Magazine article Tikkun

How Science-And Civilization-Survived the Twenty-First Century

Magazine article Tikkun

How Science-And Civilization-Survived the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

by M.L.K. Patel, translated from the future-speak by David Belden

Editor's note: We have received this article from the future! Our thanks to "Out of time? We deliver!"-for this article from the next century, dated July 2111.

POPULAR BIOLOGY'S REQUEST FOR ME, THE OLDEST biology prof they could find, to reflect on "Science in the Century since 2010" has found me on retreat among my beloved lichens on the site of the former Siachen glacier in the Himalayas. As you know, nothing remains of the glacier as it existed in 2010, a century ago, before the great melting and inundations. The request came slowly by yak, of course, so I have little time in which to reply. We have no satellite coverage here, in common with about half the world now. And I have no files with me, having sworn off electronics for the duration up here. The worldwide backlash against science that followed the disasters of the twenty-first century has faded now, but not always in remote regions like this. Only last year Professor Kandaswamy was beaten to death when she pulled out her Geiger counter. So I am pretending to be on religious retreat. This is all by way of apology: I have an old man's poor memory, no way to consult sources, and am sending these thoughts back by painfully handwritten note. Handwriting is a skill the young have nowadays of course, but nothing us old types raised on voice recognition software ever thought we would need.

When I think that a century ago some 40 percent of Americans- and don't forget the United States was the dominant country in those days- did not accept the idea of evolution, I hardly know where to begin. Polls show that only pockets of resistance like the one here remain in North America today. But the evolutionary theory the majority accepts is both the same and different from the one their forebears rej ected. It is the same in the sense that it is the same good science- better science now than then of course, because amazing progress has been made. But it's different in that the context ofthat science, as of all science, has changed. And thank goodness it has. This, no doubt, is what the editors wish me to reflect upon.

The Horrors that Science Enabled

WHAT CAN I SAY ABOUT THE BACKGROUND OF THIS SCIENTIFIC revolution that you don't already know? Science hit its nadir when we started to lose the great sea-level cities- Kolkatta, Dhaka, London, New York, Shanghai, Cape Town, and all. There were high-tech dreams of building sea defenses to save them: a world of Venices. But we had hundreds of millions of refugees to resettle: the two-meter sea rise inundated much of the ricegrowing areas of Asia. We had the pandemics. We had the Siberian, Canadian, and other cities to build. We had millions of square miles of tundra to convert to permaculture and vast global belts to shift from one type of agriculture to another. We had to end fossil fuel use in short order, and renewables simply didn't replace them adequately.

In this turmoil, the public wasn't about to go on funding science- there simply were no resources for such luxuries. Big Science peaked with Big Oil and Big War, and we had to reinvent how science is done. We can only dream of things like Granthose Hadron Colliders, Extremely Large Telescopes, or Moon Rockets (forgive the cynicism in my capitalizations). Campus-based universities with large science faculties may return one day, but I'm not counting on it.

Worse than that, science became a scapegoat. One of many, but a major one. Scientists were lynched, science campuses torched.

And with some reason! Without Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and the entire Enlightenment, we would never have had Darby's coke smelting and cast iron, Ford's assembly lines, and the fossil fuel revolution; nor the revolutions in agriculture and medicine. But also not- and here's the rub- the population explosion they enabled; nor the proliferation of untested chemicals in use, the nuclear waste, the dead rivers ; you know the litany. …

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