Friday, June 22, 2012

Global Warming Worse Than it Appears: Nobel Prize Laureate

Carlo Rubbia, who shared the 1984 Nobel Prize in physics, says global warming is a much bigger problem than most people realize.

"My message is that the situation is much worse than one sees and believes," Rubbia, an Italian particle physicist and inventor, told Xinhua in an interview on the sidelines of the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 Earth Summit).

Rubbia mentioned two "contradictory phenomena" -- global warming and the aerosol masking effect which effectively offset the effects of the former.

Otherwise, the temperature of the Earth would have increased to about three degrees centigrade by now, he said.

"The man in the street does not realize the effects of climate change," because in the last 10 years, the temperature did not increase substantially. So "people feel the pressure of global warming is not a reality," he said.

In reality, there are two phenomena co-existing at the same time -- global warming, which causes the temperature to rise and aerosol, which lowers air transparency and therefore reduces temperature, Rubbia said.

"So we have this unstable equilibrium, on one hand we have global warming which we do not really see because of a lot of pollution produced by the aerosol -- dust in the atmosphere, and etc," he said.

However, "as soon as we clean up the world by using less cars, using much more cleaner car, by burning less, then the full extent of the global warming will come back, and it will be too late," he warned.

Rubbia recalled "a very substantial change in the temperature" of Europe during the summer of 2003, which then disappeared.

All major greenhouse gas emitters agreed under the Copenhagen accord that global average temperature increase should be kept below 2 degrees centigrade.

Today, the temperature of the Earth is only about 0.75 degree centigrade higher than the past, but in reality it should be something about three degrees if there were not the other masking phenomena that is cancelling the warming effects.

As a result, people are not taking it "sufficiently seriously," because the situation became much more complicated and not so obvious as "yes or no," he said.


Rubbia also voiced concerns over a tendency in many countries around the world, including developing and developed ones, to use more and more coal as a primary fuel source.

For example, Germany and some other European countries are increasing their consumption of coal because they want to suppress the use of nuclear power. There is also a similar tendency in Japan.

"There is more coal, and more coal means more Co2," he said, "We are in the process in which we see Co2 emissions do not tend to stabilize, but to go even faster."

It is difficult to convince the man in the street that this is a very serious situation which demands immediate measures, he said, illustrating by citing a mythological figure in ancient Greek.

"There was a lady called Cassandra, predicting the wrong things. She was telling all the truth, but nobody would believe her," he said. "I think we have a little bit of this situation today."


The world is entering "a new epoch called the Anthropocene dominated by the presence of man," Rubbia said, referring to an informal geological term used to describe the significant impact of human activities on the Earth.

The world's population daily increases by over 200,000 people, with the growth rate incessantly rising and reaching nearly 80 million new people per year, he said.

Expanding populations demand more food, water, energy and a greater consumption of mineral resources, exerting increasing pressure on the environment, he said.

Rubbia stressed the role of science in helping mankind to realize sustainability.

In order to be "rudimentally successful" in avoiding irreversible changes for the "possible catastrophic outcomes for humanity, new capacities for innovation and creativity would have to be created and integrated within the framework of global sustainability, " he said.

The demands of humanity have been growing so fast that greater and faster scientific and technological innovations and breakthroughs will be required, he said.

Rubbia called for a coherent energy policy, strategic choices and political will to foster innovative, scientific and technological developments to reconcile sustainable development and economic growth with the threat of environmental decay. 

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