Climate Change Lecture Series

By Ed McCord

The Honors College created the Climate Change Lecture Series two years ago in recognition that these are not ordinary times.  The world is presented with a grave issue promising consequences of such magnitude for civilization that no student can be prepared for their future without understanding it, both in its central thesis and in the steps being taken to prepare for it. 

This academic year brings three new lectures to the series for a total of eight in the past two years.  Our collaborators in Pittsburgh have included the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the National Aviary, the Swanson School of Engineering and Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering Ambassadors Program.

On November 19 the Honors College welcomed Dr. Paulina Jaramillo, Co-Director of Carnegie Mellon’s Green Design Institute, for a lecture entitled "Climate Impacts and Regulation: The Future of Coal Power Plants and the U.S. Power Grid."  Coal power plants have historically provided up to 50% of the electricity generated in the U.S and have the highest greenhouse gas emission rates. Professor Jaramillo explained the work of her research group over the last 10 years to understand the climate implications of coal use in the U.S. and how recent regulatory changes may affect the future of the U.S. power system.  Earlier in the day she joined for lunch twenty students from diverse majors to discuss the social, economic and environmental implications of energy consumption.   

On January 27 the Honors College welcomes a lecture by Dr. Matthew Rodell, Chief of the Hydrological Sciences Laboratory at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, who oversees satellite data collection on the earth’s water supply.  Dr. Rodell’s research focuses on measuring and modeling the availability of freshwater throughout the earth based on ground- and satellite-based observations, particularly recent analysis of the world’s groundwater depletion based on data from the NASA satellite project known as GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment). Improved understanding of variability and changes in soil moisture, snow, and groundwater from Dr. Rodell’s laboratory has implications for weather and climate prediction, water management, agriculture applications and natural hazards such as floods.

On March 15 the Climate Change Series turns to the Graduate School of Public Health for a major program on climate and public health featuring Dr. Donald Burke, the Dean of the Graduate School of Public Health, and Dr. Jonathan Patz, Director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin.  Dr. Burke led the first National Research Council study of climate change and infectious diseases fifteen years ago and this year reported to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as a member of its panel on data, modeling, climate, and infectious diseases.  Dr. Patz served as a lead author for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the organization that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore. He also co-­chaired the health expert panel of the U.S. National Assessment on Climate Change, a report mandated by the U.S. Congress.