Story 13. Gettin’ Colder?
By the middle of the 20th century conditions were warming across Planet Earth. That was both good news and bad news for Carbo the carbon dioxide molecule. On one hand, it meant more molecules like him were being released into the atmosphere. On the other hand, if it got too warm, then the humans would begin to take notice, and in fact some scientists were already beginning to see the trend and suspect the cause.
That’s the last thing Carbo wanted.
In the 1930s a long-term drought had devastated the Southern Plains. Known as the Dust Bowl, the area saw farmlands ruined by the windy and dry conditions. Since then, though, the weather had cycled back to a pattern of fewer long-term catastrophes, with only occasional weather and climate disasters every few years. Still, Carbo had cause for concern.
He called to his minion molecules Toasty and Roasty. “Hey guys, I want to ask your opinion on something.” Carbo didn’t usually get an intelligent answer out his two companions. After all, they had a combined I.Q. equal to the freezing temperature of water—in Celsius. But he thought he should still try.
Roasty immediately rushed to Carbo’s side with Toasty not too far behind him. “What is it, boss?” asked Roasty, eager to help.
“I want you to think about something for me,” Carbo began.
Toasty and Roasty immediately looked worried. “Think?” they asked in unison.
Carbo continued, “What can we do so humans will release more of our carbon friends without their being noticed? Once climate scientists see the warming trend that our kind has started, I’m afraid that humans will turn toward different sources of energy for their power, and we can’t have that.”
“No, we can’t have that,” repeated Roasty. “No sir.”
“No, that would be terrible,” agreed Toasty, nodding vigorously. Then he thought for a moment and asked, “Uh, why can’t we have that, boss?”
Carbo sighed. “Because using different sources of power wouldn’t release any more of our friends,” he replied patiently. “Only the burning of coal and oil will do that.”
“Oh, yeah, right,” he said, not completely understanding.
Roasty had been deep in thought the previous few seconds, which was longer than normal for him. Then he said, “Uh, Carbo, I have a question.”
Carbo, surprised that Roasty could articulate any sort of query, encouraged him, “Go on, Roasty. What is it?”
“Well,” said Rusty slowly, weighing his words, “If we put enough soot in the air, wouldn’t that help block out the sun and cool things down?”
Carbo saw what Roasty was getting at. “Yes, it would. If the humans burn enough coal, the soot would actually block the sun just enough to keep temperatures from rising, and perhaps it might even get a little cooler.”
Carbo suddenly turned to Toasty. “You can read minds, right?”
“I knew you were going to ask that,” answered Toasty.
“Can you also put thoughts into the minds of humans? I’ve done it a few times, but we need to step up our game. If you could convince humans to keep burning coal for electricity without using any filters on their smoke stacks, the air would become more polluted.”
“They’re doing that already, aren’t they?” asked Toasty.
“Yes,” answered Carbo, “but we need it to continue, and on a larger scale. Only then would it begin to bring air temperatures down. What do you say? Is that a plan?”
“It’s a plan!” shouted Toasty and Roasty together.
“Good,” said Carbo. “Let’s get to work!”
The two minions fell over one another scampering away to their task, each with a distinct sense of purpose, and an eagerness to please their wise leader.
Carbo, meanwhile, readied himself to spend the next few years welcoming countless new friends to the atmosphere.
In the real world, Earth experienced a slight cooling trend from around the end of World War II until the 1970s. This fooled some climatologists into believing that an ice age was imminent. All the while, unfiltered smoke stacks pumped more carbon dioxide into the air, blocking some of the sun’s incoming radiation. Finally the public in places such as Los Angeles, California and Birmingham, England complained so loudly that engineers began using smoke stack scrubbers in their factories. In a 1971 scientific paper, climatologist Stephen Schneider published his opinion, stating his belief that increased air pollution would cool the Earth. After further research and peer review, Schneider recanted his findings in 1975, admitting that he had overestimated the cooling effects of pollution on the atmosphere, and had underestimated the warming effects of carbon dioxide. The scientific method is a crucible of truth, which allows scientists to correct one another’s errors, even their own.
This author remembers back to high school days in the late 1970s when there were two very cold back-to-back winters, 1976 to 1977 and 1977 to 1978. It was so cold in January of 1977 that some of the school systems in the Atlanta area closed for a week due to a lack of natural gas. Low temperatures in Atlanta got into the single digits several times from November 1976 to January 1977. Numerous record lows were set across the eastern U.S. and President Carter’s inauguration in January 1977 was one of the coldest inaugural ceremonies in U.S. history. No wonder some climatologists and the public thought that an ice age was imminent! Time Magazine even did a headline story on the “coming ice age” that climate change opponents still propagate to this day.
The text and artwork are copyright by Guy Walton. I would like to get this book published. Please drop me a note if you are willing to help.
To see the rest of the World of Thermo stories click: http://www.guyonclimate.com/category/worldofthermo/