In the long run, we are all subject to reality

Funny thing about “fake news” and propaganda: no matter who spreads the misinformation or how widely it’s believed, the “reality-based world” and rules of nature still ultimately prevail.

No matter how many people wanted to blame medieval Europe’s Black Death on Jews, Romani or lepers, scientists today understand that the pandemic was caused by bites by infected fleas carried on rats.

No matter how many government leaders in the U.S. and elsewhere chose to believe that reports about concentrations camps and gas chambers were just war propaganda, millions died just the same.

No matter how much the Westboro Baptist Church says AIDS is a divine punishment for homosexuality, the disease also afflicts straight people — not to mention children — without discrimination.

And no matter how desperately climate-change deniers and those who profit from fossil fuels want to muzzle research linking higher carbon dioxide levels to rising average global temperatures, ocean acidification and a raft of other harmful consequences, CO2 will keep accelerating the greenhouse effect the more of it we pump into the atmosphere. Because science.

The problem is, as with so many other examples from history where reality-averse, ignorant or Machiavellian humans tried to persuade their followers that the sky was not up and the ground wasn’t down, hostility to facts can leave a lot of damage — and a lot of bodies — in its wake.

This is the reality-based world: The greater the concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, the more of these molecules there are to absorb and re-emit infrared solar radiation. The more carbon dioxide taken up by the oceans, the more seawater’s pH levels decrease, which means the more corals, shellfish and other calcium-carbonate-producing lifeforms are susceptible to dissolving.

The 11th-century Scandinavian King Canute, the old story goes, understood the powers of nature and reality when he demonstrated to his courtiers that even he — a powerful ruler at the time — couldn’t order the ocean tide to stop getting his feet wet. In historian Henry of Huntingdon’s telling of the tale a century later, Canute was then reported to have said, “‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.”

Yet here we are, a millennium later, hearing new kings — would-be, imagined and otherwise — asserting the exact opposite: that they are not bound in any way by the laws of heaven, earth and sea… or reality in general.

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