authored by Physicist, Husband and Enlightened Man, Frank H. Sanders…
Tabulated data are sucky; I find it hard to make sense of numbers when they are crammed into tables. Graphs of those same data, on the other hand, show you the shape (literally) of things at a glance. Here are two graphs to consider. One of them is terrifying; the other one should give all of us some hope for the future.
This is not to show you that climate-changing CO2 is going up—everyone, even intentionally thick-headed people, knows that it is—but rather so that you can see that the –rate– that it is climbing upward is –increasing–.
The increasing rate of change is shown by the increasing steepness of the CO2 curve from left to right, as time progresses. Anybody can find this simply by graphing tangents to the curve, as I’ve done here. Have a little fun and try it yourself.
I’ve drawn three such tangents as long red arrows. When Dwight Eisenhower was finishing as President in 1960, CO2 was increasing at about 0.88 parts per million on a yearly basis. Thirty years later, when George H. W. was President, it was going up twice as fast, at about 1.65 ppm every year. Just twenty-five years after that, when Obama was wrapping up his second term, it was going up at about 2.0 ppm per year.
This increasing slope (0.88, then 1.65, then 2.0), this steepening rate of increase, has a name: acceleration.
We are not just boosting CO2 from year to year, we are –accelerating– our accumulation of CO2 from one year to the next. This acceleration is terrifying because we are likewise LOSING TIME AT AN ACCELERATING RATE in which to come to grips with exploding CO2 levels before we completely screw ourselves and the entire planet upon which we depend for our lives and the lives of our descendants.
This acceleration is occurring for two reasons:
- We are burning carbon, worldwide, at an increasing rate from year to year. This accelerating burn rate exceeds the world’s population growth rate. The acceleration is slightly due to population growth but it is mostly due to the desire by people worldwide to enjoy a higher standard of living by burning more and more carbon on a per-person basis. It is short-term individual gain at the cost of long-term collective disaster.
- Existing natural reservoirs that have been sopping up excess CO2 in the atmosphere are becoming saturated. The biggest single CO2 sponge has been Earth’s oceans. They have soaked up a lot of or our CO2. But they cannot absorb unlimited amounts indefinitely. Physical scientists are already seeing the chemical signs that our oceans, rapidly acidifying and losing coral reefs as they become bloated with CO2, are slowing their CO2 intake. As they become saturated, more and more CO2 is remaining in the air. As oceans warm up, they are in fact now beginning to return previously absorbed CO2 back into our atmosphere.
Unfortunately, our accelerating rate of carbon burning combined with the incipient loss of a big reservoir that, until now, has been sopping up a lot of it is trashing the entire planetary ecosystem upon which we and our descendants are all depending for survival. Flooded coastal cities, drowned islands and disastrous worldwide food production problems will be the inevitable result if this trend continues.
Think about that when defeatists (often with a financial interest in burning carbon) say that we can’t manage to reduce and eventually cease carbon burning. We certainly, absolutely CAN do it. But it’s going to take concerted, sustained, large-scale action by governments, rather than by well-meaning individuals on bicycles, to make it happen.
Or not. If we don’t get moving on this in a meaningful way in an ever-shortening period of time, then we’ll all be reaping the disastrous consequences. No-one anywhere, be they richer or poorer, browner or whiter, will be immune from the adverse effects of a planet that’s being slowly roasted to death.
Which brings me to the second data plot, the one that should give us hope. It is a graph of the number of women in the U.S. House of Representatives. It shows the number of these women as a percentage of each of their own parties’ House numbers from 1907 to the present. (Source: Wikipedia.)
Look at it.
There were no women in the House until just over a century ago. For half of this country’s existence, we wouldn’t let women participate in Congressional decision-making. Then, after 1907 and until 1987, through four generations, the number of women in the House crawled between about 2 per cent to 5 per cent. Female representation was essentially the same for both parties, and the overall rate of increase was nearly zero for both of them.
Then in about 1990, when George H.W. was getting started as President, the curves show us that two remarkable, nay astounding, things happened.
Thing One: In just thirty years, a generation and a half, the total number of women in the House rose meteorically.
Thing Two: This increase in women House members was (and is) almost entirely within a single party, the Democrats. Democratic representation of women in the House went from about 5% to over 35%, a seven-fold rate of increase, in a third of a century. As political change in America goes, that is a break-neck pace.
Meanwhile, House representation by women in the other party hasn’t accelerated at all. Instead, it’s been stuck at less than ten per cent ever since the Democratic skyrocket blasted off the pad around 1990.
The divergence has now been sustained for thirty years. It screams out at us. This is not some quick flash in the pan. This is a long-term, systemic reflection of things that have happened, and are still happening, in the two main U.S. political parties. It is saying, in the clearest way possible, that a very real, quantifiable difference between the two parties has developed since about 1990 and that it is continuing to accelerate.
These divergent curves put the lie to the idea that both parties are somehow equivalently good or bad for this country’s future well-being. The curve that’s shooting upward points the way toward the future. The other speaks of being mired in the past; that party’s vision for the future seems to be to let grumpy old white men keep on calling the shots. How’s that working out for us?
The divergence of these two curves shows in the clearest way possible the deep, and extraordinarily sustained, dichotomy in attitudes toward women across the two main American political parties.
Voters in one party are rapidly putting more women into responsible decision-making positions in Congress. They are sustaining that trend across multiple decades. There is no better way than that to say, “I need you and I trust you; please help extricate us from this mess into which we’ve gotten ourselves.”
Meanwhile the other party, although it dearly covets women’s votes, is demonstrably unwilling to put women into the driver’s seat for directing taxing and spending. (The House is all about the Power of The Purse: it pretty much controls national taxing and spending.) That’s how you say, with a pat on the head, “You’re nice but you’re second-class; go sit in the back of the bus where you belong, sweetie.”
Again I say, Wow.
To solve our first problem, the disastrously accelerating rate of CO2 accumulation and the catastrophic outcomes that will result if it isn’t addressed quickly, we need to hear and apply women’s voices and brains in Congress and the White House. (There’s no certainty that women will move this forward, but Good Lord, the men certainly aren’t managing it worth a damn.)
We still have a long way to go. The Senate and the White House are still controlled by flim-flam artists whose only skill is enriching themselves and their families at our expense. We need to make 2020 even better than 2018 has been. But at least one party is showing sustained performance in getting enough women into the House to make the changes that we desperately need.