Lecture Hop: How the Nobel Was Won

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In which Bwog lecture hopper Phil Crone reports back from the Heyman Center’s discussion on climate change 

Altschul Auditorium was host last night to a panel discussion featuring PrezBo, Joseph Stiglitz, and various experts on the ever more apocalyptic science of climate change. What exactly PrezBo, a freedom of speech scholar-cum-university president, was doing heading a discussion on climate change was anyone’s guess, but by the end of the evening it was clear that he had taken on the position of moderator mainly to provide comic relief for an audience presented with the grim scientific and political realities surrounding the topic.

Comedy, however, was not the first item on the agenda. The main event began shortly after eight with PrezBo introducing the four members of the panel: James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies; R.K. Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Cynthia Rosenzweig, an adjunct professor at Barnard who also works on the IPCC; and Columbia’s favorite Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz.

Hansen spoke first and made heavy use of a PowerPoint presentation with many graphs and charts like those of An Inconvenient Truth, only ten times more complicated and with no accompanying explanations. While the details of Hansen’s presentation were muddled, his main point was clear: “We have to get on a completely different track in the next several years” if we’re going to return the planet to equilibrium. That, and the shocking revelation that animals can neither talk nor vote, so they’re more or less screwed.

Rosenzweig seemed to be a bit too enthusiastic about the whole proceeding. A smile plastered on her face, she explained the inner world of IPCC working groups and explained how her own group had clarified that there are already observable effects of climate change. She also introduced the convention of referring to Hansen, Stiglitz, and Pachauri as Jim, Joe, and “Pachi” respectively.

Stiglitz addressed how the costs of climate change can be paid more fairly. A carbon tax is his answer to the problem, but its likelihood seems slim since it was last championed by Chris Dodd. He was also the most overtly political, noting that the Bush plan of voluntary emissions caps “makes no sense” and equating H.W. Bush’s “Precautionary Principle” with the sort of driving that got our current president’s license suspended back in the 70s.

After Stiglitz had spoken, PrezBo initiated the panel discussion and began to show off his comedic prowess and revealed his inner plebeian by showing concern for the cost of cornflakes under a proposed carbon tax. While the audience chuckled, Stiglitz could not give an answer. Add rising cornflake prices to your list of economic woes.

Members of the audience then directed their questions to the panelists. The final question of the evening was again directed at PrezBo and concerned legal routes to combating climate change. While acknowledging that it was not his area of expertise, PrezBo noted that such issues have been debated for decades with no consensus. Professor Bilgrami, sitting in the second row of the audience, raised his voice about the liberal notion of rights as being protected by the government, but PrezBo seemingly wanted to avoid a philosophical discussion.

Finally, Stiglitz jumped in with an anecdote about a WTO ruling in favor of a US trade sanction to protect turtles. (Yes, the United States was trying to protect turtles.) This had set a precedent, Stiglitz argued, and “if you can use trade sanctions to save turtles, certainly you can use them to save the world.” PrezBo, perhaps worried that he had been drawn into an overly serious dialogue without any openings for a final one-liner, closed the discussion there.

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1 Comment

  1. what did the US  

    and China say after they led the world in greenhouse gas emissions?

    "...if only my car-been neutral."

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