Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, July 11, 2024


Today, we have three stories that are particularly interesting in juxtaposition.

The first one is heartbreaking.  A unique species of cactus, the Key Largo tree cactus (Pilosocereus millspaughii) is now extinct in the Florida Keys.  It's a tall, slender, spiny plant with white, garlic-scented flowers that open at night and are pollinated by bats.

[Image credit: photographer Susan Kolterman]

Once abundant, it has been declining throughout the twentieth century, but took a nosedive at the century's end -- 84% of the surviving plants died between 1994 and 2017.  It still held on with a population of 150 individuals until Hurricane Irma, but the real culprit seems to be saltwater intrusion into the species's habitat.  By 2021 only six remained, and pieces were harvested by botanists for cultivation before the remaining individuals died.

As such, it has become the first species extirpated as the direct result of climate change and rising sea levels.

"We are on the front lines of biodiversity loss," said George Gann, executive director of the Florida Institute for Regional Conservation.

The second story comes out of Copernicus Climate Change Service, the research arm of the European Union's climate monitoring service.  New data released last week showed that for the last twelve months straight, the global average temperature has been 1.5 C higher than the average in pre-industrial times.  Anyone claiming this is some kind of natural warm-up is simply wrong.  There's no other way to say it.  This global temperature spike is orders of magnitude higher than anything we've ever seen before -- to find anything even close, you have to go back to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, 54 million years ago, and even that probably happened at a slower rate than what we're seeing today.

Carlo Buontempo, director of the CCCS, was unequivocal.  "Even if this specific streak of extremes ends at some point, we are bound to see new records being broken as the climate continues to warm," he said.  "This is inevitable unless we stop adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the oceans."

The last story is where it gets ironic -- because Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who presides over one of the lowest-lying and most vulnerable states in the United States, and the home (well, it was) of the first species to be extirpated because of climate change, just signed a bill that (1) strikes any mention of climate change from state statutes, (2) outlaws offshore wind turbines, and (3) deregulates the use of natural gas.

"We're restoring sanity in our approach to energy and rejecting the agenda of the radical green zealots," DeSantis said.  Probably because that sounds better than "fuck the long-term habitability of the planet, we've got to protect the fossil fuel industry."

We've got an election coming up in November, and the choice couldn't be clearer.  DeSantis (whose term doesn't expire until 2027, unfortunately), and the rest of the GOP, have rejected science, data, and evidence for the sake of short-term expediency and keeping the endorsement of the oil companies.  There's a plethora of other reasons to vote against them; their anti-education stance, the book bans, their targeting of LGBTQ+ people, the horrifying far-right partisanship of the Supreme Court, and their unquestioning support of a presidential candidate who is a convicted felon and sexual abuser, not to mention a compulsive liar.

But this issue affects every single individual on the planet.  If your mind isn't made up yet, then consider that.  Only one party seems to have the slightest concern about addressing the problem of climate change.  Yeah, what they've done thus far hasn't been all that impressive, either, but at least they're not denying it outright and calling the people who care -- and the ones who actually know some science -- "radical green zealots."

I'll choose the ones who are at least making an effort over the science deniers in half a heartbeat.


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