The One Science Lesson Every American Adult Can Learn From Greta Thunberg
“It’s a free world and a free country, and no one can stop you from believing whatever you want. You can believe that vaccines cause autism, that the Earth is flat, that humans never walked on the Moon, and that global warming is a hoax. But if you believe any of those things, you are choosing an unsubstantiated and anti-science conspiracy that, when confronted with the actual evidence humanity possesses, doesn’t have a legitimate leg to stand on.
For decades, politicians have commanded scientists to stick to their science and not enter conversations about science and society. Yet we live in a world where some of the most powerful nations are governed by inherently anti-science attitudes. Science has already carried the day when it comes to global warming and climate change; now is the time to be an adult and address the real changes humanity has brought upon planet Earth.”
The climate really is changing, and humans really are the cause. Out of 28 nations surveyed, the denial of these two facts is greater in no other country than the United States: we are 28th out of 28 in this regard. The science has been non-controversial for more than 30 years, and the oldest climate model, at 52, is still completely valid and correct.
So why can’t we even admit that much to ourselves? Because there’s a lesson we haven’t learned. Greta Thunberg has, and it’s time for us all to get on board.
The Simplest Explanation Of Global Warming Ever
“All of this leads to a very straightforward conclusion: if we increase the concentrations of infrared-absorbing gases in our atmosphere, like CO2 and CH4, the Earth’s temperature will rise. Given that the temperature record unequivocally shows that the Earth is warming, and we have put these additional proverbial blankets onto our atmosphere, it seems like a slam dunk that this is cause-and-effect at work.
It cannot be proven that human activity is the cause of global warming, of course. That conclusion we drew is still a scientific inference. But based on what we know about planetary science, Earth’s atmosphere, human activity and the warming we’re observing, it seems like a very good one. When we quantify the other effects, it’s unlikely that anything else could be the cause. Not the Sun, not volcanoes, not any natural phenomenon that we know of.
The Earth is warming, and humans are the cause. The next steps — of what to do about it — are 100% up to us.”
So many of us have such strong opinions on global warming and global climate change that are tied to issues that go way beyond science: the economy, energy, politics, and the envrionment, just for starters. However, if you were attempting to legitimately conduct scientific inquiry into the issue, there would just be two questions that were of any importance: is the Earth warming, and if so, what’s the cause?
Assuming you didn’t know any of it, what’s the science behind all of this? This is the simplest explanation that allows you to figure it out.
Science Is Not Fake News
“Sometimes, the experts will be wrong. Sometimes, science will surprise us, and we’ll wind up changing our minds as new and better data comes in. Sometimes trends will reverse; sometimes the root cause of a phenomenon is different and deeper than what we originally though. Science doesn’t end, it simply progresses to a better and more accurate approximation of reality.
Which is why we must accept a robust scientific consensus — wherever one exists — as the default starting position for what we do next. If there’s a policy decision to be made, it must be made in the context of this consensus. When we dismiss science, we dismiss our notion that we care to understand our reality and make fact-based decisions concerning it. When we claim we know better than the experts, we devalue the enterprise of human knowledge.
Science is not fake news. Quite the opposite: it provides the clearest, most accurate view of reality we’ve ever known.”
There are many ways of looking at a system we do not fully understand. For every phenomenon we observe, there are a slew of possible explanations we can hypothesize. But the way we make sense of our world isn’t through wild ideation or theorizing, but by examining the full suite of scientific data and seeking to explain it with as few free parameters as possible. If our quest is to understand and describe any natural phenomenon, we owe it to ourselves to learn what the best, consensus explanations are and to use those as the driver of forming good public policy. Anything less is tantamount to a rejection of the best view of reality we’ve been able to develop as a species.
There are many elements in our society equating science to fake news, and it needs to end today. Here’s why.
Our Sun Is Lighter Than Ever, And The Problem Is Getting Worse
“As time goes on, the amount of mass lost by the Sun will increase, particularly as it enters the giant phase of its life. But even at this relatively steady rate, the growth of helium in the Sun’s core means that we will heat up here on planet Earth. After about 1-to-2 billion years, the Sun will be burning hot enough that Earth’s oceans will boil away entirely, making liquid water impossible on the surface of our planet. As the Sun gets lighter and lighter, it will counterintuitively get hotter and hotter. Our planet has already used up approximately three-quarters of the time we have where Earth is habitable. As the Sun continues to lose mass, humanity and all life on Earth approaches its inevitable fate. Let’s make these last billion-or-so years count.”
