A study of Earth’s history reveals that our present cool climate with large ice caps at the poles is rare. Most of the time climates were substantially warmer than today. In fact, not so long ago in Earth’s history, temperatures at the poles were so warm that climates on Antarctica and around the Arctic Ocean resembled near-tropical conditions with forests that included palm trees. And yes, this extreme global warmth, as well as the deep freeze of the ice ages, was determined by the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Given our understanding of physics, the factors that drive Earth’s climate and the history of atmospheric carbon dioxide, we know that the perpetual accumulation of anthropogenic carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will promote environmental consequences that range from small to catastrophic, reparable to irreversible. Society will eventually come to terms with the details of these changes and determine those that are acceptable and those that are not. While we work on reversing the reversible, the systematic adaptation to progressive environmental change will become a fundamental reality.
The implementation of carbonless energy must occur. Cities and states, motivated by policy incentives, will continue to experiment with new modes of transportation, architecture, and infrastructure. Sound environmental policy, community influence, and citizen involvement will necessitate regionally efficient architectural designs and urban communities. Science and technology sectors must expand, and as a result, economic opportunities in technical fields will become increasingly attractive and lucrative. Encouragement and funding of science and technology will provide the necessary education for entrepreneurs and the future workforce.
In lieu of a federal commitment to tackle one of the most far-reaching challenges confronting us, academic institutions must position themselves as hubs for the generational transition required to develop the solutions that lead to a carbonless economy. The Yale Climate & Energy Institute was formed to respond to the urgency of climate change. We are motivated to promote and foster new multidisciplinary programs that gather talent, coalitions and collaborations from across Yale and beyond to determine the appropriate and implementable solutions to the problem of climate change. A primary goal is to assure that our emerging leaders from Yale are immersed in the scientific, social, health, and economic complexities of climate and energy in order to provide the necessary governance for the realities we face. We urge the Yale community to become intimately involved with the inevitable transformation of the world.