Highlights

April 22–23, 2004
Roone Arledge Auditorium



Day 1: April 22, 2004

Session 1: Climate Change Defined

"I think there's only one sure solution and that's capturing CO2 and putting it away. It's not the only solution, but I think it's the ultimate solution, and we have to work that out and figure out how to do it, how to pay for it, how to get people to agree around the world to do it."
Wallace Broecker

"We like to think we've made great progress and probably can somehow use our technology to get out of the kind of things that happened to all of those other ancient civilizations I showed, . . . but it may not be true. They're not that unusual if you take a long view of history, and things can happen even in the warm era, not just in the cold era."
Mark Cane

"We know a lot about climate, we know a lot about climate change, and one of the things that we know is that we will never have enough information to really predict climate. What we can do if we really learn a lot is to assess the risks."
Steven Wofsy

Session 2: Responding to Climate Change: Living in a Greenhouse

"I suggest that we may not necessarily know the sign of what's forthcoming, but if we accept that it's going to be cataclysmic, this is analogous to the situation which led to Noah's ark, or at least the story of Noah's ark. . . . Do we need a Noah's ark? What does that mean, and how will be go about it if we do indeed decide that that's what we need to do? Because attempts that we may put forward to control climate change are not likely to materialize in time."
Upmanu Lall

"I have lots of ecologist friends, and they ask me how I can bear to be an economist with such barbarians in my neighborhood, and my economist friends ask me how I could bear to be with ecologists, who obviously don't understand the power of discounting. "Haven't they taken any high-school mathematics?" they ask. Well what I want to do is a reconciliation. I want to show you that the way discounting has been used by economists in this particular problem area has been wrong."
Sir Partha Dasgupta

"[C]old-blooded insects are far more susceptible to slight changes in the environment than we are. And many diseases are carried by mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects that are cold-blooded. So this is where when people say, "Okay, we're going to have global warming, how much warming will we have?" And a lot of folks will say, "Well, it's one degree, two degrees, no big deal." Well to a mosquito it's a big deal. . . . "
Jonathan Patz

"I told the story of this man who lives in a remote village. . . . And he asked me the question, "Why should my island go underwater because somebody has to use energy, ride a little more or eat a little more. What have I done to deserve this?""
Atiq Rahman

"[N]ot only are urban areas the recipient of climate stresses, they have a reciprocal effect on the climate as well, and that's the urban heat-island effect, primarily because of the absorption of the radiation by all the concrete and asphalt that we have in cities. . . . right away this raises the issue of environmental justice and the interactions between our climate factors, our urban climates, and the people who live there. So how do we respond to these complexities in the cities?"

"[W]e are looking at the potential for green roofs, which are vegetated roofs, a new form of roofing material. Instead of using the black tar that most roofs have in the New York [area], this is the idea of putting semi-arid vegetation with a very narrow soil layer to actually help to deal with the urban heat-island effect. "
Cynthia Rosenzweig

Session 3: Responding to Climate Change: Can We Stop It?

"What we're really talking about when we're talking about stopping global warming is coming up with another kind of a model for the future, a future with much more emphasis on non-emitting technologies, on conservation practices, and on technologies for removing CO2 from the energy system before it gets to the atmosphere. . . ."
Christopher Field

"[T]here is no sign that we are running out of fossil fuels. We have enough for centuries at twice our current burn rate, so we will not solve this problem by running out."

"It's now been 39 years since a U.S. president first received a high-level briefing on the climate problem. The core scientific facts have in many ways changed little since President Johnson's days in office. We know a great deal more, but the core connections between burning fossil fuels, rising concentrations, and climate change have not changed, yet the global community is only now beginning to take baby steps toward slowing the rate of increase in our climate impact, and one can hardly even say that in this country today."
David Keith

"The trick is to start with a modest reduction and ratchet it up over time, and let firms develop an expectation of the future value of emissions reductions. . . . in other words, the goal is to give an incentive, but an incentive of a trajectory involving a rising value of emissions reduction."
Michael Hanemann

"Taming the climate sounds bombastic. This idea of having an angry beast is something which I reluctantly accept. Climate is a system, not a beast. And if we start to accumulate carbon in the oceans in fifty years, we will discover that the ocean is also a beast."
Ambassador Raul Estrada-Oyuela

Day 2: April 23, 2004

John Mutter: Introduction to Day 2

"[C]urrent atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are the highest in more than 400,000 years. This is an unprecedented situation in human history, and there is real potential that the resulting damages will not be incremental or linear, but sudden and potentially catastrophic. Acting now is the only rational choice under those circumstances. "

"[W]hile I would not argue that addressing climate change over the next fifty years is free, I do believe that with care and pragmatism we can do what we need to do without breaking the bank. Cost should not be a reason not to act."

"There are indeed many smart and inexpensive steps we can take beginning right now to reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions and start developing the low-carbon energy technologies of the future."

