Space scientist Tom Wagner talks climate change, the resiliency of humans, and how truth is stranger than fiction in the Electric Theater

Posted by Ramon Gonzales in Interviews on April 28, 2021

Planetary scientist Tom Wagner and clown discuss how research and planning are helping humanity find new and exciting ways to combat global problems in 2021.

For the latest edition of The Electric Theater, clown changes directions and welcomes renowned space scientist Tom Wagner for a very weighty, albeit optimistic discussion about science, climate change, and how humanity has shown it’s ability to be resilient before.

Spending much of his career doing research in the polar regions, Wagner’s understanding of climate change, global warming, and the melting the ice caps afford him a unique perspective that he manages to explain in very practical way. Skipping the language specific jargon that often loses most people, Wagner’s ability to articulate the problem and the pending fallout underscores the urgency of the issue that will affect all of humanity.

Despite the complexity of the problem, Wagner also exudes a sense of optimism about humanity’s ability to not only adapt but to find ways to mitigate the problem of CO2 emissions and global warming. Referencing the creation of sewage systems, Wagner explains that there have been universal problems that have plagued mankind before and people found a way to adapt and eventually overcome.

Detailing incredible natural wonders like active volcanoes under ice and landscapes that have not seen rainfall or erosion in 12 million years, the scientist’s excitement for his work is infectious. Stream the illuminating discussion with Tom Wagner of NASA on the latest installment of clown’s Electric Theater below.

2:23 – Tom Wagner details exactly what he does for work and explains his wealth of experience ranging from studying the polar regions with satellites to see how the melting poles directly effect rising sea levels. Wagner also shared that he used to study volcanos both on Earth and Mars and spent some time living in Papua New Guinea to to pursue his work. Currently, Wagner’s job at NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. consists of determining which new missions will be executed to explore the solar system.

5:43 – Exploring Wagner’s expertise in climate change, clown asks specifically what is the current state of the problem and what the melting polar ice caps means on a global level. Wagner explained that for a healthy portion his career, he did significant research in Antartica and the Arctic. He continued in sharing that the warming that is happening in those regions are causing the most obvious change than anywhere else on the planet.

6:30 – Illustrating the significance of the polar ice caps, Wagner explained that the ice functions like a hat on top of a head. If you were to take the hat off, you expose yourself to the sun. The melting ice is now leaving that ocean at the top of the earth expos to the sun and speeding up the warming process significantly. This results in changing weather patterns, the erosion of costal regions, and significant flooding in regions that typically don’t see flooding.

7:43 – Despite the dire circumstances of the problem, Wagner doesn’t feel the situation is hopeless. Preparing for some degree of change in the short term needs to be combined with the long term thinking of being cognizant of the CO2 we put into the atmosphere.

9:10 – When asked if we are working on the future together, Wagner again showed his optimism. Citing that kids that are up in the 70’s and 80’s were educated on ecology and not polluting the planet so similarly, the kids growing up now are becoming aware of the importance of climate change from the very start and because of that they will be part of the long term change that is necessary.

12:41 – Wagner explained how CO2 emissions essentially function like a planet. The CO2 that is put into the atmosphere from cars and burning coal to generate electricity ultimately traps the heat from the sun in thus expediting that warming.

13:19 – While Wagner remains optimistic, he does confide that there are things to be scared about but he doesn’t feel like that should be the response.

14:39 – Referencing the IPCC Report, Wagner explains that the fallout of climate change is really what is concerning. Rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, the decimation of crops in weather specific regions, these kinds of scenarios will result in massive migration and conflict and that is the scary stuff.

16:39 – Wagner again articulated a degree of optimism in sharing that there are plenty of very inventive creative people that are working towards combating climate change and mitigating CO2 emission.

20:27 – When it comes to implementing infrastructure to combat climate change, clown brought up some kind of common practice that everyone could do without thinking that would just be part of their normal routine and compared it to something as common as going to the bathroom. Wagner found that comparison interesting and explained that at one point, sewage was a big problem that plagued humanity. Eventually, they galvanized and build sewage systems so people would no longer get sick. He explained that people came together to solve a universal problem and made the sacrifices it took to get the job done for the betterment of mankind. He feels that the same can and will happen with climate change.

21:55 – While politicians are reluctant to implement a carbon tax, there are entrepreneurs, inventors, and visionaries that are working to create infrastructure that could help the problem of climate change.

23:58 – Wagner punctuates his thought by sharing that while humanity isn’t at critical mass yet, we are getting there. However, he does feel that the human spirit and engineering will win out.

26:10 – In discussing clown’s very unique energy, Wagner shares the kinds of isolation rooms they have at NASA and how these rooms serve to illustrate the kinds of energy that each person emits. There is also a sonic room that designed to blast instrumentation and spacecraft with as much sound as possible to see what it can withstand.

29:19 – While he doesn’t subscribe to most conspiracy theories, clown was interested to speak to someone that has done such extensive research in the polar regions as to why Antartica has become so veiled. Citing the block out on Google Maps, clown wanted to know why a region that has such important educational value is so off limits.

31:55 – Wagner explained the reason that the region is blocked out is is mostly because the satellites that take these images don’t travel overt the poles directly because they dedicate more time over inhabited regions. Wagner goes onto to detail the research stations that have existed in Antartica over the decades and how the region’s harsh weather has forced researchers to adapt.

34:43 – Citing active volcanos that are under the ice, lakes that have been cut off from the surface of the earth for some 12 million years, and landscapes that he has walked on that have not see rainfall or erosion for some 10 million years, Wagner summed up Antartica by explaining that truth is always stranger than fiction.

36:08 – Sharing his excitement for science, Wagner gave examples of how that curiosity is only amplified as he learns more. He shared how satellites have mapped out ancient temples that were lost in the jungles of South America and how the Baikal Rift region is Russia is essentially the earth pulling itself apart to form natural water lakes. In fact, the region has a fifth of the world’s fresh water.

41:23 – The conversation takes a bit of a turn with clown asking Wagner if he thinks Sasquatches are real. With regret, Wagner had to say no. He goes onto explain that even if the Bigfoot was as illusive as lore has led us to believe, there would be traces that would be found like hair, bones, poop, and other DNA that would suggest that the Sasquatch was in fact, real.

44:15 – Fascinated with the way people think and process things differently, Wagner discussed how the aim of science really isn’t about reducing things down to remove the mystique and wonder of certain things. He views it as an interconnect system that all kind of plays off of each other. Ultimately how people view the world is how they interact with it.

53:50 – Closing out the conversation, clown wanted to know more about Wagner personally. Asking him what he enjoys doing aside from his work with NASA. Not surprisingly, Wagner said that the crux of his interest revolves around fixing things. Regardless of what it is, Wagner enjoys pulling things apart to reconstruct them and figure out how they work. Seems about right for a NASA planetary scientist.

54:41 – The scientist goes onto share that he thinks that rather than pressuring kids to think about their future, we should push kids to cultivate their passions and interests.

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