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UCLA

A Climate for Change

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By Mary Daily

Published Oct 1, 2011 12:00 AM


art

Illustration by Richard Allen.

If you were sitting in your living room and smelled smoke, you wouldn't say, 'let's not bother, it might not be a fire, I haven't seen any flames.' You'd do something."

UCLA Chancellor Emeritus and Public Policy Professor Albert Carnesale is making an analogy to the warning signs of climate change in the world today — retreating glaciers, rising sea levels, acidifying oceans and increasing temperatures. He points out that in many contexts, we often take action based on the information we have, even if there are degrees of uncertainty.

Carnesale, a nuclear engineer who participated in the SALT I negotiations with the Soviet Union, has experience with forces that threaten the planet. Climate change is on his mind now because he recently chaired a national committee of scientists and policy experts charged by the U.S. Congress with assessing the status of global warming and giving "action-oriented advice" on how the nation should respond.

The Committee on America's Climate Choices concluded that climate change is real, poses significant risks to human and natural systems, and humans are largely responsible for it. In the U.S., we are likely to see more intense and frequent heat waves, risks to coastal communities from rising sea levels, greater drying of the Southwest and increased public-health risks.

Water is Rising

Pacific Islanders, climate change experts, and political leaders explore the very real threats to the region in Science and Art in a Climate of Change: A Dialogue of Nations, an artistic and unique exchange of ideas. The event takes place Thursday, October 13 3:00-5:00 pm at the UCLA Glorya Kaufman Hall Theatre.

To learn more about this impact of climate change on this region, read the UCLA Today article interviewing those affected.

Because heat from the sun hasn't increased, scientists point to "greenhouse gases" that trap heat in the earth's atmosphere as the culprit. Since large-scale industrialization began around 150 years ago, levels of several important greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, have increased by about 25 percent. During the past 20 years, about three-quarters of human-made carbon dioxide emissions were from burning fossil fuels.

The committee suggests that we get to work immediately to define an acceptable level of risk — what we're willing to live with — and then limit that risk. They acknowledge that we have to adapt to some degree of climate change.

But Carnesale's group also urges "ramping down emissions as soon as possible." Specifically, to a total of 170 to 200 billion metric tons between 2012 and 2050. But the current rate of release is already about 7 billion per year and rising. Reduction would be achieved by raising prices enough to drive major investments in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies. Complementary policies would be needed in cases where market failures and institutional barriers limit the effectiveness of a carbon pricing system.

Whatever we do, say the committee members, it's important to get started now.

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