Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Fallibility of Heroes

I have a personal hero, and like all humans he is flawed. However, he is flawed in such a way that I have to question my admiration of him, and I am left wondering what I should think.

I have looked up to Harrison Schmitt for a few years now for a few reasons.  First he is the only geologist to walk on another world. Which is an amazing feat, and one that I dream about repeating myself (I doubt this would ever happen). As planetary geology is my dream field, this is the most amazing thing one could do in my eyes, actual field geology on another celestial object, and this alone would make him one of my favorite scientists of all time. I even have a poster taken of the Apollo 17 mission on my wall, I don't know if Dr. Schmitt is the astronaut pictured but there is a 50/50 chance that it is, and I like to think it is him.

This is the image I'm referring to

Dr. Schmitt and I also share something in common, in that we are from the same state, not only from the same state, but we are both from small, southern New Mexican towns whose entire economy rested on the exploitation of a limited resource (copper for him, oil for me). Maybe this isn't the strongest connection; however, growing up I saw the people around me and thought that my home town was like a black hole and the people born or raised there were already past the event horizon. I honestly feared for years that I would never escape, that no matter what I did, there would be no way out. Thus the idea that there were people from the crappy and poor areas of my state (one Political Science professor at my school  referred to much of southern New Mexico as the Third World within the First World) had lived the dream filled me with hope and confidence that I was not already past the event horizon, that there was a way out.

However, Dr. Schmitt is a Climate Change denier, a position I find irresponsible and uninformed. He has tried to do a tremendous amount of harm to the good science done by the climate scientists; I wouldn't be so upset about this if he wasn't a good geologist, but his body of work is impressive and he rightly won accolades earlier in his career. Thus to the uniformed his presence among the deniers seems like damning evidence.

It is becoming more and more evident that the position held by Schmitt and others like him is both wrong and dangerous. We see the effects all the time, pacific island nations looking for places to evacuate after the sea swallows their home, heat waves, storms; the evidence is so solid that the pentagon has become concerned that it poses a risk to national security. At times like these we need our best and brightest to look at the evidence without bias. It is pointless to bicker about the reality of  situation, when its consequences are already barreling down on you.

I would like to remember Dr. Schmitt as the type of person I want to be, a brave explorer who advanced the cause of science both by increasing our knowledge about the universe and by keeping scientific progress close to our hearts and in our imagination. However, these wonderful things that he did are tainted by his recent actions as a politician and I cannot separate the two, though I wish I could.

I won't take the poster down, though, because at the moment it was taken, he was doing something noble and beautiful, something that I can still strive to emulate and surpass.

For more information here is NASA biography, and in the interest of fairness, his biography on desmog blog as well.

1 comment:

  1. That is a pretty sweet photo, but it is of Gene and not Jack: