The Frame and Scale of the Climate/Energy Challenge:
Issues and Implications
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
12:00 Noon - 2:00 pm
Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253
Does the current framing and scaling of the climate/energy issue adequately capture the challenge posed? If not, what might be a more appropriate frame and scale?
Dr. Anthony Socci, Senior Science Fellow, American Meteorological Society
Dr. James G. Anderson, Philip S. Weld Professor, Department of Chemistry
and Chemical Biology and Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, School
of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Anderson PowerPoint HTML Version
Dr. Daniel Schrag, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the Director
of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, Harvard University,
Schrag PowerPoint PDF Version
The Union of Energy and Climate The issues of global energy demand and climate response are, at one level, complex and contentious. However, they are linked by simple but compelling considerations. First, we know that energy demand is driven by the product of population, per capita yearly income, and the amount of energy required for each dollar of economic production. The product of these three quantities sets the rate of current (2007) world energy consumption at approximately 0.5 billion trillion joules of energy each year. With the projected increase in population and average per capita income, this number will reach approximately 1.5 billion trillion joules each year by 2050. That increase is equivalent to the construction of 1000 large coal burning power plants per year for the next four decades. The scale, the size, of this increased demand for energy must be recognized in any analysis of the global climate issue because approximately 80 percent of current energy generation is from fossil fuels that release carbon dioxide when combusted.
While the flow of energy is obviously important to the global economic infrastructure, the flow of energy within the Earth’s climate system reveals simple but compelling conclusions. The Earth’s climate system receives approximately 4000 billion trillion joules of energy each year from the sun in the visible region of the spectrum. The Earth radiates approximately 4000 billion trillion joules of energy back into the blackness of space each year in the infrared. But the energy flow within the climate system is such that some 5500 billion trillion joules cycle per year between the Earth’s surface and the atmosphere that contains water vapor, clouds, and carbon dioxide, etc. The amount of energy cycled back to the Earth’s surface from the overlying atmosphere increases with increasing carbon dioxide and water vapor. Why is this important to the issue of climate change? Small changes in globally averaged land surface or ocean temperatures are often cited and debated, or their significance casually dismissed. That is the global warming debate. That discussion misses the crucial point. It is the net flow of heat, not globally averaged temperatures, that guides the course of future events. Net heat flow carries with it a fundamentally different message from the implications of global warming. An analysis of the climate issue from this point of view will be topic discussed at this AMS Science Series.
Dr. James G. Anderson joined the faculty of Harvard University in 1978 as the Robert P. Burden Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry. In 1982 he was appointed the Philip S. Weld Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry. Professor Anderson served as Chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard from July 1998 through June 2001. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a frequent contributor to National Research Council activities. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a recipient of two United Nations Environment Programme Ozone Awards (1997, 2005); the National Academy of Sciences Arthur L. Day Prize and Lectureship; the E. O. Lawrence Award in Environmental Science and Technology; the American Chemical Society’s Gustavus John Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Interest; and the University of Washington’s Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumnus Achievement Award. In addition, he received the United Nations Earth Day International Award; Harvard University’s 1989 Ledley Prize for Most Valuable Contribution to Science by a Member of the Faculty; and the American Chemical Society’s National Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology.
Dr. Anderson’s research group addresses three domains at the interface of chemistry and Earth Sciences: (1) mechanistic links between chemistry, radiation, and dynamics in the atmosphere that control climate (2) chemical catalysis sustained by free radical chain reactions that dictate the macroscopic rate of chemical transformation in Earth’s stratosphere and troposphere; and (3) chemical reactivity viewed from the microscopic perspective of electron structure, molecular orbitals and reactivities of radical-radical and radical-molecule systems. Research addressing Earth’s climate focuses on establishing the primary mechanisms that couple chemistry, dynamics, and radiation in the climate system, the establishment of a high-accuracy record of climate change using interferometry from low Earth orbit, and strategies for testing long-term climate forecasts using absolute spectrally resolved radiance in the infrared.
Dr. Daniel Schrag is Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University and the Director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment. Dr. Schrag studies climate and climate change over the broadest range of Earth history. He has examined changes in ocean circulation over the last several decades, with particular attention to El Niño and the tropical Pacific. He has also worked on theories for Pleistocene ice-age cycles including a better determination of ocean temperatures during the Last Glacial Maximum, 20,000 years ago. He also helped develop the Snowball Earth hypothesis, proposing that a series of global glaciations occurred between 750 and 580 million years ago that may have led to the evolution of multicellular animals. He is currently working with economists and engineers on technological approaches to mitigating future climate change. Among various honors, Dr. Schrag was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2000. Dr. Schrag came to Harvard in 1997 after teaching at Princeton, and studying at Berkeley and Yale.