In honor of Earth Day, Professor of Physics Brian Stewart hosted his 14th annual Earth Week Rant titled “Last Call.” During his hour-long talk and Q&A, Stewart discussed global warming, fracking, fossil fuels, consumption, geoengineering, natural gas, and creating social change.
Stewart began his talk by showing the New York Times’s breaking news story, “Biden Will Commit the U.S. to Halving Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2030.” “I’ll just give you my ask right now,” Stewart said. “How can you help make this possible? If we are to truly reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases level that enables humanity as well as the other beings we share Earth with to exist, what will be necessary? Think about ways you can contribute to an avalanche of public opinion that eventually makes this possible.”
“Thanks to the superb record-keeping in Japan,” Stewart noted, the cherry blossoms in Kyoto peaked on March 26, the earliest in more than 1,200 years. “This record is another indication of phenological change—that is to say the changes in the behavior of natural organic systems—responding to climate change.”
Stewart explained that 2020 was tied for the warmest year on record, globally, with particularly severe warming in the Siberian Arctic.
Stewart said humans release 14 billion pounds of plastics into the ocean every year. “At this point, [plastic] is so widely distributed that particularly those who eat seafood are ingesting an average of a credit card’s worth of plastic every week.”
Stewart showed a NASA graph illustrating the global temperature anomaly from 1880 to 2020. “You can very easily see that we’re now at the 1-degree mark. This is a very nasty place for us to be.”
Stewart suggested that people “change your life” and “use your power” to make differences. “This means making some tweaks to your life that enable you to lobby and persuade from a position of authority and authenticity. Start today. It’s Earth Day,” he said. “This could be the day that you actually pay attention to the number of kilowatt-hours on your electric bill. It’s such a ridiculously tiny thing, but as soon as you know what it is, you begin to control it. You find that one thing that runs all the time and doesn’t need to. And you find that with a rather little effort and zero change in the quality of your life, you can reduce your energy consumption by half. You can do it, and then you can nudge others to do it.”
“Imagine a world in which because of the unavailability of resources and the expectation of their consumption. Imagine that scramble to consume the last things that are left in such a situation,” Stewart said. “By failing to mitigate the problems now, we are essentially consigning ourselves to a world in which we are obligated to burn the furniture.”
“The climate emergency continues unabated,” Stewart said. “The new administration has announced an ambitious plan of action, but making it a reality will take more than executive actions. Finding ways to create a surge of public opinion that supports and drives legislators to enact the needed laws is something everyone must participate in. The best way to do so is from a position of personal knowledge, which means taking personal action. A virtuous cycle between individual and collection is our best chance for shortening the time until effective action is taken on a society-wide scale.”
Stewart welcomed questions and comments from the audience following his talk.