For the past dozen weeks or so, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has ranged as far afield as the distant stars and as deeply inward as the spaces between electrons and protons.
This week Tyson, host and narrator of the science television series Cosmos, delves into the here and now with a cold, hard—well, warming—look at climate change. The Alberta oil sands even have a cameo, in one segment’s montage of carbon-causing human development.
"By burning coal, oil, gas—our civilization's exhaling carbon dioxide much faster than Earth can absorb it,” Tyson tells us.
He doesn’t blame humans immediately. First Tyson goes through natural culprits, such as volcanoes. But they only pump out two percent of the carbon that is currently saturating our atmosphere, he notes. And so it goes with other potential causes of climate change that are not us.
The message: Climate change is not only real but is also upon us.
Tyson does take us into space, even for a climate change lesson—with a trip to Venus on the spaceship of the imagination, the conveyance he has used to transport viewers’ minds across the universe and into the depths of matter.
“Venus's dense atmosphere is mostly made up of carbon dioxide, with small doses of nitrogen and sulfuric acid,” reports Space.com. “This composition creates a runaway greenhouse effect that bakes Venus to even hotter temperatures than the surface of Mercury, the planet closest to the sun.”
While Venus is of course quite different from Earth, analysis of the planet’s atmosphere does serve to show where such chemistry could lead.
Cosmos airs on Fox and the National Geographic channel on Sunday and Monday evenings, respectively. Below, Tyson explains the difference between weather and climate. Under that are two trailers for the 12th episode. The 13th is the last, but the entire series can be viewed online as well. Three million viewers can’t be wrong.