Earth's climate puzzle

Earth's climate and weather can be a real puzzle!

Welcome to Climate4Kids, a blog where you can learn about how climate works, how weather works and many more wonders of planet earth.  

Fossil Fuels

There's a lot of talk about fossil fuels when people speak about climate and how it changes. For now, set aside whether or not these fuels increase the global average temperature. What are "fossil fuels"?

Fossil fuels include methane, propane, oil, coal--what are referred to as hydrocarbons. They have only C (carbon) and H (hydrogen) atoms. The simplest is methane, CH4, also called natural gas. Ethane (C2H6), propane (C3H8 ) and butane (C4H10) are all common hydrocarbons used for things like home heating, butane lighters, etc.

In addition to methane and it's relatives, there's oil and coal. These are not pure hydrocarbons. Crude oil is not like gasoline or home heating oil--crude oil has various compounds mixed in, sometimes metals. Crude oil is distilled into various compounds, including gasoline, in a refinery. This is a multistep process.

Oil refinery

In the past, and probably some schools now, children were taught oil came from dead dinosaurs that were covered by rock and dirt and then crushed by soil or rock. Sinclair Oil has a dinosaur trademark, which adds to the belief. Today, the belief is oil was created from zooplankton, algae and dead plant matter on the bottom of lakes and the ocean. This material was then buried under sediment, creating an environment without oxygen. If oxygen were present, microbes could break down the organic matter. Over time, heat and pressure break down the organic compounds and produce kerogen--a waxy solid that then is further heated and compressed by the earth, resulting in liquid crude oil. This process can be shown to work in a lab--kerogen to oil via heat and pressure. Once a liquid, the hydrocarbon cannot return to the solid state.

The theory of algae and zooplankton forming oil is called "biotic" formation. While we call it "fossil fuel", there are not fossils involved, just organic matter trapped on a lake bottom. There is another theory of oil formation called "abiotic formation" that holds that oil is not formed from dead organic matter but rather formed deep within the mantle of the earth. Pressure and heat compress substances that are transformed to liquid hydrocarbons. This liquid, crude oil, migrates through the mantel and is trapped in impermeable strata. One piece of evidence cited for the abiotic theory is that oil and gas wells will regenerate after a while, allowing us to get more oil from a "spent" well. Much of the support for the abiotic theory is found in Russia and the Ukraine, though there were theories about abiotic oil dating back to the 16th century and the 19th century.

We do know methane can be created abiotically. It's found on Saturn's moon Titan in large quantities, along with other hydrocarbons. No dead organic material would have been available for the formation of the methane. Methane is also also formed in landfills as the buried material decomposes. Currently, there's no reliable, economical way to recover this gas (some have tried but the expense was large).

Even if the oil supply is diminished, there remains methane from various sources that can be used for heating and generating electricity.

Which theory is correct? No one knows. Oil formed long before there were humans to observe how it happened. It's possible that both theories are correct and oil comes both from organic matter and from deep in the earth's mantle.

Why is this importunate? One of the worries with oil, ignoring any CO2 factors, is what is called "peak oil". Peak oil is the point at which humans reach the maximum available oil and the supply then decreases rapidly over a short period. In other words, we will need more oil than we can find and recover. If the biotic theory is correct, oil is no longer being formed (although it is possible for oil to still be forming under the oceans and in areas where there were lakes, etc, since we don't know that all formation of oil ended in the past. It is likely that new oil would not form fast enough for our needs even if this is happening.) If oil is abiotic, then it is constantly forming and moving toward the surface of the earth. If it's both processes, then there is likely far more oil than we estimated and our supply is secure for many years (if not centuries). The biotic theory has the most evidence at this point. However, in the last 10 to 20 years, huge reserves of oil and natural gas have been found. No one really has a firm idea of how much oil is out there nor when it will peak, if ever.

Work over rig

Storage tanks

Pump jack
Drill rig (at dusk)

Drill rig

Polar Bears

There is a new book by Susan Crockford called "Polar Bears, Facts and Myths".  It is written for children (all ages, actually) and talks about the current state of polar bears.  Even though there are constant reports that polar bears are in trouble, the science does not back that up.  Polar bears are doing fine.

The book is available at Amazon (I won't link—you'll need to look it up yourself).  I purchased the Kindle version for 99 cents (USD).  The paperback is $12.99.  The book is 44 pages in length.

