Progressivism and Climate Change

Guest essay by Linnea C. Lueken

Engraved on the stone over the entrance to the Engineering building at my university are the words:

STRIVE ON – THE CONTROL OF NATURE IS WON, NOT GIVEN.

Engineering Building at the University of Wyoming

“That’s a terrible thing to say.” A visiting biologist I was walking with said, shaking her head. I laughed it off, not wanting to think too deeply about what she meant, and definitely not wanting to debate with her.

Of course, being me, I later spent a lot of time thinking about it. Is that quote a terrible thing? “The control of nature is won” is certainly an aggressive statement of intent. I thought at first perhaps from a biologists perspective—but do biologists not strive to understand the way living bodies work so that they might develop ways to cure ailments, or even in some cases improve functions altogether? I know this is something that this particular biologist believed, as the research was in the pursuit of helping to treat or cure osteoporosis. Was all of her research, all of those late nights collecting data, not for striving after winning control of nature? The slow weakening and eventual destruction of bone is a natural process.

It makes no sense to me why a biologist would take issue those words, but it leads to wonder what fields of science do not believe in the control of nature. Not ecologists, as they’re constantly debating ways to alter habitats, conserve them, or keep them in a distinctly unnatural stasis—the end goal of which is to protect and preserve these natural places. Engineers devote their careers to battling the elements and gravity, physicists desire to map them out so we might battle them more easily, and climate scientists insist that we must find a way to change the course of the climate (or weather), else we are destroyed by it (Contrasted to the simultaneous belief that humans are already controlling the climate through CO2 emissions).

If this biologist agreed with the sentiment by the work she does, why was there this knee-jerk negative reaction?

Is “Strive on—the control of nature is won, not given” a controversial statement? What does it mean for science if it is?

I think that most of the people who are on the “denier” train probably have noted a trend in the kind of people and ideology involved with the CAGW crowd. It’s tough to put a name to it, especially since language has been perverted quite a bit in recent years—words don’t carry the same meaning. I think overall though, a common thread from the UN Climate panels to our own alarmists is the influence of Karl Marx and Progressivism. I believe the automatic dismissal of “the control of nature is won” is based on a somewhat nihilistic distrust of humanity as a whole. It’s a collectivist dismissal, along the thinking of those who see Mankind as a sort of locust sweeping across the planet (I’ve yet to see a locust that actively works to preserve parts of the environment, and worries as much as we do about its impact on the planet).

Many of my more literal friends will balk at the ‘Progressivism’ remark, explaining that science is always the pursuit of progress in many areas, so of course it’s progressive. I argue that the modern Progressive movement isn’t the same thing. There is philosophical baggage that comes along with it, all of which one can see reflected in alarmist positions. The core of this philosophy maintains a desolate view of humanity and our intentions, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the philosophical father of the French Revolution, often wrote about. Capitalist society, individualism, and small government breeds exploitation, according to Rousseau. Exploitation is another word you’ll hear frequently from progressives, particularly in the context of natural resource use. Here they do not mean ‘use’, but instead the definition involving corruption, misuse, and abuse.

Frequently, complaints about fossil fuel use coincide with predictable characterizations of oil companies as viciously capitalistic imperialists, ravaging the earth’s surface and subsurface to satisfy their own greed. At the same time, they believe that big green energy companies are motivated not by greed, but by a virtuous and righteous quest to save the planet. Both are massive industries with cash flows that most other businesses would never dare to dream of, and yet Big Green Energy which gets so much money and support from government and private interests alike is not so villainized. Why? Because not all big corporations are the same, and in the mind of a progressive if the government—better yet international government—supports them financially or otherwise, it’s even better. Most governments, most countries, most scientists agree—right? It’s the collective that must be correct, its Rousseau’s ideal direct democracy on a global scale.

About a year ago our friends at Greenpeace and other anti-fracking groups railed against Third Energy, an energy company out of the UK, over fracking in North Yorkshire. Greenpeace’s response to being on the losing side of the legal battle was “fracking companies shouldn’t underestimate the strength of feeling on this issue.” (My first question is what, exactly, are the units for the “strength of feeling”? Tears per cubic foot?) Such a ridiculous statement is not even kind of rare, and it makes it all the more obvious that these aren’t scientific issues—it’s entirely political and those politics are comfortably surrounded by a cushion of modern progressive verbiage. We feel that humans are a problem; we feel that we need to do something about it.

We see the same mindset with the greens who have taken offense to the villain of the recent Avengers: Infinity War movie. It’s been analyzed at length at this point from enough sites that we never need to talk about Thanos’ ‘Population Bomb’ motives ever again… but I’m going to—briefly—anyway.

Here we have this perfect Marxist idea where someone (government, an angry purple alien) swoops in and carefully controls or models the way people live (or die). It’s social planning to the morbid extreme. The image of Thanos peacefully retiring to his bungalow with his wood bead door coverings and bamboo yoga mats after killing half the universe is one that disturbs those who believe in such radical environmentalism, possibly because they’re being forced to look at a rapid and intense comic book example of what their ideas look like. Communism killed possibly more than 100 million people since rising to power, all in the name of “liberating” the majority. Thanos does the same by killing (probably) trillions in a much smaller timeframe, short enough for millions of movie-goers to witness in just a few minutes.

Again and again we see people who attempt to present a skeptical viewpoint, or even just publish unbiased research that conflicts with the accepted climate change narrative get railroaded by their peers. Why? Shouldn’t all scientists be interested in fact, even if it challenges their own research? The answer I’ve found is, “Not if it gets in the way of so-called progress”.

