How Climate Extinction Are You? (Wait, What?)

03/18/2014 10:12 am ET | Updated May 18, 2014
  • Mike Sandler Political economist, climate change professional and sustainability advocate

Guess what! I just read on the Internet that we're in the sixth great extinction event in the planet's history! That's right! Many of the plants and animals that you grew up hearing about -- orangutans, rhinoceroses, tigers -- are now threatened with extinction! It's so depressing that you might prefer to ignore it, and just play video games involving rearranging shiny candy on a small screen or watch a lot of reality TV or take silly quizzes and post the results on social media. Hey, that gives me an idea! Here's a fun quiz!

Choose the best definition for the following terms:

1. Anthropocene
a) A graduation party for attractive anthropology majors
b) The era we are now in where humans are the dominant force in nature (and not in a good way)
c) A trendy urban furniture store

2. Gaia hypothesis
a) A place where hippies do yoga
b) The idea that the whole Earth is a self-regulating organism
c) A product in the herbal supplements section at Whole Foods

3. Tipping points
a) When the service at the restaurant is very good
b) The unpredictable moment beyond which humans will not be able to stop climate change
c) If the waiter at your table is especially friendly

4. Thermohaline circulation
a) Something you get from a strenuous Cross Fit® workout
b) The movement of hot ocean water at the tropics toward the pole where it's cooler

5. Methane clathrates
a) Why the kitchen smells weird if the pilot light on the stove goes out
b) Crystallized pockets of gas along the ocean bottom that can be knocked free in a sudden burst and release massive amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere
*Bonus points for pronouncing it "me-thane"

6. Deep ocean anoxia
a) A woozy feeling from going too deep under water
b) Lack of oxygen at the bottom of the ocean, leading to a takeover by sulfur-spewing bacteria with the potential to kill everything in its path

a) An animal rights group
b) The previous record-setting high temperature about 55 million years ago; during this time a lot of greenhouse gas was emitted and there was a mass extinction (...Hmm, why does that sound familiar?)

8. Siberian traps
a) How Eskimos catch a bear
b) A massive lava flow that gave off a lot of greenhouse gas emissions and may have led to a release of methane clathrates

9. Venus syndrome
a) A 1970s movie starring Michael Caine
b) Runaway greenhouse effect, see also "tipping points"

10. Snowball Earth
a) What East Coasters think of the polar vortex
b) A theory that the Earth was once a frozen ball of ice; the opposite of the Venus syndrome
c) A funny animated film for kids starring a wooly mammoth and a sabertooth tiger

11. James Hansen
a) The guy who invented the Muppets
b) One of the top climate scientists in the world

12. Steady state economy
a) The opposite of Martin Scorcese's recent movie about Wall Street excess
b) A stable economy that provides for its citizens with levels of population and consumption within the ecological carrying capacity and avoiding the paradox of striving for infinite economic growth on a finite planet

13. The Commons
a) The dining hall at your college dorm
b) Something shared by everyone -- i.e. the atmosphere, the internet, etc. Not necessarily stewarded by the state, not necessarily a "tragedy"

14. Biochar
a) Fertilizer with worms in it
b) Biomass heated in a low oxygen container, which can sequester carbon back into the soil
c) Something you grill with

15. Cap and Dividend
a) A proposal to make NFL teams' salary caps pay money to investors
b) A proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions, auction the permits to fossil fuel companies, and return the revenues back to households

If you answered (a) or (c) more than seven times, sorry, your climate extinction quotient is so low that you probably don't know the difference between climate and weather. Your punishment is look up all those terms on Wikipedia and then go read two non-fiction books about climate change from the recommendations below:

If you answered (b) more than seven times, congratulations! You have a pretty good climate change extinction quotient. Take every chance to remind your friends that climate change is real, and that we have only a few years to take major action before we start hitting tipping points and civilization begins descending into chaos. If you can ace this quiz, you can do anything! Now go get involved, join a group working on the issue, contact your elected officials and make some noise!