Making Democracy Work

The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change

Dr. James C. Anderson

Speaker for Sustainability Action Committee

Dr. James C. Anderson

The Plymouth Area League of Women Voters invited students and everyone interested in global climate change to spend an evening with Dr. James C. Anderson, the Philip S. Weld Professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Earth and Planetary Sciences and the School of Engineer­ing and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, as he shares his group's research on Earth climate and global climate change.

"The Earth receives a continuous influx of energy from the Sun. Some of this energy is absorbed at the Earth's surface or by the atmosphere, while some is reflected back to space. At the same time, the Earth and its atmosphere emit energy to space, resulting in an approximate balance between energy received and energy lost. Knowledge of the natural processes that affect this energy balance is critical for understanding how the Earth's climate has changed in the past and will change in the future.

Factors that drive climate change are usefully separated into forcings and feedbacks. A climate forcing is an energy imbalance imposed on the climate system either externally or by human activities. Examples include changes in solar energy output, volcanic emissions, deliberate land modification, or emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols resulting from human development, energy consumption and daily living choices.

A climate feedback is an internal climate process that amplifies or dampens the climate response to a specific forcing. An example is the increase in atmospheric water vapor that is triggered by an initial warming due to rising carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations, which then acts to amplify warming through the greenhouse properties of water vapor." (Excerpted from the NAS report: Radiative Forcing of Climate Change,

Dr. Anderson is one of the world's leading experts in climate feedback systems and climate change. He will review the demand for energy in the past, present and future and discuss how the escalating demand for energy is linked to feedbacks in the climate system--and what you can do to help restore the system! He will also address the question, "what role do the physical sciences play in selecting policies for the United States?"

This was an opportunity to hear about the latest research on perhaps the most important scientific issue of our times from a top-level scientist who is not only studying the global climate change but also investigating mechanisms to control it. Dr. Anderson frequently testifies before both Senate and House Committees on national climate issues and will cover both scientific and political aspects of climate change. You will find Dr. Anderson as personable and friendly as he is knowledgeable. Come prepared to ask questions! To learn more about Dr. Anderson and his group's research, visit the Anderson Group website at

James G. Anderson Jim Anderson is the Philip S. Weld Professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Earth and Planetary Sciences and the School of Engineer­ing and Applied Sciences, Harvard University. He was Chairman, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Harvard University, 1998+2001. He has pub­lished over 200 peer-reviewed papers in the scientific literature. Along with his numerous awards, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1992, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1985, a Fellow of the Ameri­can Association for the Advancement of Science in 1986, a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 1989. He has served on numerous boards and councils, including the Executive com­mittee of the National Research Council Earth Science Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond (National Academy of Science 2007), Space Science Board: Task Group on Research and Analysis, and the National Research Council Committee on Global Change Research. "NASA's WB-57 has been flying science research missions for nearly 50 years. It is capable of carrying over 6000 pounds of scientific instrumentation, and can fly for extended periods at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet. This makes it an ideal platform for the in situ sampling of air in the upper troposphere and stratosphere."