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.

December 15 Highlights: EPA Session and Update on IPCC Session

December 18, 2009

Posted by: Menas Kafatos

This was a full day and the last day where reasonable access to the Bella Center was provided. Besides talking to people in NGO booths and going around, I attended several key press conferences and side events. In the morning, Paul and I attended the U.S. EPA’s event on domestic climate change activities. EPA Assistant Administrator of Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy gave an overview of EPA activities, including the recent endangerment act, which declares CO2 as harmful to human health. She explained that under the clean air act, large companies will be reporting on the amounts of CO2 released. EPA gas Inventory Expert Leif Hockstad further explained that this reporting ruling does not control emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG’s). Discussion followed and we introduced ourselves.

The side event “Are we prepared for the worst-case scenario? News in Climate Science since IPCC last report” was an event of several speakers from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, PBL; as well as panelists Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist of UNEP and Bas Eickhout, member of European Parliament.

The event was  well attended. I will get into more details in my 2nd blog on the science of global change but basically the speakers emphasized that still a lot of science needs to be done and the environment may be undergoing changes faster than even the IPCC anticipated. I asked a question which initiated a lot of discussion on why business is not brought in a more integral way into the whole process (which seems to be involving primarily politicians, with input from science). I was assured that business is part of the process, particularly in Europe. Without substantive worldwide business and economic involvement in the whole climate issue, we will either have just academic discussions (by academics and scientists) or just politics (by the politicians) or a combination of both (the current situation), with little real prospects of both sustainable economic development and sustainable environment. The importance of this is appreciated in the EU, in Korea and some other countries.

Day 3: The chosen few

December 17, 2009

Posted by:  Chris Kim

[Started writing this last night, just finished and posting it today] I’m still, amazingly, in the Bella Center, going on hour 13 today; I figured that if this is my last day at COP15, I’m going to make it count.

As has been covered already in this blog, severe limitations on access to the conference have been enacted.  Although rumors abounded about getting in as the week goes on (external protests supposedly caused the NGO entry line to be closed by mid-morning), David Shafie and I were lucky enough to get in around 9 AM.  Unfortunately, everyone else in our group got shut out as they arrived after we did, so it was up to David and me to represent our delegation from within the Bella Center.

We started things off at the U.S. Center, where a representative from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave a presentation using the amazing visual Science on a Sphere technology.  From NOAA’s website: “Science On a Sphere (SOS) is a room sized, global display system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a six foot diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe.”  This was a great way to view changes in ocean temperatures over time as well as different pelagic (open ocean-dwelling) animal migration patterns, and carbonate saturation limits in a fully 3D surround form.

NOAA's Science on a Sphere shows sea turtle migration data; colors indicate ocean temperature gradients and shows that turtles prefer a fairly narrow temperature range which threatens to be disrupted by climate change.

Within a timeframe of about 15 minutes, I then got pictures of (and in the first two cases, with) General Wesley Clark, Dr. John Holdren, and Senator John Kerry.  Increasingly bigger names were definitely in attendance today.  General Clark told us a personal but likely well-practiced anecdote about arguing with an 11-year-old over the age of the dinosaurs, as he (the kid) had been taught that the earth was only 6000 years old, while I chatted with Dr. Holdren about folks we both know at Harvard.  Holdren, the primary science advisor to President Obama and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, has also appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and is likely one of the most public faces of science today.  His ability to communicate complex scientific concepts with patience, intelligence, and enthusiasm are in my opinion a great asset to the current administration.  More on his talk in a future post.

General Wesley Clark with me and David Shafie.

Senator John Kerry rushes by, surrounded by press and staff.

Me with John Holdren, science advisor to President Obama.

David and I went to a panel discussion in the Bellona Room, buried in the depths of the delegate offices (each country/big govt. office gets one, which acts as the center of business for all govt. officials), to hear from representatives of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the World Wildlife Foundation, the Blue Green Alliance, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, and the National Wildlife Federation about the status of climate change legislation and how NGOs can play a role in shaping it.  They were all quite savvy about how Congress operates and how to effectively lobby for science priorities (e.g. emphasizing job creation and showing how states can financially benefit).

