Five Minutes to Understanding

I thought I understood the science behind greenhouse gases. How James Tyndall figured out that certain gases absorb infrared energy, how Svante Arrhenius figured out the equation (now known as the Greenhouse Law) which allows you to calculate just how much infrared energy those gases absorb. And even how Guy Callendar predicted the carbon dioxide we were adding would like to a warmer planet one day.

But every once in a while, something comes along to help fill in some little gaps. Like this brief TED talk which explains scientifically just how greenhouse gases absorb infrared energy. If you have five spare minutes, I strongly encourage you to watch this excellent video. You’ll understand the science behind what’s changing our planet’s climate even better.

Happy Birthday, America! (Now Smarten Up!)

Independence? That’s middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on Earth.”
~George Bernard Shaw

Every time I have a birthday, I reflect on where I’m at in life, what I’ve accomplished since my last birthday, and what goals I need to set for myself for the years to come. I think it’s a useful exercise. As the US celebrates its 240th birthday today, it should serve as an opportunity for the government to reflect in much the same way. What is it doing to tackle the problems facing Americans? And as global citizens, what is it doing to tackle the problems facing the planet?

To help guide the government in what it should be doing along those lines, 31scientific societies have written to Congress clearly stating that climate change is real, that we are the primary culprit for its current effects and that we can stop it if we choose to make the necessary changes. Overstating the obvious (but for Congress that’s sadly required), they write “To reduce the risk of the most severe impacts of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be substantially reduced.” It’s not the first such letter but it has had the most put forms he most organizations to date. (Sadly, it’s unlikely to be the last such letter too. A large group that included 18 of the 31 societies in this letter submitted something similar to Congress back in 2009 although it wasn’t as intense in its warnings as this one is. We can only anticipate each letter to be more dire in its messaging.)

Clarifying some key points, the letter states the following:

Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research concludes that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. This conclusion is based on multiple independent lines of evidence and the vast body of peer-reviewed science. There is strong evidence that ongoing climate change is having broad negative impacts on society, including the global economy, natural resources, and human health. For the United States, climate change impacts include greater threats of extreme weather events, sea level rise, and increased risk of regional water scarcity, heat waves, wildfires, and the disturbance of biological systems. The severity of climate change impacts is increasing and is expected to increase substantially in the coming decades.

Will Congress listen? Probably not. Most politicians would rather listen to the lobbyists who fund their campaigns than the people who elected them. The youth of the world are largely getting fed up with what the older generation are doing and in time they will be the world leaders. I truly believe in the decades to come, rational thought will win out over ideologies. But it would be nice if we could make the changes we need right now so that our children and grandchildren don’t keep looking back at us and ask “What were you thinking?”