‘Cosmos’ Takes on Climate Change

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the new series from FOX and the National Geographic Channel, has received acclaim for its efforts to bring science education to primetime television. The show has covered topics as wide ranging as black holes, supernovas, and how the earth was formed. In the latest episode, which was among the most-watched shows on Sunday, host Neil deGrasse Tyson turns his attention to the important issue of climate change.

Throughout the episode, Tyson explains all facets of climate change, from its underlying scientific principles like the greenhouse effect to some common misconceptions, such as the difference between weather and climate. “If we scientists are so good at making these dire long-term predictions about the climate, how come we’re so lousy about predicting the weather?” he asks.

Weather, Tyson explains, can be defined as the short term fluctuations in atmospheric activity, whereas climate is a long-term average of weather patterns over a number of years. Tyson likens this difference to walking a dog on a leash. We can observe the dog’s trajectory by watching where the dog walker goes over time, not the dog itself. Watch the clip above for more detail.

As to the cause of climate change, Tyson says, all signs point to human activity. The amount of heat from the sun that reaches Earth has not changed, and even the largest scientific estimate of CO2 emitted by volcanic eruptions every year is not even 2% of that which human activity generates every year. He concludes, “Our fingerprints are all over this one.”

Yet, Tyson is careful to avoid the usual gloom and doom when talking about the future of the planet. Instead, he focuses on what we can do to combat climate change, like using renewable fuels. Solar power, for example, has been around since Augustin Mouchot unveiled his “sun machine” at the Paris World’s Fair in 1878, and if we could harness just 1% of the wind’s power, we could generate enough clean energy to power our entire civilization.

“It’s not too late,” Tyson says as the episode concludes. “We’ve had our backs to the wall before, and we’ve been able to push through to new heights… There are no scientific or technological obstacles to protecting the life that our world supports. It all depends on what we truly value, and if we can summon the will to act.”

Series co-creator Ann Druyan, who live tweeted the episode, seconded Tyson. “Use your knowledge and talent to awaken and inspire people. Demand action from representatives. Support science,” she wrote.

The episode can be viewed in full on Hulu and at CosmosOnTV.com.