Believe in the gravity of gravity – and science
Cool Tips for a Hot Planet series
Ginny Colling was passionate about the environment before retiring from teaching college communications students. After retiring she trained with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and has presented to numerous groups about the climate crisis.
I clearly remember watching that momentous “one small step” on the moon when I was a kid. The family was gathered around our black and white TV. Neither would have been possible – the TV or the moon landing – without science.
Virtually everything we depend on, computers to cancer drugs, we have because of science.
I don’t step off cliffs because I believe Newton’s theory of gravitation. Yet, scientists don’t know everything about gravity. In fact, it’s been said that they are more certain why the planet is over-heating than they know what gravity is.
When it comes to global heating, the science indeed is settled. Scientists have been analyzing climate studies since 1988, when the World Meteorological Organization and the U.N. created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Since then, the IPCC has produced six major reports. For the last one, released last year, almost 800 volunteer scientists and contributing authors analyzed more than 66,000 peer-reviewed studies. Those major reports undergo rigorous scrutiny and must be signed off by all countries and authors involved.
Their latest was unequivocal: we have until 2030 to cut our emissions in half for a chance of limiting warming to 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. That is if we want to avert even more devastation – the kind we saw last year with hurricane Fiona on the east coast, or with the heat dome on the west coast in 2021 that killed 619. Or the derecho storm that swept through southern Ontario last May, tearing off roofs and killing 10 people. And that’s with 1.2 C of warming.
In the 1970s, Exxon’s own scientists warned the oil company that its product was harming the planet. Back in 1912, a headline in a New Zealand paper declared Coal Consumption Affecting Climate. The story read: “This tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effect may be considerable in a few centuries.” Make that one century. There weren’t many gas-burning cars on the roads 110 years ago.
In 1824, French physicist Joseph Fourier described how some atmospheric gases trap heat, making life on earth possible. By the end of the 1800s others had identified those gases: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, the main one being carbon dioxide.
Fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas (which is mainly methane) are to blame for this round of global heating. Yes, the earth has warmed and cooled before, but this time around we were due for a cooling period. Instead, we’ve been digging up fossilized carbon – those fossil fuels – and burning them, thus annually releasing 50 billion tonnes of pollution that had been safely stored underground for millions of years.
We’re teetering on the precipice of environmental calamity thanks largely to the vast sums spent on propaganda and lobbying by fossil fuel companies like BP, Shell and ExxonMobil. The merchants of doubt first propagandized that global warming wasn’t happening. Then, it was happening, but it wasn’t us. Now, doubt is cast on the solutions to address this massive existential crisis. But we need to embrace and improve those solutions, not delay them. We need to transition off those fossil fuels as quickly as possible.
Transitions are scary, but we have walked on the moon. We can do this.