Dr. James Hansen, renowned NASA scientist and pioneer in the field of global warming studies, spoke on campus last night drawing a crowd that filled Campbell Hall and two additional Buchanan lecture halls.
Hansen, head of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, kicked off UCSB’s Global Warming Science & Society Event Series, which will feature three additional speakers and related events until Earth Day on April 22. Presented by Arts & Lectures, in conjunction with multiple campus departments, the series aims to alert the community to the serious nature of climate change and offers methods to address the crisis of global warming.
“We have left our children with a great moral burden,” Hansen said. “It is my hope that the young people of this century are informed and inspired enough to address these issues and turn around these forces.”
David Lea, a professor in the Earth Science Dept., said attendance exceeded his expectations, as the packed lecture completely filled Campbell Hall and additional seating accommodations had to be provided in Buchanan 1910 and 1940 through telecast.
“I am overwhelmed by the turn out,” Lea said in his address prior to Hansen’s speech. “For those of you who can’t hear me because you couldn’t get into the event … I am sorry.”
Hansen, too, was moved by the turnout and said the impressive response could have never happened 10 years ago, signaling an increased attention to the subject. However, Hansen said he wondered why even more young people today were not alarmed at by the current global situation.
“I wonder why more young people are not concerned,” said Hansen. “You are getting the short end of the stick.”
Hansen spoke in detail about the dangers of continuing down the current path toward global warming, or doing Business-As-Usual, which Hansen classifies as the current 2 percent yearly increase of fossil fuel consumption. According to Hansen, under these conditions, the Earth will see a 3 degree Celsius increase in temperature, eventually claiming the lives of 50 percent of Earth’s species and sections of Antarctica and Greenland.
“We don’t want to go in this direction,” Hansen said. “Following the BAU scenario would be disastrous for a huge number of species. This is a non-linear problem and could push to the point of the collapse of portions of Antarctica and Greenland. The damage caused would make New Orleans look like a small village.”
Later in his speech, Hansen addressed the irreversibly damaging role humans play in altering the Earth’s atmosphere, and pointed to the United States as the leader in green house gas emissions.
“Human mechanisms are completely controlling atmospheric composition and melting ice off the planet.” Hansen said. “The United States is responsible for releasing three times the accumulated fossil fuel of China and more than responsible for the current conditions. The U.S. must take political and technological leadership in reducing its dependency on fossil fuels … [or] we are in danger of a different climate.”
Despite the breadth of information, audience reaction was tepid due to Hansen’s monotone voice and slow delivery. Fourth-year geography major Shawn Jacobs said he was unmoved by Hansen’s speaking, but was impressed with the level of attendance.
“While the information was interesting, the speaking was dull; this was no Al Gore and I was already informed on the information,” Jacobs said. “But what is important is that this issue is so big that the event filled Campbell Hall.”
Three additional lectures on global warming will follow last night’s event, including Steve Koonin, chief scientist of British Petroleum, on March 8 and Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change, on April 19. Her book is available for free to UCSB students at Davidson Library’s information desk through the UCSB Reads for Earth Day program. The fourth speaker has yet to be announced.
Lea said the support of an anonymous donor and many campus departments has helped make the series, and its emphasis on education about global warming, a reality.
“Last May, an anonymous donor pledged to support this series, so it is with the help of the donor and many UCSB individuals that we are able to present this information to the students, as well as to the community,” Lea said.