“Drunken trees” in the Arctic lurch are growing in unpredictable directions and at bizarre angles, leaning on each other for support.
The cause is an excess of a certain liquid (but not alcohol). The water in the ever-frozen tundra beneath the trees is melting, causing the ground to soften and their roots to lose hold.
This may not sound like a very serious problem, but it is one of many environmental changes stemming from global warming that inspired Jay Mayfield, who works for the university’s public relations office, to join The Climate Project. The project sponsors lectures on global climate change based on former vice president Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth,” which won the 2007 Oscar for best documentary feature.
After seeing the movie, Mayfield applied to join the project as a presenter and, once accepted, went to a three-day training session in Nashville last January. Gore himself showed the trainees how to present the digital slideshow.
“He goes through the presentation point-by-point with his top science advisor. The underpinnings of the science are incredibly sound,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield made his first slideshow exposition at the University Center Monday night. Well, almost his first.
“I did it over the weekend for my parents. They gave me a standing ovation,” Mayfield said.
Monday night’s presentation garnered applause, and the crowd seemed to appreciate the scientific points made.
“I think more students need to see it,” Lacie Duffel, a sophomore in audiology, said. “I’m trying to get my friends involved.”
Mayfield said he was pleased to see people from different walks of life at the event, including students, faculty and people unaffiliated with the university.
He also said he wants to bring the information to as many people as possible and that he is very willing to make the presentation to any group at any time.
“It applies to everyone in a university setting,” he said. “The things it says are really simple things that everyone can do. Essentially there are three big points: Global warming is real, humans are causing it, but there’s something we can do about it,” Mayfield said.
Global warming is a result of solar radiation entering through the Earth’s atmosphere, reflecting off the surface of the earth and then being unable to exit back out through the atmosphere. Normally the atmosphere retains enough heat to be hospitable to life, but increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause too much radiation to be trapped, he said.
The now heated Earth causes problems like the drunken trees, along with melting glaciers, rising oceans, stronger hurricanes and altered rain patterns, Mayfield said.
In response to critics who say global warming is not caused by humans, Mayfield cited data from a mountain peak in Hawaii taken every year since 1958 that shows a steady increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
Also, he said scientists have tested the air trapped in glacial ice by drilling into the cores of glaciers and taking samples at different layers. These samples show that the current carbon dioxide levels in the air are the highest in 650,000 years at 380 parts per million.
The Climate Project expects that number to increase to 600 parts per million in 45 years if energy use does not change.
“That’s a scary effect to look at,” Mayfield said.
Part of what makes that scary, he said, was the strong correlation between increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increased temperatures.
Mayfield then showed several different measurements of energy consumption and carbon dioxide production, in all of which the United States led the world.
The solution, according to Gore and Climate Project participants like Mayfield, is to reduce U.S. energy consumption by promoting hybrid cars, solar and wind power and higher emissions standards.
After the lecture, Dominique Brockman, a sophomore in English, offered her own solution, one that mixed environmental concern with consumerism.
“I’ll go buy a plant,” she said.