Several distinguished scientists and professors met to discuss the future of Earth’s climate during the Global Change and Oceans Conference at the UC Irvine Beckman Center on Friday, May 9.
UCI’s Department of Earth System Science and the Newkirk Center for Science and Society co-sponsored the event.
After UCI Chancellor Michael V. Drake’s brief opening remarks, the first round of speakers discussed some alarming scientific evidence that forecasts global changes in the Earth’s oceans and climate. The remaining speakers focused on what can be done to combat these gloomy predictions.
Susan Trumbore, the chair of the Department of Earth System Science, played a major role in organizing the event.
“We thought it was a topic that was timely, and that there would be local interest since we’re a coastal community,” Trumbore said.
Joseph DiMento, a professor of law and planning at UCI, also helped plan and organize the program.
The conference featured a wide variety of topics pertaining to environmental changes.
Dr. Wallace Broecker, Newberry professor of geology at Columbia University, spoke about how the past can be used to predict the future impacts of climate change. Following Broecker’s speech, Trumbore moderated a panel that discussed climate changes and rising ocean levels.
Joseph L. Sax, a distinguished professor of environmental regulation at UC Berkeley, examined how rising sea levels might affect beaches and beachfront property.
“A foot rise in elevation would mean inundation of 100 to 200 feet inland,” Sax said.
Sax went on to show how this inland inundation could eventually decrease the amount of public beaches available and threaten beachfront property.
To avoid this, Sax proposed a system in which potential buyers of beachfront houses would be required to show that they have the financial resources to build adequate structures, such as sea walls, if their property is in the path of an advancing shoreline.
After attending the event, Danny Lee, a third-year international studies major, expressed that he was surprised at how little the public knows about this topic.
“People don’t know about climate change,” Lee said. “Its actually happening. This is not just an issue about the environment, it’s an issue about the human race.”
Similarly, Mark Cole, a second-year social ecology major, said that he was concerned with the depletion of natural resources, such as water.
“Water is going to become a lot more scarce in the coming years, and people aren’t really focused on that,” Cole said.
The event was an opportunity for scientists to alert the public about climate changes using easy-to-follow language.
Earth sciences Ph.D. candidate Francesca Hopkins said, “As a scientist, I realize that there is a big gap between the product that we produce and what the general public will be able to learn from that information. I think a lot needs to be done to try to get information about climate change to the public.”
Hopkins was particularly concerned about acid levels in the ocean.
“I think ocean acidification is a big problem. We don’t know how the ocean carbon cycle is going to respond to warming. These are all pretty scary things, because it shows that as much as we have predictions of the future with [regards to] warming, we really don’t know how the climate system is going to respond,” Hopkins said.
Although the information was often disconcerting, it compelled some students such as Jose Lee, a fifth-year mechanical engineering major, to make a difference in the future.
“Attending this event makes me see that there is still lot of work to be done. It encourages me to be an engineer and try to work towards a solution,” Lee said.
All the speeches and panels emphasized the idea that we must begin to combat these problems immediately.
“We are very late in responding to climate change,” said Professor Emeritus Helen Ingram, “but we need to act now. There’s no turning the clock back; once we’ve gone by these tipping points, our chances for doing anything are gone. The political situation will only get more difficult as we postpone those actions.”