Learning science is one of the hardest things a person can do. It often forces us to shift the way in which we see the world. The process is demanding, but is ultimately rewarding, because it allows us to interact with nature in a deeper, more meaningful way. If we continue down this road, we become empowered with the means to shape our environment - we become engineers.
Thursday, November 19, 2020
The Smoke of Wildfires Travels to Canada
There are, of course, some important differences between how these fires are being handled. The physical fires are combatted by waterbombers and firefighters. Fire chiefs have done everything in their power to prevent its spread. The divisions in the United States – the deep discord among its citizens – has been and continues to be exacerbated by the outgoing President. The fire chief is stoking the fire as he contemplates his next move. We are witnessing the fall of Rome.
As Canadians, I may consider myself a passive observer of the 24/7 drama channels, like CNN. But I have good reason for staying tuned, despite its obvious negative effects on my mental health. There are serious existential risks to our species that we must face, from the aforementioned climate change, to the current (and next) pandemic. Neither of these threats lead to our extinction in the short term, but they require our serious attention to limit their harmful effects in the long term.
Various branches of government must work alongside scientists to combat these fires from spreading. But instead of that, the leader (did I mention outgoing?) of the American government is questioning the expertise of the scientists, and even worse, causing his mob of supporters to doubt scientists. That is like halting efforts to stop the fires in California because we distrust that water molecules consist of two atoms of Hydrogen and one of Oxygen (I can actually imagine President Trump arguing that the Oxygen atom helps the fire breath as his minions nod their heads). Worse still, the smoke that blows from his mouth travels around the world, infecting non-Americans as well.
Assuming that President-elect Joe Biden is indeed sworn into office in January, the next question becomes: Can America reassert its place in the world, become a voice of reason, and help us homo sapiens become responsible custodians of Earth?
Perhaps Canadians can instead ask themselves: "What can we do to help make this possible?" I have a few suggestions. Let's:
1) Be our best selves. We need not enter into Facebook yelling contests with conspiracy theorists. Let the FBI worry about them. Just act kindly - be respectful and act with integrity.
2) Promote the virtues of democracy and show up to vote when it is our turn. We can also encourage our leaders to be their best selves.
3) Clean our own house. Canada is great but it is far from perfect. We must lead by example and do what is undeniably right. We must continue to strive for equality across race and gender.
4) Act responsibly towards the environment as individuals and ask our leaders to hold corporations and institutions to this same standard.
Who knows? The age of reason and enlightenment may not be out of reach. Getting there, however, will mean fighting back against the many fires that threaten to consume us. It means trusting the experts who have earned such distinction. It means electing officials who serve our best interests. Most of all, it means thinking locally and globally; it is not and has never been a choice between one or the other. A fire anywhere on this planet is a fire everywhere on this planet; we have just one planet.
I fear that Americans may be so divided that no leader can sew the country back together in four or even eight years. I mitigate this fear by turning off CNN and going for a walk.
Monday, November 2, 2020
The Benefits of a Decade Blogging
I founded this blog in October, 2010, which feels like an eternity ago.
After ten years of blogging, I can speak to the positive impacts it has had on my career. Though I originally started the blog as an outlet for my ideas on science and engineering, it quickly evolved into a space where I write for my students; after all, I became a physics professor at Vanier College in 2010 also.
(1) Helped me consolidate my own ideas
(2) Made me a better teacher
(3) Given me a bank of topical content at the right level to pass on to my students (incidentally, this has become a cornerstone of my teaching approach, whereby new content is introduced before class, conceptually - students then write their reflections and submit them - and I then assign their best questions back to them so they may discuss them in groups)
(4) Been a launchpad to some speaking and radio gigs
(5) Made me a better writer
This last benefit has enabled me to produce a manuscript for my first book about the fundamentals of physics. A couple of publishers have shown some interest in it recently. I am hopeful to sign a publishing deal sometime in 2021.
Ah, 2010 was long ago indeed. The blog has aged with me, but also my children - my eldest had just turned one when I wrote my first post, which was fittingly entitled "My Daughter the Physicist". Reminiscing further, humanity seemed in better shape then. Two years into President Obama's first term, there was reason for optimism. I still remain hopeful that we can right the fragile ship on which we sail, but along with many of you, I am growing worried of the future (like, two days in the future, when a racist, misogynistic, reason-defying narcissist is hoping to see his time in the White House extended by four more years).
I pray that in 2030, humanity will have found its stride, and have become responsible custodians of this planet. It is within our capability. Until then, I will continue to write, for there is indeed a sixth benefit to doing so: it is so much fun.