Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This IS the scientific community

So, I'm starting a new feature called...

This IS the scientific community

The idea came from a conversation I had with a former colleague at Johnson & Johnson. He is a medicinal chemist and we had a short conversation about the state of the world briefly in the chemical dungeon I worked in (I'm making it sound much worse than it was, of course). Anyways, he had some interesting things to say and I thought 'anyone who gives a damn about the environment, whether they knew anything about it or not, would probably be interested to hear what scientists have to say about it.' I think the interesting part comes not only from those who study it directly but also those who do not but, none-the-less, stay informed on the issue.

So, that's my idea, what do the scientists say. And here is the first one.

Dr. Andrew Cooksy, Associate Professor of Physical Chemistry

First, because I would want the same, a website plug.

Dr. Cooksy teaches the physical chemistry class that I am currently taking and, at the risk of sounding like I'm brown-nosing, does a damn good job at it. Physical chemistry deals with the physics of chemistry and how atoms and molecules interact with each other on both a micro and a macro scale. I won't beat around the bush, this class is very difficult but it helps to instill important understanding about what we're actually DOING in the lab.

On with the questions!

What is your honest opinion regarding the state of our environment and the existence of global warming? Do you believe that this is a serious issue to address or a misinterpretation of data?

I’m not an atmospheric scientist; I can only claim to be a reader of the scientific literature. From that, I haven’t seen any serious question among atmospheric scientists about the existence of global warming for at least twelve years, nor any serious question about the significance of anthropogenic contributions for close to ten years. I’m not referring to scientists in general, but the people who are actively pursuing research in this field. This is already an old enough field that many of its early prognostications have been tested. The ability of computer simulations to predict qualitative trends in the climate over the past decade strikes me as surprisingly successful for a field that amounts to, in essence, forecasting the weather. I think the climate science community has made a compelling case that many of their extended predictions are likely to be accurate, if not precise.

What is the most important thing that the average earth inhabitant can do to improve or avoid any current or future environmental impacts? Is there anything you do personally?

Reducing population growth seems to me the most direct way to reduce human impact on the environment, whether for better or worse.

How important is a move toward sustainable transportation, in your opinion? Do you think it is worth the effort that it will take? Is it a waste of time or an absolute necessity?

Certainly it’s in the long list of things that would have to be addressed for long-term sustainability of human enterprise in general. I don’t see how it could be a waste of time, since the exploration of new ways to do things is how we advance.

In terms of research, where do you think the most money and time should be spent?

Offhand I’d be interested in investigating how to get around materials science and materials availability problems related to solar power, and also in exploration of new mechanisms for energy storage.

If you had the power to do so, regardless of your opinion on the state of the environment or petroleum, what technology would you pick to power our society? Why?

Assuming a number of questions could be addressed, I’d pick solar. Clean; perhaps not very efficient but widely available so not so subject to storage and transport issues as other options.

Do you think that public transportation development is important for major cities? What do you think about the system in San Diego?

I do think it’s important. I don’t know any other way to get to and from a ballgame.

The system in San Diego is serviceable. It’s slow, so I use it when I have time and can bring something to work on, and when it’s relatively direct. The trips I’ve taken on public transport in San Diego probably average about an hour each way, counting the time it takes to walk to the route and wait for the trolley or bus. For me, that would be onerous to do every day. I’ve also lived in DC, where a trip downtown from the edge of the city takes about 30 minutes altogether (for me, that’s a bus plus a subway train), and driving takes at least that long.

Thank you!


Please see the addendum to this interview, found here (or just above this entry, chronologically).


Anonymous said...

bravo josh. great idea, great interview, very interesting.

..and a great way to win a few brownie points with the prof, although i know that wasn't your (primary) intention. :)


Anonymous said...

ps i was checking to see if you'd covered the air car article on inhabitat. check that out if you haven't already. interested to hear your input; sounds fascinating!

Josh C said...

Thanks for the comment, Kat! I thought what he had to say was fascinating!