May 4 Flashback: Seeing is not believing

May 4 Flashback: Seeing is not believing May 4, 2022

From May 4, 2009, “What do you see?“:

This is a photograph, a visual recording.

What you’re looking at here is a European Space Agency satellite photo of what used to be the ice bridge connecting Charcot Island and the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

Here’s the caption that was supplied with the photo:

“An Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) image dated April 28, 2009 and made available April 29 shows the breaking away of the ice bridge of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica. Charcot Island, visible in the upper left corner of the image, and the Wilkins Ice Shelf in the lower right corner, are connected by an ice bridge which is approximately 100 kilometers long and only a few kilometers wide.”

Um, make that “used to be connected by an ice bridge.”

Here’s another photo, this one from NASA, taken shortly after the ice bridge’s collapse last month. …

My point here is not that this ice bridge is thought to have been the stabilizing factor keeping the entire, massive Wilkins ice shelf in place, and that the ice shelf is, in turn, considered to be the stabilizing factor keeping in place an even larger mass of ice in Antarctic glaciers and thus that the collapse of this ice bridge may therefore be a sign that we’re going to be Even More Screwed by climate change and rising sea levels. That’s all true, but that’s not my point here.

My point here is that these are photographs. Visual evidence. One need only look at those photographs to see that something is happening — to see it happening and thus to have to acknowledge that it is, in fact, happening.

But a great many people seem deeply invested in believing — photographs be damned — that nothing is happening. They insist that nothing is getting warmer, that ice is not melting.

Every week at the paper we get a steady stream of letters to the editor claiming that climate change is a, at best, a myth or, more often, a conspiracy — some kind of leftist plot by Al Gore and the Communists to impose some kind of global carbon tax as a path toward the eradication of national sovereignty and the imposition of a tyrannical, redistributionist one-world government. It seems very, very important to these letter writers to be able to view the world this way. Intensely, personally important to them.

I understand how this works for the professional partisans who have decided, for whatever reason, that climate change ought to be a partisan political issue and that they must, therefore, deny its existence as some kind of partisan stance. And it’s even easier to understand how this works for those who have a financial stake in pretending that the ice is not melting — the so-called “global warming skeptics” cashing their large checks from Exxon-Mobil. For both of those sets of deniers, this denial is their job. Photographs like the one above make their job more difficult, but it’s still their job, and since they need to get paid — the O’Reilly’s and Limbaughs and the rest of the professional charlatans — they can compartmentalize and continue working. I imagine they see a photo like this one and think to themselves both, “Wow, that’s bad” and “Wow, that’s going to be hard to dismiss, evade and spin away, but a job’s a job so I’d better get busy.”

But what I don’t understand is how this works for those who don’t have this job, those who aren’t being paid to dismiss, evade, spin and deny, but who do so voluntarily. What’s in it for them? What reward do they get from the very difficult mental gymnastics required for one to look at a photograph and refuse to see, accept or acknowledge?

Here’s a photograph of Antarctic ice breaking up. No, they say. There is no ice breaking up, and therefore there is no photograph. That’s an astonishing response that just bewilders me.

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