Session 4: What Limits Our Ability to Respond to or Stop Climate Change?

"We haven't had CO2 above 300 parts per million for at least 400,000 years, and probably it hasn't been much above 500 parts per million for something like 30 million years. So we're performing an experiment that hasn't been done for millions of years, and no one knows exactly what's going to happen. It's not about scientific uncertainty, it's about putting the Earth in a condition that it hasn't been in for millions of years, and do we really want to roll the dice?"

"Not only is it vastly more expensive to do something in the future, it's not even clear that it's possible. So we have to make some decisions now, we just don't have the luxury of waiting."
Daniel Schrag

"So if you really in the immediate future only deal with eliminating our inadvertent impact, then you really have three options to solve the problem. Either you can forego the use of energy, or you find alternatives to fossil fuels which don't have the associated emissions with greenhouse gases, or you by engineering means figure out ways of closing the carbon cycle. And I think at some level, all of these three options will have to be looked at seriously and have to be pursued and pushed forward."

"A hydrogen economy is exciting and interesting because it collects its water from the environment. It uses presumably renewable energy to break that water up into hydrogen and oxygen, it releases the oxygen to the atmosphere, and then sometime downstream, the consumer takes that hydrogen and combines it with oxygen and releases the water back into nature. That is a nice and in itself closed loop."
Klaus Lackner

"[I]n the developing countries we have 4 or more billion people who currently consume little or no energy, and . . . would just love to consume energy on the level at which we do. And if they were to start doing that, then the worldwide consumption of energy would increase by a factor of forty-, fiftyfold, enormous increase."

"The Kyoto Protocol obviously is a great step in the right direction, and it's the only step we've made so far. . . . But it really doesn't go far enough in a whole range of very important directions. Specifically it doesn't tackle what I call the India-China problem. . . . [D]eveloping countries need a mechanism for generating energy on a really large scale, at the same time not producing large-scale greenhouse-gas emissions."
Geoffrey Heal

Session 5: Findings: The Way Forward

"We have shared with each other the knowledge that ecosystems, species, cultures, and families like ours all will be dying at an accelerated rate from now on. Our obligation now then is plain to me. First and foremost we have to assure that humanity will be able to exercise its right to the free access of this knowledge so that our fellow citizens and the citizens of the other nations of the world as well will have at least the chance to make their choices informed by our knowledge."
Robert Pollack

"It seems to me that we must be careful to recognize major inconsistencies in our national statements about climate. . . . The Kyoto Protocol is really authorized under something called the Framework Convention on Climate Change. . . . It explicitly stated that it is the responsibility of developed countries to go first; it explicitly made that statement. Now the United States ratified the Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is the law of the land that commits us to this principle of having developed countries taking the first step. How then can we sort of walk away from Kyoto on the primary grounds that China and India are not obligated?"
Michael McElroy

Governor George Pataki: New York State and the Climate

"When you think of the challenges facing the United States, now at the very beginning of the twenty-first century, there are three overriding issues. The first is our security. . . . Second is we're in a different economic era. . . . And third is the environmental pressures that this globe and our country face, from increasing population, from increasing industrialization, from increasing expectations of a higher quality of life in the twenty-first century. How do we meet those three challenges? Is there some area where all three come together?"

"And in my view there clearly is one, and that is the whole question of energy, and in particular the question of our dependence on foreign oil instead of being able to break that dependency through renewable resources and energy efficiencies."

Jeffrey Sachs: The Way Forward

"Minimizing costs of achieving a goal is not an immoral proposition; it's actually a rather sensible way both to try to get a consensus and, I think, if properly done with proper measurements of what we mean by costs, a rather good ethical principle as well."

"[W]e have to hear a lot more about the technological options, and in a much more sophisticated way. Because the fact of the matter is this is one of the most promising aspects. The costs of action are lower than we think."

"It's not right to do everything we can right now, that would be hugely over-costly. It's not right to do nothing right now. It's right to be smart right now, understanding what those time-phased choices are."

"What is a solution going to look like? . . . [I]t's going to be based on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. We actually have an international agreement. It's a good one. We're not going to give it up, we're not going to lose it. Kyoto we might lose, but the Framework Convention we're not going to lose."

Earth's Future
Scholars and decision makers discuss how to respond to climate change.

Program Schedule
View the timetable for the conference.

Video Archive
View video highlights of the symposium and a transcript of the proceedings.

Conference Transcript
View the full text of the conference proceedings (PDF).
Related Resources
View additional online learning resources.
William Maurice Ewing
The founder of Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory pioneered exploration of the ocean floors.

Marie Tharp
Ewing's collaborator was the first to map details of the ocean floor on a global scale.

Earth Institute at Columbia University
Explore research and teaching that connects the academic community to global public service.

International Research Institute for Climate Prediction (IRI)
Columbia researchers work to enhance society's capability to understand, anticipate and manage the impacts of seasonal climate fluctuations.
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