Umbra on the climate-change literacy of Umbra readers
Today I will explain the answers to the recent climate-change quiz. First, a confession: I was trying to make you fail. Not because I’m mean, just because I wanted to prove a point to my editor, who claimed you knew lots about this topic. To see if that was true, I wrote some veeeerrry tricky questions. Trickier than Bill Clinton’s definition of what “is” is.
Most of you did well in the face of my chicanery — nice work! Let’s go over the answers, while I try to ignore my editor doing the “told-you-so” dance over there in the corner. The percentages below are based on 4,600 quiz-taking eco-heads (my people!).
1. Do you pledge to refrain from cheating, and to answer based only on what you know right now, in your own head, without googling or talking to anyone else or consulting other resources?
a. I do.
b. Yes, I really do.
You are all honest and true — 79 percent of you emphatically so.
2. Characterize your own climate-change literacy.
a. I know the basics but have a hard time explaining them to others.
b. I am a scientist or otherwise very well-informed professional environmentalist.
c. I think I will absolutely flunk this quiz.
About 60 percent wagered that you knew the basics; 27 percent considered yourselves professionals; and 13 percent thought you would flunk.
3. A simple way to explain the greenhouse effect is that:
a. Fluorocarbons have simultaneously eroded the ozone layer and created a heat-trapping roof beneath it.
b. Industrial processes produce heat as they burn fuel. The atmosphere was at first able to absorb the additional heat but is now saturated and warming at an observable rate.
c. Gases like carbon dioxide and methane and others have always kept our planet warm and cozy by trapping heat, but now humans are producing way too many of these gases and things are getting noticeably hotter.
d. Scientists have noticed a correlation between the warming atmosphere and high levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide near the ozone layer. Plants in a greenhouse produce oxygen and aspirate carbon dioxide.
This question was the center of my argument, because I believe most people cannot describe the greenhouse effect, and many have it conflated with the ozone hole. About 21 percent leapt at (a), which describes part of the greenhouse effect, but not the whole tamale. Seventy-one percent of you saw the big picture and got the right answer (c). I should have known you’ve been reading Grist too long to be fooled.
4. Which international treaties relate to climate change?
a. 1997 Kyoto Protocol, 1987 Montreal Protocol, and 1979 Geneva Convention
b. 1997 Kyoto Protocol, 1994 TRIPS Agreement, and 1979 SALT II Treaty
c. 1997 Kyoto Protocol, 1994 TRIPS Agreement, and 1987 Montreal Protocol
The correct answer is (a): Kyoto is directly related to climate change; Montreal regulated fluorocarbons (see question 3); and Geneva, although it predates explicit climate-change concerns, governs long-range air pollutants, which can include greenhouse gases. (I’m tricky as Dick, I tell you!) The other random treaties (TRIPS deals with intellectual property rights, SALT with nuclear weapons) were intended to throw you off. And my ruse worked: only 18 percent got this one; most (77 percent) put your money on (c).
5. Which of the following are “greenhouse gases”?
a. Sulfur, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide
b. Carbon dioxide, radon, hydrochloride
c. Nitrous oxide, water vapor, carbon dioxide
The greenhouse gases that kept the planet warm before the Industrial Revolution are the three in correct answer (c), plus ozone and methane. Greenhouse gases we produce now include hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. (The EPA’s website gives a very simple description of these gases.) Though 44 percent got this one right, the first answer proved too tempting for 48 percent of you.
6. Which gases below occur naturally in the earth’s atmosphere?
a. No greenhouse gases are naturally occurring
b. Methane, water vapor, carbon dioxide, and ozone
c. Carbon monoxide and chlorofluorocarbons
See question 5, above. Ninety-five percent of you knew this one, a nice little throwaway after the previous three questions.
7. We can thank greenhouse gases for human life on earth.
This is absolutely true. Without these gases or their equivalent (a giant blanket? rivers of cocoa?), the planet’s surface would be about 60 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than it is today. Should our greenhouse vanish, we would be like unto hothouse tomatoes with no hothouse, shivering and shriveling. Another chance for Gristers to showcase their brilliance: 89 percent got it correct.
8. The appropriate ranking of Australia, Brazil, China, South Africa, and the United States in terms of total emissions of carbon dioxide from fuel combustion in 2002 was, from highest to lowest:
a. China, United States, South Africa, Australia, Brazil
b. United States, Brazil, China, South Africa, Australia
c. United States, China, Australia, Brazil, South Africa
Friends, we made a wee human error on this one. The correct answer is (c), but we originally listed Australia and Brazil in the reverse order from what you see here. This means that, even though 73 percent of you got it right, everyone got it wrong — including Grist. For that we sincerely apologize. Perhaps I can distract you by giving these shocking numbers: In 2002, with a population of 288 million, the U.S. produced 1.7 times more CO2 from fuel combustion than China, home to 1.3 billion people. This kind of inequity overshadows a mildly incorrect answer, doesn’t it? Almost?
9. Cow burps are a source of methane.
Yes, as 72 percent agreed, burps are indeed a source of bovine methane. I tried to get you to trip on the popular notion that flatulence is the sole culprit. Remember, cows have rumens, a sort of extra stomach where food is fermented and methane is produced. Some of the methane comes out in satisfied burps, and some even comes out through cow halitosis. And then there’s the farting, which is why you often hear heifers giggling in math class.
10. Have you cheated on this quiz yet?
To the 21 of you who answered yes: your honesty, while not statistically significant (0.46 percent), is morally significant.
11. The appropriate ranking of Australia, Canada, China, Germany, and the United States in per capita CO2 emissions from fuel combustion in 2002 was, from highest to lowest:
a. Germany, United States, Australia, Canada, China
b. Australia, United States, Canada, Germany, China
c. United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, China
The majority (81 percent) got this one right. You might have been tipped off by the fact that the U.S. was listed first. But there was actually fine print: “fuel combustion.” If we’re talking total per capita greenhouse-gas emissions, Australia has the highest of these five countries, beating even the U.S. (based on numbers from 2000, the latest year for which we could find totals). And little old Qatar trumps them all.
12. The following countries have ratified, accepted, acceded to, or approved the Kyoto Protocol:
a. United States and Senegal
b. Kazakhstan and Zambia
c. Australia and Croatia
d. China and Bhutan
e. Zambia and Monaco
You appeared to know the U.S. had not signed, but were evenly confused about which of the others had. Only 16 percent guessed the correct pair. If you are interested in the meanings of these various terms, by all means investigate at the U.N. website. The main point was to show the isolation of the United States. I had to dig to find three pairs of countries that stand with the U.S. on this issue — revolting. (No offense, Zambia and Kazakhstan.)
13. I think most people will:
a. Do rather poorly on this pop quiz.
b. Get about half the questions right on this pop quiz.
c. Ace this easy pop quiz.
d. Not complete this pop quiz.
Fifty-six percent of you thought most would get half the questions right; 38 percent thought people would do poorly. I’m happy to report that the confidence of the majority was warranted: more than 3,000 people correctly answered five to seven of the nine scored questions; 302 got eight right; and 30 of you aced the quiz (we don’t really think you cheated, that was just our little joke).
Congratulations, Team Grist. Now that your brilliance has been confirmed, we are ready to move to the next phase of world domination.
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