Professors to discuss ‘Astonishing Solutions’ to curb global warming, Oct. 28

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KINGSTON, R.I. — October 21, 2008 — University of Rhode Island professors Arthur Spivack and James Opaluch will use video clips to examine several proposed large-scale technological fixes for reducing climate change as part of URI’s annual fall Honors Colloquium.

Free and open to the public, the program — titled “Astonishing Solutions” — will be held Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in Edwards Auditorium on URI’s Kingston Campus.

The 2008 Honors Colloquium, “People and Planet: Global Environmental Change,” explores human-caused global change, its consequences and potential responses through a series of lectures, films, exhibits and a cabaret. Weekly events run through Dec. 9.

Among the “Astonishing Solutions” that will be considered are:

– Installing large numbers of small mirrors in space to disperse sunlight before it strikes Earth, thereby reducing the rate of global warming;

– Construction of a large scale facility to filter carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which could offset emissions from human activities and reduce future warming; and

– Fertilizing the ocean to spur fast-growing plankton that soak up carbon dioxide.

According to Opaluch, “these kinds of actions are sometimes called geo-engineering since they represent large scale attempts to intentionally change global conditions. Note that these actions are generally meant to offset the effects of large scale human actions that have unintentionally changed global conditions,” he said.

While not advocating for or against any of the proposed solutions, Opaluch and Spivack, a professor of oceanography, will discuss the options from their respective perspectives of economics and science.

“All of the proposals have strengths and weaknesses, and each comes with its own set of risks,” Opaluch said. “Our intent is point out the strengths, weaknesses and risks as we see them.”

Opaluch studies ecosystem services, natural resource damage assessment, and survey methodologies. He is a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board and served on numerous committees and panels for the National Research Council and the National Science Foundation.

Spivack is an oceanographer who specializes in the chemistry of the ocean and atmosphere.

The next Honors Colloquium event will feature Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, discussing “California Action on Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change.” Her program will take place Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m.

The major sponsors of the 2008 Honors Colloquium are the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation, the URI Office of the President, the URI Honors Program, the URI Graduate School of Oceanography and the College of Arts and Sciences. Additional support came from the Thomas Silvia and Shannon Chandley Honors Colloquium Endowment, the Mark and Donna Ross Honors Colloquium Humanities Endowment, the deans of the remaining URI colleges, the offices of the URI vice presidents, the EPA Atlantic Ecology Division and Rhode Island Sea Grant.

For further details about the colloquium, including an updated schedule and information on parking, go to or contact the URI Honors Center at 401-874-2381 or