Michael E. Schlesinger, PhD is Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he directs the Climate Research Group within the Department of Atmospheric Sciences. He is one of the many contributors to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which, together with Vice President Al Gore, was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
He is an expert in the modeling, simulation and analysis of climate and climate change, with interests in simulating and understanding past, present and possible future climates, climate impacts and climate policy. He carried out the first detailed comparison of climate and climate changes simulated by different atmospheric general circulation models. Dr. Schlesinger has directed NATO and other conferences in Italy, England and the United States; and has edited four books, most recently Human-Induced Climate Change: An Interdisciplinary Assessment.
Dr. Schlesinger has contributed to many assessments of climate change, including those of the IPCC and the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum. Professor Schlesinger is a member of Illinois Governor Blagojevich’s Climate Change Advisory Group. He received his B.S. and M.S. in Engineering, and his Ph.D. in Meteorology, all from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Presentation Overview: If the Earth’s atmosphere did not contain water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2) and ozone, which make up less than 0.25% of its composition, the average surface temperature would be 0°F – so cold there would be no liquid water and, thus, no life. The fact that the temperature is a life-supporting 60°F is due to these seemingly minor greenhouse gases (GHG’s). On Venus the atmosphere is all CO2, the surface pressure is 90 times that on Earth, and the greenhouse warming is 900°F, about twice as hot as your home oven can get! The natural greenhouse effect is indisputable. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution in mid-18th century, humanity has added CO2 to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and by deforestation. This added CO2 caused the Earth’s surface and lower atmosphere to warm. This is the human-caused greenhouse effect. From the beginning of the industrial revolution until now the United States and Europe added most of the CO2 to the atmosphere. Soon this role will pass to the developing countries, especially China and India. These 2 countries have the potential to emit 10 times the emission of greenhouse gases by the entire world now. Clearly, reducing the emission of GHG’s is a geopolitical problem of unprecedented scope. Analyses of the observed record of average surface-air temperature from the mid-19th century to the end of the 20th century show that the human-caused greenhouse effect was the predominant cause of the observed warming. Today there are many worrisome signs in greenhouse Earth, especially the loss of ice in the Arctic and subarctic, including Alaska, and the Antarctic. Projections of climate change through this century show an expected global warming of 4°C and sea-level rise of 1.6 feet, both relative to year 2000. Even more disquieting, both temperature and sea level continue to increase into the 22nd century. Furthermore there are likely tipping points in the future climate change such as the loss of the Greenland ice sheet and a shutdown of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation. We must hedge against crossing such tipping points by making the transition this century, as quickly as we can, from the Greenhouse-Gas-Emission Age to the Post-Greenhouse-Gas-Emission Age. To not do so would be to play Russian roulette with the Earth's climate.