Patches of glacial ice

UMass faculty key in proposing climate change policies and initiatives

Continued scientific leadership shapes strategies for mitigation

July 25, 2019

Geosciences professor presents research at UN climate change event in Germany 

Black and White photo of Julie Brigham-GrettGlacial geologist Julie Brigham-Grette, chair of geosciences and chair of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Polar Research Board, was an invited speaker in late June at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held at Bonn, Germany. Her presentation at the event was organized by the International Climate and Cryosphere Institute based in Burlington, Vermont and Stockholm, Sweden. She spoke at an event related to the conference and participated in a press conference discussing future changes in ice sheets, sea level rise and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.  

She says her talk presented the science necessary for policymakers to understand the urgency of being more ambitious about driving down fossil fuel emissions worldwide. “My presentation used published research that demonstrates how slowing the temperature rise of the planet is morally and financially sound,” she notes. 

“I highlighted the consequences of further delays in reducing our carbon emissions. It is most important that countries unite around a goal to keep the planet from exceeding an overall temperature increase above 1.5 degrees Centigrade. We have already warmed the planet by 1 degree C over the past century.”    

Brigham-Grette, whose research expertise is in the evolution of Arctic marine and terrestrial paleoclimate over the past few million years, believes that “we must frame the rapid rates of climate change in the context of intergenerational justice. When my grandmother was born in 1898, the atmospheric CO2 was at 295 parts per million (ppm). When I was born in 1955, it was 313 and today it has reached 414 ppm; this in only 120 years since my grandmother was born.” 

She adds, “If we don’t change CO2 emissions worldwide, we could be at 600-700 ppm by 2100, in just one person’s lifetime. So by the time young climate activists like Sweden’s Greta Thunberg reaches age 97, we will have driven the planet toward temperatures in excess of 4-5 degrees, with grave consequences for large ice sheets and mountain glaciers that provide water to remote mountain communities in the Andes and elsewhere.” 

“If we don’t listen to the united message coming from science, the consequences to society will be costly into the future. The federal government needs to stop reaching for short-term goals set by the fossil fuel industry and wake up instead to the longer-term costly consequences that climate warming is projected to have on many societies around the world. 


Emeritus professor’s climate resolution adopted by Geography Association 

At its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. this spring, the American Association of Geographers (AAG) adopted a resolution on climate change submitted by Rutherford “Rud” Plattgeosciences, and six colleagues. Platt says they submitted the statement in tribute to the late Gilbert F. White, an international authority on natural disasters known as “the father of floodplain management,” and one of the most distinguished American geographers of the twentieth century. He died in 2006. Black and white photo of Rutherford Platt

Among other recommendations, the resolution states, “In the spirit of Gilbert F. White, the American Association of Geographers urges the government of the United States to resume its leadership in combating climate change,” including strategies that “recognize human activities as the preeminent cause of accelerating climate change” and “reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, and, in cooperation with the international community, intensify efforts to limit emissions of greenhouse gases to control further rise in global temperatures.” 

The document also urges that the U.S. ratify the Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol to limit hydrofluorocarbon production and consumption, encourage transitioning the U.S. economy to embrace energy conservation and sustainable energy sources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions through incentives, taxes, regulations, public transit, carbon recapture and other means, and promote continue innovation by states, local governments and the private sector to conserve energy and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.   

White’s career began as a New Deal staff member who wrote memoranda on natural resources for President Franklin D. Roosevelt while still a graduate student. In 2000, as capstone to a long series of honors, White was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Bill Clinton for “ his major contributions to the study of water systems in developing countries, global environmental change, international cooperation, nuclear winter, geography education and the mitigation of natural hazards including earthquakes, hurricanes, and drought.” 

Platt and members of a special panel session developed the resolution at the AAG meeting. Their tributes will appear in a joint article in Environment Magazine this fall. 


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