How many light bulbs does it take to ruin a good climate?

If you don’t grasp the science of climate change, perhaps you can get the math.

Or… How many light bulbs does it take to ruin a good climate?

Tron Jordheim

There were two neighbors, Mr. Brown and Mr. Green, standing by the side of the creek assessing the rising water. The creek was rising fast. Off in the distance you could hear the bullhorns announcing, “Time is up. You must act now. Flash Flood Warning is at High Alert!”

The creek was pushing rapidly out of its banks and Mr. Brown said to Mr. Green, “It won’t reach our houses. This creek swells every time it rains. We’ll be fine.”  Mr. Green replied, “It has been a wetter than usual season and it is still raining up the hill. We are going to get a lot more water. We need to sandbag or leave.”  Mr. Brown said, “In the forty years I have lived here, the creek has never reached my house. We’ll be fine.” “But Mr. Brown” replied Mr. Green, “There has never been this much rain in this short of a time span during this wet of a season since they began keeping records in this valley in 1897.” The bull horn sounded again. “Time is up. You must act now. Flash Flood is imminent!” Instead of doing anything, they repeated their arguments to each other one more time. While they stood there arguing over their interpretation of the facts, their predictions for the future and their readings of natural history, the creek rushed out of its banks, sweeping both of them away to a cold, terrifying  and muddy death.

So here we are. On the one side are the Mr. Browns. I call them Brown because they are so full of it they are up to their eye balls in it. On the other side are the Mr. Greens. I call them Green because they do at their core have some love of nature and some respect for nature. But they act like such rookies and talk like such greenhorns that no one takes them seriously. They don’t even take themselves seriously. Most of us unfortunately are Brown or Green. Sometimes we are both.

Off in the distance you have people who study the science of things banging their drums and yelling out warnings. Some of us are intimidated by science because we still can’t grasp how we can tap on a little plastic screen and our buddy gets a little typed message from us three seconds later on the other side of the globe. So those of us who find comfort in ignorance hide like sissies. What a bunch of spineless wimps we are.

So for all our foolish reasons it is very easy to discount or ignore the science of climate change and ecosystem collapse. For those of us who can afford it , it is even easier to get our own hired pretend scientists to make up some pretend findings just to justify our own sissiness.

If you can’t or won’t grasp the science of climate change and ecosystem collapse, then perhaps you can get the math. I would hope most of us can do addition and multiplication. If that is too much to ask, perhaps you can do estimations. Try to create the following experience. Take a thermometer. Walk into the smallest bathroom in your house. Make sure the lights have been off for a long while. Check the temperature. Now turn on all of the lights in the bathroom. But don’t turn on the fan. Hang out in there for a while. You will have by now noticed it is starting to get warm in there. Check the thermometer. Stay in there a while longer. Wait until the light bulbs have had a chance to really warm the place up. Are you getting uncomfortable yet?  You have just created climate change. And it probably didn’t take more than one or two degrees of change on your thermometer for you to notice. I am sorry. Did this seem like a science experiment? No, this was just a simple math word problem. How many degrees does the temperature in a closed system have to rise for things to get uncomfortable?

Ok, so the planet Earth is a lot bigger than your bathroom. All of us can agree on that scientific fact, correct?  But the Earth is a closed system, just like your bathroom is when you shut the door. Can we all agree on that?  Sure it would take a lot of light bulbs burning to raise the temperature on the whole planet. So how many light bulbs does it take to fuck up the Earth’s climate?  Does this seem like a ridiculous question?

Many people believe in the “tipping point” theory. It has been articulated very well. If you believe it, then the answer to the question, “How many light bulbs does it take to ruin the earth’s climate?”  is “just one too many”. How many light bulbs are there burning on Earth now? If you have seen a photograph of Earth at night, you know the answer is in the billions or hundreds of billions or maybe even more. My house probably has an average of twenty burning all the time. If we averaged the world population out, could we say there are five light bulbs per person burning all the time? How many street lamp bulbs per person are there? How many light bulbs burn in offices and manufacturing facilities?  This is third grade level estimation math. You can do this. Seven billion people. A billion households. Four billion workers. Maybe the answer is thirty billion light bulbs. Maybe the answer is sixty billion. Either was that is a lot of heat.

Maybe the light bulb math doesn’t impress you. Ok fine. Have you ever stood by an air conditioning unit on a hot day? It blows a lot of very hot air into the atmosphere. How many air conditioning units are there in the world? Could we guess one for every home on the rich side of the globe plus one for every ten or twenty people in every workplace? Maybe not so many on the other sides of the globe? So could we estimate a billion air conditioner units?  That is a lot of hot air.

So maybe the air conditioning units aren’t enough to push to a tipping point. So how about if we factored in all the car and truck engines? Car and truck engines? Yes. Have you ever put your hand on the hood of a car when the engine is running? Yikes, that is hot. How many cars and trucks and buses are there on the planet? A billion maybe. Sorry, but that is a lot of heat.

Either you think I am being ridiculous, or you are starting to get scared. Either way, I am not done yet. What else generates a ton of heat? Roof tops. All that asphalt and rubber throws a ton of heat back into our closed system. How many heat creating roof tops are there?  Another billion maybe? More? Are you starting to feel warm yet?

I haven’t even mentioned the worst generators of heat yet. That is pavement and blacktop. There is pavement and blacktop everywhere. If you think this is a silly proposition, look at a map of roads and highways in your state and you will see blue, black and red lines covering the map. There is no argument that heavily paved areas like metropolitan areas are “heat zones”. You can do the most simplest of science experiments if you dare. I know some of us think science is a bad thing and refuse to participate. But this only involves a simple observation. Find a sunny day when the brown cloud hasn’t blocked out too much sunshine. Find a place near a big patch of grass and near a big patch of pavement. Take off your shoes. Stand in the grass. Now stand on the pavement. The results are obvious even to the biggest sissies and the most stubborn idiots: Comfortable feet in the grass and burned feet on the pavement.

I didn’t even bother to add in all the computer servers and laptops generating heat everywhere. Or the power plants. Or whatever else you can think of. Even I am getting tired of the math at this point.

The climate change deniers are correct about one thing. The earth is (or was) a self healing, self maintaining system.   Trees and grasslands and wetlands were the filters for heat and particulate matter and CO2.  Trees and grasslands and wetlands were the mechanism of the self healing and self maintaining system. But remember, we are deforesting the Earth at a pace that is astonishing. We are like Pac man eating up space aliens. Only there are no bonus points for gobbling up the Earth.

We have a simple math problem. We are swiftly adding light bulbs, air conditioning units, motor engines, pavement and blacktop while we are aggressively subtracting trees and grasslands and wetlands. This is simple math. And it does not add up to a situation any of us will like.  There is a simple solution. Reverse the order of the equation. If we aggressively added trees and grasslands and wetlands while swiftly replacing all these heat makers with cool and renewable technologies, we might stand a chance.

I realize it would be too much to ask to invite the sissies among us to grow a spine. It would be too much to ask to invite the idiots to use their true thoughts and feelings. So instead I will ask that you do the math. It is pretty much on par with how we teach third graders to do estimating. Most of us are really smarter than third graders, aren’t we? If not, we will be standing there like Mr. Brown and Mr. Green arguing stupidly while we are swept away in the current.  The joke is really not funny. I do not want to know how many light bulbs it takes to ruin a good climate.  Aggressively add trees and grasslands and wetlands while swiftly replacing all the heat makers with cool and renewable technologies. Let’s go. I hear the bullhorns and I don’t like it.

I can’t imagine you really like it either.