Disclaimer: I’m not a historian, I don’t hold any PhD’s; I’m just a Petroleum Engineer (BS), with a minor in geology. You might have read the last essay I submitted to Anthony Watts where I expressed my concerns about the state of science education particularly at the college level, when it came to Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming Climate Change. I promised an update on my coursework then, and I’m happy to report that I ended up doing very well. I’ve also had the privilege of landing an internship with The Heartland Institute, (shameless plug incoming) writing and working behind the scenes on the upcoming America First Energy conference. Eventually I plan to work in offshore drilling and/or well control, but for now I’m excited and honored to have the opportunity to promote what I believe in. Watts Up With That and other CAGW skepticism-friendly blogs, as well as organizations like Heartland, give me a lot of hope that we can push through the non-science and progressive dogma poisoning good research. If that can be managed, I think we have a good shot at improving lives and restoring the credibility of science as a whole.

To me, “Strive on—the control of nature is won, not given” is a directive of excellence and success, and is a perfectly succinct description of the enterprising spirit of scientists and engineers alike. I can’t overstate how important it is that no scientific community loses that spirit.

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103 thoughts on “Progressivism and Climate Change

  1. Yes, antibiotics are an instance of trying to win control of nature. So are farming and herding livestock.

    • Farming is about working WITH nature to produce food for humans to eat. Trying to work against nature equals disaster.

      • Farmers must work against nature to kill weeds, fungus and animal pests, which naturally want to infest my crops and livestock. It is unnatural to replace a diverse grassland or forest habitat with a single crop plant domesticated from wild ancestors indigenous to another continent.

        As a rancher, I fight nature daily, in order to impose on the world the plants and animals which humans want and need, while getting rid of those we don’t. Others farm fungi with the straw from my wheat.

        If that’s not trying to win control, I don’t know what is.

      • W+@Roger welsh: “control of nature” and “work[ing] against nature” are by no means the same thing. On the other hand, nature clearly wants to kill us, so it’s better not to let nature have its own way.

    • Depends on what you mean by “nature” or how you define it. Ironically it’s a human invention. Only humans care about “natural” and “unnatural”. Only humans try to separate those things. Animals care about survival.

    • If “won” and “given” are transitive verbs, then the meaning is very different than if they are viewed grammatically as intransitive verbs.

      In the context of engineering studies, these two verbs are clearly transitive verbs.

      • “STRIVE ON – THE CONTROL OF NATURE IS WON, NOT GIVEN.”
        OK ! GIVEN = God given control……. as in the Bible when MAN was GIVEN
        domination over everything ! That of course is a glorious delusion !
        BUT…… it serves as ONE EXPLANATION of how we came to exist on Earth.
        xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
        IN REALITY !……………This God-given control is NOT so obvious !
        NATURE fights back ………very effectively ! ( e.g. Volcanoes Erupting. )
        and so CONTROL HAS TO BE WON ( by constant STRIVING on our part ).
        It can ONLY be viewed in a POSITIVE SENSE by anyone using COMMON SENSE.
        The “touchy , feely , sensitive , self-appointed , “save the planet” types DON’T !
        They LACK COMMON SENSE ( even if they are highly intelligent ).
        THE PLANET is NEVER AT RISK !
        IT’S US that is AT RISK !
        ALWAYS…….Ebola , ‘flu , earth-quakes , volcanoes , storms , floods , freezing ,
        bears , dehydration , etc….etc. almost anything can wipe “US” out !
        So STRIVE ON reflects that need to WIN CONTROL of our little bit
        of nature JUST TO EXIST !
        xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
        I LIKE THAT MOTTO VERY MUCH ! IT REFLECTS THE HUMAN CONDITION !

      • “Won” and “given” are both passive verbs as used in the sentence. Any verb that can be passive has to be able to take an object when active; thus, such verbs are transitive. “We won the battle” has “battle” as the direct object of “won.” “I gave Julian the prize” has both an indirect object (Julian) and a direct object (prize), so both verbs are transitive, i.e., capable of having a direct object. Of course, any verb that can take an indirect object is also transitive. Some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive: “I swam the 100-yard backstroke in 59 seconds flat” has “backstroke” as the direct object of “swam.” On the other hand, “I swam around Lake Snarpy before breakfast” uses “swam” as an intransitive verb, with no object. The difference between “lie” and “lay” (so often confused) is that “lie” is intransitive: “I need to lie down.” “Lay” is transitive: “Is that hen about to lay an egg?”

        Language, accurately and carefully used, is a wonderful tool of communication. Used as it too often is in climate matters, with deliberate vagueness or ambiguity, it is a dangerous tool for the progressive Left to confuse issues, reverse arguments, obscure facts, and prevent clarity of discourse.

    • As shown by MRSA and pesticide-resistant plants, animals and fungi, the war against nature is never won. It’s always just a holding action.

  2. Linnea, you should know by now that liberalism speaks emotionally which by rule of nature is devoid of logic.

    • Liberalism is a divergent philosophy that is logically monotonic, generational, progressive. Principles matter.

    • Bill, where is that logic in that? How can liberalism speak at all? Humans speak. And to what does the “which” refer? It can’t refer to the “emotionally,” since that’s an adverb.

      People can show just as little logic speaking unemotionally as emotionally, whether conservative or liberal.

  3. Linnea,
    Excellent essay!
    Had we (humanity) not undertaken to control nature, we would still be naked and throwing rocks at the climax predators, as they attack and carry off our clan members. Intelligence, combined with reasoned actions, breeds success. It is the foundation of ‘progressive’ evolution. Emotion based irrational actions most often lead to failure and an early grave.

    I wish you success at The Heartland Institute and an early career transition to field work! Strive On!

    • Throwing rocks at apex predators is an attempt to control nature. It was strictly forbidden by the governing Neolithic Green Party at the time.

      • My ancestors were never very good at following the consensus/collective ‘rules’. Survive! Adapt! Thrive!

  4. Ultimately nature controls us; but in the meantime is available for our use; for it is in our nature to do that.
    As a sailor I know I cannot control the wind; but do know how to use it when nature deems that it is available.
    And when the wind is not available nature had the foresight to provide me with fossil fuels for which I am grateful.

