How Climate Change Works

Most things in your life contain carbon. You contain carbon. Plastic contains carbon. Food contains carbon. Gasoline contains carbon. Air contains carbon.

We burn carbon fuels like gasoline, oil, natural gas, and coal to produce energy and heat. The combustion process causes the carbon molecules to break apart and combine with oxygen to form mostly carbon dioxide and some carbon monoxide.

We are a major force on the earth, building skyscrapers, a dizzying number of cars, a swarm of air travel, lots of trade and shipping. All these activities put carbon dioxide into the air.


If you’ve ever eaten peanuts or sunflower seeds in the shells, you know how much waste there is. That’s a lot like carbon pollution: we are getting the energy out from the carbon-chained molecules, and it leaves the carbon afterwards. Over the years, we have all these extra carbon gases around. Some of them get eaten by plants to grow, but the plants only eat so much every year. Others end up in the ocean, where they turn the ocean more acidic. If you have ever put an egg in a carbonated soda, you know it will slowly dissolve the shell of an egg!

Eggshells are made out of the same stuff as sea life like corals and clams and some types of plankton use to protect themselves. Having an acidic ocean is bad news for the ocean ecosystems.


The air filling with carbon dioxide makes it absorb and emit more infrared radiation. You can think of this like being in a dark-painted room or a light-painted room with the same lamp. The dark room is darker, because the dark walls will absorb more light. If we live in a world with more carbon in the air, it will mean we live in a hotter world.

But, just like you can read under the lamp in the dark-painted room, you can still find cold places and seasons on a hotter world.


What can we do to not add so much carbon in the air? We can make choices about what we buy, and we can tell the government we want them to work on the problem. We have had pollution problems before, and dealing with them did not destroy the economy. It has saved lives, and it makes us healthier. In the case of carbon pollution, the health impacts are not as direct as things like mercury and lead, but the long-term trends are clear.

Living in a world with too much carbon in the air will make the oceans less productive, which will make human life harder. It will make storms and droughts and forest fires worse. It will add to disease, famine, and social unrest that will bring war.

We have to choose to reduce the carbon in the air.

Religion’s Compatibility with Science

In very broad strokes, religion can be compatible with science. But you can’t really take the details of current religious texts too seriously (barring extraordinary evidence emerging). So what does it mean for someone to “follow a bible” and still believe in science?

Take creation myths, for example. Can you believe a deity created man directly? Can you believe in a great flood? Miracles? Not really, at least not entirely. Science has a pretty detailed map of how man developed, contradicting creation myths. Barring evidence, creation myths are the opposite of science. Same with the great flood. While it sounds like a heavily watered-down account of a mass extinction, unless ancient scientists had their accounts heavily bastardized, it’s just another myth.

As for miracles, science rejects them absolutely. A miracle to science is either a false account, a major coincidence (low-probability event), something that is not yet understood, or some combination of these. Science rejects the genuine meaning of the term, though. That’s something like, “an event that defies coherent reality entirely in favor of the whims of some preternatural scheme or order.” If reality makes sense at all, it must be consistent. Half-assed realities make for bad avant-garde films that inevitably punt on so many details as to make them unwatchable.

Can we even believe in an agent infinite in time?

Maybe. We know the universe has a long lifetime, if not infinite. We know some things about what it really probably means for something to exist in time. Namely we know it changes. Time requires change, insofar as the thing itself must change, or at least its surroundings change relative to it.

So there may be some specks of dust in the universe that are almost its age and have not changed, except their position has. Their environment has.

Can the same be said of a deity? Could a god exist in rigid, unchanging form? And, if so, what does the fact of the universe changing do to the properties of that god?

Books like the Christian bibles depict their gods as having emotional states. That would require some sort of change. A common claim in religious debates is that gods and deities are timeless, but that would seem to preclude interactions. A modified argument might state that gods are over time, or beyond it, but can still act within it. But acting within it is still a temporal change.

Rigidity is not obviously a feature rather than a bug, either. The ability for change is one of the greatest forces science knows. The principles of evolution are surely too powerful to be ignored by a deity, and yet there are many theists that deny the power of evolutionary systems (which, so far, it appears all systems are).

When you have a good grasp of the reach of science, what room is left for gods? Some does remain. Sustainable religion is something more akin to a moral code. But even that is chewed by science, so that it must not make proclamations against behaviors without reason. What remains is the ideal of a being having greater insight and cognitive capacity than man making moral decisions based on more-perfect knowledge.

Religion is about 1% compatible with science. When you strip away its historical inaccuracies, its prejudiced pseudomorality, what’s left is mostly something like the Golden Rule or a bit of sentiment about man’s place in the world being to do good and be kind.

