The Apple Falls Down: Perspectives on Global Warming

On April 11, 2012, I presented an 11+ minute talk on global warming to the Ashburn Toastmasters Club. I recorded the video using video equipment borrowed from RubyNation and then edited it using Final Cut Pro. The final video is now available on YouTube, but it’s also embedded below for your convenience.

 

If you would prefer to just scan the content of the video, a transcript appears below:


 

I read something online that made me very angry. There’s a company out thereā€¦an organization called the Heartland Institute. They go around collecting money from conservatives, and from local companies … and they give that money to school systems to meet the educational needs that each school has.

I don’t have a problem with that. The problem I have is that they have an agenda.

Their agenda is to reduce the coverage of global warming, and to make it seem less important.

They do this by inserting words into the curriculum. Phrases like “the Earth is allegedly warming.” Or “some scientists think the Earth is warming.” Or my favorite – “the theory of global warming.”

This makes me angry because I’ve done some research, and I feel that global warming is probably the largest crisis the human species has ever faced.

It doesn’t look like much now, but it’s going to get a lot worse. And when I see an organization like the Heartland Institute actively taking actions that I think could hamper our capability to fight against global warming, it makes me very angry.

Now, I understand that global warming is a pretty complicated issue. It’s hard to wrap your head around global warming. Especially since there’s no smoking gun.

You can look at New Orleans after Katrina and say “My God! We’ve got to do something! People are going to die if we don’t help them!”

But right now, all we have is a couple of Pacific Islands that have disappeared. And a couple thousand natives have been displaced.

There’s no smoking gun right now.

It’s also clear to me that global warming is not going to go away. There’s no magic solution to it. And any solution we do have is going to come smack-dab from that tumultuous area where science intersects with politics.

So what I’d like to do tonight, I’d like to talk to you about global warming, and politics, and science, and apple trees, and maybe even the Titanic. And I’m going to try to do all this in something less than 30 minutes or so.

Politics

First, there’s one story that, to me, captures the essence of politics. Ronald Reagan, when he was a governor of California, took a stance on an issue. It doesn’t really matter what the issue was anymore, but he was so confident in his stance that he announced to his opponents and to his constituents that “My feet are set in concrete on this issue. I will not change my mind.”

As you might expect, a political battle ensued, and over the next couple of months … he lost.

He ended up in a situation where he needed to reverse the stance he’d taken. But that would have meant ceding victory to his opponents. He didn’t really want to do that.

So he held a press conference. In the early stages of a press conference, there’s always a little bit of fiddling with the equipment. And so he’s fiddling with the microphone, and this crackling sound goes out over the sound system. And people are looking at him … he’s the governor of California … they’re looking at him like: “My God! Is he deranged? What is he doing?”

And he stands there confidently, and says, “Ladies and gentlemen, the sound you just heard was concrete cracking around my feet. I have decided to reverse my opinion on this issue.”

That was all the media talked about for the next two weeks. His opponents, they weren’t even given an interview. Simply by virtue of showmanship, he may have lost that battle but he won the war against his opponents.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican or a Libertarian or anything else, that story to me is the essence of politics.

Politics is about showmanship, spin control, the perception of the truth (not necessarily the actual truth).

Science

Now, over here, we have science. In science, I’m not saying that the scientific field doesn’t have its politics, and there’s certainly feuding professors and things like that. But at the end of the day, science is about finding the truth.

And no matter what kind of noise comes from the scientific community, at some point … the truth will come out.

If there’s one thing, for me, that represents the essence of science, I’d like you to consider the lowly apple tree.

I’d like you to imagine for a minute that there’s an apple tree right here. Nice green leaves. Luscious red apples. After a moment, one of those apples falls to the ground.

Now, we all know that apples fall down out of trees. Our ancestors knew that. The Roman Empire knew that apples fell out of trees. Our caveman ancestors knew that apples fall down out of trees.

But it wasn’t until 1687, when a guy named Isaac Newton came along, with his Theory of Gravity and his Three Laws of Motion, that anybody could explain why apples fell down out of trees.

And then about 250 years later, a guy named Einstein comes along and says, “Well, you’re right for most situations, but for those situations that your theory can’t explain, I have my Theory of Relativity that explains those edge cases.”

So it took more than 250 years for the scientific community to really come to grips with why an apple falls out of a tree.

But the fact that an apple falls down … that’s a fact. Theories are explanations of why something happens. But the apple falling down, that is a fact.

Global Warming

Let’s consider global warming for a moment. Global warming is much like an apple falling out of a tree.