  5. King Canute knew that humans cannot control nature. It’s hubris to think otherwise. We have, however, used our knowledge to channel natural processes to our benefit — from the taming of fire to the manipulation of the electron. We dominate neither, yet we work quite well with their natural characteristics. When we think we have those characteristics well within our control, we are ripe for a failure. Channelizing the Mississippi and Katrina come to mind as a recent example.

    I find the quote very typical of the engineering mindset, but then I trained as a biologist who sees the inherent design features of natural and human systems something to understand and cooperate with rather than dominate.

    • King Canute may have known his limitations, but the Dutch had different ideas.

      Perhaps, Gary, you should try to understand and cooperate with “the engineering mindset” rather than denigrate it.

    • Perhaps we need to define the word “control.” Considering that humans did not evolve with the inherent ability to fly, but many millions of people do so daily, I would say that we have stepped outside of what is ‘natural’ by learning to extract and refine the metals necessary to construct an aircraft, discovered the principles that allow us to turn crude oil into refined jet fuel, and learned how to construct wings to provide lift. Thus, humans can fly. I would be inclined to consider that ‘control’ of Nature.

      Speaking of fire, it was fairly common for aboriginal people of North America to set fires to drive bison over cliffs, and to open up the forests of the West Coast to increase the abundance of game animals like deer. In so doing, they probably significantly altered the original forests to produce stands of redwoods that are so highly admired that they have been protected in parks. Again, I would consider this ‘controlling’ Nature to produce the effects desired by humans.

  6. From an engineering standpoint, “control of nature” is the understanding and application of physics in order to do useful things. But humans have also sought to control the biological side of nature since prehistory, much to our betterment.

    What would your biologist friend have us do instead?

  7. There is an essential nihilistic and reactionary theme to leftism in general and Marxism in particular. And greens are almost always leftists, so yearning for the good old days that never really existed is entirely normal for being a leftist.

  8. In a limited context it’s a wonderful thing to say. Nature can be rather beastly at times, and control over certain aspects of the beast has been great for mankind. Of course if the intent was to suggest that humans should strive to be omnipotent, well then never mind …

  9. And then liberals complain and scream…do something about global warming

    …maybe the “post comment” block at the top isn’t such a good thing….no one has to even scan through what’s already been posted

  10. Biodiversity, biosphere and biomass: it’s “trendy” and it’s misleading …

    Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

    If you want to be connected you must absolutely speak about biodiversity, biosphere and also and especially biomass, it is even more “Chréfran”! On reading this post you will have all the arguments to support that finally the man whose Malthusian ecologists denounce the overpopulation only enters for a tiny part in this biosphere and this biomass which is said and repeated that it is in danger. But hey, I do not want to disturb the spirits with free statements because once again I invent nothing. Everything is said in an article published in the PNAS (see the link open access).

    What does biosphere mean ? It is about all living things on our planet, from viruses and archaebacteria to elephants and of course to bipeds. Scientists at CalTech in Pasadena, California evaluated by compiling the available data on biomass therefore the contributions of all living things and expressed the results of their work in gigatonnes of carbon (1 Gt C = one trillion kilograms) of carbon). Just look at the illustration above. The left square represents 550 Gt C, that is, the totality of the terrestrial biomass. The largest part of this biomass consists of plants (including phytoplankton) accounting for almost 82 % of the total immobilized carbon. Yeasts and fungi (fungi), a world all by itself, represent a biomass 6 times greater than that of animals, of which we are a part, such as corals (family of cnidarians), nematodes and insects (arthropods). All animals contribute only 0.36% of all terrestrial biomass.

    As for the human species, it is simply pee with nothing, since all the “human meat” collected represents only 0.01% of all the carbon immobilized by living beings on planet Earth. Suffice to say that we must put a big flat to our extravagant claims of domination of the living world and we must also remember that our “human activity” so decried by environmentalists is simply ridiculously weak. If it is assumed that each living organism emits as much carbon dioxide for the sake of its size as the size of its metabolism, the exhalation of carbon dioxide by us bipeds can not in any way interfere with the metabolism. the planet’s atmospheric equilibrium, especially since the main representative of terrestrial (and oceanic) biomass – and from a far distance – is the plants and phytoplankton that use carbon dioxide as their staple food. So, no worries about breathing, it will serve as a food for plants as well as all the bad carbon we produce by consuming fossil carbon, oil, coal or gas. Moreover on this subject satellite observations are formal: the Earth “green” almost everywhere!

    What is finally interesting is the importance of farm animals – calves, cows, pigs and broods – just 1.6 times more than the human population. This phenomenon is recent in the history of the planet since the breeding took a notorious and irreplaceable importance only a dozen thousand years ago when our ancestors discovered that it was easier to raising animals rather than getting tired of hunting them with a random result. This change in human habits coincided with the emergence of agriculture.

    Another remark comes to mind when reading this article and it can have multiple consequences in this deleterious atmosphere of guilt of the whole humanity about its untimely releases of carbon dioxide. I was careful not to ask my question to the authors of the article so as not to be considered a terrorist or a terrible climate denialist. Let us limit ourselves to basic physics and my digression can be widely disputed but I fully assume my approximations. When a motor vehicle weighing a ton and a half travels ten kilometers to transport most often only one person can know how much carbon dioxide it will emit. A ton and a half corresponds in weight to about 20 people. How much carbon dioxide will these 20 people exhale when traveling the same distance? Basic laws describing “work” in the physical sense of the term will answer that it will be roughly equivalent. If, therefore, we continue the reasoning how much carbon dioxide this “human biomass” releases daily? This is a question that, in the light of this article, has never been posed clearly by environmentalists. I know very well that this is a comparison, as I formulated it, irrelevant since it ignores a multitude of factors, but whatever answer I get have sent the authors of the article the incidence of humanity in the “bio-balance” of the planet is totally insignificant and represents only 60% of the biomass of all farmed animals together and 3 times less than all the molluscs!

    The authors of the article made it clear that there were many uncertainties in their overall assessment, but this has the merit of putting the ideas straight. From now on it will be necessary to review our copy taking into account that we are humans, arrogant bipeds, a dust in the terrestrial living world.

