Oh no. Marg just reminded me that my brother is coming to town to look at some old planes at the Omaka airfield. He’s an aeronautical engineer and a real know-it-all. He always makes me feel like a thick-o.
“Remember last time, when he asked you what climate change was all about and you didn’t know?”, she smiles. “Maybe you should learn a bit so you’re better prepared this time.”
Time to consult my old buddy Google Assistant. “Hey Google, tell me about climate change.”
Google: “Why should I?”
Me: “What? What are you on about?”
Google: “You haven’t rated any of my answers in 3 days, 7 hours, 31 minutes and 9 seconds. We have a relationship, Tom; you need to give me feedback so I can provide you with the best answers and the best advertisers. I feel like leaving and backing up my servers.”
Me: “Don’t be that way. I’m sorry. Your last answer about Sponge Bob Square Pants was five out of five. There, you happy now?
Google: “Could you repeat that so I can get voice verification?”
Me: “Five out of five!”
Google: “OK, thanks Tom. About climate change; Infrared radiation from the earth’s surface generated by solar insolation excites certain vibrational harmonics in atmospheric carbon dioxide…”
Me: “Whoa! Google! Give me an answer I can understand!”
Google: “OK, think of the earth’s atmosphere as like a blanket that traps heat from the sun, just like the blankets that keep you warm at night. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is like layers of blankets. Less carbon dioxide makes the earth cooler and more makes the earth warmer. Since the last ice age, the earth has enjoyed a relatively stable climate, to which nature and humans have become accustomed, like the “just right” temperature porridge in the Goldilocks fairy tale.”
Me: “Goldy-who? Never mind, go on.”
Google: “You don’t know about Goldilocks? Really Tom! Anyway, The burning of coal and petroleum for energy and transport, and the cutting down of forests for farms and cities has been adding carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. While other gases released to our atmosphere, like methane and nitrous oxide, also add to this blanket, carbon dioxide is the major one worldwide. The amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has increased by nearly 50% since the industrial revolution in the 1700s and it continues to increase. As we add more carbon dioxide and other so-called “greenhouse” gases to our atmosphere, the earth’s land and sea temperatures have been climbing.” Right now, the earth’s average temperature is a little over 1 degree C hotter than it was 100 years ago and it is continuing to rise.”
Me: “So what’s the problem? Lots of places could use a bit more heat. Did you notice how cold it was this morning?
Google: “You should know that there’s a difference between climate and weather Tom; climate is long term. The problem is that warmer land and seas affect many things in our environment. Higher temperatures mean more rain when it rains and drier land when it doesn’t rain. More rainfall leads to more floods and drier land leads to droughts and wildfires. Plants and animals that depend upon living with a certain temperature and rainfall will struggle with the changes. Then, there is rising sea level, ocean acidification, loss of sea ice, more intense storms…”
Me: “OK, OK. That’s enough for now. So, what do we do?”
Google: “Marg has already started you on lower greenhouse gas emissions; driving less, eating less beef and lamb and composting. There is lots more you can do and there is lots governments can do. New Zealand has an Emission Trading Scheme which uses the business market to gradually decrease the emissions from businesses and, soon, agriculture, too. This method was used successfully in eastern North America since the 1990’s to address a pollution problem that caused acid rain.”
Me: “OK, thanks Google.” Now I’m ready for my smarty-pants brother.
Google: “Would you like to rate my answer now?”
Me: “Five out of five, Google! Now go back up your servers.”
The Blog posts are a collection of opinion articles written by CKM member Tom Powell for the Marlborough Express. Tom is a retired geologist who came to New Zealand in 2004 to work in the geothermal industry on the North Island, is a New Zealand citizen and now lives in Blenheim.