And what of a personal relationship with a specific deity or deity-proxy? As long as it stays in the confines of your skull, it’s your business. Unless science can see it, you probably won’t get the benefit of the doubt from the science-minded anymore than someone that claimed to be in telepathic contact with extra-terrestrials. But if it gives you joy to play hyper-chess with Gleep-glorp, and you’re not harming others or blocking their rights, don’t let us stop you.

The notion of trust in a god is still interesting. Due to the superstitious nature of man, having trust is important. In a world where governments, institutions, individuals, and systems can and do break down, having a trust that some fabric is forever unstained appeals to us. But that trust often ends up in the hands of religious zealots. And they, in turn, often cause or contribute to the very calamities that the trust is meant to protect from.

Religion is a nice social activity. If treated as such, rather than as a lifestyle that dictates behavior, it is fine. 99% of the time, that’s all it appears to be used for. Folks, aspiring to be better, getting together and helping each other. That’s wonderful. It’s only when it becomes a cause for mob ethics, anti-equality, and the like, that it really starts to be a problem. And most of those behaviors are provoked not by religion, but simply use the religious groups as their shield.

Ideas for Useful Vapor Studies

We’ve seen some useless studies come down, but what are some useful studies that scientists could do to inform the public better about vaping?

Fine details on nicotine absorption

This will likely take a series of studies to gather enough data over various levels of vaping, but the gist is how do various vape parameters alter nicotine absorption rates?

Examples of the parameters involved include wattage/vapor density, technique of inhale/exhale (e.g., steal vaping versus cloud chasing versus “regular” vaping), and length of puffing session.

Unknown parameters might include modifications by ambient temperature, food, drink, circadian rhythm/oral mucus membrane’s biocycle, etc.

Also, how much does the same vaping regimen vary nicotine absorption between individuals? Are some subjects naturally more efficient at vapor-nicotine absorption than others?

Just-noticable Difference (JND) of nicotine levels

If a vaper uses a 12mg concentration, can they tell if they try an 11mg or 13mg? Does the JND vary with vapor density or other parameters above (it likely does with some)?

Understanding the JND may help with vapers that wish to lower or discontinue their vapor use. If they can step down at the right rate, it may improve their success.

It may also help manufacturers decide how to optimize their products. E.g., if an atomizer has a “hot start” feature that can increase vapor density for the first vapes of the day, it may help smokers that are reliant on that first cigarette but otherwise vape. If they can tell a smoker something like, “studies have shown that this increase in vapor density is equal to increasing the nicotine solution by x%,” it could help the vaper make a more informed choice about how to use the product to overcome their “first cigarette” issue.

It could also be used to innovate a dual-tank design where one tank is nicotine-free. If the user receives nicotine vapor for the first several puffs of a session, and the device then switches to the virgin liquid, is the session still satisfying?

Innovations in detecting nicotine absorption levels

Is there an easy-to-use proxy measure for measuring blood serum levels of nicotine? For example, can heart rate or blood pressure measures be sufficiently correlated to get a robust measure without blood draw? Such a finding could significantly improve the variety of studies done, as they would be simpler to design and conduct.

Investigations of dehydration

How much of an issue is dehydration? Can it be alleviated through using higher-density vapor with higher nicotine levels? Lower-density with higher levels? At this time the issues of dehydration appear to be anecdotal with no formal investigations. Are some individuals more vulnerable to the effect? Is it even a real effect (i.e., does vaping actually lower body hydration)?


These issues may not seem as profound as detecting formaldehyde, but each of them could positively help both public health and the vaping marketplace improve. For example, the FDA might require dehydration warnings on vaping products if the concern is great enough. But lacking evidence, the FDA apparently ignores that potential hazard entirely in their proposed rules.

Proper hydration is a real issue not just in daily health, but long-term avoidance of organ stone formation among other problems. It deserves to be given at least a cursory study if vaping is to be regulated.

Comparative Chemistry

It’s a very lame argument, and one that happens all too frequently in the news media. The prominent recent example was the recent news that a bread-additive (azodicarbonamide) was being removed from a fast-food chain’s bread, because (gasp (though, literally; see below)) that same chemical is used in yoga mats.

Don’t get me wrong, they should remove it. Because of what the chemical does (contributes to asthma). Not because of guilt-by-association, though.

The mentioning of yoga mats is clearly a foolish association on the part of journalists. It is as if to say, “you wouldn’t eat yoga mats, would you? Are you some kind of sicko?” So of course, nobody wants to be attached to the yoga mat eating stigma.

