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Experts to debate climate change risks

As evidence accumulates that the earth's atmosphere is warming, how much of this change is due to human activity and how much to natural causes? Are perils such as rising sea levels and more severe storms merely alarmist fears or realities? And if they are realities, what should we do about them?

Four experts in this debate -- a climate scientist, two economists and an experienced policymaker -- will share information and views in a lecture entitled "Greenhouse Gamble: Responding to the Risk of Climate Change" on Wednesday, Oct. 6 at 10am in the Wong Auditorium (Building E51).

The event is the sixth in the annual series of Catherine N. Stratton Lectures on Critical Issues. It is free and open to the public, and will include time for audience questions.

The risk of human-induced climate change comes from emissions of greenhouse gases and some industrial gases. Some argue that the effects of this human intervention are already evident and that urgent action is needed to avoid irreversible change. Others counter that the evidence is inconclusive and that, in any event, this is a slow-growing problem and there is plenty of time to decide what do do.

While there is no last word on the human influence on global climate and the economic and environmental damage it might trigger, the panelists will discuss the risks and the state of international efforts to formulate a response.

Henry Jacoby, the William F. Pounds Professor of Management at the Sloan School of Management and co-director of the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change (JPSPGC), will chair the panel. He has been involved with various government and academic initiatives with regard to potential climate change and alternative energy strategies.

The panelists will be:

Eileen Claussen, executive director of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. She has served as assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, and as special assistant to the president and senior director for global environmental affairs at the National Security Council. She has also held various positions in the EPA, including director of atmospheric programs.

Ronald G. Prinn, the TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry, director of the MIT Center for Global Change Science and co-director with Professor Jacoby of the JPSPGC. He is also head of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. His research on the chemistry, dynamics and physics of the Earth's atmosphere has involved him in several government and academic policy-setting opportunities.

Robert N. Stavins, the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government and faculty chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Program at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is an expert on environmental economics and policy who has served on EPA advisory committees and boards and has worked closely with public officials on matters of environmental policy.

The Catherine N. Stratton Lecture on Critical Issues was established to honor Kay Stratton, wife of the late MIT President Julius Stratton. Her ideas and energy have enhanced Institute life for nearly 60 years. The lecture is supported by an endowed fund initially seeded by the MIT Women's League, which continues to sponsor the series.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 29, 1999.

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