This week’s cover story highlights the work of Robert Kopp, a professor and climate scientist at Rutgers who is studying the effects of sea level rise. We highlighted Kopp’s work because of his upcoming appearance at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab Science on Saturday event: Managing Coastal Risk in an Age of Sea Level Rise, which takes place on Saturday, March 2, at the lab.
But we might well have interviewed any of the legion of researchers in the Route 1 corridor who are undertaking the herculean task of understanding the ways human activity is affecting the Earth’s climate:
Princeton University’s interdisciplinary Environmental Institute consists of more than 120 faculty members and is pursuing many climate-related research projects on energy, disease, sustainable development, and numerous other topics. Also at Princeton, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment supports research in sustainable energy and efficiency with the goal of protecting the environment from human-caused climate change.
Across Route 1 the 300 researchers of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are modeling the behavior of the atmosphere and the oceans, an essential component of understanding climate change. The lab created the first climate computer models studying global warming.
The nonprofit group Climate Central, headquartered on Palmer Square, conducts research and communicates findings of its own and other scientists with the public and policymakers. The group is dedicated to reporting the facts without advocating any specific policy or technology.
But perhaps the most influential Princeton-area scientist on the topic of climate change, one who has the ear of the president of the United States, is a man who has no formal training in climate science. William Happer, a Princeton-trained physicist who specializes in atomic physics, optics, and spectroscopy, is a retired professor of physics at Princeton who is credited with pioneering the field of adaptive optics. He is also a science advisor to President Donald Trump, having joined the administration as senior director of the National Security Council office for emerging technologies in 2018.
According to a report by Reuters, Trump created this panel with the purpose of questioning reports prepared by the military and intelligence agencies that show human-caused climate change poses a risk to national security.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Happer rejects the consensus of the scientific community that human-made greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, are causing global climate change. In 2017 he wrote that “demonization of CO2” “really differs little from the Nazi persecution of the Jews, the Soviet extermination of class enemies, or ISIL slaughter of infidels.”
Some of Happer’s colleagues strongly disagree with his views. Princeton climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer put it bluntly: “With respect to climate science and scientists, [Happer] is not only unknowledgeable but appears to have become unmoored.”