As the Sun burns through its nuclear fuel, it loses mass in not one, but two ways. Sure, in its core, it’s fusing hydrogen in a chain reaction into helium, with the reduction in mass corresponding to a gain in energy: the energy that powers the Sun and gives life to all the planets. But it also blows off particles, including electrons, protons, and atomic nuclei, in a phenomenon called the solar wind. Even though more massive stars burn hotter and brighter than less massive ones, the Sun, perhaps paradoxically, will increase in temperature and luminosity as it loses mass to these two processes. The Sun is getting lighter and lighter, and the problem of its increasing energy output will eventually destroy all life on Earth.
Here’s how fast the Sun is losing mass, and what this means for the inevitable fate of everything that could ever live here on Earth.
Ask Ethan: Can We Build A Sun Screen To Combat Global Climate Change?
“[W]hy don’t we evaluate building a “sun screen” in space to alter the amount of light (energy) earth receives? Everybody who did feel a total eclipse knows temperature goes down and light dims. So the idea is to build something that would stay between us and sun all year long…”
The Earth’s temperature is rising: that’s a fact. The overwhelming cause of this warming is human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases, like CO2 and methane. The CO2 concentration has now passed 410 parts per million, an increase of over 50% over pre-industrial revolution levels. If we cannot or will not reverse what’s driving the temperature change, we could instead try to counteract it. One proposal is to put a large device in space, between the Sun and the Earth, to block some of the incoming sunlight. As it turns out, blocking 2% would be enough to completely counteract the effects of human-caused global warming. Modifying our atmosphere is risky, but placing a sun screen in space to do the job has only one real drawback: its expense.
But how expensive is it, truly, when you consider the positive effects it would have on the planet? Let’s consider what it would take to combat global climate change by putting a shade in space!
This Is How Science Will Save Us From Hurricanes
“Given that 2017 saw more than $250B worth of damage caused by hurricanes to North America alone, even a large investment in setting up and deploying a large-scale network of these deep water perforated pipes could quickly pay dividends in damage and death reduction. The economic return-on-investment could be tremendous, and it would protect our infrastructure and prevent another Katrina-like disaster more effectively and inexpensively than any other plan. But if we want it to happen, we need to put our money where our mouth is and live up to the advice of America’s eldest founding father: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
There are only a few ingredients required to form a hurricane: rapidly moving air over a warm body of water, with atmospheric conditions that have a pressure gradient in them. Humans may not be able to control the spinning of the Earth or the atmosphere itself, but through a very clever technique that was first pioneered to keep fjords ice-free in the winter, we just might be able to lower the surface temperatures of the oceans in hurricane-prone regions. By installing a perforated pipe a hundred meters down or so and pumping compressed air through it, we could circulate the cooler, deeper ocean waters towards the surface, lowering the temperatures at the ocean/air boundary down below the critical threshold that enables hurricanes to form and grow. It’s a simple, straightforward solution that would be an incredible use of an accidental infrastructure that permeates the Gulf of Mexico already: a network of more than 4,000 deep water oil platforms.
Come learn about the science of the bubble curtain, and how we can use this science to potentially reduce or even eliminate the damage of hurricanes!
Pluto’s Mysteriously Cool Atmosphere Might Hold The Key To Fighting Global Warming
“Global dimming could someday provide a geoengineering solution to counteract the effects of global warming, if our environmentally-minded efforts to curb our emissions fail. The discovery of the haze-temperature connection on Pluto demonstrates, for the first time, that there are actual cases out there where this type of effect can serve to reduce the worldwide temperature by far more than humanity’s emissions have increased it. On the surface, it provides a new hope for geoengineering scenarios to mitigate global warming. However, there are side effects associated with having pollutants and potentially toxic particulates in our clouds, and therefore our rainwater. We must ensure, before embarking down such a path, that the cure isn’t worse than the disease.”
