Backstage at StarTalk Live Storms of Our Century with Questlove, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dr. Adam Sobel, Eugene Mirman and Michael Showalter. Photo Credit: © Leslie Mullen
Backstage at StarTalk Live Storms of Our Century with Questlove, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dr. Adam Sobel, Eugene Mirman and Michael Showalter. Photo Credit: © Leslie Mullen

StarTalk Live! Storms of Our Century (Part 2)

Backstage at StarTalk Live Storms of Our Century with Questlove, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dr. Adam Sobel, Eugene Mirman and Michael Showalter. Photo Credit: © Leslie Mullen

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About This Episode

Weather gives way to climate change as the StarTalk Live crew grapples with the impact of the Industrial Revolution, greenhouse gases and the Earth’s orbit and axial tilt on climate change. Neil goes back to the Carboniferous Era to explain where fossil fuels come from, and climate scientist Dr. Adam Sobel tells us how much carbon we’ve put into our atmosphere. With insights from his involvement in the last Presidential election, musician and author Questlove raises the issue of politics in the climate change debate and asks the question, “Aren’t scientists not supposed to lie?” And comic co-host Eugene Mirman and comedian Michael Showalter bring a bit of humor to bear on subjects from deforestation and ice ages to chaos theory and “The Butterfly Effect,” all on the eve of Winter Storm Nemo pummeling the Northeast with the Blizzard of 2013.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: StarTalk Live! Storms of Our Century (Part 2).

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  • Mark Sellars

    Maybe you can shed some light, As I understand it the build up of carbon dioxide is cause the atmospheric temperature to rise. The offset would be an increase of oxygen, which is not happening because of the De-forestation of the planet, among other things, at least that is what Greenpeace tells us. what I never hear addressed in this scenario is the effects of the Oceans them selves. If the warming is causing the Ice shelves to melt, adding trillions of Gallons of water the the Oceans, raising the levels globally, then would not the addition of this new surface area of water increase the rate of evaporation and actually increase the amount of Oxygen in our atmosphere? Any information about this would be appreciated.

  • Matthew taylor

    Dear Star Talk Boys: I really liked the show tonight!! I specifically enjoyed the conversation about carbon dioxide and inferred radiation getting trapped in our atmosphere. My question for you guys is how harmful is our every day use of EMR.. Meaning cell phones, computers, vapor cigarettes, microwaves, ect.. For instance my lap top is sitting on my stomach as i type this, am i getting a light weight x ray induction into my abdomen??

  • george

    how much CO2 would we need to condense to dry ice and sequester somewhere to put a dent in global warming?

  • Matt Holmes

    Gosh I really want to listen to this but my sound card is on the fritz. However, I noticed your comment Mark, about the effect of the oceans. They are, obviously, a major player in climate change, seeing as how they cover a majority of the planet. However, more water does not translate into more evaporation, because water doesn’t absorb heat very well. It’s actually quite good at reflecting sunlight back into space, helping to keep our planet cool. The problem we are seeing is that our glaciers, permafrost, and other areas that are typically covered by snow (even if for part of the year) are melting, exposing more land. Land heats up far more quickly than reflective snow or water. As a consequence, as our ice melts, we begin to heat up ever faster.

    It helps to bear in mind that ice is less dense than water. As our ice and snow melt, more land is being exposed than what the oceans are subsequently going to cover up on the coast.

    PS, George, we would need to condense billions of tons. Also, the process of doing so would consume energy, which still typically means more CO2. We need to work on our energy problem first and foremost, lest all our efforts be two steps forward, and another back.

  • Alexander

    it always amazes me that those who promote the idea of man made global warming tends to focus on the CO2 out put of the U.S.A. alone. while the U.S.A. IS cutting back and greening their industry better than the rest of the world (even to our detriment economically and policially), the other major power players and industry leaders like China, India, the Middle East nations, Africa for example are NOT going green, but in fact polluting even more. The media and global warming activists have a disposition to make the U.S.A. as the wrong doer and ignore the rest of the world.

    If this is not changed and their focus is not moved away to the real polluters of the world, the dire predictions the activists will indeed still happen even after they dismantle the entire U.S.A. industrial base. If that is truly their goal, then they are Hypocrites and should be dismissed while more realist solve the problem.

    P.S. I have come to realize that people in the 3rd world that pollute and cut their forest down are not doing for the most part because they don’t care about the world’s climate, but they are doing it to get by and be able to feed them selves and their families. They can’t afford to see the big picture. Change their economic and political system, they will be freed up to be able to clean up their part of the world and help stop global warming.

