Chancellor Emeritus Ralph J. Cicerone, who is the current president of the National Academy of Sciences, came back to UC Irvine to speak on the science behind global climate change in his lecture titled ‘Communicating Climate Change,’ last Monday, Nov. 6.
During his lecture, Cicerone presented scientific data in support of rising carbon dioxide levels and their effect on average global temperature. Cicerone also articulated the current political difficulties in communicating global warming to a partially uninformed general public.
‘The issues of climate change test our abilities to respond as people,’ Cicerone said.
The lecture filled the Beckman Center Conference Room to capacity, accommodating environmentalists and distinguished members of the scientific community such as Nobel Laureate F. Sherwood Rowland.
‘[Global warming] is going to be one of the most important factors involved in the rest of your life,’ Rowland said.
The Earth maintains a net balance of energy wherein energy coming in from the sun is in equilibrium with energy escaping out into space through radiation. According to Cicerone, a surplus of greenhouse gasses present in the atmosphere is changing this net energy balance, diminishing the amount of energy that is escaping into space. Many scientists surmise that this excess amount of trapped energy on the planet is what is causing global temperatures to rise.
‘[Energy in the form of radiation] still escapes into space, but on the way out it warms the air near the surface and that warm air re-radiates energy back to the [Earth’s] surface,’ Cicerone said.
Cicerone reported that a relatively small-sounding change in temperature translates into a large-scale change in energy. ‘A 2-degree Fahrenheit temperature rise [would cause] the need for 1.2 gigawatts of electrical energy,’ Cicerone said.
The levels of one greenhouse gas in particular, carbon dioxide, was also a topic of concern. According to the scientific data presented by Cicerone, there are positive correlations between carbon dioxide levels and temperature. ‘Whenever it was cold the carbon dioxide was relatively low; whenever it was warm the carbon dioxide was relatively high,’ Cicerone explained.
Additionally, Cicerone introduced various experimental data in support of an increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. ‘We have evidence [that] we’ve pushed carbon dioxide well above the natural levels. The amount of it we have in the air now is unprecedented [and] the reason it’s increasing is mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels,’ Cicerone said.
Other anomalies of global warming such as the melting of polar ice in Greenland were also referenced during the lecture.
‘There is an uncertain timeline for causative impacts,’ Cicerone said. ‘We’re dealing with an intergenerational system here and it’s not even certain which generation it’s going to be when the really big effects [of global warming occur]. However, the evidence right now is looking as if the situation is changing faster than it was predicted.’
Cicerone’s presentation was well-received and met by generous applause.
‘Climate change is a really relative issue to students and it’s nice to see the public here. I’m glad that UCI is doing this,’ said Leah Necas, a fourth-year earth system science graduate student, who felt that ‘the only way to make a difference quickly is to get the politicians working on it.’
Neeta Bijoor, a second-year Ph.D. candidate in earth system science, felt that Cicerone’s lecture was an appropriate approach to educating the public about the subject of global warming. ‘I think that it was the right balance of science as well as policy,’ Bijoor said.
Even before assuming his role as president of NAS, Cicerone was active in communicating climate science to the public and lawmakers as an atmospheric chemist. Cicerone served as chancellor of UCI for seven years from 1998 to 2005.
‘Try to save energy, either with driving habits, lighting or heating,’ Cicerone said. ‘Also, be aware so that when a company comes up with a product like hybrid cars, give it a fair chance.’