If you have ever heard someone wonder, on a really frigid day or stretch of days here in Franklin County, “What ever happened to that global warming?” Jody Miles has an explanation for you.
Speaking to science students at Washington High School this past November, Miles, who has operated Earth’s Classroom, the outdoor experiential learning center in Rosebud, alongside her husband, Bill, for the last 20 years, described it this way:
“Our cold air is starting to move to different places on the Planet Earth because the Polar Vortex is not that cold anymore, holding it in place. It is actually becoming weaker and sliding down on to the sides,” she said.
“The jet stream is becoming wavier. It is progressively, slowly raising the chances for long-term duration of extreme events, like droughts, floods or heat waves . . . and on top of that, instead of taking storms from west to east, it’s starting to spin . . . so whatever weather is here is going to happen here for a very long time instead of moving on. That’s why we get prolonged droughts or prolonged rain events.”
Miles, who has been a “science and nature geek” since she was a child and earned a degree in natural history outdoor education from Northland College in Wisconsin, was able to share the latest data and information on Earth’s climate science with the WHS students after attending a three-day climate science certification workshop with NASA and NOAA atmospheric scientists in Atlanta, Ga., last March.
She and her teenage son, Willow, were among 2,000 people invited to attend the Climate Reality conference, where they received more than 500 slides of data information for them to share with the public.
Since then, Miles has given presentation on what she learned at the conference to several groups, including at the Missouri Natural Resource Conference. In September, she will present it to a group of garden clubs meeting in Owensville for a multi-day conference.
A full presentation of the data runs around 2 1/2 hours long, but Miles trimmed that to a 45-minute presentation that she shared Nov. 21 with each of the science classes at WHS, around 1,100 students total.
That presentation posed three questions:
1. Do we need to make a change?
2. Can we change?
3. Will we change?
Using facts and figures, Miles explained the information in common sense terms.
“Let’s go over heat,” she said to the WHS students. “Heat wants to travel over whatever it’s heating. You take a cast iron skillet and put it on the stovetop, that heat wants to travel up the handle, because heat flows, heat moves.
“It’s the same thing here. When the planet Earth is getting bombarded at the Equator with the most direct solar energy, that energy wants to transfer around the whole world. So does the cold air at the top. It wants to move,” she explained. “That’s what creates our very dynamic winds, our jet stream, our ocean currents that we are used to. Some of them have been in place, traveling for thousands of years in the same exact way.
“If we increase by 1 degree Celsius at the Equator, we actually increase three times hotter at the poles, because as soon as ice melts . . . all of the sudden dark colors start to show, like the land and the water. It starts heating three times faster at the Pole than the Equator.
“And that is changing the way our regular air flow and water flow are happening. Because there is not as great of a differentiation between the icy cold Pole and the hot Equator.”
Amanda Clark, science department chair at WHS, was impressed with Miles’ presentation.
“Jody did an excellent job of explaining climate patterns to students and connecting the data to what climate changes we are seeing not only in the U.S., but globally as well and, what different countries are doing to address the issue,” she said. “This gave our students an opportunity to think critically about what the data presented means and how it relates to making decisions as stewards of our planet.”
As part of her presentation, Miles encouraged the students to look up the data and research the information for themselves and referred them to a documentary by NOVA called “Decoding the Weather Machine” to help them do this.
Clark appreciated that and said she is hopeful that at least some of the students will do so.
“My hope is that this presentation not only brought awareness to our students about global changes, but also that it inspires them to become active in making changes for their future,” said Clark.
“I think students were overall receptive to Jody and the information she was trying to relay. I think it was really important that she left them with the power to learn by encouraging them to not just rely on what she was telling them but to also to personally spend time researching, to seek out the data from different sources and come to their own conclusions.
“Although she gave some great information to our students the best thing she could have done, she did — she empowered them to seek out information,” said Clark.
Since Miles’ presentation, the WHS science teachers have been using the information she presented as a springboard to hold classroom discussions specific to their subject. A physics teacher may focus on the changes occurring to the jet stream and polar vortex, while a biology teacher may focus on how climate change impacts the survival of species and the impact that has on ecosystem food webs, said Clark.
