TAMPA — Rajendra Pachauri can paint a pretty dour picture of the effect of climate change.
Rising sea levels. Melting polar ice. Heat waves and heavy rains. Dwindling water supplies. The movement of fish from what had been fertile fishing grounds to more hospitable waters.
Those aren’t concerns for the future – they’re happening now, said Pachauri, Nobel Prize-winning chairman of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“Fortunately, we have the benefits of knowledge and awareness,” Pachauri said. “If we all decide we can solve this problem, it is within our reach.”
The internationally recognized climate change activist spoke before faculty and students at the University of South Florida’s Patel College of Global Sustainability on Thursday.
His UN group released its second of three major reports on climate change last month, warning that the problem is only going to worsen unless greenhouse emissions are addressed globally.
Human activity has begun to change the planet “in a very short period of time, and in a very intense way, which is totally out of the track that you have seen over millennia,” Pachauri said. “Limiting climate change will require sustained and substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
To reverse the doomsday scenario many expect by the end of the century, Pachauri said the use of renewable, nuclear and carbon-captured energy sources would have to increase from 30 percent of energy production today to 80 percent by 2050.
Fossil fuel power generation without carbon capture would have to be phased out almost entirely by the end of the century, he said.
The chief executive of the Energy and Resources institute in New Delhi was preaching to the choir at the Patel College, which is backing sustainability programs on campus and around the world. Given the nature of the audience, the subject of climate change denial was barely addressed; Pachauri did provide an anecdote about an airport employee who implied to him that the Midwest’s torrid winter cast doubts on his work.
“I never use the term ‘global warming,’ because it conveys the impression that all you’re talking about is temperature,” he said. “Climate change is much wider. What we’re seeing is changes to the planet.”
In a brief interview after the speech, Pachauri said scientists have to do better to communicate the global threat.
“In any society, people have freedom to hold their own views, but it’s important for those of us working in the field to not only produce good and robust assessments, but also to communicate them to the public,” he said. “If we do that, I’m sure human society is altogether rational enough to take the right steps.”