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Opinion: Age no guarantee of wisdom

We’re apparently no smarter than the ancient critics of what we now accept as established science

In May 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, a book that used mathematics and astronomy to postulate how the earth and the then-known planets rotated on their own axis as they orbited a stationary sun. Within days of its printing, however, Copernicus died.

His theory of “heliocentrism,” the first scientific challenge to biblical and Greek teachings of an earth-centred universe, almost died with him. It was only in a different era and with all his critics dead, it finally became accepted science.

As quaint, foolish or even dumb as that long fight appears today, its basis — mankind’s inability to accept new, provable facts because of the unknown change they carry — remains today. Two words prove it: climate change.

The biggest difference between the Copernican fight of yore and today’s bloody fight over climate change is that back then, medieval traditionalists and Enlightenment-era scientists could duke it out for generations.

With climate change, however, there are millions of lives and billions of livelihoods at stake and no one has any time to be silly, quaint or dumb. In fact, it’s more than likely we’ve squandered our best chance to react fighting over its existence.

That, too, isn’t new. In 1632, 89 years after Copernicus died, the Catholic Church put Galileo under house arrest for defending the Copernican theory. The church, of course, later apologized to Galileo for its wooden-headedness — in 1992.

Don’t laugh because history comes up a cropper compared to our wooden heads, tin ears, and greedy palms when we’re often confronted with plain facts we don’t like.

The answer isn’t that we can’t do math. The answer lies more in the fact that we have less trouble borrowing from our children and grandchildren than our grandparents and parents had. We are, in a word, greedier now and, worse, we justify that greed far easier now than before. Excuses abound.

  • We’re feeding the world.
  • We’re extending our brand.
  • We’re improving our efficiency.

We can come up with a myriad of reasons (and most of them legal) to justify our growing use of our grandchildren’s soil, water, air, and money but not one of them adequately answers the question of why — with so much wealth, technology, and time — we don’t stop consuming what is theirs.

We fight messy food fights, nothing but partisan boxing matches over side issues, ignoring the real and pressing issues.

We’re going to do it because that’s what we now do; we fight over our nickels, not the futures of those who follow us. We’re smarter, richer, and better fed than Copernicus and Galileo could have ever dreamed, but it seems we’re no wiser than their detractors.

The Farm and Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada.

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