2010 ESI/IFREE Lecture

March 30, 2010

Climate Change, Facts and Hype: Hazards and Impacts and What does the Future Hold?

April 16th 3:00-4:30 p.m. in Wilkinson Hall room #116 Chapman University, Orange, CA.

Menas Kafatos – Climate Change, Facts and Hype: Hazards and Impacts and What does the Future hold?

Bio: Dr. Menas Kafatos joined Chapman University in 2008 as the Vice Chancellor for Special Projects and is also Founding Dean of the Schmid College of Science, Director of the Center for Excellence in Applied, Computational, and Fundamental Science, and Professor of Physics, Computational Sciences and Engineering.  He received his B.A. in Physics from Cornell University in 1967 and his Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1972.   After postdoctoral work at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, he joined George Mason University and was University Professor of Interdisciplinary Sciences there from 1984-2008.  He also served as Dean of the School of Computational Sciences and was Director of the Center for Earth Observing and Space Research.

Abstract: The Earth is continuously undergoing global change. Part of this change constitutes variability of the climate system. For the last several thousand years, the Earth’s climate has been naturally warming up. However, it is the recent changes and potentially humanly-induced global warming that are attracting a lot of attention at all levels of societies and are an intense subject of study by the scientific communities. It appears that global change and its effects are proceeding at ever increasing rates. It is also obvious that the impacts of climate change are felt at regional and local levels, yet the influences of change tie different parts of the Earth together. Natural hazards are impacted by climate change, whether natural or anthropogenic, and in turn affect the global system with regional climate impacts. The “clear and present danger” of 21st century global change is the hazards, and pollution, and the havoc they are causing on both human societies and nature. However, as we will show, the connections of the entire physical-biological Earth system, as complex as this system is, to human societies, and associated socio-economic factors, energy, economic issues, and policy agreements at the national and international levels, are even more complex and even less understood. One of the most exciting future developments will be connecting economic models with climate models and observations. Coordinated observing systems from space may be one of the surest ways to shed light on the entire, highly complex physical-societal system.


Pilgrimage to the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen

January 6, 2010

Posted by Menas Kafatos

Niels Bohr

It was a real treat to visit the Niels Bohr Institut in Copenhagen. Located at Blegdamsvej Street, it is an active research  institute with a strong history.

The Niels Bohr Institut

Susan arranged with our host John Hertz to visit the Institut and spend some time discussing some of the science as well as visiting Bohr’s office, the Library, etc. John is presently doing computational biology and they have interdisciplinary teams of physicists, biologists and computer specialists working together.

It was great to visit the place where Bohr worked, and so much of the way modern physics works in institutions throughout the world was founded there. Bohr’s more relaxed style for discussions and interactions among scientists may be taken for granted today but that was not always the case in the old European model.

We visited his office and I had the honor to seat at his desk. Pictures of Bohr, including annual pictures of Bohr and entire staff of the Institut hanging from the walls, gifts from other physicists (e.g. Yukawa), the famous yin-yang symbol, which Bohr adopted and is the expression of his complementarity picture, a real treasure, were all there.

Bohr's Desk

Of particular importance were a bust of Einstein and a wall stone image of Rutherford. They showed the importance that Bohr felt for other great physicists. In particular, the bust of Einstein concretely demonstrates the friendship and respect that Bohr had for Einstein. Their friendship has been well documented, but seeing a tangible object from the collection of Bohr, was a true inspiration on the greatness of these famous scientists. So much different than the often back-stabbing attitude of many scientists today, which I suppose can be justified that we live in a very competitive world. However, even though Bohr and Einstein disagreed so fundamentally on the interpretation and consequences of quantum theory, they never stopped being close friends and colleagues. A good lesson to keep in mind, science should rise above the attitudes or ways of individuals. This is unfortunately often set aside by some involved in, e.g.,  climate research today.

Rutherford and Einstein

Bohr’s complementarity forms a cornerstone of the “Copenhagen Interpretation” of quantum theory. I have written extensively on this principle and its generalization beyond quantum theory in various articles (see also the book with R. Nadeau, The Conscious Universe, Springer 2000). Being in Bohr’s Institut and seeing his private collection as well as his workplace, was a treat and a break from the events surrounding the “Copenhagen Accord”. I suspect the Copenhagen Interpretation will be more remembered, at least in its advancement of science and broader impacts,  than the Copenhagen Accord of December 2009.

We visited the library, with plenty of classical physics monographs, particularly on quantum theory, field theories, etc. In visiting the halls, we came across a picture of many great scientists from antiquity to modern physics. It was a reminder of where we were and the tradition of science. Great science is not done by just individuals, it is often a collective effort. The pictures of the great scientists and thinkers illustrate the continuity of science and knowledge in societies.

