Climate change and the problem with time

Episode 7 of ‘In These Times’ brings together an oceanographer, a geophysicist, and a historian about the challenges to understanding the Earth’s 4.6 billion year history, and how our actions in the present impact a future we can only imagine.

Season three of OMNIA’s “In These Times” podcast, titled Fear and Loathing and Science, explores scientific ideas that cause big reactions in a world full of polarization, politics, misrepresentation, and simple misunderstanding.

Hand-drawn images of charts and graphs and waves, measuring global rise in temperatures and sea levels.

Episode seven brings together an oceanographer, a geophysicist, and a historian to talk about the challenges to understanding the Earth’s 4.6 billion year history, and how our actions in the present impact a future we can only imagine.

It is an episode about big things. Big like the ocean, which, thanks to its size, absorbs about 30% of all CO2 emissions. Big like the scale of our Earth’s 4.6 billion history, and big like our responsibility to future generations. Can an understanding of and appreciation for the size of our world and the scope of its history, from the beginning of time to dinosaurs to humans, help us take action against climate change and engage in acts of care for the future of our planet and its inhabitants? Irina Marinov, associate professor of earth and environmental science, Jane E. Dmochowski, senior lecturer in earth and environmental science, and Jared Farmer, Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History, all in the School of Arts & Sciences, are featured.

Episode seven highlights:

5:56: [Irina Marinov] “Part of what we’re seeing is sea level rise. Next, we are seeing melting of sea ice, particularly in the Arctic. The Arctic is warming much faster than the rest of the planet. We are seeing the large scale circulation changes in the ocean. As an example, our models predict that the Gulf Stream will slow down into the future because the North Atlantic, where the Gulf Stream sinks, is becoming warmer. Therefore, the entire prediction is that as the high latitudes are warming and freshening with more precipitation and more ice melt, we are going to slow down the large scale circulation of the ocean. This will have impacts on nutrient patterns. It will have impacts on carbon uptake by the ocean. And it’ll have large impacts actually on ocean ecology.”

8:32: “This divide of opinions [over climate change] takes precedence over education, gender, and anything else. It’s quite astounding. And I want to study more, but I doubt that anywhere else in the world, we’re going to find these kind of separation with politics, which is puzzling to say the least, and absolutely needs to change because, naturally, there is no connection between climate change and politics. There should be no connection between climate change and politics. The ocean is the ocean, regardless of your political color.”

13:25: [Jane E. Dmochowski] “In classes, I like to use a ball of yarn. Ahead of time, I’ve measured out this ball of yarn. So I can give the students a one to one of like what is an inch of this yarn compared to an amount of time. Couple of things that strike students typically is that you go through a lot, 70% of this ball of yarn, before there’s any real life that they’ve heard of. Or even things occurring in Earth that they think of as really ancient history haven’t even happened in that first 70% of Earth time. Another thing that they are always struck by is just how close to the point where I say, that very last thread of yarn that is human civilization, depending on how long my ball of yarn is, it’s usually not that far since dinosaurs had just become extinct. And I think oftentimes they’ll think of dinosaurs as like the beginning of time or really, really ancient history. When in the grand scheme of Earth time, they’re really much closer to our current time than they are to the beginning of Earth time.”

18:37: [Jared Farmer] “I think with climate change, we need to recultivate the arts of long term thinking, which is in our history. I mean, if you think about cemeteries, if you think of about genealogy, if you think about religion, these are all practices of long term thinking. It’s in our history, it’s in our past. People are good at long term thinking. I think it’s just that, in my lifetime, the emphasis has been so much about faster, faster, cheaper, cheaper, crappier, crappier. Just shorter. I mean, short time has become everything. I mean, even long term shareholder value is like incredibly short, if you think of it. So I guess with trees, I’m just trying to remind people of these existing cultural traditions all around the world of thinking of the long term, and how people have already been doing this with trees, have been doing it with universities. There are many universities that are hundreds, even over a thousand years old. But also, there are these relationships that people have with trees that are extremely old. And the trees themselves, the specimens themselves are often hundreds or thousands of years old. But then species or the genetic lineage is often exponentially older than that.”

Listen to the podcast in full at OMNIA.