Geoscience school’s 10th anniversary celebration filled with panels on climate change, energy demands

Forrest Milburn

In celebration of the Jackson School of Geosciences’ 10th anniversary, panelists and research leaders discussed Friday the ways in which humans can adapt to energy, mineral and water resource demands in a world without carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

Throughout the panel discussion, which came a month after world leaders gathered in Paris to address climate change, Steven Koonin, a New York University physics professor, argued that the world would need to decrease carbon and greenhouse gas emissions if the world is to solve its climate crisis.

“What would be required just to stabilize the [atmosphere is] to take emissions down to actually less than zero by 2070,” Koonin said. “We are not making much progress.”

Panelists said once and if world leaders can agree on terms to bring emissions down to zero, the world would then face several challenges in meeting a skyrocketed demand for sustainable emissions-free energy sources, which could not be met by renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

“Solar and wind are very popular among people who do not understand energy systems very well,” Koonin said.

Koonin pointed out that one of the most crucial aspects of solving climate, energy and other resource issues is recognizing the geographic differences between regions.

“What’s good for Syracuse is not going to work for San Diego and will not work for Sri Lanka,” Koonin said. “There’s no one silver bullet here in trying to meet the energy challenges.”

Geoscience doctorate student Yaser Alzayer, who researches aspects of energy extraction, disagreed with some of the panelists and said he thought Koonin’s approach to an emissions-free world was too idealistic and impractical.

“Unless you have a consensus for [zero emissions] around the world, that’s not possible,” Alzayer said. “I think there will be a mix of energy inputs to generate power, heat and energy, and renewables will grow their way into the mix. But it won’t be a cold-turkey transition, it will have to be gradual.”

Panelists also gave immense praise to the Jackson school for helping mold future industry and world leaders in teaching them how to solve any future climate and resource problems.

“Ten or 20 years from now there will be a whole different set of problems they’ll have to solve too,” geoscience graduate student Ben Smith said. “The tools might change, but the fundamental skill sets they learned here will help them solve those problems.”