What Good is a Higgs Boson When the Planet is Burning?

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Common Dreams

What Good is a Higgs Boson When the Planet is Burning?

Call me sour, but I really can’t find much to get excited about by the news that physicists have moved one step closer to figuring out how the universe began.

Yes, the Higgs Boson is an amazing phenomenon.  “Without it,” writes Dennis Overbye in The New York Times, “all the elementary forms of matter would zoom around at the speed of light, flowing through our hands like moonlight. There would be neither atoms nor life.”

Yes, it’s an amazing feat, to which hundreds of scientists have dedicated their lives, to have actually nailed the elusive Higgs Boson in the giant particle accelerator built for that purpose.

But while the champagne corks are popping at the physicists’ convention in Melbourne Australia today, all the myriad problems confronting us physical beings still fester unchecked.

What good will it do us to understand how matter formed back at the beginning of the universe while we are succumbing to drought, wildfires, violent storms and floods?

What good will that marvelous particle accelerator do us when the climate is so disrupted that we can no longer rely on a steady stream of electricity, or a steady food supply to keep us going?

We really need all those super-smart people to pull their heads out of the air and start focusing much closer to our own time and place.

We need more scientists like Lonnie Thompson, who has spent the past forty years traveling to remote glaciers and mountain peaks all over the world to collect ice core samples that give us insight into climate change in the much more recent past—the last 10,000 years or so.

“Dr. Thompson,” writes Justin Gillis in The New York Times, “became one of the first scientists to witness and record a broad global melting of land ice. And his ice cores proved that this sudden, coordinated melting had no parallel, at least not in the last several thousand years.

“To some climate scientists, the Thompson ice core record became the most convincing piece of evidence that the rapid planetary warming now going on was a result of a rise in greenhouse gases caused by human activity.”

Do we really need any more convincing?

The latest storms to hit the U.S. struck the wealthy suburbs of Washington D.C., and surprise surprise, those Beltway folks were just as susceptible to power loss as the rest of us out in the hinterlands.  Forced to cope with triple-digit heat with no air conditioners, their sweat smells no sweeter than ours.

Likewise, the wildfires out West are burning up the homes of the wealthy as fast as they’re burning the millions of acres of dead trees decimated by the surge in the pine bark beetle population, another gift of warmer weather.

Wealth is not going to protect us from climate change.

Abstract particle physics is not going to mean a damn once the extreme weather really sets in, just a few short years from now at our current pace of greenhouse gas emissions.

We have the technology now to engineer a rapid shift to renewable energy sources that will immediately curb the pace of global heating to keep our planet livable.

If the greatest minds of our time trained their attention on this fundamental issue, I have absolutely no doubt that we could solve it.

And if the rest of us not only went along with the technological changes, but actively pressured our political representatives to enact policies that would force big business to do the same, worldwide, we could make sure that the new technology was broadly implemented, quickly.

Hell, it will be good for business! We are potentially at the start of a whole new age, where demand for brand new products like solar panels and geothermal pumps could keep factories running for decades.

We don’t need any more oil rigs, gas wells or pipelines.  That way lies suicide, on a species-wide scale.

We cannot afford to waste any more time, or to allow ourselves to be distracted by anything less important than the urgent question of survival—our own, and that of all the beautiful life forms on this planet we love.

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez teaches comparative literature and gender studies with an activist bent at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, MA and blogs at Transition Times.

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