In the twentieth century, the sea level rose 20 inches. That can be measured. That’s a fact.

At the end of the twentieth century, the rate at which the sea level rose began to increase. That is measurable. That is a fact.

You can go to Antarctica, and you can measure how fast the ice is melting. It’s melting faster and faster. You can measure that. Those are facts.

Global warming is not a theory. Global warming is a set of facts all pointing in the same direction.

Now, I guarantee you, just like apples falling out of trees, gravity and Special Relativity — scientists are going to be working out the whys of everything having to do with global warming for the next 500 years. Because global warming, you know — your global climate, is a lot more complicated than an apple falling out of a tree.

What’s It Mean For Us?

So, global warming is a fact. What does global warming mean for us?

Right now, it doesn’t mean that much. Sea level has risen about 20 inches. As I said, there’s a few Pacific islands that have been displaced. But scientists are predicting — and this is a moderately conservative estimate — but by 2050 the sea level’s going to rise by another 3 feet. By 2100, it’s going to rise by another 3 to 5 feet beyond that.

And you start considering the impact of that kind of sea level rise on our coastal areas and our resort areas. I mean, let’s not even talk about New Orleans, and Venice, the Netherlands, and Bangkok, which are either already under sea level or very close to it.

A lot of coastal areas are going to be affected. Those coastal areas are very heavily populated, so over the next 80 years or so, you’re going to see about a billion and a half people on the move, being displaced because of global warming.

And I’m only talking about the water effects right now. New Orleans is certainly going to have problems. New York is coastal – it’s actually going to have problems in another 80 years in the way that New Orleans does, with storms and storm surges. You can get storm effects going much further inland. You can get effects like the salinzation of formerly freshwater water supplies because salt water extends further into the mainland whenever a storm occurs.

And that’s just the water. We haven’t really talked about the environmental impacts.

Consider, for example, a coral reef. A coral reef is composed of numerous plants – small plants that represent the foundation of an entire ecosystem. There are animals that eat those plants. There are fish that eat those animals. And we eat some of those top-level fish and shellfish. Coral reefs require sunlight, and are adversely impacted by rising sea levels. So, with global warming, we can have die-backs in all kinds of species.

Also, with rising global temperatures, we can have things like the desertification of central areas of continents, which could impact the United States. So, if you thought the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, which happened because of a multi-year drought — if you thought that was bad, consider what could happen with increased global temperatures.

So, from my perspective, when it comes to global warming, we’re almost like passengers on the Titanic. The ship has already hit the iceberg. We’re not seeing much in the way of effects yet. The ship is maybe tilting a little bit. But like the Titanic, if we don’t prepare for what’s coming, it’s going to get really ugly really fast. And preparation is going to be key.

Conclusion

And that brings me back to the Heartland Institute because I was very angry at them for hampering our efforts to educate children in what global warming is going to really mean for us. And by doing that, from my perspective, they are compromising, or potentially compromising, our capacity to respond to global warming in the future.

Because I believe, just as the so-called Greatest Generation was defined by World War II, I believe that the next 10 generations or so are going to be defined by how they deal with this global warming crisis.

So the first thing I want you to remember with global warming … the first step in anything like this … is to recognize that global warming is a real problem.

Right now, China and the United States are the top contributors of the green house gases that are generally considered to be instrumental in causing global warming. And in America, only 19% of people even perceive global warming as a problem. That means that to 81% of Americans, it’s just background noise.

So going forward, global warming … it’s a serious issue. It shouldn’t be background noise.

This entry was posted in Science, Toastmasters and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Post a comment or leave a trackback.

7 Comments

  1. Pete West
    Posted July 6, 2012 at 11:23 AM | Permalink

    David,

    I hope it is OK to give a small piece of advice. I’m not sure what the format was there but it “sounds” like you’re not necessarily speaking directly to the specific people in that room and I would have used the podium to keep from pacing back and forth. Keep good eye contact with those in the room so that they know you are speaking to “them”. I’m not in Toastmasters or anything like that but I thought I would give a small piece of advice. Hope that is OK. By the way, I did find your speech quite interesting. I think I’m going to have to watch it again.

  2. Sheila Powley
    Posted July 6, 2012 at 12:55 PM | Permalink

    good speech! I attended an eyeopening lecture on glacial archeology a few months ago. It’s very exciting, recovering full organic tools, 10,000+ years old, in situ as the glaciers retreat (before they rot, so it’s kinda frantic;), but the really striking aerial shots of the Canadian glaciers shrinking 80% or more over the last ten years are entirely relevant to your point. They’d make a powerful visual.. Would you like me to see if I can get some of those for you?

