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September 12, 2016

Responding To: The Challenge of Climate Change

The Only Savior for the Global Climate Change Challenge is the Societally Enabled Disruptive Scientific Discoveries and Technology Innovations

YuYe Tong

Two pieces of recent news, both announced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species and of which one is good and one is bad, illustrate perfectly the two opposing sides of what human society can do to the global climate change challenge. The first is that the giant panda is no longer listed as endangered species, a result of decades long persistent scientific research that has enhanced panda’s reproductivity coupled with a strict adherence to sound conservation policies, both were enabled and further secured by the determined political will of those involved. In a great contrast, the second is that the eastern gorilla in Central Africa (Congo, Rwanda, Uganda) becomes critically endangered, caused by decades long illegal hunting and poaching and loss and degradation of gorilla’s natural habitat that have been continuously exacerbated by the chronic political instability.

The key to move the needle toward the positive side of the climate challenge that aims to reverse the increasingly worsening trend of global climate change is to enable disruptive scientific discoveries and technology innovations, as what the industrial scale production of ammonia (a fertilizer) did in fending off the threat of a global famine at the turn of the twentieth century. This was only enabled by the discoveries of the Haber-Bosch reaction that makes ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen and the Mittasch cheap iron catalysts.

Without the disruptive scientific discoveries and technology innovations, reversing the increasingly worsening trend of global climate change will continue to be a far-fetched dream, for even the most stringent regulatory policies imaginable can only slow down but not reverse the global warming trend. Yet, without an unwavering societal thus political will to provide abundant and sustained financial support to scientific discoveries and technology innovations in general, achieving the disruptive scientific discoveries and technology innovations needed to reverse global warming trend will be severely impeded and delayed. Therefore, how to muster and also sustain this indispensable unwavering societal thus political will, which is another daunting challenge in front of the human society, will determine whether or not the global climate change can be curtailed and reversed. 

YuYe J. Tong is a professor and chair in the Department of Chemistry at Georgetown University.

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