Climate Futures

Climate Futures

June 25th 2010

Speaker: Professor Stephen H Schneider
Where: Building Y3A, Theatre 1, Macquarie University
Time: 4.00 - 5.30pm
Audience: Everyone

Abstract: The climate policy problem is thorny because the global scale of climate change and its subtly intensifying impacts contrast uneasily with the short-term local-to-national scales of the political establishments and most management systems and because significant uncertainties are inherent in many projections of climate change and its consequences. Normally science strives to overcome uncertainty through data collection, research, modeling, simulation, etc.  Continuing research into the interacting processes that make up the climate system will eventually reduce uncertainty about the response to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, but given the complexity of the global climate system, many decades of high quality data will be needed and careful analysis to follow to interpret that data.

Yet, even as the science supporting anthropogenic climate change (ACC) becomes stronger and more consensual due to a continually growing preponderance of evidence, and the probability of more intensive, wide-spread negative impacts increases, ACC remains controversial. This is due in large part to the orchestrated efforts of  a minority of scientists or pundits (contrarians who largely by-pass peer-reviewed scientific journals and present outlier positions to the mass media), heavily funded media outreach by the fossil fuel industry, and politically-motivated anti-government regulation conservative think tanks and ideological blogs. These agents of the status quo seek to confuse the public by cherry picking contradictory data and then framing the global warming debate as "unproven" by misrepresenting facts and launching highly personal attacks on climate scientists and others to promote climate-change denialism, thus compounding the difficulties involved in providing scientific input about the complex systems science of climate change for vitally needed societal debate and decision-making. It raises a serious specter: how can a democracy self govern if the complexity of problems like climate change is mangled in a public debate and thus the politicians, media and public are endlessly and deliberately confused, and thus more likely to sit on the sidelines than engage in game changing actions needed to stave off the most dangerous possibilities.

Bio: Stephen H. Schneider is the Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies, Biology Professor, and a Senior Fellow in the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. He was an NCAR scientist from 1973-1996, where he co-founded the Climate Project. Schneider focuses on climate change science, integrated assessment of ecological and economic impacts of human-induced climate change, and identifying viable climate policies and technological solutions. He has consulted for federal agencies and White House staff in six administrations. Involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 1988, he was a Coordinating Lead Author, Working Group II, Chapter 19, "Assessing Key Vulnerabilities and the Risk from Climate Change" and a Synthesis author for the Fourth Assessment Report. He along with four generations of IPCC authors received a collective Nobel Peace Prize for their joint efforts in 2007. Elected to the US National Academy of Sciences in 2002, Schneider received the American Association for the Advancement of Science/ Westinghouse Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology and a MacArthur Fellowship for integrating and interpreting the results of global climate research. Founder/Editor of Climatic Change, he has authored or co-authored over 500 books, scientific papers, proceedings, legislative testimonies, edited books and chapters, reviews and editorials. Schneider counsels policy makers, corporate executives, and non-profit stakeholders about using risk management strategies in climate-policy decision-making, given the uncertainties in future projections of global climate change and climate impacts. He is actively engaged in improving public understanding of science and the environment through extensive media appearances and communications and public outreach.

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