Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Turn the other cheek

Yesterday I was reading a sermon where the Savior sets forth the higher law in regard to the law of Moses. Instead of "an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth," Jesus outlined that whoever smites you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone sues for your coat, give him your cloak too. And if anyone makes you go a mile with him, go two miles with him. Give to him that asketh thee, and give to him that would like to borrow from you.

Talk about a difficult set of scriptures! I wondered if anyone that lives a normal, everyday life really lives by these words? To me, this block of scripture meant pure selflessness to others, not thinking about your own interests at all. I at least could not claim to live by these teachings. But even thinking of how truly selfless Jesus was during his lifetime, I didn't picture him always doing what others wanted him to do. He always did what the Father did, but Christ was not a super-meek and submissive person to his fellow man. Needless to say, I was perplexed by the text and wanted to reconcile the teachings to everyday life.

Spencer and I were talking about this on our way up to Salt Lake land. His BYU religion professor Stephen L. Robison claimed that this scripture needed to be understood in the context of Jewish culture. When it said "whosoever shall smite thee on they right cheek, turn to him the other also" it meant that you get back on your feet after someone takes you down. This answer didn't satisfy me though. I understand that you could rationalize Jesus' teachings by saying He wanted to stress a point of humility to others, so He fell down pretty hard on the side of selflessness. But when you are looking at the text of the scriptures (the New International Version is virtually identical to the King James version), I found some serious doctrines that are hard to rectify with real-world life.

Every once in a while, God sees what's happening in our lives and intervenes to teach a principle. I was supposed to take a right at the 1300 S exit, but instead got in the left lane. Once I realized my mistake, I sheepishly tried to inch back into the long line of cars also desiring to go right. The people in the right lane were livid mad that I was trying to cut in front of them. One grandma would net let me in one inch and the backseat 45-year-old man was shouting at me from behind the window. Three or four other drivers met me with similar contempt. I stared at these people with a calm and fixed demeanor. Then it struck me. This is what turning the other cheek meant. God was teaching me an eternal principle on I-15. These scriptures didn't mean letting bad people do bad things to you, but rather having a different mindset. When someone does something bad to you (like cutting in front of you [this is really bad guys, huh]), give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you'll get burned by someone who is really trying to maliciously do bad things to you (and cut in front of you on purpose). However, it may also be the case that they just missed a turn and need to get back into your lane. Why risk turning into an evil human being because this person might cost you 5 seconds of your day. Life is short, be nice to people. Maybe your example will help someone else be nice.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Global Warming is Happening, for Real

I have recently come across those who don't believe that global warming is happening, or that mankind is not directly causing it. I have nothing against such beliefs - I fully support people exercising their God-given rights to believe in whatever pleases them. However, when I hear the argument that the global warming phenomenon has no scientific data to support, it makes me want to rise up and condemn such an ignorant position. I don't know why, but this disregard for science literally boils my blood. My frustration is most likely due to climate change turning into a partisan debate. Because people are passionate about politics, it doesn't take very much evidence to persuade them that they are on the right side of the debate. However, yesterday the White House released its most strongly worded report about how climate change is unequivocally happening. This detailed report, which cost us Americans $15 billion to research, pulled together research spanning many years and multiple administrations. The report, which included many different types of models in a region-specific manner, painted a bleak and sobering picture of what's going on in our world. Dr. Jerry Melillo, said climate change is fact, not opinion.
"It is clear that climate change is happening now. The observed climate changes we report are not opinions to be debated. They are facts to be dealt with."
A brief overview of the science behind climate change. The greenhouse concept was discovered long ago (1824) and so accepted today that you could find the principle illustrated at any junior high science fair. When greenhouse gases are present, there is more potential to absorb heat, thus warming the surface and atmosphere of the planet. Right now, there are more greenhouse gases than ever. The concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane are higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years. Geological evidence supports that the last time there was this much CO2 in the atmosphere was 20 million years ago.

The principle that humans are contributing to global warming is well established in the scientific community. It's kind of like the principle "smoking causes cancer." Sure there will be some people even within the scientific community who claim this cannot be established as fact. They claim "other things cause cancer" or "some individual smoke and never develop cancer" but just like in global warming, these naysayers are looking at the exceptions and not at the established scientific data.

