Susan Solomon on Climate Change

The annual Ullyot Public Affairs Lecture brings people of the highest distinction to Philadelphia for an evening of lively discussion on the contributions to society of the chemical sciences. The latest version was just last week

This year’s honoree was Dr. Susan Solomon of NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), and she held the rapt attention of a capacity crowd throughout the occasion. Her subject was climate change, with a few thoughts stirred in for comparative purposes on solving the ozone-hole problem.

Few subjects are as perplexingly divisive as climate change. Dr. Solomon’s point of departure is that global warming is unassailably real and that the cause is human activity (mainly CO2 emissions). The only areas of contention are what repercussions will ensue and what we wish to do about them. This line of thinking is as close to a scientific consensus as one is likely to achieve, so those who disagree are allowing their personal beliefs to trump accepted scientific reality.

The lecture systematically examined various reasons why the climate data might be wrong: concentrated urbanization, anomalous population density, inaccurate thermometers, etc. None can counter the measured dramatic rise of atmospheric CO2 and temperature in recent years.

Carefully avoiding any whiff of scaremongering, Solomon went through some of the consequences of altered climate: more rain in Philadelphia, more wildfires in California, more pine beetles in the Southwest.

Optimistically, she concluded by asserting that while there may be no silver bullet to solve our greenhouse-gas problem, there is lots of “silver buckshot.” Sensibly, this means a combination of alternative energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear, etc.), systematic reversal of deforestation, and strategies for carbon capture and storage.

Rejecting the current behavior of both the right and the left as a “cacophony of emotional reactions and special social viewpoints,” she called instead for “climate sanity.” If only our leaders could agree….

Next year’s Ullyot lecture will surely be equally inspiring, so check the CHF Web site next fall to get in on the fun. It’s definitely worth a trip to the big city, even if it is slightly warmer and rainier.

Posted In: Policy

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