Talking About Climate Change – An Interview with ACS President, Dr. Bassam Z. Shakhashiri

This week’s post is written by one of several students attending the 18th Annual UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar.  You can learn more about their trip at their website, or follow their adventures on their blogs (Parker’s Blog, Nikki’s Blog, John’s Blog, Marla’s Blog).

We have our plane tickets – and accreditation from the United Nations. At the end of November, four of us, all chemistry students, will leave the familiarity of our departments and friends to join the 18th Annual UN Conference of Parties in Doha, Qatar – the preeminent global conference charged with setting standards to prevent further climate change.

From left to right: John Siller, a senior chemistry major at York College of Pennsylvania; Nicole Deluca, a junior chemistry major at York College of Pennsylvania;  Parker McCrary, a graduate student at The University of Alabama

The purpose of this trip is the future of global sustainability. We won’t participate in the leadership talks, but we will engage with youth from all over the globe, work to find solutions, and seek answers from the leaders of the world. Climate change is not only a current political issue, but it is a growing problem that will likely command the attention of our generation, those in their twenties and thirties, for the span of our lifetimes.

However, many of us do not know how to actively get involved with the challenges and debates that climate change raises. We will be publishing a series of blogs over the next few months discussing how to get involved, showing everyday people, tools, and avenues available right now for participation in this dialogue and sharing our experiences in engaging in international discussions.

Dr. Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, ACS President

The American Chemical Society (ACS) has long been a leader in educating and disseminating information to its members, students, policy makers, and the general public on issues pertaining to climate change. If you are not familiar with ACS’s role and the tools the Society provides, don’t worry. I recently interviewed Dr. Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, ACS President, who has taken a lead role in developing online tools that explain how to talk about climate change in an effective way.

Parker:  The ACS has taken a strong stance on global climate change.  What do you see as ACS’s role in advocating climate literacy?

Dr. Shakhashiri:  I see a two-fold role. First, as a scientific society, ACS must help educate our policymakers about the challenges of climate change and steps that must be taken to address it. The Society helps do this through its comprehensive climate change policy statement as well as numerous briefings that have been held on this and related energy topics on Capitol Hill. While this statement can be used by all ACS members, it has primarily been used by ACS staff and governance.

To more actively engage overall ACS members and help them advance climate science literacy with the general public is the underlying reason I led the creation of the ACS Climate Science Toolkit. The goal is to encourage ACS members to take on the responsibility to become climate science communicators both with their peers and within the larger community. To this end, the ACS Climate Science Toolkit was developed by a Climate Science Working Group of ACS members to provide the conceptual background for all ACS members to understand the fundamentals of climate science. To facilitate outreach, the Toolkit includes climate science narratives and scenarios that express important concepts in language more suited for a non-science audience. PowerPoint presentations with suggested narratives have been prepared to use with different audiences: for a science-literate group such as science faculty or students, for high school teachers emphasizing how climate science concepts fit their curriculum, and for industrial scientists pointing out opportunities for companies to respond positively to the challenges of climate change. Further outreach tools along these lines are also planned.

Parker:  Who do you consider the target audience for your climate literacy program?

Dr. Shakhashiri:  The immediate target, as you see above, is the ACS membership, but the ultimate audience is everyone with whom they interact – teachers, college and university faculty, industrial scientists and business leaders, civic and religious groups, professional science and educational organizations, and elected public officials at all levels and in all branches of government.

Parker:  Do you think it is important for the youth of the world to understand and actively participate in the discussions involving governmental action regarding climate change?

Dr. Shakhashiri:  Yes, it is critically important. It is in America’s youth’s own self-interest as well as an ethical and moral responsibility for them to take an active role in the decision-making regarding mitigation and adaptation to climate change. It is you who will inherit and live in this world and the ones that will fashion the answers to some of the most pressing global challenges. You should take to heart the exhortation of F. Sherwood Rowland (1927 – 2012, Nobel Laureate for the discovery of the role of CFCs in stratospheric ozone depletion); “Isn’t it a responsibility of scientists, if you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn’t it your responsibility to do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place? If not us, who? If not now, when?”

