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Larry and Bassam

Professor Shakhashiri is a frequent guest of the Larry Meiller Show
on the Ideas Network of Wisconsin Public Radio.

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October 16, 2014 Larry Meiller Show

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June 24, 2014 Larry Meiller Show

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Read an article from WPR's Judith Siers-Poisson detailing Prof. Shakhashiri's appearance.

April 3, 2014 Larry Meiller Show

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  • Joining Professor Shakhashiri was his longtime friend and associate Dr. Jerry Bell, formerly a division director at the National Science Foundation, now a Faculty Associate with WISL and chair of the American Chemical Society’s Working Group on Climate Science. Larry asked how science literacy can help meet the many challenges faced by society, such as climate change.

  • Professor Shakhashiri said we live in an advanced society, dependent on science and technology, and we need to appreciate technology and its impacts, to learn about and enjoy science as well as make contributions to society. Science and technology are the engines that drive our economy, he continued, and we should develop an appreciation of what they can do as well as their limitations. We enjoy many benefits from living in the most technically advanced society in history and need to understand how it works. That’s why WISL is committed to increasing the quality of education at all levels. We need the best offerings in school systems that teachers can joyfully share with students and families, he continued. WISL also promotes more informal education through parks, zoos, botanical gardens and just being in the great outdoors. The goal, he said, is to become aware of our responsibility to protect the environment and of the consequences of the industrial revolution.

  • Larry noted that there are many different audiences for science and scientific information and that communicating effectively is important. Professor Shakhashiri said he loves to share the joy of discovery and the benefits of scientific and technological advances. Science has greatly advanced society, he continued. It contributes to our well-being and is the engine that drives the economy. Science and technology can also be misused, he said, which is why it’s important for scientists to communicate to the general public as well as to specialized audiences. Science literacy is an understanding of how science works, what it can and can’t do, but not necessarily knowledge of any particular science. Science is a human endeavor, Professor Shakhashiri continued, and it’s a fascinating adventure of the mind—people of all ages ask questions because humans are curious.

  • Larry asked about the White House Climate Initiative. Dr. Bell said that one purpose is to make all climate and weather data from many agencies available to everyone—governments and individuals—so they can get the data and, hopefully, act on it to preserve the environment.

  • Larry noted that President Obama’s plan adopted much of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 2014 report. Professor Shakhashiri said it’s an illustration of the leadership role the science community should play. “We have an awesome responsibility not only to ourselves but to generations that come after us,” he continued. “Climate change is upon us and it’s unequivocal. The President’s actions are to be saluted. This is the kind of leadership we need not only in this country but worldwide, because the stakes are very high in terms of saving the planet and advancing the human condition.” Professor Shakhashiri said the President’s focus is on what we can do collectively in a responsible way that’s useful for the economy. “Fossil fuels won’t go away,” he continued, “but there are ways to mitigate the effects and adopt to new uses.”

  • Larry said that during the roll-out of the President’s plan, the acting chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Michael Booth, called climate change one of the greatest challenges ever faced by society. Dr. Bell agreed, saying that the stakes are high in terms of life on Earth. While there’s a fair amount of fear based on pending changes and those that have already taken place, Dr. Bell emphasized that there are things that individuals can do. “People may think that what they can do doesn’t make any difference, but that’s not true.” 

  • A caller said that schools should teach statistics as the capstone to math in high school, not calculus. Without understanding statistics, she said, people can’t understand science. Dr. Bell agreed. “My daughter is a new faculty member at a community college and right this minute is teaching statistics,” he said.

  • A caller noted the warm weather in Europe, including during the Winter Olympics, while the midwest and east of the US were very cold. Are we simply unlucky, he asked? Dr. Bell said it is partly a matter of luck. There is also some evidence that the warming of the north pole causes changes in the jet stream, causing it to go to lower latitudes in some places, bringing cold air farther South. In addition, these fluctuations move more slowly, so that the same type of weather lasts much longer in a particular location, and could have brought colder air to us (in the US) and warmer air to Europe.

  • A caller said the US is the world’s worst polluter, in part because it exports fossil fuels, including petroleum coke (petcoke), a leftover from petroleum refining. Dr. Bell said the U.S. does export petcoke and coal, and may soon become an exporter of natural gas. We are exporting some of the fuels that add to the fossil fuel problem, he concluded.

  • A caller asked whether technology has reached a point of diminishing returns. He said we have become so enamored of our technology that we are missing the basics of how to use technology to perpetuate civilization and the planet. Professor Shakhashiri said that when we make an invention, it behooves us to be responsible in how we use it. We cant un-invent the gun, he continued, but we can make choices as to how to use it and must make sure technology is used wisely and safely. Professor Shakhashiri reiterated that global warming is real and due to greenhouse gasses released by burning fossil fuels. As an example of the effect, Glacier National Park, in the US, will not have any glaciers in 50 years at the present rate of melting. He said that there are things which individuals can do such as using  more energy efficient appliances, driving less and using public transit.

  • Larry said he learned that the average lawn mower, which has no pollution controls, emits as much pollution mowing a lawn as a car driven from Madison to Chicago. Dr. Bell said lawn mowers are not very efficient. He noted that Lake Mendota, in Madison, is under ice an average of one month less each winter than when records were first kept 150 years ago. While that might not matter to most people, it matters to ice fishers, he said. And trout are threatened in Wisconsin due to warming stream water, and many people make a living catering to fishers.

  • A caller said that until Congress mandates the teaching of chemistry and physics, we will have a generation of Luddites, and he said there are many Luddites in Congress. He noted that China is building a new coal-fired power plant every week, and said “with 1.4 billion people wanting all the goodies we have, there’s no way we can come up with alternative energy to supply them.” Professor Shakhashiri said, “I’m a very optimistic person. We have to develop a sense of appreciation of what we are doing to contribute to global warming and develop a sense of responsibility to adapt and mitigate what we are doing. Change can lead to positive outcomes. This can be a win-win situation and doesn’t have to be confrontational. It’s a matter of working together in a mutually respectful manner considering individual and collective action.”





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