I must note that those who are sensitive—those who are used to food coming from the supermarket wrapped in cellophane or those who don't eat meat—may find one photo of a polar bear feeding disturbing.  Polar bears don't shop in a supermarket, don't "humanely kill" their food and don't cook it before eating.  If the reader is likely to be disturbed by this reality, I don't recommend the book for them.

This blog rarely recommends reading of a certain book or article, but I found this particular book quite good.  The author has written other books and papers that were quite interesting.  

(I am not being compensated for writing this in any way.)

Happy New Year 2017

It’s a new year and things are going well.  Polar bears are thriving, in spite of all the “could go extinct” statements that the news loves to showcase.  It has been colder in the northern hemisphere this winter, with snow falling in Greece, the Sahara desert and other places snow is not often seen.  Europe is caught in a deep freeze, though the Scandinavian countries of the far north are above average in temperature (meaning they are not as cold as usual, not that they are actually warm).  A storm system has made the Artic warmer than usual also.  Over the last two years, snow has fallen in many unusual places.  Perhaps this represents a return to a previous climate norm?  Hard to say.  The California drought has lessened and there are floods and many feet of snow.  Quite often droughts do end with flooding.  There’s probably a meteorological reason for this, which can be covered in a later post if the researching of this proves interesting and if the belief is true.  Hurricanes and tornadoes are somewhat down in numbers also.  Heat waves are reported to be “increasing” but one needs to recall that heat waves are arbitrary designations (the temperature needed to be considered as a heat wave and length of time spent at that temperature is just chosen, there's no formula or rules for the choosing).  Their definitions can change at any time without need for a reason.  In the past, 100°F/38°C days weren’t a big deal.  People lived without air conditioning and worked outside in the heat.  Many places still exist where this is true.  People adapt well.  

There was, of course, the “hottest year ever” title most probably being awarded to 2016, depending on which source you go with (some places may already be making that claim).  Calculating the Global Average Temperature is more of an art than science.  In fact, at this point, climate science seems to have hidden the actual value of the Global Average Temperature and just goes with anomalies (anomalies are the amount of difference from an average or a set number) using a value they apparently don’t want to share.  Not really science when it’s done that way.  If one is to worry about the climate and how it’s changing, we need data and real numbers, not changes from an unknown value.  For now, keep in mind that the changes are relatively small from year to year.  Some year changes are under .1°.  Hardly enough to notice.  Yes, it’s “warmer”, but it’s not “hot” by any stretch of the imagination.  The point is, with a statistical analysis, one can often prove anything.  Statistics are not reality in the usual sense—they are a mathematical look at the probability of something happening, not a look at the future itself.  There’s no need to panic—we’re not headed for runaway warming, nor are the oceans rising quickly, extreme weather increasing, and so forth.

The climate is doing just fine.  The new year is looking good.  Enjoy.

Pronghorn antelope in my yard

Mule deer buck scratching an itch!

Snow blowing—it's called a ground blizzard
No snow is actually falling from the sky, it's just blowing around

Ground blizzard—There's a lot of wind in this area much of the winter

Wild turkey looking at school bus driver
This turkey actually lives in town, wonders through the yards and streets

Three doe mule deer riding out the snow storm in the sage brush

Frost on a window—it always makes interesting patterns
It's on the outside of the window, of course.

Watching weather and nature is quite fascinating.  I recommend getting out and learning about critters and weather to everyone.  Don’t just read about it, experience it!

We're doing fine

There are some things about climate that need to be addressed.

In the United States, there is a children's entertainer pushing a doomsday outcome for global warming. He has gone so far as to call for jailing anyone who disagrees. Pretty harsh for a children's entertainer, I know. Other people have been calling for similar measures, such as investigating oil companies to "prove" they knew about global warming and did nothing. What does all of this mean? First, this is NOT science in any fashion. Scientists seek knowledge. They test theories, they do experiments, then the information is presented to the public. The public is then free to agree or disagree, as can other scientists. If other scientists question a discovery, that's fine. If someone can prove the theory wrong, then a new theory is required. Scientists don't jail people who disagree. The public and politicians who don't understand science, don't care, or have an agenda to push are the ones who behave aggressively, trying to silence all differing ideas.

