Growing up as a teenager in Venice, Jeremy Pal never dreamed that he would ever be associated with one of the most prestigious awards in science.
When he was a self-proclaimed “average student,” it was a class entitled Human Ecology at Santa Monica College that set him on the course toward an impressive academic career and eventually worldwide acclaim.
Pal, an assistant professor of civil engineering and environmental science at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), was one of the contributing authors on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes (IPCC), an international collaboration of scientists that shares the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.
“It is truly an honor to be a part of a project that has received such distinguished recognition,” said the professor.
University officials were understandably thrilled upon learning that one of their educators shares the Nobel Peace Prize.
“All of us at the university are proud of Jeremy Pal’s work,” said Richard Plumb, dean of the Frank Seaver School of Science and Engineering. “LMU is fortunate that, like Pal, many professors are conducting groundbreaking research. Pal is involved in meaningful research that is impacting the world, yet he continues to be strongly dedicated to teaching our students.”
Having an educator on campus who has received such a prestigious honor can also have additional benefits for the university.
“Jeremy Pal’s work will draw even more prestigious professors to LMU,” Plumb believes. “It shows our faculty is taking science, math and engineering to the next level.”
Asked about his initial reaction after he learned that he and the other scientists had won the coveted award, Pal said, “I was a bit surprised.”
During a wide-ranging interview in his office on the LMU campus, Pal, who resides in Westchester, discussed how he entered the field of climate change, being an author on the panel of global warming experts who won the Nobel Prize and what can be done to help arrest climate change.
“There aren’t many experts in the field who believe that global warming isn’t occurring,” the professor stated. “I don’t know of any that will say that increasing emissions of carbon dioxide will not result in warming of the atmosphere.
“Perhaps there are politicians or people in other fields of research that will say that it’s not occurring.”
His field of expertise is the study of how greenhouse gases affect the change in global temperatures, and the consequences that drastic rises in these temperatures can have on particular regions of the world. He has authored academic studies that translate global warming and temperature estimates to particular regions.
This summer, Pal co-authored a study with a Purdue University scholar that projects that extremely hot days will increase 200 to 500 percent in Mediterranean countries by the end of this century if the current rate of greenhouse emissions continues.
“The extreme events that are occurring now could become the normal events in the future,” said Pal. “For example, we had the warmest summer in recorded history, and that event is more likely to become a normal event in the future.”
Approximately 20,000 people in France and Italy died this summer from the extreme temperatures. In addition to the human health risks, extremely high temperatures could impact the economy of this region.
“In Italy, for example, the wine industry, which is a multi-billion-dollar industry, could see impacts on the wine from that region because of the effects on water and water shortages,” said Pal.
Nick Carno, who was the primary speaker at a global warming town hall meeting October 18th in Torrance that was sponsored by Assemblyman Ted Lieu, agrees that there is no doubt that global warming is having a negative effect on the planet, and that awarding the Nobel Prize to scholars like Pal underscores the recognition among qualified scientific experts that greenhouse gases are primarily created by humans.
“That portion of the debate is pretty much over,” said Karno, a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council who was trained by Gore’s Inconvenient Truth Project. “There is an overwhelming consensus that we have to change our way of life so that we can see what we can do to reverse the effects of global warming.”
Former Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, a senior advisor at the Los Angeles branch of the Natural Resources Defense Council, congratulated Pal on being part of the team of scientists who won the Nobel Prize. Like the professor, she too feels that a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is crucial to arresting climate change.
“The states seem to be be moving toward reducing greenhouse gases, as well as some in the business sector,” said Pavley. “Businesses are learning that by becoming more energy efficient, they can actually save money.”
Pal believes that the United States, as the world’s wealthiest nation, should take the lead in seeking solutions to combat global warming. “It’s a unique opportunity to, in some sense, be leaders in this area,” Pal asserted. “If we could take the lead in developing new technologies, that would be great for our economy as well.”
Events like Hurricane Katrina, warmer temperatures during winter months and changes in ocean temperatures are all possible consequences of global warming.
“Those are things that would be expected with climate change,” Pal confirmed, “But we can’t answer whether a singular event is a result of climate change.”
There is empirical data, he says, that many of these phenomena, such as warmer winters and increased precipitation, are happening with greater frequency.
“It’s very likely that these events will continue to increase in the future,” Pal predicted.
While he is a bit discouraged that the topic of global warming has become politicized along partisan lines in the United States, Pal is optimistic that the focus will be on strategies that reflect how to combat climate change.
“Hopefully, now people will begin to set aside their political affiliations and realize that the scientific evidence supporting that human activities are significantly changing climate globally is overwhelming,” he said.
Lieu agrees with Pal, Pavley and climate change experts that although much can be done individually and locally, global warming must be addressed from a global standpoint.
“The threat of global climate change is the biggest issue we face, not as a state, but as a planet,” Lieu said. “I urge everyone to find ways to reduce their carbon footprint. The little bit we all do can make a large difference.”
The most far-reaching changes, to have a meaningful effect, must be in policies that are set forth by governments, said Pal.
Pal graciously thanked the Nobel committee for their selection on what he and others feel is one of the most important challenges that the global community will face for years to come.
“This is a very important issue,” he said “I think that it’s great that the Nobel committee has recognized this and has awarded the IPCC this honor, and it’s great to be a part of this process.”