I love a good evidence-based conversation. I savor words like substantiation, data, relevance, and most importantly – proof. Sometimes it can be challenging to get the information you want, but in most cases, there’s plenty of hard and easy facts out there that helps one to make better decisions. Well, that’s my basis for this article today, and I hope you find it valuable.


At the dinner table

A few days ago, I found myself in a lively debate about climate change with some of my family members: brother, father, and brother-in-law at the dinner table. For unexpected reasons, these three highly educated folks were quite hesitant about the whole concept around climate change. As I shared more and more data, stats and information with them, I realized one thing surprisingly quickly in that most people will only share an interest on things they can have an immediate impact on. And for climate change… well, that’s not a low hanging fruit to humankind.

My family’s initial lack of interest on climate change, married with information scarcity out there that can help people understand the core of the problem, makes the climate change "hoax" belief a more natural mental path for many. Denial of man-made climate change also stems from people’s own climate experiences too. Those who have felt a genuinely cold winter recently might find it hard to believe earth’s temperature is increasing little by little. But, why would they neglect the data points I shared with them? How could somebody with their background overlook such evident correlations? And that was my second revelation – we don't talk about it enough.


Click the infographic to open a downloadable full-size version.

Starting the conversation

This past April, at NAFA 2019, I gave a talk with John Ciarlone (one of our product leaders at LeasePlan USA) on Carbon Footprint called "Eliminating Big Foot." Like at my family dinner, I had started that presentation by bringing up that it wasn't until the Apollo 8 mission that we had a chance to see earth from orbit and relate with our planet in ways never possible before. The Earthrise picture is a photograph of earth taken from lunar orbit by astronaut William Anders on December 24, 1968. Some renowned photographers called it “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken”, and not long after those incredible pictures were shared, more than 20 million people were inspired to take to the streets in peaceful protest for the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970.

Professor Barry Commoner, labeled by Time magazine as the "Paul Revere of ecology", remarked that "this planet is threatened with destruction and we, who live in it, with death." He called it:

"a crisis of survival."

Earth Day was a dedicated day to enlisting citizens nationwide in a common cause of saving life from the harmful byproducts humankind had created. People, mostly young students, were fed up.


Our planet is warming up

Climate change is a significant issue facing the world. Earth’s temperature is rising, and that’s a fact. But even as we approach Earth Day's semicentennial celebration, recent surveys indicate that two-thirds of Americans never talk about climate change at all, and even more surprising is that over three-quarters never see or hear the media talk about it either. With some attention, we can observe the planet getting warmer. We experience more torrential precipitations, heat waves, stronger hurricanes, and sunny day flooding. According to NASA, 2018 was the fourth warmest year in a continued warming trend. Global temperatures in 2018 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean.

You and I know people who have expressed concerns that climate change is a farce, somewhat of a fib because our planet has its own God-given natural evolution cycle.Climate change, in its essence, calls out variations in the planet’s temperature and weather conditions experienced by people all over the globe.

As I talked to my family, I exposed to them that nearly all publishing climate scientists (97-98%) support the consensus on man-made (anthropogenic) climate change. The number to watch is the Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere, which alongside other gases like water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone, forms the leading group of greenhouse gases. Being the most notable of them, CO2 is produced by natural processes and everyday human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels. We need earth’s atmosphere to be in balance to avoid a warming planet because those gases have the damaging ability to trap the energy from the sun consequently overheating our planet. A hotter world means a much harder life for us in the long run, meaning that future generations will hurt badly.

On Apr 25th, 2019, CO2 levels reached 413.68ppm (parts per million) in the atmosphere, which is 30% higher than 50 years ago on a trend that looks like a massive hockey-stick. Many agencies collect this sort of data – NASA being one of them. The data is plotted on something called a Keeling Curve, using a combination of data derived from the sample and analysis of gas contained from air examined at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii and paired with ice-core data from Antarctica. In these ice-cores, there are ancient air bubbles confined in the ice that has allowed NASA to observe what earth's atmosphere was like a long time ago. The scientific community found a spot in Antarctica where the ice is thick enough to reveal 1.5 million years of climatic history. It will take another three years to drill down that far – a single meter-long piece could contain 10,000 years of climate history if selected carefully.

Breaking the 400ppm CO2 threshold, up from around 280ppm before the industrial revolution, represents a 42.8% increase in emissions. The problem with the rapid rise in CO2 emissions is the established correlation to earth’s rising temperature. Statistical significance, a fundamental concept in applied science, is the likelihood that a relationship between two or more variables is caused by something other than chance, and this is what climate change science is based on. According to ongoing temperature analysis conducted by scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the average global temperature on earth has increased by about 1.4°F since 1880. Two-thirds of this warming has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.27-0.36°F per decade.


Skeptical about skepticism

My brother asked: "We have added 42% more CO2 in the atmosphere, but that doesn’t mean the temperature will go up by 42% too, right?". No, obviously, but a lack of education and in turn understanding leads many to skepticism, thus leading many to the belief that climate change is a hoax. Doubling the amount of CO2 does not double the greenhouse effect. The way the climate reacts is complex, and it is difficult to separate the effects of natural changes from man-made ones over short periods of time, as per skepticalscience.com.

The research shows that as the amount of man-made CO2 goes up, temperatures do not rise at the same rate. The last report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) described the likely temperature variation range as between 3.6°F to 7.2°F, for double the amount of CO2 compared to pre-industrial levels, which we have regrettably accomplished.

Climate skepticism varies broadly. “Climate’s changed before". Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time. From the vastly available research, we can assume humans are now the dominant force. Or: "it's the sun!". Temperature and Sun radiance are going in the opposite direction. Data tells us that over the last 35 years the sun has shown a cooling trend. "If the sun’s energy is decreasing while the earth is warming, then the sun can’t be the main control of the temperature."

The myth list goes on and on with surprising ideas about what is right and wrong, but one suspicious statement often catches my attention: nonbelievers will claim "climate models are unreliable". Because of my background in data analytics and the work I do, models are a big deal to me. Having a precise forecast of how earth's temperature and climate might look some 100 years from now has long presented a challenge to the scientific community. However, with an ever-more-refined understanding of the climate system around the globe, improved tools, and rapidly improving computing power are all leading to more reliable forecasting systems.

Scientists have been making projections of future global warming figures using climate models of increasing complexity for the past four decades. Carbon Brief has collected prominent climate model projections since the year 1973 to see how well these models project both past and future global temperatures, as shown in the animated graph below. The graph curves are similar in nature confirming the projected rise in earth's temperature.

Projected warming from Broecker 1975 (thick black line) compared to observational temperature records from NASA, NOAA, HadCRUT, Cowtan and Way, and Berkeley Earth (thin colored lines) from 1970 to 2020. Baseline period of 1970-1990. Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

Talk about it – let’s break the vicious cycle

So, there's an incredible amount of data out there about climate change, but what do we need to do to confront this problem? Katharine Hayhoe gives this inspiring TED talk about breaking the vicious cycle of not talking about climate change. She says people don't need to be scientists to talk about this subject – "how I am supposed to talk about cloud parametrization in climate models or radiative forcing?". Katharine goes on to say we don't need to be talking about science that much more because we have been promoting the topic for over 150 years. It was in the late 1850s that climate scientists first discovered that digging up and burning coal and oil was producing heat-trapping gases that are wrapping an extra blanket around the planet – "that's how long we've known."

As I experienced at the dinner table a few days ago, merely talking about the issue of climate change allowed my family to voice their concerns and disbelief, and I'm happy to report that since then they each seem to have become more curious and interested in the subject. But I learned that it takes time (and lots of talking) to get people moved across the line of total doubt and mistrust to igniting their curiosity. Hopefully one day they see the climate problems that the rest of us see.

Now… what does climate change have to do with the world of #Fleet and #Automotive, and what can we do about it? Stay tuned for follow-ups to this article coming soon. If you're interested in getting more information on our #NAFA2019 session called "Eliminating Big Foot" – which brings to light details on how fleets of all shapes and sizes can attack the CO2 emissions challenge – please click here.


About the author

As executive vice president of transformation at LeasePlan USA, Smolka is leading the strategy to drive modernization and innovation across the U.S. subsidiary and launch the company further into its journey to deliver what's next for fleet, mobility and connected vehicles. Smolka's career has consistently revolved around digital transformation, developing cutting-edge technologies and leveraging the power of big data to create and deliver value. With a strong history of successes, Smolka is a proven leader poised to transform the fleet industry. Smolka has an MBA from Emory Goizueta Business School.



*LeasePlan is committed to ensuring we handle customer, business partner and employee data to a high and compliant standard. We were one of the first companies to introduce a set of binding privacy rules across the whole of our organization, and we have established a dedicated Privacy Office to make sure those rules are upheld. But this does not make us complacent. As technology develops and our use of data changes, LeasePlan is continuously working to improve our data protection policies, processes and systems.


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