By Milan Vodicka, Ph.D.
“People, we have a problem!” I am, of course, invoking a message from the crew of the Apollo 13 mission to the Moon, “Houston, we have a problem!”
Now, we – the crew of humanity orbiting the Sun on planet Earth – have a problem. Just like the crew of the Apollo 13, we – on our planetary spaceship – are faced with potentially catastrophic consequences. This problem is now commonly called “climate change.”
Any problem arises from causes and conditions associated with it. Climate change is an emergent result of many contributing and complex factors. Nevertheless, one fundamental and dominant cause, acknowledged by just about any credible authority, is carbon dioxide. Specifically, its increase in the Earth’s atmosphere, effectively and metaphorically creates a blanket to warm the planet.
In dealing with climate change we have to recognize that many people choose to deny or ignore the existence of this phenomenon. Why? Because the presence of carbon dioxide in the air we breathe is something that cannot be readily perceived by our human senses. Carbon dioxide is invisible, and it does not smell.
Imagine that carbon dioxide is visible like smoke from our now famous California fires. Imagine it smelling like a leak from your propane gas tank. I can visualize the vigorous responses of everyone to these situations. The cries, “we have to do something about it!” But carbon dioxide? Invisible and not smelling?
Let me illustrate this by two actual examples from my personal life.
Once upon a time, I worked for a hi-tech company. One day, the workers noticed a layer of soot on all the computer screens. Where did that come from, why? The investigation found that there was a leak in the heating system which was running on diesel fuel. The inevitable conjecture is that this leak also resulted in increased levels of carbon dioxide (the byproduct of burning the fuel) that everyone breathed. This became evident only after the soot on the screens appeared.
Once upon a time, I worked for an educational institution. I got severe and unexplained headaches. The doctors did not know, “OK, here is a pain killer for you.” Then, from my own observation, I noticed that the headache intensified when I was present in a specific building where my office was located. To the credit of the institution, after reporting the situation, the air in this building was sampled and tested (by an independent Sacramento based laboratory) – and what do you know? The analysis showed high levels of carbon dioxide! The heating system in this building turned out to be a modification of some fruit drying machinery, installed in order “to save money.” It had to be replaced. Headaches were gone.
The moral of these stories is to recognize that increased levels of carbon dioxide have an effect. This is true, despite “not in your face” evidence – due to its invisibility and absence of smell to the human senses.
Yes, we cannot forget and neglect the unreal (pun intended) world of the climate change and the role of carbon dioxide deniers! “Chinese hoax,” really?
Former Congresswomen Michele Bachmann, in 2009: “There is not even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas.” Yes, no study shows that water is harmful either. Unless, of course, there is too much of either one of those. Death by drowning or suffocation (by oxygen deprivation) can be the result.
A more recent sampling of denials: William Pendley, acting director of the US Bureau of Land Management, “Climate crises is like a unicorn, because neither exists.” David Bernhardt, Interior Secretary, “hasn’t lost sleep over soaring atmospheric carbon dioxide.” Even my friends, “There were ice ages,” “I do not mind a couple of degrees warmer climate,” “Variations of climate are always present.”
The ignorance about the problem can be countered. There is a plenitude of information about effects and causes of climate change. Just Google “climate change news,” for example.
In contrast to the deniers’ proclamations (mostly connected to social inertia and/or to barons of oil and coal industries) please note: On October 11, 2019, on the steps of the US Capitol, eighty-one years old actress and Hollywood legend, Jane Fonda, was arrested. Why? Because she demands that lawmakers act regarding “the existential threat of climate change.”
Jane Fonda had a sign for each one of us. For you and me. Three precious words related to climate change and what to do. The sign stated: “Vote! Speak! Act!”