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My Paper Thin Argument To Act

I live outside the city limits, but within the city school corporation. For issues such as climate change, however, boundaries don't matter, for we're in this together. Let's look at the climate challenge from a global perspective to see what's at risk of being lost.

Imagine this 5-inch sphere to be a model of the earth. It doesn't look like a typical classroom globe that may be painted with blue water and green land. This looks different. I’m asking you to see the earth--and life itself--as you are not accustomed to, because that’s what the challenge of climate change demands. We as a community have to dare to think bigger, differently.

Spherical model made from paper plates by Non Techathuvanun.

This is a model of earth. Though some critics of climate science decry models (physical, mathematical, etc.) for being imperfect representations of reality, our collective understanding of climate science is based on sound, fact-based models.

Above the surface of this model earth would be a blanket of atmosphere that contains the abundance of the "air" above us. Oxygen, nitrogen, and a pinch of argon dominant the air. Mixed in are greenhouse gases that exist both naturally and through man-made sources, things like carbon dioxide and methane and complex refrigeration chemicals, etc. That blanket of atmosphere is responsible for deciding our global temperature, and as temperature changes, climate changes ensue.

How thick is that blanket of air above earth?

Since before the Industrial Age we've been spewing greenhouse gases skyward. You've seen pictures of automobile exhaust and plumes of smoke coming out coal-fired power plants--never mind the pictures, you've seen the real thing. Imagine billions of people pumping carbon-based exhaust non-stop into our earth-blanket in just the past 200+ years. (Considering only cars, in recent years we have been producing over 70 million passenger vehicles annually. Henry Ford alone sold over 15 million Model Ts, and every one of them had an exhaust pipe.)

Imagine humanity's collective plume of carbon going up into our blanket. How much can that blanket absorb? Again, how thick is that insulating barrier above earth?

The higher up you go, the thinner the air gets until you've segued into outer space. About 90% of our atmosphere is in the layer called the troposphere. Jets fly at the top of this layer, oftentimes above the highest clouds, where the air is very thin. About 90% of the atmosphere is below an altitude of 15km.

Now, how thick is that reservoir of fresh air above earth relative to the spherical model I'm holding? [Pause in your own reading of this to conjure up an answer.] Is that blanket of air an inch above the surface, several inches more than that, much less than an inch? If you do some simple math, shown below, we have been spewing greenhouse gas emissions into a blanket that is the thickness of about ...three sheets of paper!

That's right. On this scale, our 200-year debris pile of accumulated air pollution--and all that follows from this day forward--has to fit within three sheets. Out atmosphere isn't a blanket; it isn't even a bedsheet. It's three sheets of paper.

Sun rising through atmosphere as seen from ISS; image courtesy of NASA.

Drawing on Voltaire, let's not allow perfection to be the enemy of good. The proposed document before the South Bend City Council is designed as a living document in multiple ways. As a living document, it can be altered to, say, ramp up the time frame in which the city goes carbon neutral. As a "living" document, it will allow citizens to live a better life.

We have to prioritize the community agenda to address the realities of climate change with bold, immediate, science-based action. Remember, the atmosphere containing the future of all life, on this paper model scale, is only as thick as the Climate Action Plan resolution (Bill 19-72)--three sheets. Our atmosphere and our future are paper thin. Thank you.

Math behind model of earth atmosphere

The Math

90% of atmosphere is below 15km

500 sheets of paper= 50mm

Diameter of paper globe =170mm

Diameter of earth=7,900 km

500 sheets/50mm=10 sheets/mm

7,900km earth/170mm globe = 46.5 km earth/mm globe

46.5 km earth/mm globe x 1mm/10 sheets = 4.6 km/sheet

15km atmosphere x 1 sheet/4.6km = 3.2 sheets of paper

Paper earth model was made by Chanon Techathuvanun based on design by Bradford Hansen-Smith (see Wholemovement).

Political Aside

People are going to dismiss some of the bold ideas proposed out of hand. Climate change opponents chide suggestions (e.g., the so-called Green New Deal with its political bombshells) with snickers and knee-jerk accusations like, "Oh, they want us to give up airplanes." Perhaps they dismiss open-minded dialogue about achievable objectives that are based on valid science.

In October 2019, NASA took delivery of its first all-electric experimental aircraft, or X-plane. NASA writes:

The X-57’s goal is to further advance the design and airworthiness process for distributed electric propulsion technology for general aviation aircraft...The X-57 team is using a “design driver” as a technical challenge, to drive lessons learned and best practices. This design driver includes a 500% increase in high-speed cruise efficiency, zero in-flight carbon emissions, and flight that is much quieter for communities on the ground.

All electric experimental aircraft X-57; image courtesy of NASA.

In other industries, a UK company has introduced a recreational vehicle that runs on solar power, and Ford introduced its all-electric Mustang Mach-E. Even power plants are developing technologies to produce electricity with minimal greenhouse gas emissions.

Let's not besmirch good ideas, much less the people delivering them.

South Bend Common Council

Meeting agenda on Monday, Nov. 25, to include Resolution on Climate Action Plan, Bill 19-72. My comments (Be Bold, Immediate, Science-Based) for Privilege of the Floor section are excerpted from above.

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