Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that prohibits scientific experts whose works have been published in peer-reviewed journals from advising the EPA. In November the Texas State School Board approved textbooks attributing our system of government to Moses and casting doubt upon climate change and evolution. A school district in Arizona moved to redact passages pertaining to birth control from an AP biology text. Numerous state legislatures continue to consider bills that would authorize the teaching of creationism as science in public schools. This week, the Pew Research Center announced that for the first time in years, despite the growing number of mass shootings, and in the face of all evidence and common sense, more Americans favor gun rights over controls that would protect people from the catastrophic scourge of gun violence. We have learned that as a result of the horrific drought in California, overuse of the aquifers underlying the great Central Valley has led to subsidence of the land above. Parts of California are sinking. The venerable crown jewel of America’s oceanic research fleet, the Woods Hole-based U.S.S. Knorr, was de-commissioned due to budget cuts. Although technologically advanced, the replacement vessel is smaller, its voyages will be of shorter duration, and will carry fewer scientists and crew members, as the entire program faces dwindling funding for crucial oceanographic research.
And when the 114th Congress is seated next month, Senator James Imhofe of Oklahoma will chair the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Senator Imhofe is a conspiracy theorist who claims that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the United Nations. He published a book about it. He has publicly vowed to gut EPA regulations regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The most powerful member of the Committee charged with addressing the ongoing and increasingly devastating effects of climate change is also the staunchest and most vocal climate science denier. All of this can ostensibly be traced to his belief that only God can affect the climate, although the fact that the Koch Brothers are his largest campaign contributors might have something to do with it.
On November 12, a 220-pound craft landed on a very small rock hurtling through space at thousands of miles per hour 317 million miles from Earth. Despite some glitches, the orbiter is sending back volumes of valuable data that will help us better understand our solar system and perhaps even the beginning of life on Earth. Last week the Orion space capsule, designed to bring people safely home from Mars in the 2030s, had a flawless test flight. And, on December 6, after nine years of travel to the outer reaches of our solar system, the New Horizons spacecraft “awoke” from hibernation as it begins its final seven month approach to Pluto. Currently about 2.6 billion miles from Earth, when it completes its exploration of Pluto, it will move further out into the Kuiper Belt, that collection of remnants from our solar system’s earliest days that lies beyond the planets, whose existence was only confirmed in the early 1990s.
Closer to home, concerned citizens, scientists, and educators successfully urged publishers to revise textbooks that previously contained inaccurate information on climate science. Kentucky just announced that it will no longer offer tax breaks to a religious museum/theme park claiming to recreate Noah’s Ark. Despite the constant onslaught of economic and legislative pressures aimed at eradicating the development of renewable energy sources, it looks like they’re here to stay. And the fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline goes on.
Humans are an obstinate. We are self-absorbed, myopic, and often small-minded, to the point where we now contemplate our self- annihilation through the total, malignant neglect, mismanagement and misuse of our home planet and its resources.
But somehow we remain an optimistic species. Our unremitting quest to understand our universe, our solar system, our planet and ourselves continues. We stubbornly tell ourselves it’s never too late to learn and do better. If more of us would just act on it, we might still prove ourselves right.