Dr. Steve Pacala, an acclaimed climate change expert from Princeton University, addressed the C-Change Conversations audience on February 27th at the Watershed Environmental Center.  Dr. Pacala is the former head of the Princeton Environmental Institute and is a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Dr. Pacala focused on two disparate topics: the burgeoning science of attribution, where scientists can identify which natural disasters are attributable to man induced climate change and which are not; and the risks and benefits of the increasing levels of natural gas in our national energy mix.

On the attribution front, Dr. Pacala explained that the numbers of natural disasters have become so frequent that statistically they could not occur if man influenced climate change wasn’t happening. He suggested that journalists reporting on natural disasters in the near future will be able to attribute the cause or severity of the incidents to our fossil fuel usage and carbon emissions. This will help underscore to the general population how much climate change is costing us, and act as a counter point to the narrative that addressing climate change is too expensive.

On the natural gas front, Dr. Pacala said that natural gas is better for the environment because it emits fewer greenhouse gases than coal, with the caveat that natural gas methane leaks must be curtailed.  Methane is a potent green house gas. He noted that stopping such leaks is in the best interest of natural gas companies as they lose millions of dollars in lost product. Dr. Pacala explained how leaks are identified, and recommended using inexpensive leak monitors to alert gas industry employees to leakages rather than relying on cumbersome and expensive regulations. He recognized that environmentalists have concerns with pipelines and fracking, but underscored that increasing natural gas usage in lieu of coal is critical at the moment if we want to lower emissions in the near future.