Climate Crisis Q & A

“Here is a test to find whether your mission on Earth is finished: If you’re alive, it isn’t.”

Richard Bach

Take this quick quiz to test your global warming knowledge. The answers might surprise you.

1. Which would shrink your carbon footprint more?

a. Trading in a gas guzzling automobile for a hybrid-electric automobile

b. Moving to a Pacific island nation

c. Removing all animal products from your diet

2. Who said, “We simply must do everything we can in our power to slow down global warming before it’s too late. The science is clear. The global warming debate is over.”?

a. Barack Obama

b. Bristol Palin

c. Arnold Schwarzenegger

d. Al Gore

3. What has caused more global warming to date?

a. The burning of oil

b. The burning of coal

c. Cow burps and farts

4. Which country is most responsible, on a per capita basis, for global warming to date?

a. China

b. The United States

c. United Kingdom

d. Australia

5. Which releases more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere?

a. The production and use of gasoline made from tar sands oil

b. The production and use of gasoline made from corn ethanol

c. Cow burps and farts

6. Who said, “Our nation has both an obligation and self-interest in facing head-on the environmental, economic and national security threat posed by global warming.”?

a. Bill McKibben

b. Lady Gaga

c. John McCain

d. Nancy Pelosi

7. How many degrees Fahrenheit above the lake-wide average was Lake Superior this past summer (2010)?

a. 4

b. 13

c. 25

c. 98.6

8. Mile for mile, which mode of transportation adds the greatest amount of greenhouse gas (per passenger) to the atmosphere?

a. Horse

b. Automobile with internal combustion engine

c. Train

d. Jet

9. How many days of ice cover have Wisconsin’s inland lakes lost per decade since the 1950s?

a. 3

b. 7

c. 11

d. 98.6

10. Which would do more to slow global warming?

a. Building and living in a carbon-neutral home

b. Joining the movement to slow global warming and working with others to transform the way the world produces and uses energy

Photo by Rick Chamberlin

Okay, let’s see how you did:

  1. I suppose there is an argument to be made for south seas living, depending on the lifestyle one adopted, but I just threw that in there to make things more challenging. Switching from a gas guzzler to a hybrid electric vehicle can reduce your carbon footprint dramatically, to be sure, but not as much as becoming a vegan, according to a raft of recent scientific studies. So although c is the correct answer here, let’s not let the best be the enemy of the better. Going meatless just one day out of seven (for most of the world it’s the other way around) can substantially shrink the amount of greenhouse gas we emit. Er, and other kinds of gas, too. But don’t let that stop you from switching to the most fuel-efficient vehicle you can afford – or from driving less.
  2. Although Al Gore, Barack Obama and Bristol Palin have all said memorable things, it’s California’s Republican Governor, Arnold Schwarzenneger, who said that the global warming debate is over and we must do everything in our power to slow it down before it’s too late. The Governator has long been a leader when it comes to addressing the global climate crisis and supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy, to the chagrin of many of his fellow Republicans — and some Democrats he’s outdone. So the correct answer here is c.
  3. As the satirical newspaper, The Onion, recently reminded us on its front page, oil causes catastrophic environmental damage even when it’s used as intended (and not spilled into our oceans and rivers), but it’s still second to one (coal) when it comes to global warming emissions. The carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases produced by the combustion of coal have given the planet a fever. But add to that the particulate pollution (black or brown carbon) resulting from coal burning, which many scientists now think is the biggest cause of Arctic melt and sea level rise, and you’ve got a climate changer that makes oil look like an inexperienced upstart. Correct answer: b.
  4. The key phrases in this question are “per capita” and “to date.” China recently surpassed the United States as the largest emitter of CO2, but the U.S. still exceeds China’s emissions on a per capita basis. And since a good deal of China’s emissions come from the manufacture of products Americans consume, we’re the ones with the log in our eye. However, when you factor in the longevity of CO2 in the atmosphere, the United Kingdom deserves the sooty crown. The Brits have been heating up the planet ever since 1712 when Thomas Newcomen launched the Industrial Revolution by inventing the first practical steam engine (which burned coal and was used, ironically, to drain water from coal mines). As climatologist James Hansen has shown, the U.K. bears the greatest responsibility (per capita) for the global warming that’s occurred to date. This hardly excuses us or the Chinese, of course. Correct answer: c.
  5. When you count the fossil fuel energy used to grow the corn that is turned into ethanol, it’s hard to see how ethanol gasoline reduces overall greenhouse gas emissions, as some in the industry have claimed. Especially when you consider how many acres of carbon-sequestering land (fallow fields, woodlots, hedgerows) are being cleared and plowed up to produce ever more corn. But that’s nothing compared to the impact of gasoline rendered from tar sands oil. Studies have shown that greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands gasoline are 3 times higher than those of conventional gasoline by the time it is burned. And that’s to say nothing of the immense tracts of Canadian wilderness (which otherwise would absorb and store carbon) destroyed to extract those tar sands from the ground. So a (not b as erroneously published earlier; thank you, John S.) is the correct answer to this question.
  6. Senator John McCain said that. Correct answer: c.
  7. The lake-wide average temperature for Lake Superior in August is 55 degrees. This past August, however, scientists studying Gitche Gumee recorded a an all-time record-setting lake-wide average of 68.3 degrees. Warmer winters due to global warming are almost certainly to blame, according to those same scientists. Right answer: b again.
  8. Unless you’re talking about very long, transoceanic trips (which are almost impossible for most people to make any other way), flying adds the greatest amount of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere. Yes, some airlines are experimenting with biofuels, but wide-scale use is a ways off. Meanwhile, many airlines offer carbon offsets that ameliorate some of the environmental costs of air travel, but an unintended consequence of offsets and biofuels could be that they cause us to invest less in modern rail systems. I heard Erskine Bowles lament on Charlie Rose’s show the other night that China has invested over $30 billion in high-speed rail (using a lot of the interest money we’re paying them) while the U.S. has so far only invested about $9 billion. Even a deficit hawk like Bowles knows we need to spend more on trains. Correct answer: d.
  9. According to the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute, Wisconsin’s inland lakes have lost an average of one week of ice cover per decade since the 1950s, and the rate of loss is accelerating. Correct answer: b.
  10. Conserving energy at home, at work and in-between is a good idea for many reasons, not the least of which because it raises our awareness of how much energy we use and where it comes from. But there is a strong argument to be made that engaging politically is far more important. In order to effect the sweeping changes that are necessary if humanity is going to eke this one out, we can’t afford to play solitaire. I can’t point to any studies that show this empirically, but history indicates that it is far more cost effective (in terms of time and money) to work collectively for the changes required than to focus solely on individual lifestyle changes. But don’t take my word for it. Read the piece Bill McKibben wrote for Orion Magazine, “Multiplication Saves the Day.” It’s very convincing. Correct answer: b.

Scoring key:

10 correct:      Thanks for auditing my class, Mr. Gore.

8-9 correct:     Have you ever considered a career in public policy?

6-7 correct:     Student shows great potential. An A is certain with more effort.

4-5 correct:     C-plus. Keep reading Climate Chronicle.

2-3 correct:     Thanks for showing up.

1 correct:        Lucky guess!

0 correct:        So which congressional district do you represent?



  1. This was fun and informative. I learned lots to bolster my discussions with others, even though my answers were correct (sometimes sadly lucky guesses). It’s the nuance, it seems, that we need. Not just the loud talking but action *based on understanding* so the movement can be successful.

  2. I only got half of the answers correct! I thought I would do much better. Just makes me more determined to pay closer attention to the articles my clever, intelligent, sensitive nephew is writing!
    Thanks, Rick- Happy Thanksgiving from Napa Valley!

  3. Aw shucks. Thanks for playing along, Auntie. Happy Thanksgiving to you and the west coast wing of the clan.