April 22, 2004, 9:00 a.m. to April 23, 2004, 4:00 p.m.
Roone Arledge Auditorium
Alfred Lerner Hall
Morningside Campus

Scholars and decision makers discuss how to respond to climate change.

Eye of the storm

The Earth's climate is in constant flux, and it has been for as far back as we can read in history or in the geological record. It changes on timescales of years to millennia, and in magnitude from heat waves to ice ages. We know that these changes have had and will have dramatic impacts on the habitability of our planet, yet a number of scientists and policy makers are concerned that we are not doing enough to prepare for them.

Some of the world's leading scholars and decision makers will gather to discuss our preparedness for climate change in a two-day symposium entitled "Earth's Future: Taming the Climate," at Columbia University, April 22–23. This ambitious event has been organized by G. Michael Purdy, director of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and John Mutter, deputy director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. A planning group of Columbia scholars includes Klaus Lackner, Ewing Worzel Professor of Geophysics, Columbia University; Geoffrey Heal, Paul Garret Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility, Columbia Business School; and Roberto Lenton, executive director, Secretariat for International Affairs and Development, International Research Institute for Climate Prediction, Columbia University.

Purdy and Mutter point out that climate change is not reducible to the issue of global warming, though that is an important piece of this complex puzzle. They argue that determining how best to respond to climate change is not a purely disciplinary or political problem; it necessitates a collaboration among physical scientists, engineers, economists, and political scientists. "It will require prioritizing the issues, separating ill-conceived perceptions from hard reality, and confronting the most fundamental barriers," says Purdy.

Each day of this symposium will begin with keynote addresses by leading scholars to review the increasingly well-documented characteristics of climate change and climate variability. The remainder of each session will consist of interdisciplinary panels—including physical and social scientists, ethicists, and government and NGO representatives—addressing the challenges of action.

"The goal of this symposium is to initiate this debate in a purposeful way, separated from political rhetoric," says Mutter. The organizers have planned for the event's deliberations to produce a scholarly product: a set of constructive conclusions that is intended to stimulate, over the next several decades, a new debate about how humankind should interact with the Earth system. The debate over confronting climate change, once buried in the fantasies of science fiction, is being brought into the mainstream of academic endeavor. "By addressing these issues now," Purdy continues, "we intend that, decades in the future when action is needed, decisions will be made based upon a substantial foundation of knowledge and understanding."


Click on the speakers' names below to access their biographies and presentation abstracts.

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

Quotations from the speakers.
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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