Imagine that a baby representing all life on earth is stuck in a “climate bathtub” filling up with water at 50 Liters per minute (L/m) from two running faucets. When you arrive, the bathtub has filled up with 1000 L of water.
The “Burning Machine” water faucet is pouring 35 L/m into the bathtub, but the faucet is connected to the overhead “Aerosols” cistern containing 350 L of water which will proportionately pour into the bathtub as the faucet is turned off. That is, for every 1L/m reduction in the water flow from the faucet, 10 L of water will pour from the Aerosols cistern into the bathtub one time.
The “Killing Machine” water faucet is pouring 15 L/m into the bathtub, but the faucet is connected to the drain and the “Vegan Reforestation” tank so that as the faucet is shut off, the drain proportionately unclogs and drains up to 30 L/m into the tank. That is, for every 1L/m reduction in the water flow from the faucet, the drain will unclog and allow an additional 2L/m to flow from the bathtub into the tank.
The “Vegan Reforestation” tank can hold an additional 2000 L of water before it overflows. The baby is already struggling to breathe and will most certainly drown if the climate bathtub holds more than 1200 L of water.
When the planet is overheating and dying, it makes sense to shut off the Burning Machine and the Killing Machine that we have unleashed on this planet. The only question is how…
1. Can you save the baby and drain the bathtub without overflowing the “Vegan Reforestation” tank? – YES.
2. If the answer to 1 is Yes, determine
a) how long you can procrastinate before it becomes impossible to save the baby – 2.58 minutes
b) the minimum that you need to raise the water level in the bathtub in order to save the baby and drain the bathtub. – 63.2 liters
3. Answer 1 and 2 assuming the Killing Machine faucet is rusty and it takes you 5 minutes to linearly reduce its flow to zero. – 0.1 minutes and 195 liters
Please watch the video below for detailed explanations on the solutions to this problem.
Fires, floods, droughts, hurricanes – if these extreme weather events had been happening a few hundred years ago, perhaps we would all be attributing them to supernatural forces. Now, thanks to science, we know that it is all just physics, chemistry and biology, with a bit of randomness thrown in. Therefore, the Climate Bathtub Problem has been formulated to be a realistic analogy to our global climate emergency.
The 1000 Liters of water in the Bathtub corresponds to the 1000 Gigatons of CO2 we have added to the atmosphere since 1750. The inflow of 50 L/m into the bathtub corresponds to the 51 Gigatons of greenhouse gases we are emitting each year. When the Killing machine faucet is shut off, it reduces the net inflow into the bathtub to 5 L/m, a 90% reduction in the inflow, which corresponds to the 87% reduction we expect in real life. The 2000 Liters of Vegan Reforestation potential corresponds to the 2000 Gigatons of CO2 that can be stored through rewilding grazing lands. The 350 Liters in the Aerosols cistern corresponds to the one-third increase in radiative forcing that will occur when aerosols disappear as well as the outgassing of CO2 that will occur from the ocean/land as we reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
Science is not bad, there is only bad science. We can use science to transform our world to make things better not worse and bring about permanent change.