An Uber Ride and the Debate over Climate Change

During an Uber drive two weeks ago, I had the most bizarre conversation with the driver of the car. It was a day before the predicted snow weekend in the middle of March in DC and I was baffled by the unpredictable Washington DC weather. 18 degree Celsius one day and a dip to 2 degree Celsius the next day was not normal for someone like me who has grown up in a tropical country.

So my chat with my Uber driver started with a discussion about the unpredictable weather and then went on to climate change. At the mention of the word ‘climate change’, he got a bit defensive. “I am a nerd. I study science all the time. Climate change is not a reality but a political gimmick”, he said. I had to contradict. This was the time to bring out all that I had gathered during those Tuesday Climate Change sessions at SAIS. I responded, assured and armed with all my grad school facts and figures. I got this, I thought to myself as I said to him, “So you think all the industrialization, the green house gas emissions, the increasing population and the depletion of the ozone layer is all a farce?” I was mighty pleased with my brief and well-rounded attack when out of nowhere like a heavy weight boxer he just knocked me out — “That’s not a farce”, he said — “but don’t you think that volcanic eruptions in the world cause more green house gas emissions than all the billion people in the world? We humans are contributing nothing.” I was dumbfounded by his comment. Did he just say that? How is this even an argument? Devoid of any caffeine in my system and my head still dizzy with sleep, I decided to give up.

A Pew Research Center spring survey 2015 found that only 41% Americans believe that climate change can harm people. While most people in other regions, especially in Latin America and Africa say that climate change is already harming people around the world. This debate over whether climate change is a real threat or not also spills over to the political arena in the U.S. Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to consider it a very serious problem, believe its effects are being felt now, think it will harm them personally, and support U.S. participation in an international agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent Reuters report published that the rate of carbon emissions is higher than at any time in fossil records stretching back 66 million years to the age of the dinosaurs, according to a study in the Nature Geoscience journal. Scientists believe that given currently available records, the present anthropogenic carbon release rate is unprecedented during the past 66 million years. It notes that outpouring of CO2 is 10 times higher than it was even when the dinosaurs lived.

So back to my Uber driver, whom I may never meet again and who might continue to exist in his blissful ignorance regarding climate change. But in case I ever do get to hop into his car again, I have to be prepared with a better answer. So with that in mind I came home and a quick search revealed this -

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the world’s volcanoes, both on land and undersea, generate about 200 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, while our automotive and industrial activities cause some 24 billion tons of CO2 emissions every year worldwide. Hence, greenhouse gas emissions from volcanoes comprise less than one percent of those generated by today’s human endeavors. Also to drive the point in, I found another statistic. In 2014, greenhouse gas emissions from transportation accounted for about 26% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the second largest contributor of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. This means dear Uber driver, that your car too is a contributor to the emissions that we talked about and unfortunately I contributed to it as well. But aren’t we all responsible for this and isn’t it high time that we started acting responsibly towards this?