Earth’s climate has been changing for millions of years, slowly alternating long periods of ice ages with eras of elevated temperature. In the past, rapid temperature changes have always led to large-scale extinction of life; and we are currently witnessing one of the most sudden climate evolution ever recorded. Scientists have identified greenhouse gases – CO2 from fuel combustion, CH4 and N2O from agriculture and farming – as the main cause for global climate change. These gases are mostly naturally occurring, but the increasing emissions of these gases have never been so substantial. Since the industrial revolution, cheap energy from fossil fuels has been an extraordinary boon to mankind. Driven by the explosive energy of coal, oil, and natural gas, our society has enjoyed a remarkable three-century long wave of prosperity. However, 200 years of burning carbon has had a drastic impact on our environment and climate change is now the world's most significant existential challenge. Rising temperatures are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg; their effect on the future of our planet is both widespread and serious. There will be a significant impact on agricultural productivity, sea levels, storm frequency and intensity, and prevalence of infectious disease, to name a few. In order to tackle this established risk, our society needs to understand the root of climate change, develop technologies that lower greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigate the damages already accrued.
Presenter: Thomas Gianetti, Assistant Professor, Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Arizona