An Inconvenient Lecture: Military Academy Professor Discusses Climate Change

Climatologist Adam Kalkstein shared his simple deductions from the latest scientific data: the earth is warming with devastating effects on the environment, and only intervention on a global scale can prevent further damage.

Kalkstein, a professor of geology and environmental engineering at the United States Military Academy, spoke Wednesday, April 6, to a crowded room of science students in the Coykendall Science Building auditorium. The climatologist kicked off his lecture with a mission statement: his aim was to use scientific data to understand the reality of climate change.

“I want to get rid of the politics and look at the science,” Kalkstein said with a grin.

To verify the existence of climate change, Kalkstein pointed to data from a 2006 Land-Ocean Anomaly Chart, which indicated that the earth is warming on average. According to Kalkstein, most reputable scientists agree with this conclusion. The real question lies in how much the planet is warming, how quickly the phenomenon is happening and what the cause of these changes is, he said.

Kalkstein then tackled a more controversial aspect of this hot topic: is climate change a natural phenomenon, or is human interaction with the environment the primary cause of global warming? The climatologist gave a brief primer on the greenhouse effect, an environmental process many scientists attribute to the rise in recorded temperatures on earth. According to Kalkstein, the greenhouse effect happens regardless of human behavior. However, increases in carbon dioxide emissions from human activity have exacerbated the effects of the greenhouse effect.

Kalkstein cited the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an internationally-recognized organization of climatologists, who claimed in a recent report that human responsibility for climate change is 90-95 percent likely. The climatologist noted that no conclusion can truly be 100 percent accurate considering the infinite amount of factors at play.

“There is no ‘smoking gun’ in this situation,” Kalkstein said.

The climatologist used data from around the globe to evaluate the effects of climate change on the earth’s land, weather and oceans. Kalkstein presented data that indicated climate change has not affected the frequency of hurricanes and tornadoes, contrary to popular opinion. However, it may contribute to their recent uptick in intensity, he said. The climatologist proved that flooding and droughts are on the rise around the globe, with temperatures becoming more extreme and more erratic on average. Climate change also means bad news for the floating ice of the world, Kalkstein said: temperature increases have caused much of the floating ice in the arctic to melt, contributing to habitat loss for species like polar bears and rises in global sea level.

But what can we do about these negative effects on the environment? According to Kalkstein, our individual impacts won’t do much good. Change has to happen on an international level, he said, with support from countries like China and India, which use more fossil fuels than any other countries on the planet. The climatologist urged students to push for policy changes that support the development of renewable energy sources and encourage international cooperation in solving global climate crisis.