08/14/2011 06:28 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2011

Are MIT Students Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

Ask any climate scientist to explain global warming to a fifth grader, and they will pull out the bathtub analogy: The atmosphere is the tub. The level of carbon is the water standing in said tub. There's a spigot and a sink -- water in and water out. For the longest time, carbon in and carbon out of the atmosphere have been in balance. Then man came along and fiddled with the spigot. Now there's an ever increasing flow of carbon in, and the level in the atmosphere keeps rising. Simple enough.

The bathtub analogy has an important conclusion: We can't just stabilize emissions at current levels. The water in the tub would keep rising and flood everything in sight. Instead, we need to turn off the spigot or do something unprecedented with the sink.

Explained like that, most fifth graders will get it -- especially the ones who have ever been admonished for flooding the bathroom floor.

It turns out graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are not quite as smart. They think it's OK to leave the spigot at current levels and fail to see that we need to turn it off to get water levels down.

Granted, our MIT whiz kids didn't hear the bathtub analogy. They saw the actual data and irrevocable proof that the planet is warming, directly from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's summary for policy makers.

That makes it even scarier. Any wonder that a sufficient number of policy makers isn't convinced yet?

And if that's not scary enough, the study showing all of this came out three years ago. How have our summaries for policy makers and for the rest of us improved since?

Originally posted at