Three University of Wisconsin professors who feel climate change is a straightforward and undeniable issue that needs to be tackled outlined the implications of global warming on human and environmental health at a panel held Thursday.
The first panelist, Galen McKinley, associate professor in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, summarized and explained the reality of climate change in the world. McKinley said the role humans have played in contributing to global warming is clear as supported by evidence of carbon emissions.
“There is no doubt as to the effect of humans on the environment,” McKinley said. “The greenhouse effect is natural; it is the reason that the earth is not a ball of ice, but we increase this effect by emitting carbon dioxide.”
McKinley described carbon dioxide emissions from humans as the key factor in global warming. She also touched on the negative impacts of human behavior on the oceans, pointing to rising levels of acidity in ocean waters and how this makes it harder for coral and other life forms to survive.
Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute, said climate change has huge potential to negatively impact human health. He proposed global health could be improved through combatting climate change.
“The benefits of cleaner air, because of public health costs, are you gain $49 on average from every ton of carbon dioxide you remove … the cost of cleaner energy is $30 on average per ton of carbon dioxide removed,” Patz said, drawing on evidence from a study conducted by fellow panelist Gregory Nemet, associate professor in Public Affairs and Environmental Studies.
The gains of moving to cleaner energy clearly outweigh the costs, Patz said.
Nemet said there is an exponential increase in temperature projected for the next 100 years.
“We need to decarbonize at a rate of 5 percent or 6 percent per year,” Nemet said. “You can’t deny that people are burning coal. It’s cheap, domestic and extremely carbon intensive.”
This trend needs to end, Nemet said. The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2013 proposed carbon pollution standards state no energy production from burning coal will be acceptable, Nemet said. Those regulations are not sufficient, but Nemet said they are moving in the right direction.
Nemet said regulations on energy production will help new plants to focus on energy production methods other than coal, and less climate change should result. It is the responsibility of people to decide if they want to make historical change in terms of decarbonizing energy, and how they want to be viewed by future generations, he said.