An extraterrestrial perspective on climate change
[This is piece is part two in a series, Part one is Planetary Vocabulary]
A group of extraterrestrials gazes back at us. Experts on planetary issues, they have traveled a distance for this meeting, and they have just stumped us with a question: what do we call the study of sunlight? A bit flustered and with forced calmness we talk amongst ourselves, confident that we have a word for the study of sunlight. In English we can not find it. We turn to the Swiss, perhaps there is a word in German or French. But no, they can not find a word. Photology, lumenology, these aren’t words.. we stumble. We ask the Russians. We ask the Chinese, surely they have it in Mandarin or Cantonese or one of their many languages, but no.
It appears we have no word for the study of sunlight. We don’t even have a word for the study of the sun. Heliophysics seems to be, as of only quite recently, as close as we get. Someone quietly whispers, “heliology.” It is an arcane word, found only a few times in old texts. It fits the bill, having derived from Greek much in the same way as hydrology.
One of the expert beings says they have just come across some old records. Apparently they have been to our planet before. They are sifting through the notes.
“Re,” one of them says. “Ra,” says another. “Ramses,”
“Oh yes,” we recognize the names. “The Egyptians. But they didn’t study the sun. They worshipped it- believed it was a god named Ra.”
“What is the difference?” the expert beings looked perplexed.
“It has to do with faith versus proof,” we reply. Worshipping a god is a religion. Religion is based on faith, on belief. Studying a celestial body is a science. Science is based on proof, on fact.”
“So what science can not prove, does not exist.”
“Exactly,” we reply.
“Do your scientists have proof of love?” they ask us.
We turn to each other, surely there has been a study.
“Perhaps you might just agree on a word temporarily,” they suggest, “so that we may continue. We need to keep moving. It’s about to get dark, and that should be proof enough.” They chuckle.
Indeed the sun is nearly setting. How could this possibly be true that we have no word for the study of the sun? Dumbfounded, we agree to use heliology for the time being and inform the expert beings of our tentative choice.
“Oh yes, like Helios,” they affirm. “How about Apollogy? Sorry,” they smile.
“Heh,” we get it. Helios is the Titan god of sun.. Apollo is the younger Olympian god of sun light.
“Ra, Inti, Kinich Ahau, Huitzilopochtli” the expert beings somehow pronounce these words. “Your people have had many names for the sun.”
We explain that those are actually gods from civilizations that no longer exist.
“But the people do, and we have seen their structures. They are still standing. Some of them align at with the sun. Do your structures align with the sun?” They ask us.
We look at each other and someone says, “Yes there is a building at MIT. It has a hallway which aligns with the sun a couple times of year, thought not at a solstice or equinox.”
“One building?” they ask. “What about a celebration when the sun is the highest, may be a dance?”
Perhaps a tad on the defensive, we explain that our people are more industrial than agricultural and not concerned with the sun’s position in the sky. Our time is spent developing amazing things, we insist, and offer one of our phones to the beings. “We are making advances in devices like these and making them available to all of our people.” They hold the phone as if it were a pebble.
“What makes it work?” they ask.
“Electricity,” we reply proudly.
“From where?” they ask.
“From a power plant.. that burns gas or coal. A battery in the phone stores the power,” we explain.
“Examples of what you might now call, the heliologic cycle.” they say.
“Well,” we reply, “not really. But we do have solar power. That would be an example of the heliologic cycle.”
“Solar power?” they ask. “Is there any other kind?”
“A Cheyenne warrior of the future”, 1907. Richard Throssel
“Sun Dancer Pledgers — Cheyenne”, 1910. Edward Curtis
“Chichen Itza Equinox”, 2009. ATSZ56
This piece is part 2 of a series on how to ride climate change.
Part 1 is here: Planetary Vocabulary
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