BC Expert: Climate Change Meeting
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Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences
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Jeremy Shakun is a paleo climatologist who researches the patterns and causes of climate change over recent millennia to the Ice Ages of the past few millions of years using glacier deposits, ocean sediments, and cave stalagmites. He says understanding how and why climate has changed in the past provides insight into what to expect from it in the future. Among his research articles on the topic: “A Reconstruction of Global and Regional Temperature for the Last 11,300 Years” and Global Warming Preceded by Increasing Carbon Dioxide Concentrations During the Last Deglaciation.” DShakun’s various studies have been published in the leading journals Nature, Science, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; he has spoken about climate change with numerous media outlets, including BBC, NPR, U.S. News and World Report, Associated Press, New York Times, MSNBC, Christian Science Monitor and Scientific American.
Delegates from more than 100 countries are meeting in Copenhagen this week to review and edit a report that finds it’s not too late for governments to reverse the planet’s global warming. A draft of the report points out climate change may have "serious, pervasive and irreversible" impacts on human society and nature.
“We need to get more realistic in how we think about climate change,” says Boston College Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Jeremy Shakun, Ph.D. “This is a long-term, chronic, systemic problem that won't be fixed in a year, or decade, but over the next century, and only then if we can come to terms with the scale of the situation.”
The final report on global warming will be issued this Sunday and will be used as a guide for a climate change summit next year. While the conclusions in the report point to a stark reality, Shakun says a tempered view, mixed with concern, is the proper approach.
“We like to talk about the race against global warming as though there is a clear and final deadline, which can be psychologically and politically motivating, at least temporarily,” says Shakun, whose primary area of research is climate change. “But it also runs the risk of burning people out and making them think that if we don't hit the magic mark, all is lost. Not true -- every day of inaction means that much larger future climate impacts - simple as that.”
Because not everyone is convinced climate change is due to human activities, scientists are faced with the difficult task of convincing society to accept not only the cause, but the need for the kind of change that will slow down the planet’s warming.
“At this point, we are already locked into a hefty amount of climate change -- the question in my mind is whether we keep it to 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming or just continue on indefinitely until we hit 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) or more. It is easy to think that a couple degrees are already so big, that 'what's the point?' But you're kidding yourself if you act like 6 is the same as 3. The difference will be measured in feet of sea level, trillions of dollars in GDP, and what sort of crops farmers can grow. Three is a lot, 6 is nuts. For an analogy -- it's as if we meant to be on a diet, but whoops, just gained 10 pounds. It's obviously easy to then just call it quits, climb back on the couch, and curl up with junk food, but then you’re kidding yourself to think that 50 pounds is the same as 10 and you won't notice the difference.
"At the same time, it's probably also kidding yourself to expect that government leaders will get together and seriously address climate change if they don't feel pressure from the public. Real solutions will likely have upfront costs, so politicians have good reason to avoid them if they don't sense people are interested in footing the bill."
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