February 27, 2012

Darwin Day Lecture: “The Present and Future of Climate Change”

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Addressing the warmest year and warmest decade on record, Thomas Lovejoy, Chief biodiversity advisor to the World Bank and founder of PBS series Nature kicked off Darwin days with a lecture on climate change in Goldwinsmith Auditorium, Feb.12th. The man who coined the term “biodiversity” answered how much is too much when it comes to greenhouse gases.

According to the Global Carbon Project, global emissions of carbon dioxide reached a record high last year.   The burning of fossil fuels and forests, mainly led by China’s and India’s growing industries is responsible for the increase, according to the International Energy Agency.  The rise means world leaders’ goals of capping global warming at 2 degrees Celsius and atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 450 ppm will be more challenging than predicted.

“We must decrease atmospheric CO2 concentrations from the present 390 ppm to 350 ppm ASAP for a safe planet for all peoples and all species,” according to the UK Royal Society. The 2 degree limit is considered the threshold for potentially dangerous climate change amongst leading scientists on anthropogenic climate change. “Global emissions have to peak at 2016 if we want to stop at 2 degrees Celsius,” Lovejoy said.

The trend of increased carbon emissions to support growing industry has natural costs. If atmospheric CO2 concentrations surpass 450ppm, all coral reefs will essentially dissolve. “If we’re seeing what we’re seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much,” Lovejoy said. High carbon pollution will threaten sea life as well as forests. According to projections by researchers at Penn State, Amazonian rain forests could reach a “point of no return” in as little as 10 to 15 years from now if deforestation continues at its current rate of about one percent a year.

Amidst these statistics, some scientist note that there is a disconnect between the public sentiment and the scientific community. December of 2010, the US said the 2 degree Celsius limit was more of guidance than a national target.

“What is it going to take for the public to become aware of climate change?” said Robert Kohut, scientist of the Boyce Thompson Institute. “Americans today seem to think that the availability of food is based on having enough money to buy it, not so much as having the supply of food out there available for them,” Robert Kohut said.

“I don’t think you can be a responsible citizen today without understanding this, it affects all of humanity and it affects individuals. And individuals are going to be a part of the solution,” Lovejoy said.

Original Author: Raquel Sghiatti