Climate scientist: "It's not too late"

Author: Heather DeWitt

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During a discussion today at the University of Notre Dame, Debra Javeline asks keynote speaker Veerabhadran ¿Ram¿ Ramanathan whether people in poor nations who are being harmed by greenhouse gases are being asked to do the bulk of the work of making changes to reduce climate change. If women in India can make small changes to improve the situation, it shows we all can work to reduce climate change, Ramanathan says. (South bend Tribune/SANTIAGO FLORES) (SANTIAGO FLORES / South Bend Tribune / April8, 2013)

SOUTH BEND — The impact of climate change is being felt in the form of warmer temperatures, melting glaciers, volatile weather patterns, and human disease and deaths caused by polluted air.

But humans can do something about it before the situation turns catastrophic, said Veerabhadran “Ram” Ramanathan, a professor of applied ocean sciences and director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at Scripps Institute of Oceanograpy at the University of California, San Diego.

“Fortunately, it’s not too late,” he said today during the opening session of a three-day international climate change conference at the University of Notre Dame.

Ramanathan discussed practical approaches to slowing down climate change in our lifetimes.

His research in the 1970s predicted that global warming would be evident by the year 2000.

“Unfortunately, that forecast turned out to be true,” he said. Humans already have dumped enough gases into the atmosphere to warm the planet by 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 and 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, Ramanathan said.

That increase would have a catastrophic impact on the weather, crops, health and other aspects of human life, he said. We’re creating a disastrous scenario for future generations, he said.

“What really happens is all these gases surround the planet like a blanket,” the professor said.

The issue can’t be avoided any longer, Ramanathan said, urging that steps be taken to reduce emissions. “We have to do this,” he said.

Carbon dioxide is not the only warming pollutant, Ramanathan said. At least 40 percent of current global warming can be blamed on four others: soot particles called black carbon, methane, lower atmospheric ozone and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used as coolants in refrigerators.

Nearly all those pollutants have life spans of a few weeks to a decade, much shorter than that of carbon dioxide, he said. Efforts to reduce the short-lived pollutants would help significantly, he said.

Ramanathan also discussed his involvement in Project Surya, an effort in his native India to provide poor households with small biomass cook stoves (replacing wood-burning ovens) and solar lamps in order to reduce soot in the atmosphere. That approach reduces black carbon emissions in those households by 70 percent.

The families involved receive low-interest loans to buy the stoves and lamps, and receive carbon credits ranging from $10 to $40 a year for making the switch.

While Project Surya is a small effort, it’s producing positive change, the professor said. “If women in India can do this, we can too,” he said.

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