Has climate changed? Of course--everything changes. Did humans contribute? Everything on the planet affects climate to some degree or another. The question is how much. People who believe that global warming is bad think it's a large amount. They constantly repeat the "hottest year ever" claim, thinking that a hot year proves humans did this. It does not. Not in any way. Reporting a record in temperature says nothing about the cause of that record. It's just a record, based on whatever data is being used. It's the largest or highest number in the series.

What about "extreme weather"? There have been fewer hurricanes and tornadoes than in the past. Wildfires are affected by many things--wind, fuel, location, wind, etc. If people leave a lot of dead underbrush, etc, there's plenty of fuel. Building among trees increases the chances of the home being burned if there's a fire. Sometimes, nothing can be done. Fire is a part of a nature and humans do not control nature, only their reactions to it. Same for floods--where homes are built, whether rivers are dredged, etc all have a large influence on flooding. Flash flooding is not as affected by such things, but there are still actions that can be taken to reduce the impact of flash floods. Heavy rains can't be controlled, of course, and have always been a cause of flash floods. Rain levels vary from year to year but no real increase has been seen in the levels. That is not to say there are not more floods in some places, fewer in others. That is how weather works and heavy rain is weather, not climate. There is evidence that precipitation is not increasing when averaged over the globe, though it's very difficult to get sufficient data to know for certain.

All of these weather phenomena are scary. However, they are a part of nature and always have been. People in developed countries do have an advantage--instead of throwing buckets of water on a fire, these countries have fire trucks, high pressure water lines, telephones, etc that really help in fighting fires. Fossil fuels made this possible. Same for having hospitals to treat the injured, and having helicopters and ambulances to transport people who are injured to those hospitals. Without fossil fuels, probably none of this would have happened. For hundreds of years, people died due to long distances from help, poor sanitation, etc. Reliable, 24/7 energy changed all of that. Who wants to go back to the "old days" with shorter lives and struggling to survive?

The earth we live on is doing fine and so are humans. There's no reason to drastically change how we live, for the worse especially. Fossil fuels have made life better and the claim these can cause CAGW really doesn't hold up when one considers the evidence. Keeping the planet as clean as possible is a laudable practice. However, there is no reason to fear modern life.

Enjoying the weather and the climate

It has been an unusual year so far in the United States. It has been 80F/27C degrees (average this time of year is 64F/18C) on the West coast and snowing like mad on the East coast. Season openers for baseball games have been postponed due to snow on the field. People are asking "When will winter be over?" In Wyoming, this is a typical spring occurrence--barbecuing in 60F degree weather and then 12 inches of snow the next day. The rest of the United States is not as well adapted, it seems. Wyoming also has very strong winds--70 mph gusts with 35 mph sustained winds much of the time. The East coast is experiencing these this year and the news is making a huge deal out of it.

Why am I telling you about this? Often there are scary news articles about global warming and what "may" happen. People have already adapted to many different climates. As I noted, high wind and rapid temperature changes are common in some places and people adapt. There are people living in very cold areas , very hot areas and everything in between. Humans are extremely adaptable, in spite of the news people trying to convince people disaster awaits humanity.

Hot and dry climate

Wind, wind everywhere!

Palm trees and warm climate

Is the world warming up? In some places, yes. Others, no. Has this happened before? Yes, and before humans even existed. Sometimes much faster than now. Can humans adapt? All the evidence says they can. Claims that disasters "may" happen aren't scientific, they're more political or wild guesses. For some reason, politicians and others seem to like making people afraid. Maybe so they can "save" us from disasters, which is what they are saying they are doing with global warming. 

Are they trying to save us? Not one can tell what will happen in the future-- not a scientist, not a psychic, not a politician. There is no way to know what the world will be like in say 2100 or even 2050. New ideas and new technologies will come into play as has been true through all of history. People are very clever and adaptable.

How should we be dealing with Earth's various climates (remember, climate applies to small areas, not the globe. The overall average temperatures of hundreds of different areas is what a has been increasing. It is not a "real" temperature, but rather a statistical calculation)? The same way we always have, by building homes that can withstand the weather, improving heating and cooling, improving food production. This is what people did after the Little Ice age destroyed so much of their crops. Today, countries grow a variety of crops to protect against loss of an entire food source due to weather/climate changes. It's a proven way to deal with an unknown future.

People are very, very adaptable and can handle any changes in the climate if they so chose. The climate is not something to fear, but rather to live with and enjoy.  

