21st Century Energy in Transition Symposium “Climate Change 101”

Climate change is simple, serious, and solvable according to Scott Denning, Monfort Professor of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University. Denning and two other specialists in climate change, Diana Wall and Brian O’neill, discussed the root causes and effects of climate change at CSU’s 21st Century Energy Transition Symposium.

The symposium took place over the course of two days bringing together experts, officials, and companies to discuss the effects of climate change, if or how our emissions can be reduced, and the outcomes that transitioning to cleaner energy would have.

Wall, Denning, and O’neill introduced the first panel of the symposium called Climate Science 101 that allowed audience members to have a basic understanding of one of the main themes in the symposium: climate change. Wall, director of the school of Global Environmental Sustainability at CSU, introduced the panel declaring that climate change is one of our most pressing issues, something that both of the other panelists agreed with.

Denning introduced the idea of the “Three S’s: simple, serious, and solvable.” Oftentimes, many people perceive climate change as complicated but Denning assured it is just simple science, “You put heat in, and you get heat out.” The professor used the example of rain; when there is too much water vapor (from heat evaporating water) it rains, but when there is too much carbon in the air, it can’t “rain” so it accumulates in the atmosphere. The accumulation of carbon due to burning coal has caused climate change to become extremely serious in the last decade. The temperature in North America alone is predicted to rise 5 to 11 degrees by 2100. The global rise in temperature is causing serious problems in the environment.

Brian O’neill works at National Center for Atmospheric Science measuring just that. He has modeled the Burning Embers Diagram visually displaying the Reasons for Concern (RFC’s) when it comes to climate change. O’neill created five categories measuring how severe each of the concerns will be if carbon emissions continue to rise. The Burning Embers Diagram measures the risks to unique and threatened systems, like the Arctic or coral reef, all which would be threatened by a rise in temperature. The diagram also measures extreme weather effects, distribution impacts like famine, global aggregated impacts, and large-scale singular events like the melting ice sheets that are all created by climate change. Brian concludes that some ecosystems are more sensitive than others, subjecting them to greater impacts from climate change.

The last “S” in Denning’s proposal is “Solvable.” He believes it is possible to reduce our emissions by using less energy than we are now. He suggests that if we make energy without setting carbon on fire our, carbon footprint will decrease and if we converted to these clean energy sources, it would only cost 1% of the GDP. Denning uses examples of past generations accomplishments like building the interstate system and putting a man on the moon, confirming that it is our generation’s responsibility to solve climate change. Denning ends his presentation with one last positive thought, “We create our well being through creativity, ingenuity, and hard work.”