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Is Al Gore Right About Global Warming?

Al Gore’s global warming awareness campaign won him the Nobel Peace Prize. But are the current warming trends as serious as he claims? According to Dr. Mark Cane of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, the answer is yes. And human-induced rise in global temperatures could have serious consequences. Last Sunday's lecture, titled "Climate Change: Is Al Gore Right?" saw Dr. Cane present his case, and the evidence was sobering. According to the geologic record, the earth is currently entering its warmest temperatures of the last 10,000 years.  Overall snow coverage has decreased significantly. Glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate. And sea levels are rising. Fast. Even the United States isn’t immune to these changes, explained Cane. For example, if the ice sheets that cover Greenland completely melted (as they have already begun to) global sea levels would rise 23 feet. That’s enough to drown most of the coastal U.S., explained Cane, including his own city of New York. “We’re going to have to invest in a sea wall pretty soon,” he joked. Cane blames the changes on human release of greenhouse gases. Cane demonstrated humanity’s impact with graphs of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane from the last millennium. He then pointed to a recent spike in methane that was so high it ran into the graph above it. “Literally, it’s off the chart,” he said. He also juxtaposed a 1970 photo of Kenya’s Mount Kilimanjaro to one taken in 2000, showing an undeniable shrinking of its snowcap. “If you want to climb to the top of that mountain and see ice, you better get there soon,” he said.

Cane was not impressed by modern attempts to reverse global warming. For starters, said Cane, humanity will need to more specifically define its climate goals. Cane cited a report by the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change which states that the planet should avoid dangerous climate change. Cane pointed out that it fails to outline what such climate change is. He also expressed frustration with current faith in current technology to manage greenhouse gases, saying that leading technologies such as carbon sequestration and geo-engineering are fraught with unknowns. “Okay, so you’ll get the carbon into the ground, but who knows how long it’s going to stay there?” he said. Ultimately, his case creates the impression that humanity is only beginning to appreciate the magnitude of a problem that seems to be growing much faster than our ability to understand, let alone solve, it. Cane’s lecture was organized by Haverford’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter, the Distinguished Visitors Committee, and the Koshland Integrated Science Center. Cane gained scientific renown for his creation of the first numerical model able to simulate El Niño and the Southern Oscillation. He has written over 200 scientific articles and has received numerous awards, including the Gold Medal of the American Meteorological Society and the Cody Award in Ocean Sciences from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. -Brian Fisher Johnson ‘08

The ramp from Magill Library with Ryan Gym and Sharpless Hall in the background.

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