  • Justin Bowen

    I’d like to focus on just one point (and forget about everything else said in this talk). I would argue that the claim (however lightly he made it here) that increasingly destructive storms (in terms of buildings destroyed, lives lost, and costs in dollars) are evidence of climate change is an incredibly weak argument.

    For the purpose of scientific inquiry, the destructiveness of a storm ought not be measured by its impact to society. So many things that are completely independent of the storm determine a storm’s destructiveness to a region; everything from building codes for structures of various ages, to age of construction materials of structures, to structure designs, to density of structures, to population density can have a significant effect on destructiveness of storms. Storms ought to be measured using objective metrics that can be measured independently of the effects of relatively temporary, man-made factors.

    Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, wildfires, floods, droughts, and other natural phenomena occur all the time all over the planet. When they hit areas where there are relatively few people (compared to regions with dense populations) or no people at all, nobody blinks an eye. Few people care about a wildfire burning in the middle of a national forest. Few people care about a F5 tornado that blows down some trees or abandoned buildings in the middle of a national grassland. Few people care when unpopulated wetlands and river deltas get flooded. Few people care when a powerful hurricane decimates uninhabited islands in the Caribbean (heck, few people in the US care when powerful hurricanes hit populated islands in the Caribbean). The only time that these natural phenomena become disasters is when people and buildings – which, over the years, may have become more dense within a specific geographic area – are affected. And even then, the extent to which people care is determined by the damage that is done – which is partly a function of everything that I mentioned above.

    Am I wrong about this? Should storms’ destructiveness in terms of their effect on cities and towns be an indicator of climate change? Or, should scientists stop referring to the destructiveness of storms as evidence of climate change (I’d say that they have more than enough other evidence of the changing climate (it’s amazing that they even need to provide evidence of something that’s occurred naturally over billions of years, but that’s another matter altogether))?

  • Adam Sobel

    To respond to Mark Sellars and Matt Holmes:

    Mark, yes, CO2 is the main driver of human-caused global warming. But nothing that happens with oxygen will make any difference. What controls the greenhouse effect of CO2 is how much CO2 is there. Adding or taking away a little oxygen won’t make any difference. And, as oxygen is 21% of the atmosphere while CO2 is a small fraction of a percent, the change in oxygen that can realistically occur due to any foreseeable change in forestation etc. is miniscule percentagewise.

    As far as melting water: yes, as sea level rises the oceans will cover a larger area. But the change will be tiny as a percentage of the surface of the earth. I don’t think this is an important effect in terms of its feedback on the climate. It’s just a problem because it will flood places where people live.

    Matt, actually, ocean is quite dark and reflects very little sunlight. A typical ocean albedo is in around 0.05 – that means about 5% of incident light is reflected.

    Yes, ice and snow are much brighter and more reflective, and as they melt, the darker surface absorbs more radiation, which is a positive feedback on the warming. But this effect is even more powerful over ocean (when sea ice melts) than on land, as ocean absorbs more light than land does.

  • Adam Sobel

    Justin Bowen,

    what claim are you referring to, made by whom?

    It is true that the same storms have greater impacts because of increasing human population and development in storm-prone areas. No one disputes that. Most if not all of the increasing trend in hurricane damage over the last 100 years is indeed due to increasing development.

    At the same time, one can ask how the storms themselves are changing. This is a topic of active research, which we discussed somewhat on the program. There are certainly still uncertainties, but we do know some things. We are pretty certain that hurricanes will become more intense on average as the climate warms, for example, and that this would be true even if there were no people on the planet to experience them.

  • Mustafa

    Man .. This episode was boring as hell. This is the first time I could not finish a startalk episode out of pure boredom. It was bound to happen i guess ^_^

  • Jack

    It sounds like Neil and Adam need to brush up on their climate science. They totally omitted accelerated thawing of permafrost as a result of warming caused by CO2 and then the resulting release of methane from the permafrost into the atmosphere at higher concentrations. It seems to be an important factor in the severity of hurricanes since CH4 is 21 times more effective at trapping infrared radiation in the atmosphere than CO2. I really wish Neil and Adam would communicate these things more precisely than they do. It sounds to me like they are both becoming quite lazy and jaded in their explanations and hence misinforming the masses which we all know are not their intentions. Laymen see the doctors as the authorities on these subjects so it would be in everyone’s best interest to precisely communicate the facts and the evidence.

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