With so much data available in our world today, it should come as no surprise that there is evidence both for and against global warming. Statisticians can play with numbers and show anything they want. But in my quest to understand what is really going on, I have found more scientific literature which supports global warming hands-down. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a scientific, intergovernmental organization that assesses the body of scientific literature. It bases its assessment mainly on peer reviewed and published scientific literature. The organization seeks to state only conclusive findings, rather than doomsday predictions or even highly probable, but not established theories. Because of this, what the IPCC establishes is very authoritative. While individual scientists have voiced disagreement with some findings of the IPCC, the overwhelming majority of scientists working on climate change agree with the IPCC's main conclusions. These basic conclusions have been endorsed by at least thirty scientific societies and academies of science, including all of the national academies of science of the major industrialized countries. These conclusions are that the average temperature has increased and that most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-twentieth century is very likely due to the observed increase in man-made greenhouse gas concentrations via an enhanced greenhouse effect. Three compelling points are worthy of emphasizing.

The temperature of the earth is increasing - In the last 50 years, the temperature of the earth has risen 2ยบ F. Before this, the temperature of the earth for the last couple thousand years has been relatively stable. The year 2005 was the hottest on record, based on estimates by NASA.

The glaciers are disappearing - A 2001 report by the IPCC suggests that glacier retreat, ice shelf disruption such as that of the Larsen Ice Shelf, and sea level rise are attributable in part to global warming. The consequences of this are frightening, but I will save this for another time. The key to this post is not the consequences of global warming, but that it is occurring.

The oceans are becoming acidic - Oceans are being greatly affected by climate change. Not only are the glaciers melting, as the temperatures of the oceans are increasing, the acidity of the ocean's waters are also increasing. Increased atmospheric CO2 increases the amount of CO2 dissolved in the oceans. CO2 dissolved in the ocean reacts with water to form carbonic acid, resulting in ocean acidification. Ocean surface pH is estimated to have decreased from 8.25 near the beginning of the industrial era to 8.14 by 2004, and is projected to decrease by a further 0.14 to 0.5 units by 2100 as the ocean absorbs more CO2.

Some of you reading this have the glossed look in your eyes, ready and excited to resort to your trusted global warming defenses. The first defense is other factors contribute to the temperature of the earth. The IPCC even remarks that natural phenomena such as solar variation combined with volcanoes probably had a small warming effect from pre-industrial times to 1950 and a small cooling effect from 1950 onward. Solar flares also contribute to the earth's temperature. The argument is kind of like saying, "My lifestyle does not cause me to be fat-it's my genetic predisposition. There's no point in exercising or eating healthily doing so would not in and of itself lead me to be skinny." Just because there are other factors (which are uncontrollable by us), does not mean that we shouldn't work on the controllable factors. It is interesting to note that in 2005 (the hottest year on record) the solar flares were at their lowest levels in 30 years.
The second defense is that the earth goes in cycles. We do go in cycles, but the recent trend is not natural. Even if the hockey stick graph is not conclusive, all major models project that the earth will continue to heat up for years to come.

There are other critiques and defenses to the global warming hypothesis, and I will address them in the comment section. But why do I bring up global warming on my blog? Recognition is the first step. My motive was not necessarily to inspire a decrease in greenhouse gas consumption (although if that were to happen, I would definitely be happy. I myself try to conserve energy when I can by recycling, driving fuel-efficiently, and conserving energy. The more people that go green the better!) Mostly I wanted to first establish a fact that sadly has not been established yet. Our planet needs us to look after it better. I want to go back to Alaska and see all the glaciers that I remember seeing as a boy. My hope is for each of us to be honest when talking about climate change. Instead of saying, “There isn't enough evidence that humans are contributing to global warming,” say “I don't care about the environment” or “I care more about making money than preserving something for future generations.”

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

To the financially weary, I salute you

I used to think I was an economic conservative. It was easy and logical to think that the world justly rewards according to one's own work. I used to view the poor as somehow deserving of their condition either by not working hard enough, or by poor decisions that should not be rewarded. I don't feel that way anymore. You hear stories of people who got that one lucky break or that chance to shine. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy. But for every success story, there are many more stories of good-intentioned, honest, hard-working people who fail. A lot of times, it is nothing more than the luck of the draw - Luck of skillsets, health, interests, upbringing, education, and networks. And what bugs me the most is corporations like banks, credit card companies, and insurance companies acting as the bully by taking advantage of these disadvantaged folk. To fight these big corporations and to get out of poverty, you need certain things like education, skills, good health and connections. But each of these costs valuable resources. Without any access to these resources, the poor remain entrenched in their dilapidated state. Maybe it's possible to rise out of the poverty cycle, but so many simply do not. I realize my generalizations may be a wee overly broad, but what I write of happens far too often to go unnoticed. Am I advocating socialism? Absolutely not. I just see the injustice of our society and I wish it could be better somehow. If I ever get rich, which is actually one of my biggest goals in life, I will not forget where I came from.