    Source et illustration : PNAS, http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1711842115 en accès libre.

    https://jacqueshenry.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/biodiversite-biosphere-et-biomasse-cest-tendance-et-cest-trompeur/

    https://huemaurice5.blogspot.com/2018/06/biodiversite-biosphere-et-biomasse-cest.html?showComment=1528222435589#c8339091322162438062

    • Excellent post, and what a treasure trove of data. It’s humbling to note that viruses contain more carbon than all of humanity. And interesting to note that the entire atmosphere contains two orders of magnitude less carbon than do the plants. That implies that just a fraction of a percent increase in plant life would have huge effects on atmospheric CO2. I’m glad we’re ahead of the curve by a little…

    • Thanks for the interesting links, which brings me back to the problem of biomass versus production, related, necessary to each other, but the former now seemingly more valued.

      As a biologist who has worked with a fair number of engineers, I would offer that some of the problem is the movement away from field work to laboratory and computer environments. Biologists originated the “delicate” or “fragile” mantra, easily destroyed with field study.
      Biodiversity came about similarly, old terms, statues, etc., needing to be changed.

  11. Infinity War has been analyzed and assessed from both angles of Thanos, and the threat he posed to reducing humanity.

    – Thanos can be viewed as the hero for the Malthusian environmentalists, for reducing humanity half to bring along a more sustainable path, thus preventing a total collapse of resources. And then he retires to his idyllic retreat to meditate. The perfect eco-warrior.

    – Thanos can also be viewed as “Climate Change” itself, that uncaring existential threat (according to believers) that will be a scythe that cuts huge swaths of death across humanity unless we settle our petty differences, squabblings, and band together to stop it.

    Which view one takes, reveals much about the individual.

    • Seems both have similar misanthropic end results, no?

      I don’t like either one, so can I have and additional option? 😉

      • Another option is to see Thanos as an AI character merely living in the Matrix. Take the Blue pill and forget all your troubles and go back to sleep.

  12. Progressivism (bigger government knows better) has infected both political parties. The radical greens who have heavily influenced the progressive left on climate issues seem to be moving further towards socialism, which is not only anti oil company, but opposes capitalism altogether. The progressives on both sides are a big part of the swamp that slowly but surely is starting to drain. Although, it would be far worse for science and everything else if socialists replaced them.

    • Crony capitalism resides on both sides of the political divide.

      – Russia has its billionaire Oligarchs within the framework of a Putin dictatorship..
      – China has its billionaire industrialists within the framework of Chinese communism.
      – The US has its billionaire industrialists within the framework of Capitalism and occasional semblances of Democratic governance.

      3 Differing political systems, but all are intent on maintaining their position and thus the status quo.

      • The difference being the distribution, where under Communist and Socialist systems, elected or not, the lack of freedom and free markets results in wealth becoming far more concentrated. You are on point that the desire to maintain power and influence is a motivation that transcends political, economic and social systems, but this certainly isn’t limited to billionaires and applies to people in general.

  13. It is the ultimate Green delusion that being Green does not somehow also involve “taking control of nature”.

    Renewable energy is not just “there”, you have to mine all sorts of metals, fabricate all sorts of things in factories, pour concrete on land and so on. And for what? Electricity to give us control over nature, to cook food, heat homes, power cars and all the rest. And nature doesn’t grow iPhones or Teslas or scalpels or books. We have to control nature to have them.

    Even organic agriculture involves control over nature – much of what we eat did not exist in the form we use (or was inedible in its original form, like bananas) and when we plant fields of a single crop we are controlling nature.

    Greens take a few aspects of their lives and claim they are looking after the Earth, but the vast majority ignore the 95% that is not Green.

  14. There is another philosophical position. Daoism says you should live in accord with nature. It’s easier because you don’t waste energy on fights you can’t win. You also break fewer things.

    The problem is to understand how nature actually works.

    Chuang Tse tells The Butcher’s Tale. The butcher is so in tune with his craft that an ox can be completely butchered before it realizes it is dead. That’s an example of being in accord with nature.

    Living in accord with nature doesn’t imply that we discard civilization and live like animals. We just don’t focus on vanquishing nature.

    The new website: Heretofore I have been able to embed links in my comments. I’m typing this in ‘Edit’. I can see the links but they don’t show up when I hit ‘Save’.

    Aargh! After the last edit the links magically appeared … but only after I clicked ‘Read More’.

    • To me “vanquishing” nature mostly means we are in a position where we aren’t being killed off by the vagaries of nature anymore.
      There’s also a measure of being able to bend nature to our benefit.
      Distilling oil into gasoline, putting it into a car and then exploding it to propel that car wherever we want to go is an example of this.

    • cB, i’m having the same issue with comments looking different and then looking as intended after clicking read more (i guess that’s a quirk we’re going to have to live with)…

  15. “Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”
    ― George Orwell, 1984

    Progressivism’s true nature is that it is the pursuit of Power.
    But this real purpose must be always be hidden and cloaked in the camouflage of “virtue” and “moral superiority.” The Road to Hell comes to mind.

    But make no mistake, Power *IS* the End for Progressives, and any means to achieve it is therefore justified in this view.

  16. From the engineering building (I think, it’s been a few years) at Ohio State:

    Prize the Doubt, Lesser Species Live Without.

  17. Its not really control of nature so much as it is mastery over the physical world, and that being a derivation of both quantitative predictability and non-obvious “Art” empirics.

    I make no bones about it: I’m a scientist ‘first’, an engineer ‘second’ and an esthetics motivated creative soul ‘third’. Scientist in that I trust almost nothing that’s stated as given without either feeling a need to ‘test’ it, or at least to research ‘it’ to show that sufficient third-hand confirmation of ‘it’ has happened. The scientist is like an engineer without the troubling trust in a compendium of reference books.

