This little quip calling for warm weather is a reminder that climate change is still a misunderstood concept in the public eye. It’s treated as little more than humor and casual irony.
Although climate change and energy are the most vital of today’s environmental concerns, the challenge they present to the general public is not limited to these specific issues. It is a much more fundamental lack of interest in and understanding of the process and established facts of science.
In 1980, astrophysicist Carl Sagan hosted the television series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.” It brought science — and its most troubling concepts — into the living room in a captivating learning experience. Sagan died in 1996, and left behind a legacy that is still lost on many deaf ears.
Cue Neil deGrasse Tyson. An astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium, he is today’s most amiable and eloquent advocate for understanding our complex world through the lens of science. He is the essential successor to Sagan.
This month, Tyson hosts a new series — the follow-up to Sagan’s original voyage — called “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.” It airs Sunday nights on Fox, and aims to rekindle conversation and curiosity about our world.
But it stands to do more than that. It brings science education to a medium, and a public, that need it now more than ever.
Sure, “Cosmos” is typical television, designed to entertain. But it goes beyond stunning visuals and compelling storytelling to match what the public wants with what it needs: a fresh and moving examination of the world, the universe and ourselves.
In the second episode of “Cosmos,” Tyson lays down the accepted premise that is at the root of understanding our existence: “The theory of evolution, like the theory of gravity, is a scientific fact.” This is a statement that rides a history of controversy, debated as recently as this February in the CNN-hosted showdown between another popular science icon, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Ken Ham, curator of the Creation Museum in Kentucky, where the debate took place.
Unfortunately, Nye did not wallop Ham’s argument like he should have. He is my generation’s childhood hero, and yet he could not fully defend what the global scientific community has already agreed upon: the relative age of Earth and the theory of evolution.
It wasn’t Nye’s fault; it was the platform. This isn’t a man-to-man debate. Our culture is not simply divided into Darwinians and theologians. It is pared down a much more jagged line between those who are scientifically educated and those who are not.
It isn’t a war between scientists and average Joes, either. Again, these specific issues are not the underlying problem. It’s bigger than even the questions of who we are and where we come from.
There is an education and culture barrier that boxes science into university classes, to which only a fraction of the voting public has access.
That is what makes “Cosmos” important. It tells the story of the universe in a way that anyone can understand and, surprisingly, enjoy. Learning science in this light is what Tyson calls “a soaring, spiritual experience.”
One of the most uplifting classes I have taken in my first three years of college was an anthropology course called Human Origins. The premise for this class was that evolution is not just a unit of science; it is the very brickwork. All other knowledge is built upon the understanding of where we come from and what connects us as humans. Certain science is not detached from other science.
Knowledge is a cosmic umbrella. Many of its spokes are still invisible, but together they support established facts, and the quest to discover more.
“Cosmos” attempts to dip and dive into these various areas of science, but it is whole under one cabana of universal knowledge.
I have touched little on the actual show. That’s the point. Watch it.
As a public who still reads newspapers, I believe we can all extend the same sensibility and curiosity to our television choices. It’s fundamental. Taking this journey is crucial — for the environment; for our ability to logically relate to one another; and to break down the barriers of class, culture and education.
It’s about time we took that leap, stepping back to step forward.
— By Alexander Sinn, Tribune community columnist