As an American astrophysicist, cosmologist, author and science communicator, Neil deGrasse Tyson can be considered by any measure to be an educated man. He puts that education to use as director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. He’s not the scientist you find holed up in a lab. You’ve likely seen his face on television. He grabbed Carl Sagan’s proverbial torch to host the “Cosmos” television series, and like this coming Monday (April 24) at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, he’s known to go on speaking tours.
Aside from speaking about what it would theoretically feel like to be consumed by a black hole, Tyson is one of those scientists you commonly hear speak about the topic of climate change. The topic is fitting for our pages this week, having already experienced a couple of 80-plus degree days before celebrating Earth Day this Saturday, April 22. How odd was it to see our children hunt for eggs last Sunday in shorts and tee shirts?
But, ah, not one day can be used to measure the extent of climate change, you say. This is true, and Tyson would agree. Climate and weather are different. And, to use Tyson’s explanation, climate is something altogether more constant and long-lasting — which, when talking about change, should make it all the more alarming.
Tyson has used the comparison of climate to walking a dog. While the dog is tethered by a leash to his human, he is welcomed to travel at will — a dart to the left, a scamper to the right, but his human continues to walk down a steady path. Tyson has used the dog as a means to describe weather. One day the weather can be turbulent, while the next can be calm. One day cold, the next extremely warm. That is the dog, or weather, reacting to current conditions that can change with the wind. Climate, on the other hand, is the steady path the human is walking. It continues to walk a relatively steady path with little variation. It is the average of thousands of those days. However, if the dog catches the scent of something interesting, that path may get skewed.
The warm days we experienced the past few weeks may indicate a change in climate, or it may just be a wayward dog looking for a bone. But, as we approach Earth Day this year, don’t be confused. An overwhelming majority of climatologists agree that our climate is changing. Many of whom stress that the change is influenced by human behavior. And, with the proposed cuts to funding at the Environmental Protection Agency, it is becoming more likely efforts to do anything about it will be from the local level.
On this Earth Day, take a look at how you impact the climate. Take a look at your carbon footprint by going to www.carbonindependent.org. Walk or bike to your destination. And, if that’s not feasible, maybe you can car pool with a friend. Either way, don’t dismiss what you hear as political chatter from the other side. It’s not a red or blue tie issue.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.