Happy Holidays, no doom and gloom

Tis the time of the season when those who hand out gloom and doom are writing frightening stories about Santa and his reindeer drowning at the North Pole due to global warming. This is very dishonest and mean.  First, anyone who can fly around the world and deliver presents in 24 hours is certainly not going to drown if the ice at the North Pole melts. Think about it. Flying reindeer, sled.  Load up and leave. The ice in Antarctica is expanding.  Move to the South Pole.  Easy.

Second, the ice is not melting at a rapid rate at the North Pole.  November 2015, there was 3.88 million square miles of ice at the North Pole (This is a mathematical calculation. There is no way to directly measure the ice.) This is 351,000 square miles below the average for 1981-2010.  That calculates out to 9%.  There is 91% of the average sea ice still sitting there at the North Pole.  Santa is perfectly safe.  

As of late, there has been much gloom and doom about the climate.  In reality, there have been fewer hurricanes, fewer tornadoes and the ones that have hit are not stronger than those in the past.  Droughts and floods are occurring at about the same rate as any time in the recent past.  There is nothing humans can do to change this.  All these weather phenomena have many causes that are not well understood at this time.  It is most important to work on better detection of hurricanes and tornadoes and building so the storms don't cause so much damage.  Droughts can not be avoided entirely, but wise use of water can help (Turning off the water when you brush your teeth is not enough to do much good, however.  We need to think about large users of water, including watering lawns, washing cars, etc.  How important is a green yard?  How important is a clean car, unless you live where the roads are salted in the winter?). Floods can be controlled partially through dams and clearing river channels.  Damage is reduced by not living on flood plains. The impact of heat waves on humans is reduced with air conditioning. We can adapt to some degree to all of these extreme weather events. What we cannot do is control them.

This holiday season, rest easy and enjoy the holidays.  The climate is just fine.

Earth Day 2015

Earth Day 2015
We again enter the "celebration" of Earth Day, though celebration sometimes seems the wrong word, since most of the predictions are doom and gloom.  Earth Day has become a way to make people feel guilty about actually living well on the planet.  It seems people should not be enjoying their life on this remarkable planet because somehow we "hurt" the earth by doing so.
For Earth Day 2015, give thanks for a planet that has enough resources to support billions of human beings, along with many other animals and living creatures.  Some species come and go, but that is how it has always been.  We are living in a dynamic system that changes over and over as we and the rest of the planet adapt to those changes.
Don't buy into the idea that there is more extreme weather or that things are changing faster than ever before.  Some people push this as science, but the truth is, most "extreme" weather events are actually decreasing.  You hear tornado warnings, etc, all summer long on the news.  Just as I did as child growing up in the Midwest.  Some summers we spent a lot of time in the basement due to tornado warnings.  It's just a part of life.  It's not new, it's not worse, it's as it always has been.  People have developed early warnings for these tornados, cutting deaths and injuries to incredible lows.  We should celebrate that our weather radar can help us stay safe from what nature has always sent our way.
The Earth is just fine.  Humans have their share of problems, but climate change is not among the serious problems facing mankind.  No matter what our leaders may be saying.   Humans can deal with climate changes very well.  The changes are not threats.  They are just reality--the way the world has always been.  

Celebrate Earth Day and the beautiful planet we live on and look for the wonders of the planet.  

Snow is not a thing of the past

David Viner (a climate scientist), in 2009, said children aren't going to know what snow is. Fortunately, this has not proven to be true. There is plenty of snow all over the planet. Buffalo, New York (USA) got 8 feet (2.4 meters) of snow. The East Coast of the US has been buried by snow this year, plus very cold temperatures.

Many places have seen snow that have not seen snow in many, many years:
In August 2014, Scotland was expecting snow. The temperature was dipping near freezing. The last time it what this cold was 1919.
In August of the same year, Peru was buried under snow. The Atacama Desert in Chile saw the most snowfall the area had seen in three decades.
In December 2013, there was snow in Cairo, where they had not had snow in over 100 years.

Shovel ready!

No picnicing for a bit

Shovel ready too!

Fun in the snow!

What does this mean? It tells us that gloom and doom predictions can certainly be wrong. Our planet has a very complex climate and it's unlikely we humans have discovered the way climate works or how to control it. We may believe we have, some may say they understand, but then their predictions don't come true. Weather and climate are still wonderfully unpredictable parts of nature. If you're lucky enough to live where there is snow right now, make a snowman, go sledding--just enjoy!

