Monday, January 25, 2010

Reaching Out

The fossil-fuel industry has worked tirelessly to hinder scientific inquiry in recent decades, so it pleases me to report that at least one firm is trying to help.

The B.C. businessman behind a proposed High Arctic coal mine is reaching out to the international scientific community — which has sounded alarms about the mine's potential threat to a "world-renowned" fossil site on Ellesmere Island — by inviting paleontologists to work with miners to dig for coal and ancient animal traces at the same time.
Well, why not? You may think the Tyburn Tree was barbaric, but you have to concede that it benefited medical science. That's the nature of Progress: You can't break eggs without making an omelet!

Weststar Resources Corp. president Mitchell Adam probably wouldn't put it that way. But unlike the average scientist, he does understand how things work in the real world:
Convinced the retreating Arctic ice will soon open a viable Northwest Passage shipping route, Adam said the world "still needs energy" and "for those concerned about potential fossils — well, let's go up jointly. They can scientifically study it, and we can take our samples, and we can share the freight and build a camp that's safe."
It's a generous offer, and Adam didn't have to make it. Worse business deals have been crammed down humanity's gullet with far less ceremony. And yet, at least one scientist is unappreciative:
"Destruction of these fossil sites will strongly affect our ability to understand how global climate change will impact these regions over the coming century," said society president Blaire Van Valkenburgh.
With all due respect to Ms. Van Valkenburgh, these potential fossils can tell us little about anything that really matters, for the simple reason that the species in question didn't have the ability, and therefore the obligation, to mine coal and ship it to China via the Northwest Passage. Scientists who wish to ponder the positive and theoretically less positive effects of these activities would be better off looking at our bones.

Thanks to Progress, however, they may not get the chance. If Ray Kurzweil and Glenn Reynolds are correct -- and why wouldn't they be? -- we'll soon be downloading our delightful personalities into ageless transhuman bodies that will adapt to a warming climate as effortlessly as Dick Cheney bites the heads off newborn puppies.

And that's precisely what worries me about the negativism of "scientists" like Van Valkenburgh: Are we really prepared to cripple a coal-hungry civilization that's on the verge of granting eternal life to the deserving, simply because we're worried about destroying a handful of alleged fossils that a few scientists claim may provide a debatable amount of insight into theoretical climate changes that are already happening and may actually be beneficial for some of us, assuming we play our cards right? Is that the human thing to do?

Mr. Adam has reached out to the international scientific community. Will they take his hand? Or will they slap it away, and doom themselves to philosophical as well as practical irrelevance?

Only time will tell.

UPDATE: Thanks to Lars for correcting me on Ms. Van Valkenburgh's gender.


Anonymous said...

Nit-picking, I know, but Van Valkenberg's a woman.

Yours in Rigour,

Phila said...


Not nit-picking at all...thanks for the correction.

chris said...

There is some comfort to be taken in the thought that Glenn Reynolds may soon come with a reset button.

There is much talk here in Canada of the resource rich Arctic and the wonderful opportunity presented by climate change. I wonder what makes them think that a warmer Arctic will be a good place to do anything. It's already a very stormy part of the world and I can't imagine that getting better as it gets warmer.

Mind you, if there are significant quantities of oil and gas in the high Arctic, technology will find a way to extract it. And wars will be fought over it...

And so it goes. Thanks, Phila.

charley said...

this is the end, my friend, of all elaborate plans

can picture what will be...