Sunday, February 08, 2015

Nature Gets Last Bats


The title of this blog reminds me of a time when I first heard this metaphor used in relation to climate change from Guy McPherson a noted physics professor from the University of Arizona.  He uses this expression in conjunction with his avocation of the damaging environmental effect of human generated carbon footprint upon the planet Earth.

When I was a kid we played some sandlot baseball in the neighborhood. The invocation of someone touting, “we get last bats”, always gave me an uneasy feeling.  That meant that once we arrive at the end of the game,  I would no longer have any recourse to address what might happen on the field that last and final inning of play. I would not be up to bat again.

To hear Dr. MrPherson refresh that old saying in the context of climate change did again stir those old feelings of agitation, but the reality that I am considering  is not the outcome of a baseball game.  It is now the questionable outcome of the human species continual existence upon Earth.

I have spent the last three weeks, in my physics classes, helping students understand the design and interpretation of energy models and equations that adhere to the laws of physics, which define the conservation of energy within closed systems, like our planet.  My students have been given the opportunity to assess their own carbon footprint and to ponder the ramifications of over 150 years of steady and continuous growth of carbon dioxide gas concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere.  Articles, information, videos and discussions in the classroom have laid the groundwork for students to now define how they interpret the problem and to marshal up their own thoughts of solutions.

This generation of high school students sit at the forefront of a changing planet.  They are the recipients of a world that has been harnessed to support the livelihood of over 7 billion people.  It is a world that is adjusting to a new balanced energy situation where energy inflow = energy outflow but at a more highly energized state.  We have created a state of existence on this planet that has never been attempted in the history of humankind.  It is a grand and all-encompassing experiment, to change the world’s climate, but the near-term outcome of such an intrusion upon the globe is uncertain.

Nature gets last bats is expressed by the numerous feedback occurrences that help to amplify the already escalating changes being witnessed with respect to how the Earth heats and cools itself. These feedback effects, once awaken through rising global temperatures, will forever unleash the following unstoppable processes: The melting of the polar ice caps, planetary heat absorption by newly exposed blue oceans, the melting of the permafrost across Siberia, Canada and Alaska and resulting release of megatons of global warming methane gas and the intensified evaporation of water from the oceans into the atmosphere that further trap heat within this closed system we call Earth.

This next generation of people, now high school students, will determine the destiny of humankind. They have been given the improbable situation of curtailing carbon emissions in time to secure a future for people on this planet well into the next century.  Current average global temperatures have risen by nearly one degree (0.8degree Celsius) over the past 100 years.  Dr. Steven Chu former Energy Secretary for the Obama Administration said that we cannot go beyond a 2 degrees temperature rise.  “We cannot go there.”  It is an overwhelming responsibility for these young people to address this  in their lifetime.  I hope they have the fortitude to address this challenge head on by enacting social policies, muscling the political will and engaging citizens of our planet in the struggle to save the Earth as we know it. It will require this generation of people to muster the courage to commit to the struggle, stay the course and prevail.