This post will be updated every two weeks and contain one published chapter from my 2018 book, World of Thermo…Thermometer Rising. We’ll begin with chapter one this week. I am grateful to Nick Walker, my co-author, for all of his help getting this children’s climate book published. I hope that parents, children, and teachers will find these valuable, entertaining, and educational.
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In an alternate universe not unlike our own, Thermo the Flying Thermometer is the creation of Dr. Emmanuel Key, a scientist studying climate change on the island of Hawaii. In this full color-illustrated story, Thermo travels the world to discover the wonders of Earth’s atmosphere, battling forces of nature such as Twisto the Tornado, Phoon the Hurricane and Skates the Ice Monster. Thermo finds himself in the middle of actual historical weather events, learning how weather works, and discovering that nature is not the real enemy. Instead, he is forced to battle an unnatural malevolent force in the atmosphere that is bringing out the worst in nature and threatening mankind. Written by a thirty-year veteran of The Weather Channel, Thermo’s story introduces readers to the basics of meteorology and climate change.
Ever since Dr. James Hansen’s testimony before Congress in 1988, I have observed the struggle experts have endured in convincing Americans about the urgency of the global warming/climate issue. One reason for that is because carbon dioxide is a faceless, odorless, colorless gas. That faceless gas has increased in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels, while at the same time, average temperatures have risen dramatically over the Earth, especially since the beginning of the 21st century. Even so, there are still enough cold weather events every winter to cause intelligent people to believe that climate change is either not occurring, or is of minor importance. Add to that the habit of humans to act only on what seems urgent, plus our tendency to largely accept information that confirms our preexisting beliefs, and we end up generally ignoring the biggest environmental problem facing the world today.
World of Thermo: Thermometer Rising isa tale for young people that addresses the problem. It is the fantastical story of Thermo the Flying Thermometer, a magical creation who interacts with clouds, storms and humans to help save humanity from a terrible plight of its own making. His enemy Carbo, a twisted carbon dioxide molecule, tries to convince humans that global warming is not a problem in order to help his other carbon dioxide friends. As his friends turn out to be more dangerous than anyone knows, Carbo’s good intentions vanish, and he becomes the “face of evil” in the modern climate world. The fight between Thermo and Carbo represents the struggle of science and reason to overcome shortsighted apathy and greed.
The stories in this collection chronicle some of the major climate and weather events from the Industrial Revolution to the 21st century. After each chapter is a short section explaining the parallels in the story to “real world” events. At the end of the book is an Appendix with further details about each historical event, as well as more scientific explanations and personal observations. In World of Thermo: Thermometer Rising I have presented climatologists and meteorologists as heroes, particularly those whom I have personally known in my thirty-plus year career at The Weather Channel.
I hope you enjoy the stories and will be enlightened.
Guy Walton “The Climate Guy”
Story 1: Thermo Flies
In a secret laboratory at the base of Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii, Dr. Emmanuel Key bent over a sample of air he had collected from the outside. A climate scientist, Dr. Key had collected such samples for the past three years, measuring the concentrations of various gases in each one.
“Mm,” mumbled Dr. Key as he checked his readings. “It is still increasing.”
Since he started his measurements, the doctor had noticed a gradual rise in the amount of carbon dioxide, or CO2 in the atmosphere around Mauna Loa. Though he knew the odorless and colorless gas existed in the air naturally, the growing concentrations no longer seemed completely natural to him.
Mauna Loa was the perfect setting for Dr. Key’s research. Far away from factories and automobiles, the doctor could get reliable readings in the pristine air. The location also allowed him to build living quarters inside a deep cave within the volcano. Dr. Key, having some quirks that people of high intelligence often do, furnished the cave with 19th century Edwardian décor, with colorful Persian rugs on the floors and beautiful old oil paintings on the walls. The ornate surroundings created a curious contrast to the glass tubes, measuring equipment and electronic gadgetry that otherwise occupied his home.
Dr. Key did not live there alone. “Joshua, please come here,” the doctor called to his butler. Dr. Key didn’t really have an official butler, but one of the technicians he employed had, over time, become his assistant with household chores and errands.
“Yes, Dr. Key?” Joshua answered as he sprinted into the room.
“As you know,” began the doctor, “I have been collecting carbon dioxide samples for three years, and now it’s time for my next move. I’d like to build my own personal reconnaissance flying machine that can measure the Earth’s temperature.”
“Why?” asked Joshua.
“It would tell me if the environment is beginning to warm up. It would tell me if the jet stream patterns are changing.”
“What kind of stream?” Joshua asked.
“The jet stream,” explained Dr. Key, “is the river of air that moves storms over the Earth. If I could build a flying machine to take atmospheric readings, I could determine if the rising levels of CO2 are affecting temperatures and air pressure. I’ll need two jet engines, a large thermometer, a couple of electronic cameras and various other spare parts. Can you find them for me?”
Joshua’s eyes got bigger. “This is 1961, doctor. I can find the thermometer for you, but jet engines are pretty hard to come by, and most cameras still use film instead of electronics. I guess I can check with my friends at the Air Force.”
And with that, the butler dashed out of the lab.
Dr. Key walked through a passageway to the outside and took in the view. He loved the tall mountains on the island of Hawaii and the blue ocean that surrounded it. In fact, he loved all nature and wanted to protect it. Even more, he wanted to protect the people on the planet. That’s why the doctor had studied the work of other scientists from as far back as the 19th century who believed that too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could actually change the climate of Earth. Now, Dr. Key suspected that CO2 from factories, power plants and automobiles might be polluting the atmosphere, possibly causing temperatures all around the world to gradually warm.
