Distinguished Lecture Series

World-renowned experts on different aspects of climate change

This series, sponsored by the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station, was intended for those at MSU and in the external community who are working on climate change. It was hosted by MSU professors Thomas Dietz (sociology, environmental science and policy) and Jinhua Zhao (economics and agricultural, food and resource economics).

Below is a recap of each speaker - an abstract of their talk, presentation slides, short interview and most have links to the full presentation.

Cynthia Rosenzweig, Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA
Urban Adaptation to Climate: The Case of New York City
Thursday, April 15, 2010

Presentation Abstract
Climate change has the potential to impact everyday life in cities. This talk focuses on New York City. Environmental conditions as experienced today will shift, exposing the City and its residents to new hazards and heightened risks. New York will be challenged by increasing temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and more intense and frequent extreme events. Historical climate precedents are no longer valid for long-term environmental planning.

Mitigation actions are undertaken to address the long-term risks of climate change through reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, while adaptation is needed to respond to the short-term risks that are unavoidable as well as to long-term risks, such as sea-level rise. While mitigation actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions will help to decrease the magnitude and impact of future changes, they will not prevent climate change from occurring altogether. Given the impacts of climate change and its high costs and the requirements of effective long-term planning, investments are needed to begin the climate change adaptation process. Both public and private sectors should be allocating funds today, even in times of economic downturn, in order to minimize climate risks that are only projected to grow in the future.

Interview with Rosenzweig. Click here for bigger size.

Bjorn Stigson, World Business Council for Sustainable Development
Business and the Sustainable Development Landscape
Monday, March 22, 2010

Presentation Abstract
Bjorn Stigson talked about the broader context of sustainability and the implications for business of recent developments, particularly on climate change. He also described what business requires from governments in order to effectively address climate and competitive concerns. Finally, he outlined key strategic issues that must be dealt with in the next decade in order to get society onto a sustainable path.

Interview with Stigson. Click here for a larger size.

Dr. Richard Schmalensee, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Harnessing Renewable Energy
Thursday, March 4, 2010

Presentation Abstract
This talk will provide an overview of the use of renewable energy sources in recent years, with a focus on the U.S., and a critical evaluation of the main policies that have been employed in the US and abroad to promote the use of renewable energy. Particular attention will be paid to the use of wind and solar energy to generate electricity and to the contrasting experiences of Texas and California.

Full paper: Renewable Electricity Generation in the United States [PDF]

Media coverage:

Interview with Schmalensee. Click here for a larger size.

Dr. Terry Root, Stanford University
Climate Change and Extinctions: How to Prioritize?
Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Presentation Abstract
Over the last 100 years our globe has warmed ~0.8°C and the warming continues to escalate. Depending on policies and new technologies we implement, global average temperature at the later part of 21st Century could be only a degree or 2 hotter than today, or up 6° or higher. Because of time lags that are expected with implementing different policies and the ability to exchange new technologies, temperature up to around 2050 will most likely be between 2° and 4°C. Animals have already begun adapting to our rapidly rising temperatures, but as the temperatures continue to increase both higher and faster, animals are going to need even more help adapting. We need to be creative in figuring out how to help the adaptation. Perhaps having non-place-based refuges, for example. Without such help and creative solutions a very large proportion of animals will most likely be facing extinction.

Media coverage:

Interview with Root. Click here for larger size.

Dr. Howard Frumkin, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Human health and climate change
Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Presentation Abstract
Climate change imposes a range of threats to public health, including the direct effects of heat, severe weather events, exposures to air pollution and allergens, infectious diseases, impacts on the water and food supply, mental health effects, and the problem of environmental refugees. There are known, effective public health responses for many of these impacts, but the scope, timeline, and complexity of climate change are daunting. This talk will review strategies for public health preparedness.

Interview with Frumkin. Click here for larger size.

Edward Parson, University of Michigan
Climate change policies and technological innovation
Thursday, November 12th

Presentation Abstract
Technological innovation is the biggest factor determining how easy it will be to achieve steep reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. Analyses suggest that the total cost of limiting climate change would be only 1-2 % reduction in future GDP. But are these assumptions correct? How do we tell? And, what must be done to make such innovation actually happen?

Based on current analyses and the lessons learned from past policies related to technological innovation, we can be cautiously optimistic regarding the likelihood of cutting emissions. We can also identify what types of policies are likely to be effective, and cost-effective, in motivating technological innovations. However, uncertainty about rates of innovation (and the viability of specific technologies) means that policy makers should focus on relatively short-term policies, plus processes and institutions to adapt these over time in view of new knowledge and capabilities. Steering such an adaptive process over the multi-decade transition needed to achieve climate stabilization poses demanding and novel legal, political, and institutional challenges.

Media coverage:

Interview with Parson. Click here for larger size.

David Zilberman, University of California, Berkeley
Can we fill the car and feed the stomach without destroying the environment?
Thursday, October 15th

Presentation Abstract
Biofuels have become a leading alternative to fossil fuel because they can be produced domestically by many countries, require only minimal changes to retail distribution and end-use technologies, are a partial response to global climate change, and because they have the potential to spur rural development. Production of biofuel has increased most rapidly for corn ethanol, in part because of government subsidies; yet, corn ethanol offers at most a modest contribution to society's climate change goals and only a marginally positive net energy balance. Current biofuels pose long-run consequences for the provision of food and environmental amenities. In the short run, however, when gasoline supply and demand are inelastic, they serve as a buffer supply of energy, helping to reduce prices. Employing a conceptual model and with back-of-the-envelope estimates of wealth transfers resulting from biofuel production, we find that ethanol subsidies pay for themselves. Adoption of second-generation technologies may make biofuels more beneficial to society. The large-scale production of new types of crops dedicated to energy is likely to induce structural change in agriculture and change the sources, levels, and variability of farm incomes. The socio-economic impact of biofuel production will largely depend on how well the process of technology adoption by farmers and processors is understood and managed. The confluence of agricultural policy with environmental and energy policies is expected.

Interview with Zilberman. Click here for larger size.