Panel discussion on US climate change legislation held at the Bellona Room.

After that I hustled to catch the end of a Department of Transportation talk at the U.S. Center which discussed current and possibly future changes to gas mileage requirements as well as other ongoing initiatives in jet fuel R&D, hybrid and electric cars, and funding for new transportation-related improvements.  All talks at the US Center are streamed live and archived in many cases online along with the slides used during the presentation at:


From there it was off to a discussion of green jobs in the EU Center (the correlate to the US Center), then back to the US Center for John Holdren’s talk entitled “The Science of Climate Change:  What do we Know? What Can We Do?”  Then John Kerry’s talk on “The Critical Role of a Global Deal in Advancing US legislation, followed by a biofuels panel presentation by General Wesley Clark and several CEOs of different biofuel companies that regrettably felt more like an infomercial for the industry than a cogent talk.  We then attended a talk by numerous high-level UN representatives and led by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.  David Shafie has covered the Kerry and Ban talks elsewhere in this blog.

UN presentation with an impressive collection of high-ranking UN officials.

Seating chart for UN panel presentation.

Grabbed some side event catering on the way to a panel presentation called “Getting into Shape for Green Growth:  Korea’s Case” which covered all of the things Korea is doing to get out ahead of green growth and technology.  Surprisingly, while Korea seems very prominent this week, and China is obviously a large force in the ongoing negotiations, Japan is relatively subdued in their presence at the conference.  Finished with more catering and hauling a bunch of chocolate, cheese and sandwiches (one of the latter donated by David) out to some of the non-violent protestors in the main hall who were pretty appreciative.  Busy day!

Nonviolent protestors inside the Bella Center (compared to the (few) violent protestors outside the Bella Center earlier that day).

I’ll break out more detail on a few of these talks separately, as this is already a pretty long post.  However, one item mentioned in a few different talks was a chart created by McKinsey called the greenhouse gas abatement cost curve, plotting abatement methods along two axes showing each method’s cost per ton of CO2 and the actual number of gigatons (109) of CO2 potentially reduced.  This allows a visual representation of the cost benefits of various approaches, showing that several will save large amounts of money while others will cost more.  I’ve included the figure here which is worth a closer look.

McKinsey greenhouse gas abatement cost curve.

Some observations and thoughts on COP15…

December 17, 2009

Posted by Paul Chan

Many developing nations are already facing climate change threats such as chronic droughts, floods, and inundation due to sea level rise. These nations include Pacific Islands, Bangladesh, Nepal, and many African countries. For them, the worst of climate change is yet to come and no end is in sight. Their view is that developed nations are responsible for the currently high atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration. Even though the governing bodies of some developed nations might have in the past refused to acknowledge and act on climate change, this knowledge has been open to them for the past 30 years. So in the view of developing nations, some developed nations’ past refusal to acknowledge climate change or refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol does not excuse them of the harm they have inflicted on the rest of the world.

Every nation recognizes that a strong economy will help it better prepare for climate change. Without assistance from developed nations, developing nations will be forced to take the Faustian choice of economic development at any cost and at the expense of the environment. Some western critics have criticized China for taking this Faustian choice. However, for many developing nations, China is in an enviable position because its strong economy allows it to prepare for climate change. So in China’s perspective, its developmental path was not a Faustian choice at all. Developed nations should take this as a lesson that without their assistance, many developing nations will all be too willing to follow China’s path because they have no better choice. For some less fortunate nations, this is not even an option; without assistance from developed nations, they will simply wither in the face of climate change.

Currently most financial assistance from developed nations to developing nations is in GHG mitigation (estimated to be 90%) and the rest in climate change adaptation. A more balanced approach is needed. Most developing nations have very low GHG emission, yet they are facing disproportionally large climate change threats. What they need is a balance of two types of assistance. The first is in climate change adaptation to help them moderate climate change threats; this is urgently needed. The second type of assistance is for sustainable economic development to help developing nations avoid the past mistakes of developed nations in reliance on fossil fuels and the mistake of massive environmental degradation in the course of their economic development.


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