People used to believe the earth was flat. If you walked to the edge you would fall off. Sounds silly today but in the 15th century to challenge this belief was dangerous. Galileo, who has been called the father of modern physics and the scientific method, used the telescope to observe celestial bodies. He championed the work of Copernicus, another early scientist, who believed the earth rotated around the sun and not visa versa where the earth was the center of all activity. Galileo was investigated by the Roman Inquisition which found his ideas heretical since they challenged the teachings of the Church. He was later condemned to permanent house arrest.
An almost universal distrust of science continued through the 17th century when the Little Ice Age upended all norms. The Little Ice Age represented a major shift in climate change. It was not only terribly cold. Rivers froze. Crops were ruined. People starved. And the kings and lords lost their source of income. The only explanation was that God was punishing mankind.
But despite the horrors of this period and loss of life, it led to the breaking up of the old feudal order, to new and expanded trade, to new ways of thinking and scientific thought, and to the beginning of an intellectual and industrial revolution; a move from the fortress to the market, from communities centered on castles and churches to more diverse ones in which exchange and trade, cities and literacy were crucial.
Philipp Blom describes these events in “Nature’s Mutiny, How the Little Ice Age of the long 17th century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present.” He explores clues as to what might become of us.
How might we deal with the new climate threat ? Blom says “it is likely that current economic and political principles of highly developed societies — growth and exploitation — will result in their decline or even collapse unless humans take control of the situation they have — once unwittingly, now all too obviously — brought upon themselves.”
Today, centuries later, there are still too many people who don’t trust science, and promote conspiracy theories. With the pandemic and another major shift in climate change, this is more than silly. It is dangerous. It was once hoped that if enough people were vaccinated there would be herd immunity and we could indeed return to a normal life. But scientists now doubt this is going to happen because of people who refuse to be vaccinated.
Or people who refuse to wear masks even when science says it will halt the spread to those who have yet to be vaccinated and will prevent new variants from gaining strength. Here’s a quote from Tucker Carlson on Fox. ‘Your response when you see children wearing masks as they play should be no different from our response to seeing someone beat a kid at Walmart … . Call the police immediately. Contact child protective services. Keep calling until someone arrives. What you are looking at is abuse. Child abuse.”
We live in a free country but there are rules we are all expected to obey or there is a penalty. If people refuse to get vaccinated unless there is a valid medical reason, or to wear a mask if required, they need to pay a price. No admittance to sporting events, movies, concerts. No flying on commercial airlines and no use of public transportation. No admittance to bars and restaurants. No entrance to the workplace, including schools, nursing homes, hospitals. There is no longer an excuse for opting out. Vaccines are available to all even without an appointment.
Here is another idea that doesn’t make sense — merging Caltrain with BART. It’s not possible physically since BART uses a unique track system not compatible with others. BART can’t run on Caltrain tracks and Caltrain can’t run on BART’s. BART just runs a local service with multiple stops. Caltrain is a commuter rail system with express service. Now you could merge Caltrain into a BART system politically. That would be bad news for Peninsula commuters. Caltrain is well managed and has won many awards for excellence. BART has experienced all sorts of problems — safety and cleanliness and freeloaders. Caltrain is a small system compared to BART and riders concerns might get muffled if BART takes over. Improved coordination yes. Merger NO.
Is Liz Cheney one of our modern day Galileos? She is about to face another kind of banishment — ouster from her leadership position in the Republican Party in the House of Representatives and maybe loss of her congressional seat — for telling the truth and denouncing lies about a stolen election and the assault on the Capitol Jan.6.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.