Parker:  What media are being used to help educate the population (social media, scientific journals, etc.)?

Dr. Shakhashiri:  So far, outreach to our initial audience, ACS members, has been traditional scientific communication through meetings, symposia, ACS journals and the media. A planned presidential challenge grant competition for ACS local sections and divisions will support innovative ways to reach beyond the membership to the broader community and we will encourage proposals that make use of electronic media, including social media, blogs, webinars, chat rooms, and so on.

Parker:  How vital of a role will Green Chemistry play in a sustainable Earth?

Dr. Shakhashiri:  The underlying principles of Green Chemistry, whether or not explicitly associated with this nomenclature, are essential for any approach to sustainability. In addition, a sustainable planet will require that the primary energy source be the sun and its effects on the physics of the planet as well as the energy directly associated with its photons. In all these cases, the expertise and creativity of chemists will be required and crucial to success.

To echo some of the words from Dr. Shakhashiri, global climate change is not just the problem from our parents’ generation. Although they share just as much of the blame as the previous few generations, our’s is the generation that will deal with the consequences. We will be the ones forced to act and endure any complications. I urge everyone to become involved and act not only for your own self-interest, but to create a better world for your friends, children, and for generations to come.

Keep on the lookout for other students’ experiences at COP18 to be published. To follow our travels and experiences in real time:

Visit our blog:
Follow us on Twitter: @StudentsatCOP18

Parker D. McCrary is a second year graduate student at The University of Alabama. His research interests include green manufacturing, ionic liquids, nanomaterials, and energetic materials.


4 thoughts on “Talking About Climate Change – An Interview with ACS President, Dr. Bassam Z. Shakhashiri

  1. Excellent interview. Dr. Shakhashiri understands the interconnected relationships of climate change literacy, youth, education, and action. Your student COP 18 activites will promote these goals.

  2. The new figures for 2010 from the WMO show that CO2 levels are now at 389 parts per million, up from about 280 ppm compared to the mid 1700s. (AP, Nov. 21, 2012)

    So with this historical peak in climate heating CO2 air pollution, why have not actual earth temperatures risen accordingly?

    Here are some contemporary global temperature findings of well-respected, nonpartisan climate science experts:

    • Long term NOAA climate data show no significant wet/dry climate trends related to CO2 levels;
    • There are no extreme high temperature trends correlated to CO2 levels;
    • No correlations are observed in CO2 levels with the number or intensity of weather disasters such as tornadoes, tsunamis and hurricanes;
    • Current CO2 levels are below optimal for plant life, and doubling CO2 levels would only increase global temperatures by a nominal one degree;
    • There would be positive impacts of global warming such as the doubling of CO2 and moderate warming would benefit humanity with better agricultural crop yields. (WSJ, Sept.14, 2012)
    • According to Britain’s Meteorological Office, the world’s climate has cooled during 2011 and 2012. The figures show that, although global temperatures are still well above the long-term average, they have fallen significantly since 2010. (The Sunday Times, Nov. 18, 2012)


    • Your last point seems to contradict what you stated at the beginning. Average global temperatures are still well above the long-term average, as is the concentration of atmospheric CO2. Slight variations in average global temperature result from various oceanic patterns, some yearly like El Nino and La Nina, and others expand over a decade. Looking at one or two years of data is too narrow of a focus to be considered evidence that CO2 levels do not influence the rise in temperature observed since the Industrial Revolution. Although the Earth does naturally go through periods of warming and cooling, the current rate is unprecidented.

  3. Is it merely coincidence that the Cretaceous period’s atmosphere had high concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere along with the smallest global landmass percentage? The two have been proven to be correlated through ice core analysis, and I do not believe any scientist would disagree with that. I do not beleive that the small island nations who are experiencing a dramatic loss of coastline and landmass year by year would agree that the current “moderate” warming benefits humanity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s