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Apr. 30, 2010

Hot tub

by Neil Wagner

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MIT professor illustrates global warming with a carbon bathtub. Is there a matching carbon sink in that bathroom?

MIT Sloan School of Management Professor John Sterman asked 212 MIT grad students about global warming. When queried as to how much we needed to reduce carbon emissions in order to stop accumulation in the atmosphere, 84% of the students dramatically underestimated the severity of the problem.

Like much of the general population, the students didn’t truly understand the nature of human-induced greenhouse gas buildup. The key to understanding the fundamental problem behind anthropogenic climate change may be in how the problem is visualized. We can all understand a tub that doesn’t drain quickly enough. Professor Sterman’s tub metaphor also shows why the effects of climate change will even last beyond any shutdown of greenhouse gas emissions; the water takes a while to drain.

The Sterman carbon bathtub scenario doesn’t include the garden hose that Bebbo introduced above, but then Bebbo always has been one to think outside the box.

Plunge in …

Terrific visuals illustrating the tub concept in National Geographic

Time Magazine article

Article about John Sterman from the MIT newsroom

Q & A with John Sterman

Professor Sterman, a Climate Interactive partner, was kind enough to pass along this online climate simulator for "What on Earth?" readers

About Neil Wagner

Neil Wagner's What on Earth? comic strip uses humor to discuss global warming.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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