Rice U. experts available to discuss 2019 United Nations Climate Change Summit

Rice University Office of Public Affairs
News and Media Relations


David Ruth

Amy McCaig

Rice U. experts available to discuss 2019 United Nations Climate Change Summit

HOUSTON – (Sept. 10, 2019) – As concerned citizens and environmental activists prepare for the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Summit in New York City Sept. 23, Rice University researchers are available to discuss various topics related to the event.

Photo by 123rf.com

Photo by 123rf.com

Bill Arnold, professor in the practice of energy management and a former energy industry executive, is available to comment on the issues at play at the intersection of corporate interests and culture and public policy. He said as the climate debate heats up ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections, the country’s oil and gas companies want to get in front of the curve. But they may be hampered by a longstanding culture of playing defense, he added.

“The oil and gas companies want to get ahead of the curve but want to avoid claims of greenwashing, so their investments in renewables, both research and operations, are more bite-sized,” Arnold said. “Of course, that generates criticism by contrasting tens of millions of dollars of investments for renewables against hundreds of millions and billions for oil and gas. The majors have a record of falling into defensive mode when criticized, and it’s built into the DNA of many older executives. But this is being challenged by their own younger employees as well as activists.”

Jim Blackburn, professor in the practice in environmental law, can discuss understanding and planning for severe storms such as hurricanes and major rainfall events, including various structural and non-structural solutions. He can also talk about carbon footprints and the use of nature (including grasslands, saltwater wetlands and forests) to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. He can also discuss carbon neutral design as well as the role of the market system in forcing this type of design.

“The climate summit should recognize and address the huge contribution that can result from carbon dioxide removal and storage in natural ecological systems such as grasslands, marshes and forests,” Blackburn said. “These will be an important economic activity in the future as emitters seeking to become carbon neutral by 2050 begin to pay landowners for the removal and storage of their carbon footprint. This in turn could easily redefine United States agriculture in the 21st century.

“The economic, social and ecological advances required to attain the sustainable development goals are directly related to addressing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Without controlling carbon, it will be impossible to meet the sustainable development goals of the United Nations.”

Dominic Boyer, a professor of anthropology and founding director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Science at Rice, can discuss topics related to renewable energy and energopolitics. His work on climate change topics in Iceland and the recent installation of the world’s first memorial to a fallen glacier has been the subject of significant international media attention.

“The Ok glacier memorial demonstrates how the natural sciences, human sciences and arts can work together to raise climate awareness and inspire climate action,” he said.

Dan Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, can discuss the science of climate change, U.S. emissions and policies, technologies for mitigating climate change, reducing emissions and the interaction between air pollution and climate change.

“This summit is the latest attempt to bridge the gap between the ambitions of the Paris Agreement and the reality of rising emissions,” he said. “What I’ll be looking for is how American cities, states and businesses step into the void to keep the United States relevant to the quest for climate solutions.”

Sylvia Dee, an assistant professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences, can comment on rates and context of climate change as well as its impacts in the U.S.; CO2 forcing scenarios and “safe” warming targets; climate change and human migration, adaption and impacts; changes in the hydrological cycle including drought and extreme precipitation; and changes in hot temperatures, including 100-plus degree days.

“The international community has to move as fast as possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation via any means necessary,” Dee said. “Livable temperatures, clean air, clean water and generally maintaining the habitability of our planet is not a partisan issue for any nation.”

Cymene Howe, an associate professor of anthropology, can discuss the political and social contingencies of renewable energy development as well as the social and political significance of ice in the Arctic. Her work in Iceland and the recent installation of the world’s first memorial to a fallen glacier has been the subject of significant international media attention.

“In addition to the science, we really need to understand the social and cultural impacts of climate change, because the climate crisis is a social problem just as much as it is an environmental one,” Howe said.

Caroline Masiello, a professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences, can discuss mechanisms to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and the role of technological approaches and nature-based approaches.

“Long term, we need the kinds of multi-stakeholder engagement that this summit provides,” she said. “We need this type of meeting, and more: opportunities for governments, businesses and NGOs to work together to transition to renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and resilient cities. All these stakeholders are needed to develop functional models of a habitable future for our planet.”

Rouzbeh Shahsavari, an adjunct assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, can discuss curbing CO2 emissions due to manufacturing of construction materials. Shahsavari said that concrete is the most widely used manufactured material on the planet and contributes to 5-7% of total CO2 emissions worldwide.

“I believe future building materials will come from mixing CO2 and industrial wastes such as flyash, slag and plastic wastes, etc., thereby avoiding using virgin cementitious materials and the associated CO2 emissions,” Shahsavari said. “Simply put, we’ll turn trash into treasure.”

Rice University has a VideoLink ReadyCam TV interview studio. ReadyCam is capable of transmitting broadcast-quality standard-definition and high-definition video directly to all news media organizations around the world 24/7.

To schedule an interview with any of these experts, contact Amy McCaig, senior media relations specialist at Rice, at 713-348-6777 or amym@rice.edu.


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Image credit: 123rf.com

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About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.