I came across the Carbon Bathtub metaphor on climate change in the December issue of National Geographic Magazine while waiting in a doctor’s office. As I like analogies and visual representations of big ideas, I found this one a great representation of the complicated dynamics in our atmosphere. As this representation shows:
It’s simple, really: As long as we pour CO2; into the atmosphere faster than nature drains it out, the planet warms. And that extra carbon takes a long time to drain out of the tub.
In a quick read you can review the above graphic and read a short narrative explaining The Carbon Bathtub in National Geographic Magazine, The Big Idea.
The Carbon Bathtub is a systems dynamics representation of Stocks and Flows. Accordingly, just stabilizing carbon dioxide is insufficient given the constraint of the rate at which the tub drains.
For a more in-depth explanation of social implications, see Understanding Public Complacency about Climate Change. Or for a much lengthier academic version, see Understanding Public Complacency About Climate Change: Adults’ mental models of climate change violate conservation of matter. Both are written by John D. Sterman and Linda Booth Sweeney.