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Physicist John P. Holdren, top science adviser to President Obama, told Chicagoans at the Field Museum that global warming threatens us with severe weather, droughts and crop failures. But there's lots we can do to meet the challenge and innovate solutions. Holdren participated in a White House event (above) to encourage a new generation of student scientists and innovators. 


Obama’s top science guy talks climate in a warming world

by Fahiemah Al-Ali and Jennifer R. Luna
May 20, 2010


EARTH_0810

Courtesy of NASA

Physicist John P. Holdren, top science adviser to President Obama, told Chicagoans at the Field Museum that global warming threatens the earth with severe weather, droughts and crop failures.

 There’s no escaping the hot topic of climate change.

For the second time in less than a month, President Obama’s top science adviser, John P. Holdren, told Chicagoans that the Earth is getting hotter due to human activities. And he’s got the global thermometer record for more than a century to prove it.

“There have been assertions out there that the Earth has been cooling since 1998. That is absolutely wrong,” Holdren said, addressing a crowd of about 400 at the at the Field Museum’s Comer Symposium.

You look at the trends and you average over periods of time. Conclusion: The temperature is up, he asserted.
 

 The lecture, sponsored by the Gary C. Comer Family, focused on meeting the climate change challenge with immediate technical and policy options for remedial action.

“The reason that requires the fastest, biggest change in course is the dominant contribution of our energy system to global climate disruption,” Holdren urged the audience.
 

 The event marked one of several occasions that have placed Chicago under the spotlight on climate change.

“This is about as close to the source [Holdren] as you’re gonna get,” said Wisconsin resident Richard Peidelstein, 54, who attended the symposium with wife Nancy.

Holdren’s presentation mirrored the one he gave last month at the National Engineering Academy’s Grand Challenges for the 21st Century Chicago Summit. Just last week, global warming skeptics of The Heartland Institute held their Fourth International Conference on Climate Change.

“Chicago is a residential magnet for people from all over the country and all over the world,” said Chicago resident Jeffrey Greenspan, 58, after Holdren’s presentation, citing the city as a hub for “cross-referencing to different world opinions” on matters of science.

Holdren applauded the Chicago Climate Action Plan for obtaining close to a whopping $100 million in stimulus grants for implementation of ‘greener’ city practices such as rooftop gardens and energy conservation measures.

“These local regional and state efforts are immensely important,” acknowledged Holdren. “The federal government wants to encourage them,” he said.

Since November 2006, CCAP has set several ‘green’ goals, including the installation of 4 million square feet of ‘green’ roofs in process or in planning. The CCAP also aims to reduce the city's 7 million tons of waste per year by 90 percent by 2020.

But there are also those who want to discourage these efforts, noted Holdren. He had a message for global warming naysayers, too.

“Scientists all over the world have broken their spears trying to find [holes] in climate science because you make your reputation if you can prove the mainstream is wrong, “ he said.

“But nobody has been able to do it,” said Holdren, calling on what he referred to as the “geographically diverse mountain of peer-reviewed research” that runs over a period of decades as proof of climate change data.

So what’s the White House’s stance on the global hothouse?
 

 Holdren’s solution to the challenge lays down three options. One is focused on mitigation things individuals and governments can do to reduce the pace and magnitude of the changes in climate that human activities are escalating. The second option is adaptation measures individuals can take to reduce the adverse impacts on humans that result from the changes in climate.

The third option?
 

 Suffering, said Holdren.  

 And that means widespread disease, dramatic loss of species, environmental damage from fossil-fuel harvesting and use, often, in areas of the world that already suffer from water shortages and famine, Holdren asserted. 

Mitigation and adaptation becomes costlier, more difficult and less effective as the magnitude of the changes in climate to which you’re trying to adapt gets bigger, he said.

“If you’re living on an island that is only two meters above sea level, and sea level goes up by three meters, you don’t adapt 
you evacuate,” he said.

Greenspan, who applauded the lecture, said he only wished audience members would have gotten more microphone time to ask questions.

“You never know what kind of interesting discussions will be generated by people hearing the talk,” he said.

He noted, however, that one of the most compelling elements of the lecture was the fact that Holdren addressed key issues surrounding climate change without the use of scientific jargon.

“It [Holdren’s lecture] was organized to say: What is the problem? How did we get to this problem? Is the problem supported by data?” he said, stressing the implementation of scientific charts and data.

“Otherwise, it just becomes political persuasion.”