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NASA Green Lecture: Global Fever

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Uploaded on Jan 3, 2012

A lecture for NASA's Green Series at the Langley Research Center by Prof. William H. Calvin of the University of Washington in Seattle. Sea level is rising, heat waves are killing, oceans acidifying, coral reefs bleaching, fisheries declining, deserts expanding, and unfamiliar insects arriving. Hurricanes are stronger. Each decade since 1950, there have been more floods and more wildfires. The climate doctors have been consulted; the lab reports have come back. Now it's time to pull together the Big Picture and discuss treatment options. The diagnosis? The Earth is now dressed too warmly. We're causing our planet to run a fever as we keep piling on those invisible greenhouse-gas blankets generated by cutting down forests, making cement, constantly tilling the soil, spreading fertilizer, leaking natural gas, and—worst of all—burning coal, oil, and natural gas. The outlook is for much more global fever and major complications, such as droughts that just won't quit. Extreme weather will keep trashing the place. Tipping points will lead to demolition derbies, as when the Amazon rain forest burns or major cities are inundated. Absent effective treatment, the students of today face an unpleasant, chaotic future—not merely hotter summers. The proposed treatments ought to sound familiar: conserve energy, emphasize renewable energy, fill the car's tank less often, and substitute clean solar, wind, and geothermal for the fossil fuels. Such a diet is good generic advice for prevention and, back before our forty years of delay and denial, it might have sufficed. But are such measures quick enough? No. Or reliable enough? No. Can they head off the developing world from repeating our mistakes? No. We've been prescribed a low-carbon diet when only an equivalent of kidney dialysis stands a chance of reversing the problem.

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