It wasn’t long after the successful launch of our book, Wonderlust, for four local charities, Pinellas Education Foundation, Morean Arts Center, WEDIU/PBS and Tampa Bay Watch that Peter Clark, Tampa Bay Watch’s CEO, invited me to participate in a critical environmental program to be presented in Tampa Bay October 2-3 2015. The topic is the increasing sea level rise, particularly as it affects us in Florida, one of the scientifically foreseeable, but politically deniable, results of global warming. Sea level rise is the subject of Wonderlust’s chapter 22, NOAA or Noah . . . Or Both?
From page 140:
A plea to pay attention [to the increasing sea level rise] — in reality a plea in desperate frustration directed to Florida’s legislature and governor — is the resolution the City Commission and Mayor of South Miami, Florida sent on October 7, 2014, titled, A Resolution of the Mayor and City Commission of the City of South Miami, Florida, advocating the legal separation of Florida into two separate states, creating the 51st state in the Union and naming it “South Florida.” The severance of Florida into two states resolution was adopted, the Commission says, as “a necessity for the very survival of the entire southern region of Florida” in the face of the anticipated “3 to 6 foot sea level rise by the end of this century.”
The October 2015 program is sponsored by the Institute on Science for Global Policy (“ISGP”) in partnership with St. Petersburg College. Dr. George H. Atkinson is ISGP’s founder. His many accomplishments include his former role as Science and Technology Advisor to U.S. Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. ISGP’s brochure states that its objective is to create a “series of dialogues and critical debates examining the role of science and technology in advancing effective domestic and international policy decisions.” Dr. Atkinson explains:
The effectiveness of governmental and societal policies increasingly depends on decision makers obtaining an accurate understanding of the opportunities, and risks, associated with emerging and ‘at-the-horizon’ scientific and technical achievements.
The October program includes the presentation of papers by eight highly qualified, recognized scientists (selected after exhaustive interviews) to government people, businesses, educators, students, philanthropists, and others who will question the presenters, raising issues and debating with them in an open forum. The discussion will be followed by a series of small group caucuses to define consensus and recommended action steps for governments, the private sector and public organizations.
ISGP’s webpage sums up the process simply:
Fostering critical thinking for the next generation. Integrating scientific understanding into real-world policy. Unique debate-and-caucus forums on emerging science and technology issues. Communicating public concerns and consensus to policy makers.
The process becomes a venture from what Philosophy Professor Marcelo Gleiser describes as our Island of Knowledge in his The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning. The experience takes us from our comfortable Island through its “shores of ignorance” into the infinite surrounding “ocean of the unknown” — our sea of ignorance.
For many the venture becomes an exciting challenge. For others the venture can be unsettling. Our Island of Knowledge is not an Island shaped solely by science and technology. Knowledge and the wisdom it provides also comes to us from philosophy and theology. But sometimes what appears to us as wisdom is muddled because our deeply-held beliefs cloud our understanding, limit the range of our inquiries and cause us to reject conflicting evidence. As we point out in chapter 26 of Wonderlust during our discussion of Professor Gleiser’s work:
Wisdom also requires an approach that isn’t muddled because we frame the limitations of our inquiries with beliefs or dogma based on speculations morphed centuries ago into ancient campfire stories or inked on scrolls of papyrus — stories created when our ancestors were sure that the Earth was flat and the center of the universe, when we believed we could talk directly to our gods who lived on nearby mountains, when we believed disasters came from the wrath of the gods who demanded retribution in human or animal sacrifices, and diseases could be cured by blood-letting; when wisdom came in stories told by men and women who didn’t know that our Creator was a God of a billion planets, a billion stars and a billion galaxies; when wisdom came in stories told by men and women who didn’t know about evolution, mutations, intelligent genes, DNA, atoms, quarks, relativity, quantum mechanics, nuclear power, or the interdependence of each bit of Nature upon each other bit of Nature. To gain the wisdom we need, we also must have courage: the internal strength to challenge the obsolete stories we hold so dear. The process is never easy, because stripping ourselves of the layers of protection our comfortable stories provide leaves us unprotected, spiritually naked, until our new stories work their way into our heart.
Our beliefs become particularly limiting when they morph into our politics.
In his Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, Professor Jack N. Rakove begins chapter 4:
In the lexicon of American politics, few words evoke as ambivalent response as compromise. On the one hand, compromise (or better yet, its spirit) symbolizes the necessary pragmatism expected in politics in a pluralist society. It suggests a preference for consensus over confrontation, a willingness to meet opponents halfway rather than strive for ideological purity. Yet compromise just as often connotes moral failure, a weakness of nerve or worse, of conscience. Here the willingness to compromise betray a lack of inner conviction, a disposition to sacrifice vital principle to attain more tangible rewards.
We are all aware of the political gridlock and lack of willingness to compromise that distorts American politics during the 21st century. Had today’s politics prevailed in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 we would not have our Constitution. For our Constitution is the product of compromise. Rakove calls it the “great compromise:”
In the end, the framers granted concessions to every interest that had a voice in Philadelphia. . . . [In the convention’s Official Letter signed by George Washington, the framers introduced the Constitution]: the Constitution which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable.[Had each state consulted its own interest only,] the consequences might have been particularly disagreeable or injurious to others.
It is the challenge of deeply-held beliefs in the face of conflicting scientific information and the necessity for political compromise so absent from today’s political arenas and the possibilities of reshaping beliefs and reaching meaningful compromises through deeper scientific understanding that make the approach of ISGP so inviting and intriguing: an open discussion and debate – a town meeting of sorts – which should set us all to thinking and understanding, and, hopefully, updating the stories that have shaped our beliefs and for each of us, deciding to be a positive force for nature, a difference maker to make future generations proud of us.
What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.
What are the Brutus Papers? We’ll define them in the next blog!
To learn more about Wonderlust, click on: