Earth's climate puzzle

Earth's climate and weather can be a real puzzle!

Welcome to Climate4Kids, a blog where you can learn about how climate works, how weather works and many more wonders of planet earth.  

How do I know?

When you're young, you often have to depend on adults to help you understand how the world works. Grown-ups seem to know everything or sometimes nothing. What does a smart, rational person (yes, kids, that means you!) do when someone in authority, older or with more experience tells you something works a certain way or is a scientific fact?

Sometimes teachers and parents know important things--like you need to wash your hands to keep from getting sick. Then you look around and Derrick over there never washes his hands and is perfectly healthy. What's up with that? Why isn't Derrick sick? Don't parents and teachers know anything?

It will always be true that there are exceptions to general rules--like hand-washing. It's believed that over the long run, hand washing helps prevent the spread of disease. It's based on past experience and observations. Does this mean everyone who washes their hands will stay well? No, but based on the way diseases are spread, it is more likely people who wash hand will be sick less often than those who don't.

What about more complicated ideas--for example, are we changing our climate by burning fossil fuels and we are going to cause a very severe temperature rise on the planet? Your teacher may have told you "everyone agrees" this is happening. That is not true. There are many climate scientists who do not agree that our burning oil and coal and natural gas are threatening our planet. These things do have an effect, just as everything on the planet affects everything else. Climate is very complicated. Wait, though, our president said it's important. Yes, President Obama did say global warming is real. He also said "We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth society" which was meant to insult those who do not agree (we know the earth is not flat so he wanted to make people who disagreed look foolish). However, it turns out some members of the Flat Earth society do believe we are changing our climate with fossil fuels. That shows clearly that there is not agreement on this and trying to insult others is not really a good way to convince people you are right.

Studying the climate and global warming also got mixed in with politics, which is a very bad thing. Science is based on evidence, politics is mostly based on emotions. So politics is what is out there trying to make people feel guilty about driving cars and living a modern life. That's not science.

How, then, can you know what is science and what is politics? Asking questions can help. Ask why the fossil fuels hurt the planet. You may get and answer such as "It's physics". Part of it is, part of it is computer models and mathematics which are not always accurate. If when you ask about why fossil fuel burning is bad the person calls you names (like denier or says you're just stupid) it's probably because this is something they believe but they don't know why. Or it could be that the person just doesn't want to be asked questions on their beliefs--which means this is politics. Science loves questions and will always take the time to explain.

Global warming is important we are told and very dangerous. There are all kinds of scary predictions. Shouldn't we DO something? Shouldn't we be worried? These are important questions. If fossil fuels really are hurting the earth, shouldn't we stop using them?

What if we did stop using fossil fuels? We would have to give up full-time electricity, cars, and go back to the old way people lived, without lights, cell phones, television, computers, etc. It would be very, very difficult and would harm a lot of people. We know this harm will happen, while we don't know for sure if CO2 and fossil fuels are actually going to cause something bad.

Wait--how about wind and solar? Can't we use those? They have free fuel. Yes, the fuel is free. The electricity is part-time and only when nature delivers it, not necessarily when we need it. Making the turbines and solar panels takes fossil fuels and mining. Then there's installation and we change the landscape. Plus, both forms of energy are very damaging to bird and bats. Neither energy source is practical today--it's why we stopped using such things and went to fossil fuels.

You're a young person who has heard all the scary stories about climate. How can you know what is true and what is fiction? Honest answer--you can't. What you can do is sensible things to keep the earth livable, like not littering, not wasting energy, reuse things and so forth. There are energy efficient lights, recycling, fuel efficient cars all of which are fine things to do if it's what you want to do. Will it save the planet? It's doubtful, both because these things are very small cuts in usage in the big picture and because we really don't know the planet is in need of saving. These are just ideas that make people feel good and do save on clutter and landfills. Keeping the planet reasonably clean is just a good idea.

Should you be worried the planet is dying--no. The science is not complete on what is involved in climate regulation on earth and whether we humans can really cause massive changes in the climate. It may not be understood before you have grandchildren. Maybe not ever. Panic and fear are the wrong responses to changes on the planet. It's also wrong to burden children with this and very wrong to try and frighten children into believing that global warming is absolutely true for political gain. Sadly, that is very often done as you can see in the news with all the name-calling and insults about those who do not agree with the global warming science.

How should you deal with this? You can be the person who finds a new efficient power source--one that truly revolutionizes things. You could be the one that does what Henry Ford did and takes us to a new way of traveling (I still want flying cars! Maybe you could be the one that creates one!) Maybe you could do like Edison and find a new way to make light (LEDs are a good start). What the planet needs is smart, curious people who try to make life better, not someone preaching fear and doom while demanding people go backward in their living conditions. Ask questions, study science and math. Learn how things work and take us to a better future. That's what you can do!

Computer Climate Games

This article contains artwork developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Electronic Arts Inc.

Birds Disappearing

Why so many birds are disappearing.

This article contains artwork developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Electronic Arts Inc.

Update on "When Extinction Isn't"

Seven years ago, the Aldara banded snail was declared extinct.  It was said to have gone extinct due to climate change.   Reports said it was one of the first species to have been lost to climate change.  The theory was that declining rainfall on their atoll had caused the snails all to die out.

Once again, nature proved to be much more capable of handling change than some scientists believe it can.  The small snail was found by a team of researchers.

Many news articles say climate change is still a threat to these snails.  It's so sad that humans can't celebrate the tough little snail instead of worrying about its future.  Nature is so remarkable and fascinating.   Enjoy it.

When Extinction Isn't

There is much talk of climate change leading to animal extinctions. The belief is more and more animals will go extinct because they cannot adapt. Humans are really very poor at knowing if animals are gone from the planet, however. Here are examples of animals science declared extinct, only to find the very resilient animals still out there.

A very large fish believed to go extinct 65 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. The fish was discovered in 1938 off the shore of Southern Africa.
Bermuda petrel
A small sea bird thought to be extinct 330 years ago. Eighteen nesting pairs were found in 1951in Castle Harbor (Bermuda).

Chacoan peccary
This critter was first described in 1930 based on fossils. It was believed to be extinct. In 1971, living peccaries were discovered in Argentina.

Lord Howe Island Stick Insect
The original Lord Howe Island Stick insects disappeared after rats escaped from a ship that ran aground. The rats had a taste for the insects. By 1960, the insects were declared extinct. In 2001, they were rediscovered on Ball's Pyramid, a volcanic stack 23 km (14 miles) from Lord Howe Island, living under the one bush growing on the very barren island. Two were brought back and breeding was tried. That attempt failed, but later, another pair did reproduce in captivity. If the rats can be removed by 2015, the scientists hope to reintroduce the insect to Lord Howe Island.

A fairly large flightless bird thought to be extinct after the last four specimens were taken in 1894. Then in 1948, after searching for the birds, a few pairs were found on the South Island, New Zealand.

Cuban solenodon
A rat-like animal found in 1861 and then thought to be extinct since no others were found. In 1974/1975 three were rediscovered in Cuba. Only 37 specimens have ever been caught.

New Caledonian Crested Gecko
Specimens were described in 1866 then none found until 1994. This gecko is popular in the pet trade, which greatly increased the species numbers and chances of remaining "not extinct".

New Holland mouse
First described in 1843 but not seen thereafter, the mouse was believed to be extinct until 1967 when it was rediscovered in Australia.

Giant Palouse earthworm
This very large worm was first seen in 1897, but disappeared thereafter. In 2010, scientists located the worm in Washington and Idaho.

Black-footed ferret
Identified in 1851, the ferret was declared extinct in 1979. In 1981, a rancher in Wyoming had a dog bring home a dead ferret. A colony was located and trapped, then a captive breeding program started. These have been reintroduced to the wild in several states.

Javan Elephant
In the 1800's the Java elephant was declared extinct. In 2006, a group of these elephants were discovered on Java Island, where they had been transplanted by a Sultan. The animal's survival was enabled by the transplant.

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Mountain Pygmy possum
These critters were discovered in the fossil record and believed to be extinct. In 1996, some possums were discovered at a sky resort in New South Wales.

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Pygmy tarsier
This animal looks very much like a Furby ( a child's toy, if you are not familiar with the Furby). They were believed to be extinct in the early 20th century. In 2000, they were discovered in Indonesia.

Caspian Horse
Last sighting of this horse was in 637 AD. In 1965, s person looking for a small horse for her children to ride found a small horse in northern Iran that resembled more a horse than pony. Additional research showed it to be the Caspian Horse.

Gilbert's potoroo
Discovered in 1840, the Gilbert's potoroo was considered extinct for 120 years before being found in 1994 in Australia.

Monito del Monte

A marsupial considered to be extinct for 11 million years, found only in fossil records. Then a population of these critters was found in Chile and Argentina.

As you can see from this list, which is not a complete list, we humans are not very accurate when saying things are "extinct". Just because we cannot find an animal does not mean they are gone.  Of course, some are, no doubt extinct (dinosaurs are, as are dodo birds and passenger pidgeons as far as we know) .  That's part of survival of the adequately fit that is seen in evolution.  Some species survive and others do not.  However, when people start predicting species extinctions and saying how bad this would be, remember these animals that fooled science and survived sometimes for millions of years as a species.  

(Photos are all from Wikipedia)