest in minority voices and where money tends to trickle does not mean a denial but a skepticism rooted in the history of humanity. Some people tend to be more skeptical than others.

In a healthy intellectual society people respectfully disagree on issues. Name calling to silence the opposition is like children calling each-other stupid when they don’t get their way. It’s embarrassing for adults to behave like children having tantrums (whether it be tree-huggers or deniers). Most people looking down their noses at the opposition are not scientists, but who says only scientists should make the rules? Science should not be a cult one follows but a tool for humanity–a tool like literature, religion and traffic signs. Debate is the healthy outcome of a free society, not something to be stomped out.

Paintings by John Francis Murphy 19th century American Tonalist

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