    The engineer in me tho’ respects the compendium of reference books, equations and summary findings. The engineer respects the predictability of physics equations which guide so many things. Or if not physics equations (since my domains are triply computer-science, chemistry and electronics design), the equivalent predictive heuristics of the other domains. You can count on 2 H₂ + O₂ → 2 H₂O given a measured bunch of hydrogen and oxygen, a stout jar, and a spark. Noisy too.

    The computer scientist counts on the fact that hashed searches (originally brilliantly non-obvious, now pretty much nominal Computer Science 101 teach-out material) are way better than sorted lists for code that needs to parse things and determine if the “found words” are in fact in the list(s) of words that do special (or just particular) things.

    The electronics designer trusts heat-sink formulæ, Mr. Ohm’s law of resistance, the various (and at some level utterly opaque) laws of time-varying signal propagation and so on. Its the “utterly opaque” bottom-level physics that way-smarter-persons-than-I have formulated to abstract circuit functionality goals into a series of predictable, well defined, highly reliable design choices. Without needing to prove how electrons flow, how coils are fabricated, how all those itsy-bitsy inscrutible devices are actually constructed.

    So for me it is really not “control of nature” as it is “mastery over the physical world”. Mastery over entropy, mastery over (im-)precision tolerances; mastery over chemical reaction rates, over removing (or supplying) heat without blowing things up. Mastery over the mathematics that predicts outcome, mastery over enormous libraries of hard-won code that do rather complex things internally, but externally “just work”. Mastery over layers of different code languages, coding styles, coding paradigms, obsolete-but-functional code repositories.

    And yet, we need outlets to appreciate the remarkable self-organization of Nature itself. It doesn’t require mastery, except insofar as the mastery of one’s time, to take journeys, to visit places both near and far, cultures both neighboring and distant, and exhibits from the mundane to the exotic. That is “life itself”, isn’t it?

    TIME OFF from the mastery of the physical world, the “job” of mastering its equations, its logially derived interrelated structures, its squirrely processes, dependencies, gotchas and even its forbidden avenues. TIME OFF. To reflect on the inability of any single person to master everything. In fact, to even master anything beyond what later in life becomes obviously just a superficial assortment of knowledge about whatever-it-is you once believed you were mastering ahead of your peers.

    Tis this that defines why the philosophy of older people is sometimes so remarkably compelling; it is the rare — very, very rare — youngster that has mastered some dominion of rational right reason and unusual balance, as to present a philosophy that’s nearly complete. But its so beautiful to see, to hear to read and to discuss all the youthful meanderings at length: it reminds me at least why we don’t want to “live forever”. Because the beauty of life is that it “fits” as an evolving form into the lifeline most of us fortunate to live-it-out are destined to live.

    GoatGuy

    • Reminds me of the observation about growing up to adulthood.

      – If you are not a socially-conscious (Liberal) in your college years, you have no heart.
      – If you are not a responsible conservative in your post-college adult years, you have no brain.

      This observation has both biological manifestations and behavioral manifestations.

      Biological in that the human brain’s prefrontal cortex, where executive function resides, continues to develop in females to around age 20-21 and in males until about age 25. And smoking marijuana in teen-age years has been conclusively demonstrated in altering and preventing this development of executive function and skill.

      Behavioral in that once the family is started, the career started, then radical progressivism, with its call for revolution and constant change, is not desirable.

      Which leads then to realization why our society is screwed by the Millennial generation delaying starting families and careers. They are stuck in Peter Pan mode, refusing to grow up. Refusing to have a brain.

  18. Humans are just as natural to this planet as any other living creature on it. We are the current pinnacle of evolutionary development on Earth and all of our “control” of nature is a natural process — akin to beavers, termites, a litany of plants, or any other organism that “controls” their environment to suit their needs.

    And many bright minds have been studying the odds of the universe’s existence recently and coming to the conclusion that the universe shouldn’t even exist. I wonder what they would conclude about the Earth existing for 4.5 billion years, and in that time the partial pressure of CO2 generally decreases until it reaches the lower threshold for C3 plants to survive, and then seemingly at the last moment before the next stadial lowers CO2 levels to the point of mass suffocation and extinction of C3 plants — in just the last 0.0000044% of that timespan — humans inadvertently find a way to increase the CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Occam’s Razor suggests some sort of intelligent design rather than REALLY BIG COINCIDENCE.

        • reddish – are you in one of the ‘infinity had to start somewhere’ mystery cults?

          • The closest thing to that I know of is that the Steady State theory was replaced by the Big Bang theory because scientists realised the universe had to have had a starting point.
            The Steady State theory (like the Gradualism theory of geology) was proposed in the first place to counter Christian theology. The Big Bang theory resembles Christian theology (as does neocatastrophism).

            SR

          • You are sorely mistaken.

            The Steady State Theory was shown false by discovery of the microwave background radiation. It has nothing whatsoever to do with false Christian doctrine. Which goes for gradualism in geology and biology as well.

            You have been lied to by professional liars against God, that is, blasphemers who will surely roast in Hell.

            Please study science instead of buying into the blasphemous lies of mendacious paid creationists.

    • The whole history of life on earth shows that, if there be a Designer, It is Idiotic, not Intelligent.

      Humans evolved big brains because of a cooling and drying world, plus a few critical mutations. It is indeed a coincidence that during this interglacial we started burning fossil fuels in large amounts. Our species probably had the intellectual capacity for mining by 200,000 years ago, and surely by 50,000.

      But even if we had never evolved and the atmosphere did ever become so starved of CO2 that C3 plants were wiped out, the world would get along fine on C4 and CAM plants. Plus, more C3 plants would be likely to evolve C4 pathways.

      However, it’s not at all certain that the next glacial advance would lower CO2 to starvation levels. Human technology in 3000 to 30,000 years might well be able to forestall NH ice sheet formation, anyway.

        • And militarism, socialism, communism, capitalism, industrialism, consumerism, populism ………

          • Fossil fuel use began before all those -sims, except arguably militarism. Besides burning forests and building cities with them, the demand for warships did indeed speed their demise.

