James Lawrence Powell, author of The Inquisition of Climate Science, was born and raised in Kentucky and graduated from Berea College. He received his Ph.D. in Geochemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has had a distinguished career as a college teacher, college president, museum director, and author of books on earth science for general audiences. He serves as executive director of the National Physical Science Consortium, a partnership among government agencies and laboratories, industry, and higher education dedicated to increasing the number of American citizens with graduate degrees in the physical sciences and related engineering fields, emphasizing recruitment of a diverse applicant pool that includes women and minorities. He has taught at Oberlin College and has served as its acting president. He has also been president of Franklin and Marshall College, Reed College, the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush appointed Powell to the National Science Board.
James Lawrence Powell: I have three grandchildren—17, 9, and 7. They will still be alive, some of them, 70 or 80 years from now, and the way we’re heading they’re going to be in a very different world than the one I grew up in, the one that exists now, and the one that they’re preparing for. Because if we have 7, 8, 9 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, let’s say, by the 22nd Century . . . I was down at Battery Park today—I’m not sure anybody’s going to be down at Battery Park if sea level is a meter higher or a meter and a half, or three and a half or five feet higher. Sea level will be up at the storm waves and everything will come in. . . . It’s going to be a different world.
And so I’m asking myself what can I do about that? And I’ve chosen to try to write books and blog and accepting your kind invitation to be here today, because I want my grandchildren to be able to say, what did Grandpa do? Well, he did something. He tried to do something.
It’s not enough for scientists to simply stay in their laboratories or stay on their computers and do their research and publish in scientific journals. It isn’t working. Two years ago, according to a Pew poll, about 79 percent of the public did not accept global warming. Of course, it depends exactly on what the Pew poll asks, the exact words, which I don’t have in my head, but that’s essentially it. Do you accept global warming? Seventy-nine percent said yes. And now 59 percent say yes. So if you project that ahead, we’re going to be down under half.
I’m a great believer in evolution, but I would say that whether the world suddenly accepts evolution or not does not threaten the lifetime and the lives or the quality of lives of our grandchildren. It would be better if everyone accepted it, biology would advance faster, and we wouldn’t fall behind other countries in biological sciences, and so on and so forth.
It doesn’t threaten the future of humanity but global warming does. So I think it’s time for scientists to get up from the lab bench and speak out.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd