Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Morning Filled With 400 Billion Suns

Carl Sagan's Cosmos, Remixed but Still Awesome.

Blog Action Day on Climate Change

Today is Blog Action Day, an event in which bloggers from around the world all post about the same topic. This year the topic is climate change and Blog Action Day is happening at a very good time, since I've been wanting to write a post about a media campaign that has hit the airwaves lately.

The campaign is not only very misleading, it seems to be based on the classic mistake of thinking that more of a good thing is always better.

The media campaign in question is called CO2 is Green and, as you can see from a quick glance at this organization's website, they question what they call "myths" about carbon dioxide. There is so much incorrect and misleading information on this organization's website that it is hard to know where to start.

Any grade school student who has paid attention in science class can tell you that plants do, indeed, need carbon dioxide to live. Claiming that more of this substance is "good for the earth" would probably get that student held back a grade, though.

Carbon dioxide is necessary for life. No doubt about it. But too much carbon dioxide will hurt us. CO2 retains heat in the atmosphere, so too much of it in our atmosphere will lead to higher global temperatures.

Although this blog is about complex systems, this particular issue is not really all that complex. The role of carbon dioxide in our eco-sysytem provides a classic example of nonlinearity. Low amounts of carbon dioxide are good, but higher amounts are not. This means that there is an optimal amount of carbon dioxide that makes our world function optimally.

A simple sketch will help explain this simple nonlinear phenomenon:

This is a bell curve, which shows how increasing the amount of something can first lead to an increased effect--until the peak is reached--but adding more of that same substance, once the peak is passed, can lead to a decreased effect.

So, there you go: complex science simplified, although something tells me that the real issue driving these CO2 Is Green folks has nothing whatsoever to do with science