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Editor's Page

September 13, 2010
Volume 88, Number 37
p. 3

Kavli Prize Science Forum

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The 2010 Kavli Prizes in Science were awarded last week, and I attended the ceremonies in Oslo, Norway. A new event associated with this year’s Kavli Prizes was the Kavli Prize Science Forum 2010 on “The Role of International Cooperation in Science.”

As much as some people in the U.S. would love to see the topic disappear, global climate change was very much on the minds of the scientists gathered at the Kavli forum. Setting the tone for the forum, however, was a nonscientist, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre, who opened the session.

“One of the most complex issues demanding international cooperation in science is climate change,” Støre said. Although decisions about addressing climate change are being made at the national level, “it is obvious that international collaboration in science and science policy must play a role. We need much better links between the science and the policy worlds,” Støre said.

One important issue in climate-change policy that Støre pointed to was the need to distinguish between probability and certainty. “There is always uncertainty in science,” he noted. “I believe that scientists should speak out more loudly and forcefully” on topics such as climate change without as much equivocating as is often true of scientific discourse. “The merchants of doubt use uncertainty to play down the severity of the problems facing us,” Støre said.

Støre went on to note that Norway has significant strategic interests in the “high North and Arctic,” where most of the changes associated with global warming are now taking place. Norway has established important cooperative scientific relationships with Russia in studying climate change and managing common Arctic resources, he observed.

One of the plenary speakers at the forum was U.S. presidential science adviser John P. Holdren, whose presentation was titled “Climate Change Science & Policy: What Do We Know? What Should We Do?” Holdren began by noting that President Barack Obama had made clear from the outset of his Administration that he “places a high priority on science and technology, international cooperation in science and technology, and STEM education.”

Holdren then discussed the Obama Administration’s views on climate change. “Global warming is a dangerous misnomer,” Holdren observed. “It suggests that the changes are uniform, primarily about temperature, gradual, and likely benign. None of these assumptions are true.” The correct term, he said, should be “global climate disruption.”

Holdren addressed five myths about climate change. For instance, he said, some climate-change skeptics maintain that 1998 was the warmest year on record and that Earth has been cooling since then. That’s simply not true, he said. The 15 hottest years on record have all occurred since 1990. The decade of the 1980s was then the hottest on record; the decade of the 1990s was hotter; and the decade of the 2000s was hotter still.

And, he pointed out, “Heating is not uniform geographically, ocean heat content is increasing, coastal glaciers are retreating, Arctic ice is shrinking and thinning, and the Greenland and Antarctic ice masses are losing mass much more rapidly than had ever been predicted from models.”

Humanity has three options in the face of climate change, Holdren observed: mitigation, adaptation, and suffering. “We’re already doing some of each,” he said. “What’s up for grabs is the ultimate mix of the three.” Mitigation, he said, can’t work alone because climate change is already happening and will continue regardless of any actions humans take. Some level of adaptation to manage the unavoidable impacts of climate change will be necessary. And unless humans are able to limit global warming to no more than 2 °C on average, the suffering humanity faces is going to be severe.

During the panel discussion, Martin Rees, president of the U.K.’s Royal Society, observed that “Earth has existed for 45 million centuries, but the 21st century is unique.” It is the first time that one species has in its power the ability to change the planet in fundamental ways that will affect all other species living on it, imposing enormous responsibility on that human species.

Thanks for reading.

Rudy Baum

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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