The fun side of CO2

CO2 has a rather unique quality that I find fascinating. It's called "sublimation". At room temperature and far below, CO2 goes from a solid to a gas without a liquid stage. This is very different from water, which is ice, water and steam. CO2 is invisible, so you don't get steam when it sublimates.

There is a liquid state for CO2. This exists between -78C (-108F) and -57C (-71F). At higher pressures, the liquid state can exist at higher temperatures. At 0F (-18C) and 300 psi, CO2 can be kept as a liquid. This is far more pressure than our atmosphere has (that is between 14 and 15 psi).

The solid state of CO2 is called "dry ice". It's used for keeping things cold when regular refrigeration is not available, such as coolers you take when camping or mailing frozen items. You should not touch dry ice with your bare hand--it can cause frostbite in a few seconds. If you hold it too long, you can get severe frostbite with blisters. However, if you handle it with thick gloves and not for very long, it's safe.

Now for what sublimation looks like:

The mist coming off the dry ice is not CO2 (remember, no steam like water). It's the very cold sublimating CO2 gas cooling the air around the remaining dry ice and forming water vapor. This effect is used to make mist for concerts and other presentations.

Watching a frozen piece of dry ice just "disappear" without any liquid is quite fun thing to watch. It shows us one of the more unique physical reactions we have on earth.

What was that about "hottest year"?

When scientists behave badly

Just last week, many news outlets announced 2014 was the hottest year on record. This was used to convince people global warming is real. However, not even a week later, the NASA scientist who made the statement then admitted that NASA is only 38% sure that this is true (note that this means they are 62% sure that it may not be the warmest year).  Wait. Aren't scientists supposed to be honest and give out accurate information? Yes, they are. Sadly, sometimes scientists do not follow that rule. This is one case. The 2014 was basically tied with 2010 and 2005 for hottest.

There is what is called a margin of error in these calculations. Figuring the global average temperature is not like measuring the temperature in your backyard. Thousands of numbers go into the equation and not all weather stations are located where hot buildings, etc. don't affect them. So the scientists "make adjustments" for these things, meaning they change the value based on what they believe the temperature would be without the buildings, etc. These adjustments and the sheer volume of data makes for a possibility of error in the final temperature reported. Even more complicated, climate science does not deal with actual temperatures, but the difference in the temperature calculated from a baseline. If by now you have realized just how complicated this is, you're on the right track.
Properly sited weather station
Reading will be too hot

Readings will be too hot

The pictures show the difference in placement of thermometers. Next to buildings, etc, will read hotter than the actual air temperature because of the heat coming off the pavement. This makes things look much hotter than they actually are. It also makes nighttime temperatures read higher because the pavement gives off

heat all night.

Then there's the leveling off of temperatures:

In spite of all the talk of "hottest" year ever, part of the problem is the last ten to 15 years have not really gotten much hotter. The difference is sometimes as small as .02 degrees. Considering how difficult it is to get accurate temperatures, the difference could just be due to the way we measure.

There are measurements made by satellites that cover the globe much better. These measurements show the average temperature of the earth is actually staying quite level.  

To get an idea of how this "hottest year", but not really, works, consider this example:

Your parents give you an allowance of $10 per week.

Four weeks ago, on your way home from school, you found a penny on the sidewalk, so that week you had $10.01.

Three weeks ago, you found two pennies on the sidewalk, so you had $10.02

Two weeks ago, you found no pennies, so you had $10.

Last week, you found three pennies on the sidewalk, so you had $10.03.

Now, we can truthfully say last week you had the most money so far. We can also say weeks four and three were above "average", if we consider the $10 the average. Do you really see the weeks you found the pennies on the sidewalk as being above average or that you were richer that week? The difference is very, very small indeed.

Here's another way to look at the "increase in temperatures" over the past century:  

This is what the average global temperature looks like, in degrees fahrenheit, when you graph the actual temperatures and not the difference from the average.  Also, the differences from the average (the anomalies) are graphed in tenths of a degree, making the differences look very large to anyone looking at the graph.

That's how the "hottest" years have been working. The difference is very tiny--tiny enough to mean we don't know which is the hottest year and it really doesn't matter because there is such a small difference.
The temperatures have leveled off for now. 

