Abraham Lincoln and climate science

The Leonids of 1833

By Bill Kovarik
Published in Appalachian Voice

Abraham Lincoln used to tell a story during the darkest days of the Civil War.  Although the story was omitted from a recent movie about Lincoln, is still worth recalling.

The story goes like this:

When Lincoln was a young man in Illinois, in 1833, he was roused from his bed late one night by his frantic landlord.  “Abe! Abe! Wake up! The day of Judgment has come,” the landlord shouted.  Lincoln  threw open the window  and saw fearful neighbors in the road and, above them, a spectacular sky lit up by the Leonid shower of meteors. At first he shared their dismay.  “But looking back of them in the heavens,” Lincoln said, “I saw all the grand old constellations with which I was so well acquainted, fixed and immoveable and true in their places. 

Thirty years later,  Lincoln would tell this story to his generals and say, “No, gentlemen, the world did not come to an end then, nor will the Union now.”

After the contentious media-driven politics of 2012, it often seems that nothing in our own times is fixed, immoveable or true in place. But that would be a misperception.  We only need to look behind those falling stars to see so many of our grand old constellations still fixed and true in their places.

•  In the height of the campaign, many pundits decried the lack of debate about climate science.  Yet there in the final days of the campaign,  we saw President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie working together to mitigate the impacts of super-storm Sandy. All it took was an example of human values in the face of catastrophe to make it “safe” to talk about climate again.

•  In recent years,  many states – particularly Virginia and North Carolina –  have made it  difficult for regional planners to find and use climate data. But while those stars were falling, a constellation of climate research centers, in the works since the Bush administration, was emerging as part of a federal scientific effort at NOAA and the Dept. of Interior.  True in its place, basic science remains unshaken by the ups and downs of local politics.

•  Despite a massive Appalachian media offensive by the falling stars of the coal industry, basic economics and environmental law are still fixed and true in their places.  Blowing up mountains and ruining water supplies in order to make a quick buck is no more economically viable than it is environmentally sustainable, as it turns out. Ask Patriot Coal Co., whose board decided in November 2012 to stop mountaintop removal because it was not in the company’s long term interests.

Human values, along with environmental science and basic economics, are among the constellations that are still fixed and true in their places.

Lincoln would be proud.

Comments are closed.