            By surface mining, Romans were already exploiting most of the major British coalfields by the late 2nd century AD.

            The Industrial Revolution increased demand for coal, but it got started with power from water mills and transport via canals. In a feedback effect, the use of steam engines to pump water out of coal mines led to replacing water power with steam in factories and for transport on rails.

      • I’ve always been fascinated by those who proclaim that unless God does things according to their way of thinking, then God can’t exist.
        To them, it’s inconceivable that a creature that could create the entire universe, might be able to come up with plans that they would not be able to figure out in an afternoon.

        • I said nothing about God. I pointed out that organisms on Earth are not intelligently designed. Evolution produces idiotic designs, for which there is no possible explanation but evolution, not intentional design.

          There is no inscrutable but intelligent design behind the far less than ideal structure of the human foot. Clearly, it’s a jerry-rigged adaptation of a grasping foot for plantigrade bipedal locomotion.

          What is the intelligent justification for having mammalian gonads arise in the chest cavity, then migrate into the lower abdomen and, in the case of males, outside it, leaving hernia-prone holes behind?

          Why would an intelligent designer deprive tarsiers, monkeys and apes of the ability to make vitamin C, putting us at risk of scurvy? Why do guinea pigs and capybaras also lack this ability, but due to their vitamin C gene’s being broken in a different way from those primates? Why do many bat species also suffer the risk of scurvy, but again owing to yet another apparently negative mutation?

          Since there is no reason to assume mysterious justifications for these obvious “design” errors, doing so is not science but religion.

          • Solipsism at it’s finest.
            Nothing you have written even addresses my point, much less refutes it.

            You are still arguing that since God didn’t do it the way you believe he should have, that you have proven he doesn’t exist.

          • Sorry, but the solipsism is all on your side. You commit the logical error of begging the question. You assume that your idea of God exists and made the world the way you imagine that It did, without any evidence to that effect.

            I don’t believe anything happened the way I think it should have. Rather, I am convinced by the evidence that it happened as observation of nature indicates.

            Science seeks naturalistic explanations for the world as it is, rejecting supernatural conjectures, and has a method for finding those answers, which are never final.

            Asserting that God did this or that isn’t science, but religion, a matter of faith, not doubt. You can inject your concept of God into the history of life on earth at any point or points you desire, but there is no scientific reason to do so.

      • “Humans evolved big brains”…

        To be persuasive, you need start with “Life began when”…

        It does not persuade to merely discuss what you consider to be a recent change, if you cannot give the first change.

        SR

        • The fact of evolution doesn’t depend upon how life got going. That’s abiogenesis, a different process from biological evolution.

          Yet science is getting close to figuring out how life could have began, via chemical evolution, whether it actually was in the ways that now appear most promising. There are enough possible routes however that one of them at least is likely to have happened.

          The building block constituents of biomolecules like nucleic, amino and fatty acids self-assemble in environments both in space and on earth. The trick in getting life going is for these components to polymerize, ie form long chains. Fatty acids need no enzymes to form spheres, which serve as primitive cellular membranes.

          The scenario most convincing to me is in ice, but there are other routes with strong supporting evidence as well. Twenty-five year-long experiments have shown that concentrating nucleobases, ribose sugars and phosphate groups in the liquid water between ice crystals catalyzes the spontaneous polymerization of nucleotides into RNA. Ditto amino acids into polypeptides, ie short protein chains.

          Ice expels such chemicals when freezing, which concentrates organic chemicals in the water between the crystals.

          • Felix, your claim that “There are enough possible routes that …one of them (methods of abiogenesis) is likely to have happened” is a matter of faith on your part.
            The building block constituents (of biomolecules) that self assemble are orders of magnitude simpler than those necessary for life. When wood burns, the biomolecules cellulose and lignin are returning to their building block constituents of H2O and CO2. The level of difference between cellulose and H2O is comparable to that between an amino acid and a protein.
            In your example of lab experiments wherein organic molecules are concentrated in the water between ice crystals, were only naturally occurring organic molecules inserted?
            As for your examples of “negative mutations” – genetic deteriation over time is consistent with Scripture. However, negative mutations are not capable of producing ever more developed life forms as envisioned by evolutionary theory. So, if you want to make your case, present known “positive mutations”.

            SR

          • No faith required at all. Just the evidence, ie observations. Science requires hypotheses testable by predictions made thereupon. The law of evolution is repeatedly confirmed every day in every way. Creationism, never. When that false religious doctrine tries to make predictions, they are always shown false.

            In the experiments I cited, scientists put simple organic compounds abundant in the universe, such as HCN and CH2O, in frozen test tubes and opened them decades later. Voila, oligomers of RNA and peptides of amino acids.

            Over the past 60 years, the pathways by which the building blocks and monomers of biomolecules form spontaneously from hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, phosphorus and other common elements have been discovered.

            The first was the easiest, by Joan Oro in 1959-62, who showed that adenine, the most important of the five nucelobases in RNA and DNA, is produced naturally simply by heating HCN. The most difficult self-assembly reactions were recently discovered by the Sutherland lab at Cambridge. But in any case, we knew that all the essential constituents of nucleic acids, proteins and lipids spontaneously synthesize, since they’re so common in meteorites, including dozens of amino acids not used by life.

            The hurdle has been getting from self-assembled monomers like nucleotides and amino acids to polymers, ie long chains, like RNA, DNA and proteins, without the aid of biological catalysts, ie enzymes. Ice is just one such route demonstrated. Other environments in which such chemical engineering can be achieved naturally show promise, to include deep sea hydrothermal vents and seasonally dry, hot little ponds in geyser fields on land.

            Cellulose is made by organisms. Its synthesis evolved after the first protocells got life and biological evolution started.

            The instances of beneficial mutations are legion. Every living thing on Earth contains lots of them. You’ve been lied to about elementary biology by shameless professional creationist liars.