This is very good news.  Things are not getting hotter and hotter after all.

(Photos from NASA and Creative Commons, graph from

Greet the New Year with optimism!

We are reaching the end of 2014. It's time to take a look at how our planet is doing. News reports say 2014 may be the hottest year on record. What the news does not tell you is that this is by a mere tenth of a degree, possibly less. Some report it as little as a thousandth of a degree. Actually, the global mean temperature has been fairly steady for several years. The number of tornadoes is down, the number of hurricanes is down. North America has seen an increase in snow and much colder temperatures. There are places that are warmer and places that are colder, just as there have always been.

It's important to remember weather and climate have always changed, always had extremes. The biggest change now is there are more people on the planet. More people means more individuals will be affected by any weather. Also, people in poorer countries are more affected since they lack the resources to rebuild. Instead of trying to push everyone to stop using fossil fuels, we need to be helping these people with housing and energy so they aren't so affected by the weather/climate. The really good news is people in many places are learning to handle the weather better. There were many fewer deaths in the Philippines from the last hurricane because people evacuated right away.

While TV sometimes emphasizes disasters, the weather and climate really have not become more extreme. The climate is not changing dramatically. The Arctic ice is increasing at this point. If it continues to do so, it will rebound to levels of the past. Antarctic ice is increasing. The polar bears are fine. There may be more snow in America and more cold, but it is not different from what the weather was like in the past, say 30 to 40 years ago. There will always be floods (humans are a big part of why things flood because of the way we engineer waterways, whether we drag the channels, etc), there will always be drought (water storage helps with this--store what you get in times of plenty and conserve when possible), there will always be tornados, blizzards, thunderstorms. This is what life is like on our planet. Ever changing and we adapt to those changes.

The earth is just fine going into 2015.

Global Warming

What is "global warming"?

We hear a lot about "global warming" or climate change. Right now, the United States is setting hundreds of new "coldest temperature" records. Doesn't that mean global warming is wrong? It's really hot in Australia right now. New high temperature records, they say. So does that mean global warming is right?

(I use global warming and not climate change because the theory is heat is building up on earth. This is believed to be causing changes in climate that are not "natural".)

Colder temperatures do not disprove global warming. Hot temperatures do not prove it is true. Nor do wildfires, drought, or any other weather variation. Global warming is based on changes in the average temperature of the planet. What does that mean?

Average is what you get when you add a group of numbers together and divide by the number of numbers. Here are two examples:
1 3 5 2 9 summed(add all) equals 20 then divide by 5: 4
2 2 12 1 3 summed equals 20 then divide by 5: 4
5 0 5 5 5 summed equals 20 then divide by 5: 4

25 75 100 -10 30 summed equals 220 divide by 5: 44
15 85 50 0 70 summed equals 220 divide by 5: 44
5 95 20 50 50 summed equals 220 divide by 5: 44

If you look at the numbers closely, you will see the numbers are very different in each set, even though the averages are the same. Which means you can have really, really different numbers and all give the same average. Colder in the United States can be cancelled by hotter in Australia. There are thousands of temperatures involved. This means scientists really don't know how temperature changes will happen in a particular place. To make this more complicated, scientists look at the changes from the average, not the average itself. All of this is quite complicated and based on math and models. In reality, things are far from certain, no one really can predict years and years into the future.

What does this all mean in real life? The warming predicted has leveled off. Over time, the warming could become cooling, but we don't know this yet. We just do not know.

Are we having more hurricanes and storms? No, those things are predicted by the theory. They are not currently happening. In some places, these weather events have actually decreased.

Right now, all the global warming is in models and so forth. In reality, the temperatures have leveled off. Are the dire predictions that keep being made possible? Of course. It's also possible that cooling could begin. No one, repeat no one, knows. To be afraid or start doing drastic things like trying to stop the use of fossil fuels is to not understand what science tells us.

How do I know?

When you're young, you often have to depend on adults to help you understand how the world works. Grown-ups seem to know everything or sometimes nothing. What does a smart, rational person (yes, kids, that means you!) do when someone in authority, older or with more experience tells you something works a certain way or is a scientific fact?

Sometimes teachers and parents know important things--like you need to wash your hands to keep from getting sick. Then you look around and Derrick over there never washes his hands and is perfectly healthy. What's up with that? Why isn't Derrick sick? Don't parents and teachers know anything?