Another common example that pops up is propylene glycol (PG; found in Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) aka e-cigarettes, nicotine vaporizers (or other such terms as e-hookahs, vape pens, and probably, at this point, anti-child diol/polyol ordnance)). Quoting Wikipedia: Propylene glycol: “Applications” (references removed for readability):

Like ethylene glycol, propylene glycol is able to lower the freezing point of water, and so it is used as aircraft de-icing fluid. Water-propylene glycol mixtures dyed pink to indicate the mixture is relatively nontoxic are sold under the name of RV or marine antifreeze. It is also used to winterize a vacant structure. […]

Propylene glycol is a minor ingredient in the oil dispersant Corexit, used in great quantities during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

No, the fact that PG is a minor ingredient in Corexit does not make it toxic (though Corexit certainly is nasty stuff).

Chemistry just doesn’t work in a way that fits the sensationalist agenda, fortunately. You don’t hear of that vile chemical, nicotine, being present in things as benign and tasty as potatoes and tomatoes. But it’s there (only about a microgram for hundred grams, or less; for eggplant apparently as few as ten grams may contain a microgram of nicotine).

Nor do you often hear that other peoples’ breathing (much less your own) may be killing you: we exhale formaldehyde at several parts per billion, and it’s a known carcinogen. Formaldehyde has long been used as an embalming agent. You’re breathing out an embalming agent (and a constituent of adhesives used in carpeting and plywood). Sicko.

Formaldehyde is toxic, and exposure should be limited. But in minute quantities it is not something to lose sleep over. We should keep in mind that chemical interactions and dangers are always a matter of what the chemical is/does, and how much of it there is.

But you won’t hear sensationalist articles try to keep things in perspective. They’re more likely to invite us to over-dose on fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Even so-called top-tier journalists, publications, and venues fall into this ugly racket.

To understand why we get stuck with a tirade of yoga mat-related dreck, we must follow the path of the story backwards. Undoubtedly the chemical’s use in the bread of the fast-food chain came up. And the reporter did not know anything about that chemical, so they asked an expert, “where’s that chemical used?” The expert listed some examples, and the one that seemed the most imagistic turned out to be yoga mats (though some did mention shoe rubber).

It would be like meeting aliens, and they say, “oh, earthlings, we know about them. They’re the same species as [insert any infamous historical person you want].” And then they would surely blast it across their equivalent of news media.

Evolution versus Tower of Hanoi

The Tower of Hanoi (Wikipedia: Tower of Hanoi) is a neat little stacking game. The rules are simple:

  1. There are a number disks of varying sizes.
  2. There are (typically) three slots the disks can sit on.
  3. Only one disk may be moved at a time.
  4. Only the top disk of a stack may be moved.
  5. No larger disk may be placed atop a smaller disk.

The goal is to get the entire stack of disks from one slot to another.

In this arrangement, it would be sensible enough to call out a natural ordering of the disks, from largest (bottom) to smallest (top). You could create a sensible narrative where the smaller disks are more fragile, or more exalted, or whatever.

The problem with many laypersons’ accounts of evolution (particularly those portrayed as deniers, e.g., in documentaries) is that they attempt to impose this sort of narrative where one doesn’t belong. In large part this may be due to the phrase, “survival of the fittest.” But regardless it is demonstrably false and it undermines any attempt to actually understand evolution.

Let’s start with that phrase. You have many animals or creatures in an environment, and suddenly food becomes scarce. The pressure on these animals causes some to starve, others to fight, &c.

What fitness means, and all it means, in that context is that those animals who happen to be best able to cope with the pressure will survive. That may be due to them hiding, running away, being lazybones that happened to sleep through a catastrophe, &c.

Fitness is being used very loosely in that phrase. It doesn’t mean the one that can run the 100 meter dash the fastest, nor the one that can bench-press n times its own body weight. It lends no credence to eugenics, for example, unless your idea of eugenics is letting random chance determine the gene pool.

They happened to survive, and that’s all that was required for them to be called fit. If you repeated the event 1,000 times, and some subset of the population portrayed a similar tendency to avoid the catastrophe in a large set of those trials, that would be a measure of fitness. But even once, even a fluke, still imbues them with some level of fitness.

When creatures or animals change from one species to another, it means there has been enough genetic change that they can no longer reproduce with their ancestors’ other species (be they the old species or other derived ones). That doesn’t mean the other species are extinct, nor does it mark them as inferior. It’s just a statement of biological fact.

The notion that we, as humans, are superior to all the other species is a common human belief. It may bear out in certain contexts, but it fails in many as well. For example, we cannot survive by swimming around in antarctic waters, eating krill. No, we are adapted to particular environments even if we may possess the intellect to adapt to a wider range of environments than other species.

Do us a favor, documentarians. When you wish to produce a documentary about those who deny evolution, please make sure they first take a class that dispels such fallacies, both ubiquitous and idiosyncratic.

If they still choose to disbelieve the science based on an understanding of it, fine. But calling them disbelievers when they don’t even have the correct picture to disbelieve reads as disingenuous. More akin to telling a joke poorly, and then when they don’t laugh writing it off to their poor sense of humor.