            Positive mutations can be as simple as the point deletion of a nucleobase in a gene (a sequence of nucleobases coding for a protein), such as that which turns sugar-eating bacteria into nylon-eaters. Cosmic rays had been making that mutation for billions of years, but it was always fatal until humans put nylon in the environment. Thus, formerly deleterious mutations can become favorable under changed conditions.

            Human evolution has benefited from fairly simple mutations which caused or allowed some of our most important genetic innovations. Our upright walking, for instance, owes to a gross chromosomal change, the fusion of two smaller standard great ape chromosomes into human chromosome #2, second largest of our 23 pairs. Naturally, other great apes have 24 pairs.

            We were able to grow bigger brains because of two simple mutation as well, one in jaw muscles, unique to the human lineage, and an earlier one in blood supply, which we share with our closest relatives:

            https://www.newscientist.com/round-up/accidents-human-evolution/

            Sorry, but evolution is a scientific fact, ie an observation. It’s a consequence of reproduction. There is no room in science for religion. Saying, “God did it!” is the antithesis of science. It explains nothing, while science is the pursuit of natural explanations for observations of the real world, without resort to the supernatural.

      • You’re thinking of intelligent designer as a guy sitting on a puffy white cloud with a magic wand manifesting things into existence. Not really what I have in mind.

        C3 pathway plants still represent the vast majority of plant biomass on the planet. But no, there is no way to know if the next stadial’s CO2 levels would have dropped below that point but the level was low enough to seriously hinder their productivity.

        • A big breakthrough would be C4 trees. I don’t know of any of those yet, despite the numerous other plant groups which have independently evolved C4 and CAM pathways.

          But the lower CO2 gets, the greater the selective pressure on evolution in photosynthesis.

        • The longer generation time for trees as opposed to grasses and some other plant groups might explain why C4 pathways haven’t yet evolved among them.

          Humans could help by genetically modifying tree species, should the need arise.

  19. You should have asked what she thought was terrible…and not judge or comment on her answer aside from asking for a deeper explanation of points she made that you did not understand.

    • I agree. Had you inquired into her thinking, she might have also learned yours.

      SR

  20. I suggest everyone place ” ” around political “progressivism”.
    It is not about orogress at akl.
    “Progressivism” is a reactionary movement, fighting to suppress the many in order to enrich “progressives”.
    Look at Obama or Ckinton or Merkel for prime examples of thise who have embodied this version if “progressivism”.
    Look at parasites like Gore, or Soros or Steyer for the parasites being enriched by “progressivism”.

  21. When I was a young university student back in the early 1960s, studying Civil & Structural Engineering at Sheffield University in England, we were rightly encouraged to join the Institution of Civil Engineers.
    Their moto in those years was “directing the great forces of nature for the benefit of mankind”.

    Out of interest, I just checked and it is now “a vital art, working with the great sources of power in nature for the wealth and well-being of the whole of society”

    Similar, but not quite the same. I guess it was felt to be a little more touchy-feely and less likely to give offence to any odd volcano, flood, earthquake or hurricane that unaccountably wasn’t too bothered about what might benefit mankind.

    Mind you, I was quite surprised that they hadn’t scrapped the whole thing and adopted something about celebrating diversity and Gaia.

  22. So I posted a very mild thought about how “progressivism” is not progressive these days.
    I posted it and could swear it was in the thread.
    Is it still there? I no longer find it.
    I even used the excellent edit function…
    Am I missing something?

  23. “STRIVE ON – THE CONTROL OF NATURE IS WON, NOT GIVEN.”

    “The best advice regarding scientific knowledge, which certainly applies to climate, came to me from Mr Mallory, my high school physics teacher.

    He proposed that we should always begin our scientific pronouncements with this statement: “At our present level of ignorance, we think we know…””

    John R Christy

  24. I ask believers this.

    What are the photon absorption bands of CO2?
    What are the photon absorption bands of water vapor?
    What is the overlap?
    What does it mean?

    They usually have no answer. And never a good one.

    • Simple Simon ……..Do THEY ask YOU “what is a photon ? ”
      WHAT do you reply ?
      What DOES THAT mean ?
      Stay with the topic please !
      Regards , Trevor.

  25. Sorry, but we control nothing in nature, we are part of nature, and we borrow from it.

    Egotism suggests we control nature, but as we sceptics must be the first to concede, we know little of nature.

    We can’t control a hurricane, a volcano nor a meteor strike. Nor an earthquake, a drought or even a rainy day.

    Our ego’s tell us we can control Malaria, but we can’t really, because the moment we believe it’s controlled, will be the moment it bites us on the arse.

    We imagine we have harnessed electricity, yet a single lighting strike can render a city powerless. A single tidal wave can knock out a nuclear power station, the pinnacle of man’s efforts to generate a fraction of the energy available in a single storm.

    We exist thanks to nature, not because we control it. We are faced with an uncertain future, bristling with unknown challenges and adventures, yet our alarmist colleagues tell us they know exactly what will happen in the future.

    Sorry, but bollox!

    That statement on that building was concocted by an egotist, a fantastist, a control freak, and in my layman’s opinion, ought to be torn down.

    The Biologist was right to shake her head, and were the author of this piece half the scientist she thinks she is, she should have challenged her colleague on the subject, because she clearly had an opinion on the matter.

    Instead, she walked away and concocted this fantasy. What use is she in the Heartland institute if she doesn’t challenge her peers?

    What a sad indictment of science. I’m appalled it’s published on WUWT because that’s the dogma we despise.

    • Science tries to understand nature. Such understanding can lead to improved control over nature, through the applied sciences, engineering, medicine, etc.

      Humans have succeeded in controlling aspects of nature to our benefit, but nature always fights back. We are indeed still part of nature, but with greater power to control bits of it than most species.

      We have eradicated small pox. We wiped out a variety of species, some of which were our enemies, but some of which we should not have killed off.

      We can affect local weather and even climate, as in the Nile Valley, where increased humidity from our irrigation is unfortunately destroying ancient artwork which survived in the historically dry climate. Ditto air pollution in old cities.

