The Climate-Change Café
Apr24

The Climate-Change Café

Yesterday, I went to an ACS-hosted Science Café at the Marian Koshland Science Museum. The theme of the night was Climate Change, a perfect topic to celebrate the day marking the fifth anniversary of the museum's opening. Andy Jorgensen, on loan from the University of Toledo for a stint at the National Council for Science & the Environment, presented a quick yet complete 45-minute overview of climate change, which is no small feat! The 40 or 50 audience members ranged from local(ish) high school students in Washington for the National Ocean Sciences Bowl to climate policy enthusiasts to economists, all with various levels of knowledge about climate change. Jorgensen, clearly enjoying giving his engaging talk, dove into the audience-participation section of the evening, volunteering students from the audience to represent Peru and China. The average person on Earth, according to data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change relayed by Jorgensen, is responsible for 4 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, through use of vehicles, buildings, food choices, manufacturing of consumer products, you name it. The student on the right is holding up four fingers, to represent the population in China, a country whose people each, on average, emit 4 tons of CO2 per year. The student on the left represents Peru, whose populace only accounts for 1 ton of carbon dioxide per person per year. The U.S.? 20 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year.  That's the equivalent weight of about four adult African elephants, or 1,225,116,904 elephants, just for the U.S. (Only about 2/5 of that number of African elephants exists in the world, however.) Can you imagine all those elephants hovering in the air over the U.S.?  That's a whole heck of a lot of elephants waiting to plummet back down to Earth! Accounting for the increase in elephants... Er, accounting for the increase in carbon dioxide emissions over the decades, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has spiked from about 270 ppm in the early 1900s to 385 ppm in 2008. With predictions of the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the range of 525 ppm (if we work hard to reduce CO2 output) to 975 ppm (business as usual) at the end of this century (and corresponding temperature increases of anywhere from 2 degrees Fahrenheit to almost 12 degrees Fahrenheit, and corresponding rises in sea levels), it's no wonder alternative energy and carbon sequestration are all the rage nowadays. After the interactive bits, Jorgensen asked 10 questions to engage the audience in how we as individuals and as a society could impact the ever-climbing levels of greenhouse gases. Here are just a few select questions that I'm curious how C&ENtral Science readers...

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