55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
San Francisco CA
Regular Hours:


9:30 am – 5:00 pm


11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Members' Hours:


8:30 – 9:30 am


10:00 – 11:00 am

The Academy will be closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Planetarium will be closed Sep. 22, 23, 24

Climate Change 

April 15, 2007

No Free Lunch

Climate change forces us to take a hard look at the choices we make and the choices ahead of us. There is a growing movement in the United States to pressure state and federal government to legislate changes that are relevant to global warming issues. For example, more than 3,000 people protested at a Hummer dealership yesterday here in the Bay Area. Auto makers have certainly been irresponsible in their development and marketing of low efficiency, high emissions vehicles, and their reluctance to engage in positive changes and dialog. But we must remember that corporations have a primary responsibility to their shareholders, and are all about making money. Thankfully, those auto makers operate successfully only because of the good will of one of the most powerful global market entities. Yes, I’m talking about us, the American consumers! The American consumer wields tremendous influence because of our purchasing power and our seemingly insatiable appetites. The positive spin on this is that we, individually and collectively, have the power to affect the problem of human-driven climate change. But we have to make choices, difficult choices, and they all have consequences.


I’ve become aware recently of a growing trend among more affluent individuals to purchase efficient hybrid vehicles as an offset to their SUVs. Let me be blunt: That’s nonsense. You can only implement an offset if you actively remove a proportion of carbon emissions. I also tire of SUVs with “Sierra Club”, or “Save our environment” bumper stickers. Again, let me be blunt: If you really care, and that vehicle is not essential to your job, then don’t drive it. Replace it, or better yet, never buy one. Do I sound harsh to some of you? What about other choices? Should we support nuclear energy? Should we explore cleaner coal-fired energy plants? Are we willing to give up air-conditioning, fresh fruit in winter, and internet cafes? It certainly seems at this point that unless we Americans learn to curb our ever increasing energy consumption, that wind, solar etc. energy sources are simply not going to satisfy. How about the folks in the English midlands who fought, successfully, to not have wind energy farms installed because it would ruin the landscape for which the midlands are famous? I certainly hope that they support nuclear power. Tough choices, and a very complicated landscape. We must engage ourselves in these conversations, and explore all our alternatives and choices, and not rush into any of them. Which ones will work will depend ultimately on technology, cooperation, and the choices that we make as energy consumers. In this Universe, especially when it comes to energy, there is no free lunch.

Filed under: Climate Change — Peter @ 1:25 pm

April 2, 2007

Has this happened before?

One morning last week, I was listening to the radio while carpooling into work in San Francisco. The morning folks were speaking with callers about global warming, and I have to say that the message really seems to be getting out there. One of the callers, though, raised the point that the Earth has warmed before in the past because of greenhouse gases, and in fact, has been much warmer. Surprisingly, a friend mentioned the same thing to me later that day. I think that people are interested in this point because (1) it means that sometimes global warming is natural, and (2) it seems that the Earth can survive it. Absolutely! The Earth has been extremely warm in the past, and greenhouse gases have definitely contributed. And Life has survived! Life survives because some living organisms, given enough time, can evolve and adapt. But not all do, and many went extinct during times of warming. Understanding which organisms can adapt and survive is a major challenge for scientists today.

At play, Chanthaburi River, Thailand

Learning about warming in the past is important because it helps us to understand some of the consequences of climate change, but it is of only limited relevance for several reasons. First, the level of warming that we expect in this century will be extremely fast compared to the past. It is questionable whether organisms will be able to adapt successfully. Second, human civilization was not present in those past episodes. How do we begin to understand what the consequences will be for us? Life will certainly carry on in some form or another. Will it be a world in which we wish to live?

Filed under: Climate Change — Peter @ 6:47 am

Academy Blogroll