“That’s what greenhouse gases do,” he whispered to the scenery around him. “They hold heat close to Earth instead of allowing it to escape into space. But I must find a way to prove if my theories on climate change are correct.”
A few days later, Joshua returned with a load of Air Force surplus parts and spread them out before Dr. Key. “Ah, these will do nicely, Joshua!” beamed Dr. Key as he went to work sorting through the heap of components and wires. He picked up the thermometer. As he carefully studied it, an idea began to hatch in the doctor’s brain. Gradually the idea turned into a plan, and the plan into a project.
Working diligently, Dr. Key attached two jet engines onto the back of the thermometer. “Now we’ll have a flying machine!” he said excitedly. “But we’ll also need some exhaust pipes.” Finding four long pieces of metal tubing, he hooked two to either side of the thermometer like arms, and the other two below the thermometer like legs.
“Now, where are those two electronic cameras?” Dr. Key asked. Joshua retrieved the cameras from the pile of parts and handed them to Dr. Key, who fastened them near the top of the thermometer. When they were in place, they had the strange appearance of two blank eyes staring back at the doctor and his assistant.
“Your flying machine almost looks like a little mechanical man!” laughed Joshua. Dr. Key also chuckled at the resemblance to the robot toys he had played with as a child.
“Well, let’s get it to the storage shed,” said the doctor. “It’s going to rain tonight, and we need to make sure our machine stays dry.”
As night fell, the two men lifted the converted thermometer and carried it into a small shed behind the lab. In the fading light, they packed it securely away, and then the doctor glanced at his watch and yawned. “It’s been a good day, Joshua, but now it’s late. We’ll need to continue working on this gadget tomorrow. Good night for now.”
Joshua took the cue. “Good night, sir,” he said, and made his exit.
Dr. Key’s eyes were heavy as he walked back into his laboratory. As he sat down in his comfy desk chair, he admitted to himself that this job was going to be more work than he had planned. He closed his weary eyes and was soon fast asleep.
At daybreak, Joshua awakened Dr. Key with a cup of steaming hot tea. “Oh, thank you Joshua,” said the doctor, putting the cup to his lips and taking a sip.
“That was quite a storm last night,” said the butler. “Did the thunder and wind keep you awake? There was one crash of thunder that was particularly close.”
“I must have slept right through it,” answered the doctor. Then he suddenly sat upright. “My flying machine! Let’s hope the storm didn’t damage the storage shed!”
The two ran outside. What they saw made their hearts sink. An ugly black streak ran the length of the small building’s roof to a hole in its top. “Lightning!” the two men shouted together in dismay.
They pulled open the door to the shed and looked inside. Yes, lightning had pierced the shed’s roof, but all of the building’s contents appeared to be undamaged. Relieved, they turned to go, but a sudden noise in the corner made them whirl around.
The two men gasped. A few feet away, a small metal creature sat up and blinked at them. “What is it?” asked Joshua, his voice shaking.
Instantly Dr. Key recognized the thermometer, the jet engines and the cameras from the Air Force surplus that Joshua had collected. He and Joshua stared in disbelief at the machine, apparently brought to life by the lightning bolt’s electrical charge.
“It’s alive!” whooped Dr. Key.
Joshua nearly fainted. Holding onto Dr. Key for support, he and the doctor tiptoed over to the curious creature and stretched out a hand to it. The machine, cooing softly like an infant, lifted its hand to meet the doctor’s.
“I must be dreaming,” said Joshua, having difficulty with his words. “It’s… it’s a living baby thermo…thermometer!”
“That’s it!” said Dr. Key excitedly. “Thermo! We will give him the name Thermo! Thermo the Flying Thermometer!”
Thermo was indeed a baby. His first few months of life were marked by sleepless nights and tantrums. Gradually, Thermo learned to crawl, and then to walk, and Dr. Key soon discovered he could program English into the little thermometer’s memory banks
One day Thermo looked at Dr. Key, pointed upwards, and said his first word. “Sky,” he murmured.
“Did you hear that, Joshua?” marveled Dr. Key. “It’s time to teach Thermo to fly!”
Dr. Key took Thermo outside to a platform he had built with a safety net under it. Thermo seemed to know what it all meant, and gave a quick blast of delight from his jet engines, lifting the young thermometer a few feet into the air. Dr. Key and Joshua clapped their hands.
“That’s it, Thermo! That’s how you fly!” they said.
Thermo giggled as he let loose a few more jet blasts, lifting him higher, and then moving him from side to side. But suddenly the jets went cold, and Thermo plunged to the ground, landing with a crash. That’s when Thermo uttered his second word.
“That’s enough for one day,” laughed Dr. Key. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”
As the weeks and months went by, Thermo eventually mastered the art of flying, and soon he was not only shooting up to higher altitudes, he was turning somersaults and cartwheels in the sky over Mauna Loa. As Dr. Key watched his creation play, he imagined Thermo exploring the skies over the Arctic and Antarctic and gathering valuable temperature data above tropical oceans and glaciers.
“Someday,” said Dr. Key, “this little thermometer is going to help save the world.”
Thermo heard him. “Don’t call me little!” he shouted.
In the real world, Dr. Charles David Keeling inspired the character of Dr. Emanuel Key, who established his laboratory on Mauna Loa, Hawaii in 1958. Dr. Keeling was the renowned climatologist who came up with the “Keeling Curve,” showing that levels of carbon dioxide were rising due to the burning of fossil fuels. CO2 measurements continue to be taken at the observatory on Mauna Loa.