It’s getting hot in here (so hot), and fossil fuels are to blame. 

When sitting in a parked car, on a sunny day, with the windows rolled up, the inside of the car is going to get hot. Really hot. The glass windows and roof of the car allow the sun’s energy to enter the car, but that heat is unable to escape. The trapped heat makes the car hotter and hotter.

Well, something similar is happening to our earth. Heat from the sun shines onto the earth’s surface. The earth accepts the heat and sends back the heat that it doesn’t need. The earth is trying to stay in equilibrium with the energy from the sun. So, the earth accepts some of the heat, but not all of it.

But something happens to the heat that is being sent back up. In the atmosphere is a layer of gases that act like a blanket over the planet. And, these gases take some of the heat from the earth and send it back down to the earth. This heats the earth up more. The heat is trapped just like that hot car.

These gases are called the greenhouse gases because a greenhouse is full of windows that let heat in, but don’t let heat escape. The layer of gases in the atmosphere behaves the same way the windows of the greenhouse behave.

The greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide and less popular gases like methane and nitrous gas. The role of carbon dioxide is important because this gas is produce in the burning of fossil fuels.

Scientists have found this warming trend has taken off in the last 200 years. This is exactly the same timeframe that society started using fossil fuels in earnest. This era is called the Industrial Revolution and coincides with the growth of factories, power, agriculture and transportation (read: cars). Cars produce greenhouse gases, but so do cows. Cows burp methane gas, which is warming our planet too.

So what can you do?

Get an energy efficient car, use LED light bulbs, insulate your home, and recycle.

If everyone does one small thing, all of us together, will make a big impact and stop this warming trend. According to Michael Mann, a climate scientist, we only have about 10 years to change this around before the earth goes to a point of no return.

So, do something small today and help make a big change. Fight the molecules that heat the planet!

 

Learn more here:

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars by Michael Mann (featured in the podcast)

 

Salad might be one way to reduce our dependence on oil.

Every year 2 billion tires are sold. Each tire is made from 7 gallons of oil. The oil, which comes from fossil fuels, is converted to make the synthetic rubber. Many are worried about this way of doing business because it isn’t sustainable.   What is needed is another source of rubber for tires.

Enter Lettuce.

Scientists at the University of Calgary in Canada found another source of rubber and that is lettuce. Lettuce makes natural rubber. Dr. Dae-Kyun Ro found that lettuce makes rubber and can be cultivated in cold climates like the US and Canada.

Tires used to be made from natural rubber, which came from the Brazilian rubber tree. Even Thomas Edison in the 1930 sought other plants to make natural rubber and found that the Canadian weed called the goldenrod was a good candidate. Edison, with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, tried to produce high quality natural rubber from it. But, that work was abandoned once chemists found how to make synthetic rubber from oil. Now, modern scientists are picking up where Edison left off.

Lettuce produces a flowering stem. Inside this stem is a milky substance that contains key ingredients to make natural rubber.

“We found it [lettuce] produces very high quality natural rubber but of a very low quantity,” Ro said. He continued, “the quality is almost the same as that from the Brazilian rubber tree.” This group is also exploring other plants to make natural rubber.

The work is still in the early stages, so it will be some time — five to ten years — before you see a tire with the words “Made from Lettuce, “ on the side. However, what needs no dressing is how impactful lettuce will be.

 

Next Generation Science Standards: NGSS LS2.A