Simple Sam Is Sent to Climate School

Posted on August 17, 2010


I think, deep down, Simple Sam wants to learn.  I mean, I know he’s a climate denier, and that’s a strike against him.  Deniers generally only hear what they want to hear.  But Sam’s different.

Sam has me to make him listen.

“I don’t have to listen,” says Sam.

Of course not, Sam, but then you’d be proving my point about deniers, wouldn’t you?  Tickling your nostrils with sand like ostriches never have.

“Nobody knows everything about climate, anyway,” says Sam, changing the subject.

True.  Nobody knows everything about anything, and only the dead know Brooklyn.  But the climatologists have been boning up, and they know a lot of important things.

“For instance?”

For instance, Sam, scientists know how greenhouse gases work.  They know—because it’s basic physics—that if we increase the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, it leads to higher global temperatures.


Really, Sam.  Need proof?  Imagine, then, a world where there are thermometers.

“We have thermometers,” says Sam

Then imagine a world where there are jars.

“We have jars.  Is this the way the whole thing’s going to go?” asks Sam, a bit exasperated.

Consider this then, Sam.  Scientists change the CO2 levels in a jar, shine sunlight through it, and measure how the changing CO2 levels alter the way the jar captures heat.  Seem reasonable?

I gather by your nod, that you think it’s reasonable, Sam.

Is it also reasonable that, using instruments available to them, physicists could also calculate with some precision just how much heat a greenhouse gas will capture in a given concentration?

Is that a yes?  The judges have indicated that they think it’s a yes.

Then will you concede, Sam, that it’s possible, using simple experiments that even sarcastic self-referential bloggers can imagine, that scientists have figured out how greenhouse gases work?


Okay, silence is consent.  Sam concedes the point by TKO.  Let’s move on to the next one.

Scientists know—because they’ve measured it—that there’s a lot more CO2 in the atmosphere now than a century ago.  We’re at the highest levels for 800,000 years.  And we know, because the scientists have done the CSI, that the increase in atmospheric CO2 comes mostly from us, industrial humanity.

“You’re going to have to prove that,” says Sam.

Noted, and all in good time, Sam.  This is an overview I’m doing here.

To continue, scientists know that all that extra CO2 we’ve dumped into the atmosphere will remain there for a long time to come, a winter blanket in a summer world, which, no matter how hard we kick, we can’t throw off.  And the more CO2 we continue adding to the atmosphere, the thicker and warmer the blanket will become.

“So you do claim to know everything,” says Sam.

You’re cute when you sneer, Sam.

No, there’s lots of things scientist don’t know for sure.  They don’t know exactly when and how any the consequences are going to kick in.  They know enough to say that we’re not going to like those consequences, and that we’re going to have a heck of a time adjusting to them.  But they also are morally certain that there are going to be surprises.  And probably we won’t like most of them, either.

Nobody knew what was going to happen to Russia and Pakistan and China this summer, Sam.  Oh yes, climatologists knew and predicted that catastrophic climate events were in the works, somewhere, sometime, because that’s what happens when you overheat a system.  But, while everyone was sure that Pakistan was going to take it hard in the long run–so nobody was really surprised to see them take it hard in the short run–contrary to most other nations, Russia was supposed to benefit from climate change.

Climate change was supposed to heat up Siberia.  Expand the parts that were livable and farmable.  Too bad if desertification was going to swallow up your country, chum; in Siberia they were stocking up in suntan oil.

But surprise, surprise.  Instead comes fire, smog, drought, crop failures and a murderous heatwave.  They’re coughing in Moscow.  Not so good for Russia.  Not yet.

“You have to prove first that there is climate change at all,” says Sam, impatiently.

Yes, I do, Sam.  Yes, I do.

Posted in: Climate School