Saturday, April 21, 2012

An Earth Day at the Museum

It's Earth Day tomorrow. I spent part of today at the Science Museum of Minnesota's Earth Day Tweetup, which featured talks by Will Steger, Shawn Otto, and Maggie Koerth-Baker.

Will Steger waiting to speak at the Science Museum of Minnesota
Steger shared his observations from traveling in the Arctic over the last 20 years. It's an area the size of the U.S. and Mexico combined, which used to be solid ice. Now you can no longer reach the North Pole by dog sled because there's too much open water. He also talked about the glaciers of Greenland, which are moving much more rapidly now than in the past because more melt means more lubrication, speeding their ooze to the sea.

He showed a time-lapse video like this one, from, of a Greenland glacier. The glacier is three miles wide, and a mile of it disappears in the two months under observation.

Cover of Fool Me Twice, with erlenmeyer flask with lightning storm inside
Shawn Otto was almost as scary when he showed a clip of John Boehner opining that CO2 isn't carcinogenic (???), and that the idea CO2 could be harmful to the environment is "almost comical" (around minute 3). Otto's book, Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, just won a Minnesota Book Award for nonfiction. I loved when he said "Science is never partisan, but it's always political." I'll have to read that book soon.

Unfortunately, I had to leave before Maggie KB gave her talk, but I gather from the tweets it was similar to parts of her recent book, Before the Lights Go Out. And since I've already read it, I will have to share some thoughts on it here soon.

The Science Museum also today opened its Future Earth exhibit on energy and climate change, with interactive displays on ocean acidification, farm land use, and wasted energy.

Large pinball machine with one side straight path of heat loss and other side zigzag as heat is used for different purposes
Did you know that natural gas burns at 3600°F to heat your house to 75°, and then the excess is vented into the atmosphere -- but if the same gas is burned to create electricity, the excess heat can be used to heat buildings and water instead of being vented?

The museum's giant pinball machine explains it all.

Closeup of part of the pinball machine with labels indicating use of heat for buildings and water

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