When NASA’s New Horizons arrived at Pluto, it discovered a slew of wonderful surprises and sights. It found reddish-brown terrain, ices, a complex atmosphere with hazes, and a temperature surprise: it was 30 K (54 °F) cooler than we would have expected. There are only three factors that normally control a world’s temperature: its distance from the Sun, its reflectivity, and the gases present in its atmosphere. But on Pluto, the hazes play an incredible role, as a new paper out today reveals. These hazes, made of complex hydrocarbons formed from ionized gases like nitrogen and methane, actually add heat to the atmosphere but cool down the surface, leading to a dramatic difference that’s more than 10 times cooler than the heating effects of humanity’s contribution to Earth’s atmosphere. It makes you wonder if this might hold the key to fighting global warming here on Earth.
We may not be in control of our planet, but we’re at the controls. It’s up to us to make the right decisions, and learning all we can about other worlds in the Solar System is certainly helping!
Now is absolutely the time to politicize Hurricane Irma and other natural disasters
“The full suite of data we have incontrovertibly points to one conclusion: the human effects that contribute to climate change are severe, and are making these disasters we’re experiencing far more damaging than they would otherwise be. The time to transform these scientific lessons into a policy that makes our nation and our world a safer, more secure, more resilient place is now. Natural disasters will always occur, but there’s no good reason to make them worse, especially when we can do something about it today. In the long run, it may be both more compassionate and less expensive to simply craft a better policy, but we can’t do that unless we craft those policies based on the best science humanity has to offer.”
Hurricane Irma has, as of this morning, knocked out power to more than 6 million, caused the evacuation of millions more, and has caused flooding and extreme wind damage across hundreds of miles across Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. When Irma first made landfall in the Florida Keys, it set a new ‘first’ for 2017: two Category 4 (or stronger) hurricanes made landfall in the USA in the same year for the first time. This is not simply a bad year or an unlucky coincidence, but is an effect of a planet that has been artificially warmed by human activity. This continues a pattern we’ve seen globally of more intense but fewer hurricanes in numbers, and 2017 is shaping up to be the most expensive hurricane season in US history. At the same time, wildfires are ravaging the western United States, and no, that’s not coincidence, either.
We don’t have to do this to ourselves; we could craft a science-based policy on climate change to minimize the damage of these disasters in the future. The time to act is now.
Heartland’s ‘6 Reasons To Be A Climate-Change Skeptic’ Are Six Demonstrable Lies
“At a time where science is critical to the future of humanity, it’s important that we all agree on the facts. We may disagree on policy, on the best course of action for society or the world, or on which concern is most paramount in terms of importance. But we have to agree on the same facts as a starting point. If the only way you can make your argument for your desired policy position is to tell lies or distort what we actually know, then no amount of reasoning will change your mind. You can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.”
Earlier this week, the executive editor of the Heartland Institute published a declaration that he was a climate change skeptic, and put forth the six major reasons why this was so. These reasons were well-thought-out, specific, and best of all, subject to analysis. So, what better way to test the science than to do that analysis, and to see where the chips fell? That’s exactly what I’ve gone and put together: an in-depth analysis of all six points, to see if there are any good, robust, legitimate reasons to be a climate-change skeptic. This isn’t about scoring points or helping one side win; it’s about sussing out the scientific validity of a position. Is there any?
Come see what the truth behind the claims is, and see if it opens your eyes to what’s going on in this decades-old argument!
Ask Ethan: Could We Save The Earth By Migrating It Away From The Sun?
“I want to dream a bit: do you think it could be physically feasible to migrate the earth’s orbit with our current knowledge in science?”
Someday, in the far distant future, the evolution of the Sun will cause it to heat up and emit so much energy that the Earth’s surface will reach a terrible threshold: 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit). When this happens, the oceans will boil away, rendering the surface completely uninhabitable and inhospitable to even the most extreme known forms of life. While there are many potential solutions, perhaps the most intriguing is to migrate the entire planet farther away, buying our world additional billions of years of potential habitability. However, the energy costs are huge, and the amount of power required is much larger than anything humanity has ever known. Is it physically possible? Yes. But from a practical perspective? There are, shall we say, challenges.
Still, if we want to save the Earth, far down the road, we need to know what it takes! Find out on this edition of Ask Ethan.