At the Library


Some Comments about the Science of Global Change: Part II

December 25, 2009

Posted by Menas Kafatos

It has become clear that there is a lot that needs to be studied about the changing climate of the Earth. Many scientists are concerned that the Earth is changing faster than the forecasts of the IPCC. This view was expressed at COP15, by European scientists and politicians, with somewhat obvious points being made that the polar ice is melting faster than the models predicted, the glaciers are similarly receeding faster than anticipated, etc. However, an equally appreciable section of scientific opinion is questioning whether some of the predictions about global warming have been overstated. According to the BBC (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8423822.stm), a survey a while ago showed that 18% of scientists thought the Intergovernmental Panel had exaggerated, while 17% of scientists thought the IPCC had under-stated the risks, and the rest of the scientists thought they had got it right. So there is still appreciable division among scientists. This of course does not mean that nations should do nothing just because there is still considerable uncertainty. On the contrary, scientists should make renewed efforts to quantify the uncertainties and to not take for granted that predictions are settled.

In this respect, it is important to emphasize that in the end, more observations are needed, such as provided by global Earth observing systems. The global models need to continue to be improved. Much is missing, such as non-linear effects of regional processes, the effects of aerosols and pollution, how regional climate couples to the global system, etc. Making things simpler by linearizing important processes in global models surely does not capture the full picture of the Earth’s systems. As we move forward to attempt forecasting the Earth’s climate, it is also becoming essential to understand how the past climate behaved particularly at regional levels.

We have to do the science right and in the end, observations have to be better understood and statistical tests conducted. In this task, sustained global observations are paramount. If a enforceable ageement is signed in the future, the issue of monitoring will be immediately raised. For example, there are no direct ways for tracking GHG emissions at the plants themselves. Coordinated space observations will have to be brought in. Arguing about adhering to some value of global average temperatures will not be as important, in the end, as knowing quantitatively what the emissions are from each country.


December 15 Highlights: Governors/Premiers and VIP Sessions

December 20, 2009

Posted by Menas Kafatos

Attending the session of 5 total U.S. Governors, and Canada Premiers (Campbell, British Columbia; Charest, Quebec; Doyle, Wisconsin; Gregoire, Washington; and Selinger, Manitoba–Governor Schwarzenegger could not attend), was very informative and, once again, showed that real progress is occurring at the regional and local levels, perhaps outside of, or in spite of what national leaders are capable of, or are not capable of accomplishing. They all emphasized that they are not waiting for action from Washington, D.C. or Ottawa. They are pursuing reduction of emissions and at the same time accomplishing economic development.

Later in the day, we listened to speeches from a number of VIPs, including the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the head of UNFCCC Yvo de Boer, Connie Hedegaard, Minister for U.N. COP15, Prince Charles, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai who was designated as a UN Messenger of Peace by the Secretary-General, etc. They all implored the world’s governments to reach accord. Hedegaard was very strong but also almost sounded desperate, she time and again asked that the world’s leaders understand the seriousness of the climate situation and act upon it. She said that “we shall be judged not just on what we do but also on what we fail to do”. Yvo de Boer, chair of UNFCCC as well as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, both emphasized COP15 was a historic time.

Prince Charles addressing COP15

A very inspiring speech was given by the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles. He was impeccable in terms of facts, persuading without being too emotional. He built a series of arguments, questioning whether we as humans could actually survive as species. Appealing to world leaders he said  “With your signatures, you can change the future”. Among other things, in pursuing innovation, he indicated that performance-based incentives could be provided to countries where the world’s rainforests exist to save the rainforests and provide economic incentives so that the forests would not be transformed into farmland.

This was a full day of activities. Anticipation was clearly building up throughout the day, towards the final days of COP15 and particularly Friday, 18 January, when President Obama would arrive. Lines were long and one could not get into many specific events, even if one were patient. However, screens were available at many places, allowing delegates to be following the events of the day.


Some concluding thoughts

December 19, 2009

Empty chairs in the Bella Center

Posted by David Shafie

It was early Saturday morning when the agreement was announced.  President Obama had left earlier on Friday, hoping to avoid the snowstorm heading for Washington, but not before reaching a deal with representatives of four rapidly industrializing nations (China, India, Brazil and South Africa) whose cooperation was vital to the success of any accord.  

The result was a nonbinding three-page statement announcing the intent to reduce carbon emissions by two degrees (celcius) and media reports are filled with the White House descriptions of this as “unprecedented” and a “breakthrough.”  Not everyone was pleased; especially the EU—which has the world’s only functioning cap-and-trade regime—and the least developed nations of the G-77, who were asked to support the agreement after being shut out of the most important negotiations.

Across town at the shadow conference, where we spent the last evening of the summit, the news was met with more skepticism.  Activists there hoped that the final push by the US would result in stricter emissions targets, or at least an enforceable treaty.  Understandably, other nations around the world are wary of promises by the US, when our own cap-and-trade legislation is still stalled in the Senate.

A polar bear spreads the message about 350 ppm, before its credentials were revoked.

