Friday Evening Lecture Series – Daniel Schrag, Harvard University Center for the Environment – “The Timescales of Climate Change”

Date(s) - 08/01/2014
8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
Lillie Auditorium

Friday Evening Lecture Series“The Timescales of Climate Change”
Daniel Schrag, Harvard University Center for the Environment
August 1, 2014, 8:00 PM, Lillie Auditorium

Introduction by Dr. Linda Deegan, Senior Scientist, MBL

Daniel SchragLecture Abstract:
Humans and our institutions are ill prepared for the multiple timescales of climate change.   More than half of the carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels stays there for a thousand years. Roughly 20% will be there for tens of thousands of years. Even if carbon dioxide emissions ceased today, the climate would continue to warm for hundreds to thousands of years as oceans slowly warm and ice melts. And it will take at least a century to decarbonize our economy, even with ideal political and economic conditions, given the scale of infrastructure required. All these factors frame the challenge to “solve” the climate-energy challenge by eliminating greenhouse gas emissions in a slightly different light. First, attention to what has been called “climate adaptation” is essential. A conventional view is that a focus on “adaptation” may distract from efforts towards “mitigation” – the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. I will suggest that a focus on “climate preparedness”, on local actions to protect our communities (and perhaps even local ecosystems) by building robustness and resilience, has the potential to build a more durable, sustained willingness to pay for climate change mitigation over the long run by enhancing awareness of the challenges. A second point is that any climate policies, given the long timescales of climate change and energy transformation, should consider a theory of change, and think strategically about energy transformation. I will argue that carbon emissions are a very poor metric of progress towards a low-carbon world, and that disruptive innovation is essential. I will discuss a series of examples, including shale gas and the Keystone XL pipeline, that question the mainstream environmental movement’s approach to climate policy.

Dr. Daniel Schrag is the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology at Harvard University, Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, and Director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

Dr. Schrag studies climate and climate change over the broadest range of Earth history. He is particularly interested in how information on climate change from the geologic past can lead to better understanding of anthropogenic climate change in the future. In addition to his work on geochemistry and climatology, Dr. Schrag studies energy technology and policy, including carbon capture and storage and low‐carbon synthetic fuels.

Dr. Schrag currently serves on President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Among various honors, he is the recipient of the James B. Macelwane Medal from the American Geophysical Union and a MacArthur Fellowship. Schrag earned a B.S. in Geology and Geophysics and Political Science from Yale University and his Ph.D. in Geology from the University of California at Berkeley. He came to Harvard in 1997 after teaching at Princeton.

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