  3. Posted July 7, 2012 at 8:48 AM | Permalink

    Hi Sheila. Regarding the aerial shots, yes, absolutely, I’d like to see what you can come up with. I expect to do more talks related to this one in the future.

  4. Posted July 7, 2012 at 8:49 AM | Permalink

    Hi Pete.

    One of the reasons that I recorded the talk was so that I could see what I looked liked when I was speaking. I accomplished my main goal, which was to give a complicated 10-minute-plus speech from memory with no notes.

    But I was less effective in other aspects, which I couldn’t recognize until I’d seen myself on video. So your critique is absolutely correct (and advice is always welcomed). From my perspective, I was actually pretty effective at holding the attention of the audience.

    But I looked down too much when I was thinking, effectively breaking contact temporarily, so that’s something I need to work on. I wanted to remove the podium, so I could “use the floor” effectively, but the pacing during my talk was actually a distraction. Since then, I’ve seen other speakers walk to different places to make specific points…which is a better way to accomplish what I was trying to do. I also thought that I slouched a little bit and could have dressed up a little (since I knew I was recording the speech). Finally, my use of motions was decent, but again could have been more effective.

    All in all, I’m pleased with the speech but it also shows that I have more things to work on in terms of technique.

  5. Arild Shirazi
    Posted July 27, 2012 at 7:56 AM | Permalink

    Wow Dave,

    That was an excellent presentation. I really wish they had put a lavaliere mic on you.

    When I was at a previous company I was disgusted when one of the company’s founders did a global-warming denial talk in 2007.

    I remember your talks since the days of OAuth at the local RUG/JUG. Your speaking has progressed leaps and bounds since then.

    Congrats.

    Arild

  6. Posted July 27, 2012 at 8:24 AM | Permalink

    Thanks Arild! I’ve been working pretty hard to improve my speaking skills over the last few years, so it pleases me immensely when somebody tells me it’s been paying off.

  7. Posted November 23, 2012 at 10:05 AM | Permalink

    For historical interest, this is Mike Kerr’s original evaluation of my speech, which was right on point. Mike’s a long-time speaker within Toastmasters, so he knows what he’s talking about.

    I am not just the evaluator but I have the honor of being David’s mentor in the club. And it’s definitely a privilege to be able to give the evaluation for your Competent Communicator speech.

    It was project #10. The objectives were to inspire an audience by appealing to noble motives and challenging the audience to achieve a higher level of beliefs or achievement, which you did with your arguments on global warming.

    To appeal to an audience’s needs and emotions using stories, anecdotes, and quotes to add drama, which you did successfully.

    And avoid using notes, and I didn’t see any notes unless they were tatooed to the inside of your eyelids.

    So, good job.

    I really liked how you got right into things. It was a heck of an opening, and it kept people interested through the entire speech.

    It was well organized.

    I’d like to kind of go over some of the highlights…

    You understood and expressed the feelings and needs of the audience, I feel, very well. There were several folks that commented on things related to your speech in the Table Topics, that appealed to them, so you certainly struck a chord with some people.

    You were enthusiastic. I remember…your first to this speech, they’re very different. You’ve made a lot of improvments since then. So, great job with that.

    You used words to convey strong emotions and visuals like the coastal flooding and the islands that you were talking about that are no longer there in the Pacific. So, those were strong visual images.

    One of the really tough things about evaluating speeches that have to do with anything in any way related to politics is trying to do an evaluation that separates your personal thoughts from the actual speech itself. And that was a challenge for me, it’s going to be a challenge for anybody, doing evaluations.

    Because I actually have the opposite beliefs, but your arguments were compelling and, you know, generate thought. So that was a very good job in how you argued those. You presented facts, the arguments and the reasoning to support your arguments, and were very effective.

    Areas for improvement. When you switched from politics to the apple, I kind of had a hard time putting the two together. You came back later to relate them, but I found that my mind wandered through that whole section because I was trying to figure out how you were going to tie them together.

    You’re still doing the pacing thing, and that’s the only real critique that I have about the way that you give speeches. It is a little distracting, you pacing back and forth with your hands behind your back. it takes away from the message a bit. But, if you can work on that…

    The objective of the speech was to inspire tha audience and I think you did that. I think you’d be more inspiring if you worked on some of the mechanics that would keep the focus on what you’re trying to say, as opposed to what you do.

    So, congratulations on achieving your Competent Communicator.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your email address will never be published.