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Leading Scientist on Climate Change Presents to Environmental Science Students

Photograph by Christina McCarthy

Dr. Patrick Gonzalez, a professor at the University of California Berkeley and a lead author of the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), gave one presentation three times on anthropogenic climate change and its effects on September 20 in the Berkeley High School (BHS) library. Each class of BHS teacher Daniel Mulholland-Beahr’s IB Environmental Systems and Societies students and AP Environmental Science (APES) students came to one of the three presentations Gonzalez held during fifth, sixth, and seventh period. While three of Mulholland-Beahr’s classes attended the seventh period lecture as their lab requirement for the week, students outside of his classes were also welcome to sit in on the lecture.

Mulholland-Beahrs invited Gonzalez, whose IPCC team won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, to present to his students as a “kick-off” to the classes he teaches. He incorporated the lecture into his curriculum with packets, and in his opening remarks expressed hope that the lecture would inspire students to “connect more with the environment”. Mulholland-Beahrs said that he wanted the lecture to “inspire and motivate” students, and that “[he] felt not only was the information going to be important and impressive but just the event of having a guest lecturer of his stature [would] kick off the year of environmental science learning in a big way.” He said that he expects Gonzalez, who he described as a busy professional, to only be available for one lecture a year, and that he would be fortunate to have Gonzalez lecture again at BHS next year. If Gonzalez presents again at BHS, it will probably be in the BHS library again to avoid the hassle of permission slips or booking a larger venue, given that Mulholland-Beahrs cited these considerations as the two reasons for holding it there this year.

Gonzalez began his presentation, titled “Anthropogenic Climate Change, Ecological Impacts, and Solutions” by sharing the evidence that current climate is caused by human activity, after briefly explaining the greenhouse effect. He stressed the lack of debate in the scientific community over whether global warming is occurring because of human activity, because historical trends show global temperature is directly correlated with the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and as humans combust fossil fuels, they release carbon dioxide into the air. “[Global Warming] started with the Industrial Revolution, about 250 years ago, but it’s accelerated much more in the past half century,” said Gonzalez. He then covered the current impacts climate change is having on the environment, including shifting biomes toward the poles, bleaching coral through ocean acidification, and droughts and heat causing extinctions and the loss of people’s livelihoods.

He described what will happen to the environment, with a focus on extinctions and biome shifts, if current carbon dioxide emissions keep increasing at their current rate. Lastly, he emphasized individuals’ capacity to mitigate the problem through actions such as using public transit or following a plant-based diet. Gonzalez ended his prepared lecture, and then started a question-and-answer period.

Additionally, Gonzalez cited a study published this year by the United States Environmental Protection Agency that found that over half of the United States’  carbon dioxide emissions in 2016 were emitted in the residential and transportation sectors. “Many and perhaps most,” he commented, “of the residential and transportation actions are in direct individual control.” “Billions and billions of small, unsustainable actions created the problem of climate change, so billions and billions of good actions, however small, can help solve it,” said Gonzalez in closing at his presentation.