Dr. Marcia McNutt - The State of Climate Science

Roberto Bencini, Rome (Italy)

31 October 2018

On October 29th, 2018, the Columbia Energy Exchange published an interesting podcast, where Bill Loveless interviews Dr. Marcia McNutt, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, about the status of climate science (https://energypolicy.columbia.edu/dr-marcia-mcnutt-state-climate-science).

Bill visited Dr. McNutt, not long after the release of the recent report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to learn more about the latest findings in climate science and the challenges of conveying that message to the public. The mission of the Academy is to promote the use of science to benefit society and inform policy debates.

Dr. McNutt was named president of the Academy in 2016, becoming the first women to hold the position. Previously, she was the editor in chief of the journal Science, director of the U.S. Geological Survey during the Obama administration, and president and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. She holds a BA in physics from Colorado College and a Ph.D. in earth sciences from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Dr. McNutt and Bill discussed the new UN report as well as the overall state of climate science. They also touched on the public response to warnings about climate change and new steps the Academy is planning to inform the debate. Finally, they addressed one of Dr. McNutt’s top priorities: diversity at NAS. In short, she wants to change the face of this renowned institution.

From a European viewpoint, the current public debate on Climate Change in North America sounds familiar. Same debate, same need for authoritative scientific sources, same need to forecast what happens next, same need to find ways to mitigate the change.

What is missing, on both sides of the Atlantic, is the certainty of a widespread economic advantage if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced in all industries and in all aspects of everyday life.

Economic incentives to renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic panel or wind farms may not be the panacea. Hydrogen reveals itself as a simple energy vector, not truly an energy source, with its own difficulties when compared to electricity. Carbon capture is still energy consuming and costly. Carbon dioxide deep geological storage still sounds like black magic to most lay persons, in spite of hundreds of million dollars spent worldwide to study it and demonstrate its inherent safety when done according to the approved guidelines.

There is, however, light at the end of the tunnel. Some distinguished and innovative Universities like the Virtual University of Uganda (VUU, https://virtualuni.ac.ug/) are planning to include climate science and climate change mitigation in their Oil and Gas Management MBA curriculum. As a start, next academic year VUU will address the subject with a short course on “Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change and CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage)”.