By Michele Lanctot
His findings on human-derived climate change were ridiculed and attacked. Nearly 10 years later, for the same work, he was granted a shared Nobel Peace Prize. Now the Nobel Prize laureate will grace UC Santa Cruz with a visit.
Benjamin Santer, one of the world’s most influential climate scientists, has been chosen to deliver the fourth annual Fred Keeley Lecture on Environmental Policy. Presented by the Science, Technology, Engineering, Policy and Society (STEPS) Institute for Innovation in Environmental Research, the free public lecture will be held on May 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Media Theatre.
Santer was a key contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore. The Panel reported its evaluation of the risk of climate change caused by human activity.
STEPS takes on the task of uniting an interdisciplinary framework within the university and the surrounding local community at large. James Estes, Ph.D., marine biologist and ecologist, serves as the interim director.
“The STEPS program was created six years ago to provide opportunities for environmental research initiatives that don’t fall conveniently into any one discipline,” Estes said. “The whole point is to connect interest where needed for interdisciplinary action.”
The theme for the lecture this year is climate change, so for Estes the choice was easy.
“I’ve heard him speak,” Estes said of Santer. “The ideal candidate, a marvelous speaker, to give the community a clear understanding of the issue. This is what we know and why.”
Santer was convening lead author of the IPCC second assessment report released in 1995. He took serious heat for making the statement, “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”
“I spent several years of my scientific career defending that statement,” Santer said in an interview with City on a Hill Press. “The bottom line is, the data has been around for 20 years. Purely natural causes alone just doesn’t fit the facts.”
Abby Young, program coordinator for STEPS, refutes the 1996 Wall Street Journal article that claimed Santer was trying to deceive policy makers and the public into believing scientific evidence that humans are causing global warming.
“It is interesting to note that 40 scientists responded in defense of Santer,” Young said.
Santer, like any meticulous scientist, lives by the facts, he said.
“I tell [skeptics of global warming] that science is about facts and testing theories,” Santer said. “We can, and do, rigorously test different hypotheses.”
The science warrants much stronger action than current U.S. legislation allows, Santer said.
“The next president, regardless of their political persuasion, is going to take this issue very seriously,” Santer said. “It makes sense economically and in regard to national security to come up with sustainable [energy alternatives].”
Santer said it is an important part of his job to get out of his lab and inform the public. The major goal of the lecture series is to attract students.
“It’s real. It’s happening,” Santer said. “Your generation is inheriting this problem and will have to do a better job of managing it than we have. We can change our climatic destiny.”