A series of distinguished UC experts and an award-winning New York Times journalist presented their views on global warming in ‘Climate Change: What it means for you, your children and your grandchildren.’ The conference was held on Oct. 30 at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for the National Academies.
According to UCI Chancellor Ralph Cicerone, the greenhouse effect maintains an energy balance on earth.
Temperatures on earth have been rising constantly since the 1980s. Some theorists suggest that global warming occurs naturally and might be influenced by the changes of the sun rather than human activity.
Experts believe Judith Lean, a research scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., proved the theory wrong. Lean measured the sun’s output over a meaningful period of time and did not find significant differences.
‘The abnormal warming of the earth’s atmosphere over the past 20 years is due to human activity,’ Cicerone said.
New York Times journalist Andrew Revkin supports an example of such differences.
‘The changes that they are measuring in the Arctic right now are outside the boundaries of anything that has happened since the end of the last ice age,’ Revkin said.
Richard Matthew, associate professor of international and environmental politics, added that the United States may be able to recover from climate-related disasters.
‘We may be able to recover, but other countries won’t,’ Matthew said.
As the fifth-largest energy consumer and second-largest consumer of gasoline in the world, California is already implementing programs to improve the situation.
Gretchen Hardison, director of the air quality division at the Los Angeles Environmental Affairs Department, presented the Energy Climate Action Plan. According to Hardison, this plan aims to ‘raise awareness of global climate changes and increase energy efficiency.’
Hardison also noted that Los Angeles already has 140 vehicles that operate on natural gas. Other goals include reducing traffic congestion and increasing recycling.
Diane Wittenberg, president of the California Climate Action Registry, is hopeful as well.
‘The governor-elect seems to be quite attuned to issues about climate change,’ Wittenberg said. ‘The registry follows rigorous international standards to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.’
All speakers agreed that there are communication problems that need to be addressed. There is a disagreement within the academic community as to how global warming issues should be dealt with. In addition, there exists a lack of communication between the professional community and the general public.
F. Sherwood Rowland, Donald Bren research professor and noble laureate, noted that many professionals within the field have very different opinions.
‘The credibility of scientists is influenced by their backgrounds,’ Rowland said.
Another problem, according to Revkin, is that the general public lacks scientific literacy. The question, therefore, seems to be how to keep the public interested.
‘People are interested in the personal relevance of a situation,’ said Elaine Vaughan, associate professor in psychology and social behavior. ‘Research has shown that many people underestimate the role of individual behavior. [We should] improve risk communication based on social science research about human judgment and reasoning systems.’
After explaining some of the effects of global warming, speakers agreed that communication between experts and the general public needs to improve. They say people need to be aware that individual behavior can make a difference in reducing global warming.