Nobel Laureate Dr. Thomas Schelling urged a UTC audience to be patient as our country addresses the greenhouse problem, saying it has taken the United States two decades to learn how to think about greenhouse gasses and fossil fuels.  Shelling said the next U.S. president will take these issues very seriously, though most politicians incorrectly tend to attribute the problems mostly to industry.

Photo of Dr. Henry Spratt, Dr. Thomas Schelling, Dr. J.R. Clark.
Dr. Henry Spratt, Dr. Thomas Schelling, Dr. J.R. Clark
“Whatever gets done must be paid for by consumers who use energy, just as if they were being taxed,” Schelling said.

Saying the greenhouse problem is not a new subject, he referenced a book he helped write in 1977 on nuclear energy.  He said if the book were written now, a substantial number of the 400 pages would be devoted to nuclear waste disposal, nuclear proliferation and global warning.  Saying the subject of climate change has proven to be much more complicated than scientists imagined in the 1980s, Schelling said in the last three decades more money has been spent addressing the subject in all the years before.  Still, there are many unanswered questions.

“How much warmer will it get?” Schelling asked.  “Why hasn’t the uncertainty been narrowed?

Study of the oceans and atmospheric conditions have allowed scientists to better understand the complexity of climate change, Schelling said, and satellite recognizance has played a major role.  Glacial movement in the Antarctic and changes in precipitation on very high mountains will have enormous impact on particular parts of the world.

“If snow in winter turns to rain or the snow melts too soon, it will cause drastic changes in outdoor recreation, farming and there will be a significant impact on the economic productivity on agriculture, forests and fisheries,” Schelling said.  “One of the worst things about climate change is vector-borne pathogens like mosquitoes and dengue-fever that plague the developing nations.  There would be more extensive microbes which become more virulent.”

Schelling said the only nation to consistently support its investment in energy is Japan.  He said the United States government has yet to take the subject of alternative fuels seriously.

The Kyoto treaty to reduce global warming was rejected by the United States under the Bush administration.  But Schelling said if Al Gore had been elected president and the U.S. had agreed to ratify the treaty, implementation would have been challenging and expensive.  For those countries who signed the Kyoto Treaty, enforcement of quotas will be difficult.

Dr. Henry Spratt, who teaches microbiology and environmental science at UTC, gave the response to Schelling’s presentation.  Read his remarks. Dr. Henry Spratt adds a suggested reading list.

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