Why is Humanity Always the Fall Guy?
I spent time this week with out-of-town friends and their young son. We visited the Royal Ontario Museum (affectionately known as “the ROM”). Aside from a few museums located in our nation’s capital region, Canada has no others to rival it.
It’s an odd experience, though, visiting these sorts of facilities at this moment in history. They’re a jumble of mixed messages. On the one hand, there are exhibits that suggest unfortunate events happen all the time in the natural world. For example, there’s text such as this:
A series of rock layers called the Green River Formation provides a rare window back through time to view the diversity of life in the past. Here we can see Wyoming as it was about 50 million years ago: a low-lying, wooded landscape with lakes. Sometimes the lake water was clogged by algae, which used up the oxygen and suffocated the resident fish. The dead fish sank and were covered by lime mud. Over millennia, repeated algal blooms produced thick layers of fossil-rich limestone. [bold added]
On the other hand, there’s the Life Is In Crisis announcement above the admission desk, on the museum’s website, and on assorted signage. It says life on Earth is endangered and that it’s all our fault.
Call me dim-witted, but if algae blooms were killing off fish 50 million years ago, with no help from humans (remember, the Egyptian Pharoahs entered the picture approximately five thousand years ago), why is humanity now always the fall guy?
Why is it that whenever anything unpleasant happens we jump to the conclusion that we’re to blame? How can the same institution that admits Mother Nature has been exterminating fish for millions of years then confidently declare that “Humans are causing both the extinction of individual species and the destruction of whole ecosystems”?
Why is there no suggestion that Nature, herself, may also be partially responsible? What are the signposts, the markers, that allow us to differentiate between the extinctions Nature orchestrates and the ones that are attributable to our actions? After all, in the photograph above, we’re also advised that:
Species interact with each other in complex ecosystems.
Which is to say: this is complicated stuff. There’s nothing simple or straightforward about the extinction question. So why does the Royal Ontario Museum think it’s OK to lard on the guilt – to advise busloads of schoolchildren that, when animals go extinct, it’s their fault? How can such a message be considered remotely scientific?
Nor is this is an isolated case. The Canadian Museum of Nature tells us on its website that:
At the peak of the last glaciation, about 20 000 years ago, approximately 97% of Canada was covered by ice.
Yet this same institution has curated a traveling exhibition titled Clue in to Climate Change. It focuses on the Arctic and:
…provides immediate and concrete actions and tools to empower individuals and communities to take part in reducing their impact on climate change. [bold added]
Why is it that when ice melts on some occasions it’s considered perfectly natural? Yet, when it melts on other occasions, it’s proof that the apocalypse is upon us?
I mean, Canada wouldn’t exist today if 97% of it were still covered by ice. Twenty thousand years ago that ice was a mile thick as far south as Chicago.
Over a period of thousands of years the ice gradually receded. Since Europeans only arrived in Canada 500 years ago, and the indigenous population was small prior to this, that melt could hardly have been a human-caused event.
Yet when the same ice continues to shrink marginally in the here-and-now we say this is alarming and unnatural. Like full-fledged drama queens, we view current reductions in polar ice as proof that humans are sinning against Mother Nature – and that all manner of doom awaits us. Worse, we target school kids, urging them to reduce their ecological footprint or else.
Where are the grownups in this discussion? Why haven’t sane, sensible people noticed that this is a huge – and unwarranted – leap of logic?
h/t Tom Nelson and Redmond Weissenberger