Global Warming: A General Context for the Future

NJIT Technology and Society Forum Series

Michael Oppenheimer
Albert Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs
Princeton University

Wed, March 2, 2005


If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, Manhattan would be swamped, as would much of Florida and Bangladesh. Could this actually happen? Dr. Michael Oppenheimer will explain how such a catastrophe might occur as a result of the world’s over-reliance on fossil fuels. Research suggests that the melting of global ice sheets is occurring at an even faster pace than predicted by some scientific models and that the Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheets are particularly vulnerable. Sea levels have risen four inches already over the past century and could rise between four and forty inches more in the next century. We ought to be starting now to do what we can to reduce emissions. Dr. Oppenheimer is one of many climate change experts who are openly critical of current US government policies on global warming. They are alarmed by the apparent apathy of the American public to the risks of continued high levels of fossil fuel consumption. In 2001, the US, which produces 36% of the world’s so-called “greenhouse gasses,” pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, a pact designed to slow the increase of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. Dr. Oppenheimer and others have warned that unless immediate action is taken, carbon dioxide will increase to levels that have not been seen on earth since the Eocene age, when palm trees grew in Wyoming and crocodiles lived in the Arctic.


Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Oppenheimer is Director of the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP) at the Woodrow Wilson School and Associated Faculty of the Princeton Environmental Institute and the Atmosphere and Ocean Sciences Program. He joined Princeton after two decades with Environmental Defense. He served as lead author of the Third and Fourth Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and was a member of the National Research Council’s Panel on the Atmospheric Effects of Aviation. Prior to his position at Environmental Defense, Oppenheimer served as Atomic and Molecular Astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and taught Astronomy at Harvard University.

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