Take a deep breath. Now exhale.
The carbon dioxide leaving your body will be in the atmosphere for a century.
That longevity is important, said biologist Sandra Steingraber, because carbon dioxide is like a big blanket, keeping us warm at night when the sun isn't shining. It traps the sun's heat. If it, and other greenhouse gases didn't, we'd all freeze to death when the sun went down.
It's a comforting thought that our breath helps warm our children and grandchildren long after we're gone. Our ancestors are helping warm us today.
This gaseous blanket doesn't naturally get out of hand, though, because plants help balance things out. They need carbon dioxide to make their food. So they capture some of it and photosynthesize.
But this entire natural system is disrupted when you add fossil fuels into the mix, Steingraber said Monday during a talk at SUNY Adirondack, sponsored by the college, Crandall Public Library and North Country Climate Reality.
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About 400 million years ago, our world looked very different. Creatures died and decayed, turning into the natural gas bubbles and the thick oil that we mine for today, she said.
Steingraber describes oil and gas as "cemeteries of dead bodies of prehistoric creatures." That's what's going into your car.
The greenhouses gases blasted into the atmosphere at unprecedented rates using coal, oil and gas has thickened our atmosphere's blanket and the earth is warming faster than before.
Her vivid and relatable descriptions of earth's natural systems are a way Steingraber hopes to educate the public about climate change.
"One of the problems that people have accepting the climate crisis, is there's no visual imagery of what the world looks like down there," Steingraber said about the bedrock below our feet. "Gases are invisible."
But she hopes the dialogue for those who are skeptical will continue. Just as many people in the 1850s did not believe in germs, she hopes we will look back a century from now and laugh that we did not believe in climate change.
— Gwendolyn Craig