It was slightly frustrating that the operating problems of the conference overshadowed the talks within the conference center.  The unfortunate decision to limit the access by NGO’s (and then shut us out entirely for the last two days) probably did not have any impact on the proceedings inside the hall.  However, excluding these dedicated people seemed to rob the conference of much of its energy and vitality.  It was eerie walking around the hall on Wednesday night to see so many unattended booths belonging to groups like the Rainforest Action Network and the World Wildlife Fund, all of whom came to participate by sharing information, observing and bearing witness to the talks.


Day 5: Is Half a Loaf Better Than None?

December 18, 2009

Posted by: David Shafie

Since we were no longer allowed access to the hall, Manny Smith, Chris Kim and I spent the last day across town at the shadow conference, Klimaforum 09, listening to the alternative perspectives that had been shut out of the summit. Klimaforum was billed as the “people’s summit” and it was populated with environmental activists unaffiliated with any of the NGO’s that had registered with COP15, as well as some who had been credentialed by the summit but shut out after the UN began revoking credentials to limit NGO attendance.  All week long, large video monitors streamed live video feeds from the summit as activists held their own lectures, discussion panels and art exhibits.  The venue also served as a place for the protestors to organize and blow off some steam.

Activists watch the proceedings at the Bella Center

Like others who had been shut out of the summit, we stood by for updates after President Obama arrived and addressed the delegates in a last-ditch effort to break the stalemate with China over targets and verification.  After the president reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the reduction targets, a number of the activists at Klimaforum expressed their disappointment that he had not taken a bolder stance, as well as the hope that the talks would break down.

That’s not such a radical view; NASA’s chief climate scientist James Hansen stated this position in November. Indeed, a recurring theme in the discussions we witnessed was the question of whether no agreement would be preferable to a flawed one.

Bill McKibben blogs from the shadow conference

One activist with a prominent presence was author Bill McKibben, who spoke at Chapman last Fall.  Here in Copenhagen, we saw him tirelessly addressing groups in multiple venues, and speaking with activists one-on-one.  In his talk at Chapman, McKibben discussed the launch of 350.org, a grassroots movement to raise awareness of the precise number that scientists believe is the key to a stable climate (350 parts per million of CO2).  When McKibben spoke at Chapman last year, he was just six months into the 350 campaign, but his message caught on like wildfire.  On Oct. 24 of this year, 5,200 demonstrations were held in 181 countries, to spread the word about the significance of 350 (One of them was staged in Irvine Park, in the city of Orange).

Chris Kim, Manny Smith, Bill McKibben, David Shafie

After Obama’s speech, McKibben registered his own disappointment that the proposal on the table did not go far enough.  Calling, the draft proposal a “fundamentally dishonest piece of legislation,” he expressed his doubt that if implemented, it would ever achieve the 3 percent reduction target that it promised.  As someone who had high expectations for Obama, McKibben said he was disheartened that the president hadn’t spent the requisite political capital on the problem of climate change.

By early Friday evening, it was still uncertain where the climate talks would end.  The late appearance by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s promise of additional U.S. money for the climate fund might have sustained the negotiations a bit longer, but any final agreement would have to come Saturday (or later).

A klezmir band rocks the house

Late Friday night, most of the young activists at the shadow conference seemed to have lost interest in the negotiations, and they were ready to party.  By then, few could be seen in the main hall watching for updates on the video monitors, but in a nearby gymnasium that had served as the main briefing room, a live band was playing and the floor was packed with people dancing.  It wasn’t clear what had been accomplished, but it was time to celebrate.

After the shadow conference


Status Update

December 18, 2009

Posted by Emmanuel Smith
Part II of “Are we getting the deal we came for?” will be up soon, but I need to edit some video footage first as soon as I return to the states.  I just wanted to say that Pres. Obama was part of a non-legal binding agreement that is now on the table as of about 10pm CET Friday night, 18 December.  Apparently the talks are continuing through the night and into the morning tomorrow (Saturday).  It’s still unclear about what exactly is being agreed upon, but there is still hope in sight.  I am leaving København early in the morning and need to get at least a couple of hours sleep.  I will be posting videos and more comments in the days to come so stay tuned.

I would like take time to say, on my last night here in København, that even though the talks did not produce what the world was hoping for, and many things that occurred here this week are simply unacceptable in this day and age, there has been at least some progress.  Some of the outcomes have been positive, some them have been suspect at best, but vastly more important is that the people from around the world have spoken, demonstrated, protested, and made themselves heard.  Regardless of what the politicians accomplish (or not), the global citizenry is gaining ground and making progress in making it known that climate change is a serious problem that is affecting people all over the world… now, not just 10 or 20 years into the future.  And if the momentum can continue to build, world leaders will have no choice but to answer to their constituents. Hopefully it won’t be too late.  It will be a  long, hard road to get there, and there is so much to do between now and COP16 in Mexico.  Those who care simply can not quit.


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