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'Pope's climate scientist' will discuss threats, justice and ideas in climate fight, Feb. 21

V. Ramanathan, PhD, right, is embraced by Pope Francis. Ramanathan, who sits on the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is popularly known as The existential threat brought on by a changing climate has gained the ear of leaders around the world, many of whom have turned to the planet’s most committed scientists to help answer questions on how best to avoid the worst effects of climate change and to contend with the changes that we can no longer avert including rising seas, more powerful storms and persistent drought.

Pope Francis, who has taken on climate change as a social justice that is creating a profound hardship on the most vulnerable people living on earth, has employed climate expert Veerabhadran “Ram” Ramanathan, PhD, to help the Vatican continue to craft its response to the threat. Feb. 21, at 7 p.m., in the Harper Center ballroom, Ramanathan, popularly known as “the Pope’s climate scientist,” will deliver a lecture, “Climate Change: Morphing into an Existential Threat,” hosted by the Creighton Global Initiative as part of the Planetary Emergency Lecture Series.

“As a matter of justice, procedural justice, we must inform students and the Creighton community of the risk they are being subjected to and what we can do to reduce this risk,” said Richard Miller, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Theology and editor of God, Creation, and Climate Change: A Catholic Response to the Environmental Crisis. “This risk touches upon all our lives and virtually all academic disciplines. Dr. Ramanathan will be addressing some of these risks and will offer science based solutions for reducing them.”

Ramanathan was first elected to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a group including about 30 Nobel laureates, in 2004. He co-chaired the Pontifical Academy of Sciences working group on “The Fate of Mountain Glaciers and the Anthropocene” in 2011 and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences meeting in 2014 on “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature, Our Responsibility,” which together informed the scientific basis for Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment, Laudato si’.

In 2015 and 2016, Ramanathan was part of the Holy See’s Delegation to the United Nations Climate Negotiations and, in 2017, he spearheaded the meeting and final publication of Our Planet, Our Health, Our Responsibility, a document produced in a collaboration between the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization.

Ramanathan has made several important breakthroughs and is in important figure in the history of climate science. As a post-doctoral student in 1975, working in atmospheric gases, clouds and pollution, Ramanathan discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are powerful greenhouse gases. The realization opened a new field of research examining the effects of trace gases on the climate.

In 1980, Ramanathan correctly predicted global warming would be detected by 2000 and, in 1985, in collaboration with NASA, the UN and the World Meteorological Organization, he led the first international assessment on the climate effects of human produced greenhouse gases. He led an international field experiment in the 1990s, with the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, that discovered widespread atmospheric brown clouds over South Asia and their devastating health and climate impacts. Ramanathan’s recent findings show a reduction in short-lived climate pollutants (black carbon, methane, ozone and hydrofluorocarbons) will slow global warming significantly during this century. His proposal to limit these pollutants has recently been adopted by the UN and 30 countries, including the United States.

Ramanathan has never lost sight of the human toll exacted by climate change, a fact that Miller said has made him an attractive researcher and speaker on the issue, both in the Vatican and around the globe.

“With heat stress, drought, extreme weather, and crop failure current scholarly estimates suggest that hundreds of millions to a billion climate migrants are possible by 2050 when our students are in their fifties,” Miller said. “If a million Syrian refugees had a destabilizing effect on Europe and immigrants are easily scapegoated when there is social discontent, then we must reduce emissions in line with the science or risk the global community descending into endless conflict for centuries.”

A distinguished professor of atmospheric and climate sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the University of California system, Ramanathan leads that University’s Bending the Curve Initiative, developing 10 solutions to the climate change problem, and has developed an undergraduate climate solutions course aimed at creating 1 million climate stewards and experts around the globe.

Foreign Policy magazine named Ramanathan one of the 100 most influential thought-leaders in the world. He has won numerous awards including the Tyler Prize, the top environment prize given in the US, the Volvo Prize, the Rossby Prize and the Zayed Prize. In 2013, Ramanathan was awarded the top environment prize from the United Nations, the Champions of Earth for Science and Innovation. He has been elected to the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

“Dr. Ramanathan is an internationally recognized figure and we are fortunate that he generously accepted my invitation to speak at Creighton,” Miller said. “A large turnout at this lecture is a great opportunity to move this issue into the foreground of our campus reflection and create conditions for transforming our campus culture.”

Livestream Ramanathan's lecture here.

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