Available to Speak to More Schools, Groups
Miles is willing to make more Climate Science presentations next month to area middle and high schools at no charge. Schools can contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 573-437-7628 to set up a date.
She also welcomes area civic groups or clubs who are interested in learning the information to contact her to set up a presentation.
But reaching young people is especially important to her.
“They are the next generation choosing to be active or not,” Miles remarked.
At the Climate Reality Conference, one of the things that most impressed her was the number of young people in attendance. Of the 2,000 participants, 600 were ages 13 to 19.
She also was impressed with the diverse backgrounds of adults at the conference. Her table included doctors who are concerned about health conditions and how the chemical changes in the atmosphere will affect them.
Miles and her son were invited to the Climate Reality Conference through an application process that involved them writing essays on how they planned to use the information they would receive.
“I wanted to know that information much more thoroughly, because I feel when you have discussions, as I have, with family members or friends, if you don’t have the hard facts and the data, if the general public doesn’t understand the basics of it, it just gets swept under the rug, or people can very easily toss it aside,” Miles told The Missourian.
She knows there are people who are skeptical about climate change. She has met some of them. In the past, she has had people comment to her, “Oh, I don’t want to know about climate change. It’s too scary,” while others have asked her sarcastically, “Do you really believe in this?”
She takes issue with the word believe, which she feels should be reserved for spirituality and religion, “those things you chose to follow.
“But when it comes to data, hard core numbers, factual information, black and white information, there is no belief about it. It is what it is,” said Miles.
“People believed for centuries that the world was flat. That didn’t make it so. Even though the scientific community was telling them, ‘Our math and our data tells us that what we live on is round,’ it was part of their belief system not to believe that.”
Standing on stage in the C.J. Burger Fine Arts Center at WHS, Miles said she could see the different reaction students were having to what she was telling them.
“Some people didn’t want to look at me, but I also could see just the opposite in others — interest and intrigue,” she said. “And I’m totally OK with both of those, because the seed of information is still planted.”
She knows there are people who chose to ignore the data, believing it is a political issue, but she sees it as a human issue, not one that should pit one political party against another.
“I feel that Planet Earth is an amazing gift that we have been given by the Creator, however you want to define the Creator, and I feel a gift like this should be highly respected,” said Miles. “Our world depends on us being smart with it.”
And although the presentation shares a lot of grim data, it also includes reasons to hope.
“Scientific measurements show how our thin atmosphere is chemically changing from ancient carbon that we as humans have pulled out of the earth’s crust in the form of coal, fossil fuels, etc., and these ancient carbon molecules can be measured in black and white data, like a finger print,” said Miles. “The chemical change to our atmosphere is changing the climate patterns in our atmosphere and oceans.
“Bottom line, we humans are changing the planet . . . and not for the good.
“The good news is that the data slides also show very positive progression some humans are making across the planet with exciting, inventive ideas to help the earth re-sequester, or reabsorb, these ancient carbon molecules, thus trying to assist our current atmospheric conditions,” she said.
To learn more about the Climate Reality presentations, go to www.24hoursofreality.org.
Earth’s Classroom marked its 20th anniversary last year in September. Since the nonrofit opened in 1999, it has worked with more than 65,000 participants as an outdoor education facility.
One of the program’s Earth’s Classroom offers is a field science certification program, Natural Resource Career Experience, for high school juniors and seniors.
To learn more about the programs offered at Earth’s Classroom, visit www.earthsclassroom.org.
One that has been particularly popular is the Earth Wise Living Workshop about ecological sustainability led by Dr. Dan Chiras. The next workshop will be held Saturday, May 2, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Earth’s Classroom in Rosebud. Topics will include:
Reclaimed or reused construction materials, food use and waste choices, reduction of plastics, passive and active solar design, water conservation, recycling and composting bins, reduction of chemical household uses, Earth-contact greenhouse construction, and gardening.
For more information or to make a reservation, call Earth’s Classroom at 573-437-7628.