'Climate change morphing into an existential problem' with Prof Veerabhadran (Ram) Ramanathan

Past Event

10 March 2017, 5:00pm - 6:00pm

Lecture Theatre, Oxford Martin School
34 Broad Street (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets), Oxford, OX1 3BD

Event Recording:

This is a joint event with the Oxford Martin School and the Oxford Climate Research Network (OCRN)

With unchecked emissions of climate pollutants, there is a 50% probability for the planetary warming to cross the so-called dangerous threshold of 20C by 2050; and there is at least a 5% probability the warming can exceed a catastrophic 60C in about 80+ years.

For the bottom three billion in rural areas, 20C would be enough to pose existential threats. With a 60C warming accompanied by 10 billion population, loss of bio diversity and species extinction, we should ask: whether civilisation as we know it can be extended beyond this century? Is there still time to avoid such catastrophes? The answer is Yes. But, we need to reinforce the technological and the market-based solutions with societal transformation. An alliance between scientists, policy makers, religious institutions and health care providers has a good chance to bring the needed transformation.

About the speaker

Dr V (Ram) Ramanathan is a distinguished professor of atmospheric and climate sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Ramanathan leads innovative research projects involving global climate dynamics, the greenhouse effect, air pollution, and climate mitigation.

Ramanathan received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu, India. He earned a master’s degree in energy transfer from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India. He received his doctoral degree in planetary atmospheres from the State University of New York (SUNY), Stony Brook.

After graduation, he became a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. He joined the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, as a research scientist. He joined the University of Chicago faculty as a professor in the Department of Geophysical Sciences.

Ramanathan discovered the greenhouse effect of CFCs and numerous other man-made trace gases. He correctly forecasted that the global warming due to carbon dioxide would be detectable by the year 2000. He and his students also used satellite radiometers to detect the atmospheric greenhouse effect directly from observations and demonstrated using satellite and ground based observations that the coupling between atmospheric warming and water vapor greenhouse effect exerted a strong positive feedback effect, thus confirming earlier model predictions.

Teaming up with NASA colleagues, Ramanathan showed that clouds had a large natural cooling effect on the planet using direct measurements of the atmospheric greenhouse effect. He, along with Dr Paul Crutzen, led the Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX) that first discovered the widespread South Asian Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs). Using INDOEX data, Ramanathan showed that South Asian brown clouds led to large-scale dimming of the ocean, slowed down monsoon circulation, and decreased monsoon rainfall. He followed this with a path-breaking study with agricultural economists to show that ABCs and greenhouse gases were responsible for a 14-percent decrease in rice harvests in India.

Ramanathan used miniaturised instruments on lightweight unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to show that black carbon in ABCs are causing a large heating of the atmosphere over Asia, linking ABCs to the melting of Himalayan and Tibetan glaciers. During the summer of 2008, he used these UAVs to track pollution from Beijing during the Olympics. His recent publication suggests that human activities have likely committed the planet to exceed the threshold for several climate-tipping points during the twenty first century.

Ramanathan currently chairs the United Nations Environment Programme-sponsored Project ABC with science team members from the United States, Europe, India, China, Japan, Korea, and other Asian countries. He is the recipient of many national and international awards such as the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, the Zayed International prize for environment, the American Meteorological Society’s Carl-Gustaf Rossby medal, the Volvo environment prize, and the Buys Ballot medal by the Dutch Academy of Sciences.

Ramanathan has been elected to the American Philosophical Society, the US National Academy of Sciences, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope John Paul II, the Academia Europea, the Third World Academy of Sciences, and most recently to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He chairs the National Academy of Sciences panel that provides strategic advice to the US Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), a $2 billion-per-year interagency research program.

Ramanathan has been part of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was co-awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, since its inception, and for the 2007 report served as one of the lead editors in the panel’s Working Group I report.