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Faculty, students debate global warming

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, March 19, 2008

As the final part of the student-faculty debate series, two Notre Dame professors and two undergraduate students met Tuesday to discuss global warming and environmental policy.

Professor Dr. Mark J. McCready, chair of the chemical and biomolecular engineering department, presented a background explanation of the issue of global warming, how solar radiation affects the climate and how the temperature changes as a result of this radiation.

“Until the late 1950s, no one knew [that] people had influence over earth’s temperature,” said McCready, adding that carbon dioxide levels have risen significantly over the past 50 years.

Presenting graphs that depicted temperatures over a few thousand years, McCready said the temperature has steadily increased in recent years.

“If the temperature has been steady for thousands of years and then just over 150 years takes a jump, you have to ask why,” McCready said.

On the skeptical side of the global warming debate, senior Bret Shapot questioned statistics suggesting global warming as a result of increased carbon dioxide levels.

“The burden of proof should rest on those people [who believe that global warming is a real and dangerous threat],” Shapot said.

Shapot said additional levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might not have a further negating effect, but might increase its concentration.

Shapot argued against cloud data from thousands of years ago which point to global warming, noting that the levels of error were far too high to be considered significant.

He questioned whether temperature rise would necessarily lead to drastic meteorological changes, such as increasing the wind speed of hurricanes.

“It’s just a fact that people do live where storms are. They have to since the population is growing,” Shapot said.

Shapot criticized the notion of sequestering carbon dioxide coming out of power plants, saying it is an expensive process blue-collar taxpayers will pay for.

“They will have to shoulder the burden of the changes we make,” Shapot said.

Supporting an opinion contrary to Shapot’s, political science professor Lou Ayala said he favors strong governmental intervention.

“Government action is necessary because global warming is caused by people,” he said.

Ayala described the environment as a public good – something from which all members of a group benefit – even if some members do not help contribute.

“This public good suffers from a problem,” said Ayala, adding that it is true that not everyone helps to protect the environment.

The government has a responsibility to take action towards this problem, Ayala said, because “the negative [effects] associated with not participating are too high.”

He also said everyone will reap the benefits of more government intervention, as they would enjoy cleaner air and cleaner water.

“It is in the public interest for the government to step in,” Ayala said, adding that the United States accounts for 30 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Hanna Mori, a Notre Dame sophomore, echoed Ayala’s sentiments for government intervention.

Mori said the government does not have the sufficient technology to move away from oil, but rather that individuals ought to abandon aerosols and look into green technology such as hybrid cars.

Both Ayala and Mori said the government ought to provide the funds to subsidize alternative fuels to offset the cost of hybrid vehicles.

Ayala said the solution to global warming is not one the government can solve overnight, but rather one which requires the attention of everyone.

“I’m all for student activism,” said Ayala, referring to the need for student interest in issues like global warming. “People just need to invest their resources and fuel political interests.”