I was lecturing in an environmental science course this week, having students calculate the amount of carbon dioxide generated from burning gasoline in an average car driven an average number of miles per year. The amount is fairly astonishing.
We then began to build upon that, multiplying that number by the number of people in the lecture hall, the number of people in their town, the number of people in California, the US, and so on. I find that empowering students with the math and then allowing them to make calculations to see how overall impact grows in magnitude when a few million little-old-me’s are all doing the same things is very powerful.
Students are always kind of blown away by what they find.
Then one student asked, innocently, ‘but how is it that carbon dioxide is related to global warming?’
Sometimes, as a professor, I have to step back and get my bearings. You think you have a basis to begin with, a good point of departure, and then you realize that as deeply mired as our society has gotten in the highly politicized ’debate’ about climate change, what we are still lacking is a strong foundation in the science, which is all that should really matter.
Lecture was over. Hold that question, I said, it’s a good one.
Next lecture, we talked greenhouse gasses. And I shared this short video that explains the concept quite nicely. It’s useful and entertaining.