It will always be true that there are exceptions to general rules--like hand-washing. It's believed that over the long run, hand washing helps prevent the spread of disease. It's based on past experience and observations. Does this mean everyone who washes their hands will stay well? No, but based on the way diseases are spread, it is more likely people who wash hand will be sick less often than those who don't.

What about more complicated ideas--for example, are we changing our climate by burning fossil fuels and we are going to cause a very severe temperature rise on the planet? Your teacher may have told you "everyone agrees" this is happening. That is not true. There are many climate scientists who do not agree that our burning oil and coal and natural gas are threatening our planet. These things do have an effect, just as everything on the planet affects everything else. Climate is very complicated. Wait, though, our president said it's important. Yes, President Obama did say global warming is real. He also said "We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth society" which was meant to insult those who do not agree (we know the earth is not flat so he wanted to make people who disagreed look foolish). However, it turns out some members of the Flat Earth society do believe we are changing our climate with fossil fuels. That shows clearly that there is not agreement on this and trying to insult others is not really a good way to convince people you are right.

Studying the climate and global warming also got mixed in with politics, which is a very bad thing. Science is based on evidence, politics is mostly based on emotions. So politics is what is out there trying to make people feel guilty about driving cars and living a modern life. That's not science.

How, then, can you know what is science and what is politics? Asking questions can help. Ask why the fossil fuels hurt the planet. You may get and answer such as "It's physics". Part of it is, part of it is computer models and mathematics which are not always accurate. If when you ask about why fossil fuel burning is bad the person calls you names (like denier or says you're just stupid) it's probably because this is something they believe but they don't know why. Or it could be that the person just doesn't want to be asked questions on their beliefs--which means this is politics. Science loves questions and will always take the time to explain.

Global warming is important we are told and very dangerous. There are all kinds of scary predictions. Shouldn't we DO something? Shouldn't we be worried? These are important questions. If fossil fuels really are hurting the earth, shouldn't we stop using them?

What if we did stop using fossil fuels? We would have to give up full-time electricity, cars, and go back to the old way people lived, without lights, cell phones, television, computers, etc. It would be very, very difficult and would harm a lot of people. We know this harm will happen, while we don't know for sure if CO2 and fossil fuels are actually going to cause something bad.

Wait--how about wind and solar? Can't we use those? They have free fuel. Yes, the fuel is free. The electricity is part-time and only when nature delivers it, not necessarily when we need it. Making the turbines and solar panels takes fossil fuels and mining. Then there's installation and we change the landscape. Plus, both forms of energy are very damaging to bird and bats. Neither energy source is practical today--it's why we stopped using such things and went to fossil fuels.

You're a young person who has heard all the scary stories about climate. How can you know what is true and what is fiction? Honest answer--you can't. What you can do is sensible things to keep the earth livable, like not littering, not wasting energy, reuse things and so forth. There are energy efficient lights, recycling, fuel efficient cars all of which are fine things to do if it's what you want to do. Will it save the planet? It's doubtful, both because these things are very small cuts in usage in the big picture and because we really don't know the planet is in need of saving. These are just ideas that make people feel good and do save on clutter and landfills. Keeping the planet reasonably clean is just a good idea.

Should you be worried the planet is dying--no. The science is not complete on what is involved in climate regulation on earth and whether we humans can really cause massive changes in the climate. It may not be understood before you have grandchildren. Maybe not ever. Panic and fear are the wrong responses to changes on the planet. It's also wrong to burden children with this and very wrong to try and frighten children into believing that global warming is absolutely true for political gain. Sadly, that is very often done as you can see in the news with all the name-calling and insults about those who do not agree with the global warming science.

How should you deal with this? You can be the person who finds a new efficient power source--one that truly revolutionizes things. You could be the one that does what Henry Ford did and takes us to a new way of traveling (I still want flying cars! Maybe you could be the one that creates one!) Maybe you could do like Edison and find a new way to make light (LEDs are a good start). What the planet needs is smart, curious people who try to make life better, not someone preaching fear and doom while demanding people go backward in their living conditions. Ask questions, study science and math. Learn how things work and take us to a better future. That's what you can do!

Computer Climate Games

This article contains artwork developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Electronic Arts Inc.