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Luke Rague/MEDILL

The nation and the world will face numerous challenges as climate carbon emissions drive global warming. The western U.S. is already confronting severe drought and forest fires and could change the face of verdant pastureland. 

'The Future of Carbon' amid climate change threats

by Luke Rague
May 14, 2014


Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern

The symposium will be held all day Friday in the McCormick Tribune Center. It is free and open to the public.


The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is collapsing while coastal flooding and inland droughts threaten the U.S.

The Antarctic melting documented by NASA and the U.S. threats reported by the White House are just the latest in a series of troubling climate change reports.

“It's beginning to be impossible for the deniers to deny,” said Brad Sageman, organizer of Northwestern University's 4th Climate Change Symposium, free and open to the public all day Friday.

The symposium will focus on “The Future of Carbon,” bringing together leading experts on fracking, shale gas, carbon capture, sustaining energy needs and other topics.

The event kicks off at 8:30am on Friday in the McCormick Tribune Center on Northwestern University's Evanston Campus, with experts from across the U.S. and Canada speaking throughout the day.

This year's symposium is “focused on topics relevant to climate change, but not about the changes to the climate. It's about things that cause changes to the climate and ways that we might mitigate" for them while meeting global energy needs, said Sageman chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern.

The symposium will tackle carbon storage, carbon mitigation and new technologies for carbon management.

The Earth's atmosphere has experienced a dramatic rise in carbon dioxide levels, reaching 400 parts per million compared to highs of less than 300 parts per million found in ancient air pockets dating from 800,000 years ago to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

The rise is attributed to human use of carbon-based energy sources, such as gasoline and coal, and is driving the changes seen in the climate.

Stefan Bachu, a geoscientist, expert on CO2 storage and a guest speaker at the symposium, said he hopes people learn two important points at the event: we have the power to mitigate damage to the environment and we need to convince policymakers to exercise it.

“We will continue to use fossil fuels for 50 years,” said Bachu, a scientist with Alberta Innovates/Technology Futures, a research network based in Alberta, Canada. He explained that alternative energy sources will take that long to overcome technological shortcomings and to gain public support.

To lessen the accumulation of carbon pollutants in those 50 years, Bachu said nations, especially the U.S. and China, need to employ carbon collection measures. “We have the technology, it works and it's applied in other places for other reasons.”

“The main reason the technology isn't being deployed is policy makers, industry leaders and special interest groups are in the way,” Bachu said, adding that he thinks policy makers are generally unaware of the serious situation we, as a species, face.

A bleak landscape was painted last month in the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, full of strong language and supported with hard data. In no uncertain terms, the report puts forth the hard reality of rising global temperatures.

“Human influence on the climate system is clear,” the IPCC report states, adding that “continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system.”

Solidifying the IPCC's message, the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment, released by the White House last week, details an impending national crisis of increasing coastal flooding, extended droughts and “an unambiguous story” of rising global temperatures.

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the White House reports.

The symposium is organized by the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
Medill News Service reporter Farahnaz Mohammed contributed to reporting this article.