Climate change: 'Berkeley has a special obligation'

February 16, 2010

David Roland-Holst uses bubbles, big and small, on a chart to demonstrate a fundamental truth behind the near-crash-and-burn of global climate talks in Copenhagen in December.

The chart maps energy use against per capita income; the bubbles represent countries by population. Floating high on both axes are the medium-to-small bubbles of the United States and the rest of the industrialized world, rich countries that use a lot of energy. Hanging near the bottom are two giant bubbles, China and India, where both energy use and income are low – and rising.

ARE economist David Roland-Holst's chart – which one of his graduate students calls his 'demonic bubble bath' – shows the tight relationship between energy use and prosperity, a key climate change issue. Based on World Bank and International Energy Agency data, the vertical axis plots per capita energy use in terajoules/year; the horizontal is per capita income as measured by the GDP. Bubble sizes represent population.

The relationship between income and energy use is no coincidence, and recognizing that simple fact is an essential part of getting past the current stalemate and finding answers to climate change, Roland-Holst, an adjunct professor in Berkeley's Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, told the 100 or so climate-change experts gathered at Berkeley Thursday for "Beyond Copenhagen: Forging a Global Response to Climate Change." The conference reviewed what happened at Copenhagen and looked at the future of ongoing negotiations over global warming.

Roland-Holst's remarks were at the heart of a main point to surface at the conference – that climate change is a monumentally complicated problem whose solutions transcend science and politics and require sophisticated understandings of hugely disparate points of view and creative, innovative ways of thinking.

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