UC Davis experts weigh in on global warming

We have all heard about the foreboding effects of global warming. Global warming is happening, and its ramifications affect everything from increased natural disaster probabilities to food decline and shortage. The facts are all around us: California’s drought, rising sea water and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report stating scientists are 95 percent certain that mankind is the “dominant cause.” So how can we fix our planet?

Dr. Anthony Wexler, who is the director of the UC Davis Air Quality Research Center and a member of three departments at UC Davis (mechanical and aerospace engineering, civil and environmental engineering and land, air and water resources) offered his opinion on the crisis.

“The reality is we aren’t doing nearly enough. One of the best ways we could reduce global warming is by imposing taxes on carbon emissions which would stay until there was a noticeable decrease. Such a tax would have to be extended to both imported and exported goods, based on how much greenhouse gas emission was associated. Taxing imports in this way would be necessary to enact some degree of global contribution,” Wexler said.

Reduction methods often target different options for lowering carbon emissions, though more drastic reversal techniques have been discussed. Geoengineering — basically engineering the planet — is one option that encompasses climate engineering, which could, in theory, reverse the effects of global warming.

Dr. Bryan Weare, a professor for the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis whose research interests include global climate change, weighed in on the option of geoengineering.

“The proposed changes that could reverse global warming, like adding reflecting material to the stratosphere, are very questionable and potentially dangerous,” Weare said.

Many scientists and researchers are wary of the geoengineering option for good reason, as there is a high degree of uncertainty. Both Wexler and Weare agree on the potential risks of geoengineering options.

“Mankind has had lifetimes of experience with bridge building, for example. We have learned how to build bridges by physics, engineering and architecture; but we have also learned through trial and error, we learn through our mistakes. We do not have any experience with planet fixing, and if we mess up our planet there will not be a second chance,” Wexler said.

Simpler strategies have been suggested, and have proven to be effective reduction plans. Green belts are, in essence, reserved land for wildlife, never to be developed. Such land use provides a variety of purposes, including the preservation of natural landscape in urban areas, cleaner air quality and the assurance of habitats for plants and animals.

Dr. Bruce Burdick, a UC Davis Medical School graduate and environmental enthusiast, elaborated on what should be done.

“We should implement a green belt around every city with more than two million people. This will make cities more like London, which has such a low per capita greenhouse gas emission and lower water consumption in comparison to Sacramento’s urban sprawl,” Burdick said.

What can we, as students, do to inspire world policy and opinion change? There is nothing wrong with starting small; spreading awareness can begin anywhere to any audience.

One particular solution that applies particularly to our UC Davis campus was suggested by Dr. Wexler.

“Work with campus to draw an aesthetically pleasing blue line on all campus buildings. This line will represent where the water level could be when the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt,” Wexler said.

In the past, such melting of the Antarctic ice sheets added 65 feet of water to sea level. Davis, at 52 feet above sea level, would be covered in approximately 13 feet of water.

Global warming is present in our lives today, and we must change the way we live to ensure both the future integrity of our own lives and the lives of future generations. Researchers, legislators and citizens of the world all need to work together to help the earth. There is no “right” way to go about fixing global warming, but whatever the plan is, it needs to be implemented and supported worldwide. Whether it is by decreasing carbon emissions, geoengineering or simply spreading awareness, everyone has their place in this fight.


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