      We have transformed the face of whole continents. We will probably never truly control nature, but we have had a big effect in many areas.

  26. Powered flight is the result of Man controlling Nature, overcoming the law that humans cannot fly. If we had wings, it would be ‘given’. It was instead earned.

    • obviously, if there had been a law against humans flying, it didn’t work.
      nature doesn’t obey- ever.
      laws are only for those who lack a comprehension of principles.

  27. If we don’t win control of Nature, she will kill us dead.

    That is the way of things.

  28. As a generalization, Engineers are more concerned with the practical matters in life of making things work and producing things that people need. So too are many scientists, but many scientists are not. I suspect the authors biologist friend was one of the latter.

    This, I think, is one of the major dividing lines in todays Western world, not opinions about whether we are controlling ‘nature’ or not. A significant, and increasing, fraction of the population is now wholly removed from what actually supports our way of life and what got us to where we are. This is true of both their education and their employment.

    Douglas Adams was well aware of this when he wrote The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy: When the irate philosophers threatened to go on strike unless the omniscient computer Deep Thought was shut down, it enquired of them “Who would that inconvenience”.

  29. Quite often we can find this in Kipling:

    The Sons of Martha

    THE Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
    But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
    And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest,
    Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.

    It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
    It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
    It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
    Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.

    They say to mountains, ” Be ye removèd” They say to the lesser floods ” Be dry.”
    Under their rods are the rocks reprovèd – they are not afraid of that which is high.
    Then do the hill tops shake to the summit – then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
    That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.

    They finger death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
    He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
    Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
    And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.

    To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
    They are concerned with matters hidden – under the earthline their altars are
    The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
    And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city’s drouth.

    They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
    They do not teach that His Pity allows them to leave their job when they damn-well choose.
    As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,
    Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s days may be long in the land.

    Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat;
    Lo, it is black already with blood some Son of Martha spilled for that !
    Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
    But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.

    And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessèd – they know the angels are on their side.
    They know in them is the Grace confessèd, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
    They sit at the Feet – they hear the Word – they see how truly the Promise runs.
    They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and – the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons !

  30. What jumps out at me is “won,” as if it’s a victory in a battle. It could have said “earned, not given.” In many cases we have not understood nature’s functions well enough to use then wisely. For instance, farms, lawns, clear-cuts, etc. right to a stream edge can have negative consequences downstream (flooding, sedimentation, fertilizer runof), and now that we are finally realizing what a natural buffer can do to preserve stream quality, we are REGULATING to preserve such buffers.

    We must control aspects of nature, but “cooperating” with nature can be to our long-term benefit. “Winning” the battle or game or competition shouldn’t be the goal; it’s often more efficient to make use of nature than replace it with engineering.

  31. Yes, that slogan is absolutely a “directive of excellence and success”. That directive was first given in Genesis 1, v. 28 : “And God blessed [the humans] and said to them, ” ……….. fill the Earth and subdue it; ……….” .

  32. I believe the phrase “control of nature” is problematic but I agree in the virtue of scientific and engineering discovery and application. When successful our efforts don’t control nature, but rather work with the rules that nature provides to make a better world and healthier, and more comfortable life for people. “Control of nature” sounds to me like a belief that humans can override the natural physical laws of our universe. This is similar to many science fiction themes such as antigravity, time travel and warp drives. We can use the rules of nature to our benefit as much as we like, but we cannot change them or rule over them. I suppose it is all in how we interpret that phrase “control of nature”.

    • Damming up a river to redirect/create a lake/irrigate/run generators would seem to be fairly controlling, to say the least.

  33. I have never confused the “Progressive”, (capital “P”) as in the Progressive Political movement with actual progress.

  34. Thanks for the post and comments. Lots to think about here. It takes arrogance to try to conquer nature, and humility to admit to limitations on what has been achieved. Nuclear power: amazing control, with new power, over something that was previously weak and out of control? Or the unleashing of something that is always inherently “out of control”? More generally: the spectacular success of modern science from about 1600 to 1900 (medicine going a bit beyond that), raised questions: are there more worlds to conquer, along the same lines? Making life even more comfortable for people, with “techniques” of “bringing back” wilderness, longer lives, etc.? Or do we keep discovering that there are important questions that are not answered by modern science, with all its success? Like: why live a long life? Are there better and worse ways of life? Ah yes, the humanities. Rousseau is indeed one of the culprits. I don’t think Progressivism is the answer, but it responds to some of the right questions.

  35. Good essay! It causes me to harken back to the cerebral climate at my university during the 1950s, which, IMO, would be best described by the school’s motto: “The Truth Shall Make You Free.” I am sure the motto is still carved on the side of a building somewhere on campus. Originally, it was imprinted on the university seal. I say “was” because at some time in the past, the motto disappeared from the university seal. I do not know when or why the motto was removed.

    I have tried to make that motto a guiding principle for my behavior throughout my lifetime. The motto filled a small part of the hole left in my psyche by the lack of a formal religious education. I am extremely disappointed that the leadership chose to remove the motto (See Caltech seals, past and present, below).

    Who are the geniuses that decide unilaterally to change decades of tradition at an institution on a whim? History cannot be rewritten. Removing offending symbols of past injustices does not change history. I associate these actions with individuals who are unable to solve real world problems and choose to look to the past to make a difference rather to seek the truth to benefit mankind in the future.

    https://i.imgur.com/9cONftI.png

  36. I wish someone would explain to me how exactly are we harmed by letting an already endangered species go ahead and die out. Seems to me that if there were any further harm to come that it would be de minimis.

    • Interesting idea. I like the non-orthodox approach. When mere mortals mess with the solar system and natural selection, outcomes will not be good.

  37. Linnea, the reason, I think, that “radical environmentalists”, Progressives, etc were disturbed by Thanos in the Avengers movie, is because he was portrayed as the Enemy of Humanity, whom the Avengers need to defeat, instead of the hero, who wipes out half the population of the universe, ridding the natural World of the scourge of Humanity and Intelligent life.

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