Seattle’s Dr. Yoram Bauman is probably best known for clarifying the intricacies of economics with doses of humor as what he calls “the world’s first and only stand-up economist.” He has a national following and has shared the stage with luminaries from the late Robin Williams to Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.
Bauman now focuses his wit and economics expertise on the daunting issue of climate change with acclaimed illustrator Grady Klein in an educational and entertaining new book, The The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change (Island Press). In the book, Dr. Bauman offers — with jokes — a primer on climate history, the science of climate change, the consequences of human use of fossil fuels, predictions, and policy ideas on how to address the major culprits, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases — before it’s too late.
Bauman is a Ph.D. environmental economist and active in CarbonWA.org, an effort to bring a revenue-neutral carbon tax to Washington state. He taught for several years with the UW Program on the Environment. He also co-authored with Klein of the two-volume Cartoon Introduction to Economics. His website is www.standupeconomist.com.
Bauman recently talked about our climate at a coffee house in Seattle’s University District on his return from a round of talks for audiences ranging from the American Enterprise Institute and Research for the Future in Washington D.C. to a conference of New England public utilities commissioners in Vermont.
How did you decide to create a cartoon book to explain this complex subject?
You take something that’s daunting that people want to know more about and you put it in a format that’s more accessible and inviting for people. The challenge for cartoon books in this country is that they have the reputation of being just for kids. Kids can read them too, but there’s a lot of good information in the books and folks who are not experts on climate change can pick up a lot from this book.
How do you see climate change and why are most scientists convinced it’s occurring?
Climate change is occurring because of the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, mostly CO2 [carbon dioxide]. There’s a theory that goes back 150 years or so that says that this will warm the planet and will have other implications.
Lately, we’ve been learning about ocean acidification so that some carbon that goes into the atmosphere gets dissolved in the ocean and affects ocean chemistry and that can change things like the ability of ocean creatures to build shells. We also see changes in weather patterns and precipitation. A warmer atmosphere tends to hold more moisture so you get heavier and heavier rainstorms.
You also write about the history of climate. What are scientists learning from this history?
There are scientific efforts to figure out what the planet looked like 20,000 years ago at the peak of the Ice Age and then during earlier ice ages, going back millions of years. In Antarctica, we can drill down through the ice and pull up ice core samples that go back about 800,000 years. You can analyze air bubbles that are trapped inside the ice to find the percentage of CO2 and other gases in the air bubbles and to determine what the temperature of the environment over the 800,000-year period.
What are core samples telling us about the situation now?
There have been comings and goings of ice ages on a semi-regular time scale. It’s now known that those are basically related to changes in the earth’s orbit around the sun that leads to glaciation or deglaciation — the build up or melt down of glaciers — and that’s where the ice ages come from.
You can also measure the relative percentage of liquid water to ice on the planet. And you can look at CO2 levels over the past eight hundred thousand years and we’re certainly out of balance now when compared to that period. Basically, during the ice ages, CO2 concentration varied from 180 to 280 parts per million. We're now at 400 parts per million, and we’re headed up at 2 or 3 parts per million a year, and definitely headed to 560, a doubling of preindustrial levels.
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