Earth Day turned into weeks on the Princeton campus, as students used half the month of April to draw attention to environmental concerns. Many of the events were scholarly — like talks about a global-climate treaty and energy and national security. For the energetic, there was a five-kilometer run, as well as opportunities to monitor local streams, clean up a park, and plant trees. There were even draws for the hungry: Fair Trade bananas offered at an Earth Day Fair, and “E-Squared” entrees (earth-friendly entrees) served up in dining halls.
Though many of the activities seemed designed to bolster the “fun” quotient, Princeton’s involvement in environmental policy, particularly in ways to combat global warming, is known mostly for its serious side. (See a story on page 16 about a greener Princeton.) Princeton professors in several departments are doing groundbreaking research on climate change, and working with colleagues in the Woodrow Wilson School to help translate research into policy. Last month, Time magazine — in a “survival guide” to global warming — became the latest media outlet to highlight the work of professors Robert Socolow, a physicist, and Stephen Pacala, an ecologist. (See PAW, Feb. 23, 2005.) Time’s Michael Lemonick wrote that the two scientists have come up with a “remarkably straightforward way” of approaching global warming, by using available technology to prevent 25 billion tons of emissions by the year 2056.
Another Princeton researcher in the spotlight is Michael Oppenheimer, the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and a scheduled Earth Day campus speaker. Off campus, he is well known for his role as a lead author of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released in February, which declared that the evidence of a warming trend is “unequivocal,” and that human activity has “very likely” been the driving force in that change. On April 17, Oppenheimer spoke at a press conference following the release of a report chapter on warming’s impact on America, primarily related to water — both worsening floods and water shortages.
Oppenheimer testified about the report to a congressional committee in March — an easy task compared to his February appearance on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. (“Colbert is more fun and maybe more effective,” the professor said.) Oppenheimer, who explained that he went on the show to reach a young audience, parried with Stephen Colbert about the importance of global warming, at times even stealing control of the interview. But the comedian, in full shtick as a brash, right-wing TV host, had his own solution: “Have you ever heard of air conditioning?”
Several readers have chided me for neglecting to mention in my April 4 editor’s letter the Press Club among Princeton institutions that have trained future journalists. They’re right — generations of Princeton journalists have honed their skills with the century-old organization. PAW relies on the services of talented Press Club members each year.