It’s been six years now since Lawrence Buja and his peers reached the finish line of a mammoth research project in which five super computers ran thousands of years of climate simulations and nudged scientists toward a better understanding of global warming.
Despite the sobering mission in front of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Buja remembers the excitement he felt as he and his peers waited for the results to emerge.
"(It was) kind of like being in Houston when Apollo 11 returned to earth,” said Buja, the man who ran the computers.
And the results themselves, which led to the panel sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, didn’t infect him with a sense of gloom and doom, even though they pointed strongly to the influence of human activity on global warming.
If the Apollo 11 trip to the moon was a gateway to opportunity, he said Wednesday, so is a trip toward a better understanding of climate.
“I don’t get a sense of limitation,” Buja said ahead of his address on climate issues in Lincoln. “If people are aware of a problem, that’s the first step in addressing it.”
Buja, the scientific project manager for the Climate Change Research Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, came from his office in Boulder, Colo., to deliver the first of four lectures on climate and drought-related issues in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s spring water seminar series.
A key part of his work experience has been his collaboration with thousands of other scientists in the panel formed in 1988 by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization.
He framed his lecture goal with a question: “How do we make science more usable for world-wide decision making?”
In an interview, he made it abundantly clear that his purpose Wednesday -- or any other day -- was not to try to persuade people to change their global warming ways.
“That’s definitely not how I think,” he said.
He compared his role in fostering a world-wide dialog about global warming to the role of a researcher studying the health impacts of smoking.
“I think there’s a very strong debate out there, but it’s like I don’t go out and try to convince people to stop smoking.”
Coincidentally, a UNL climate scientist who sat in on the Buja interview at Bessey Hall, was among five from the faculty who signed a joint public statement last year warning of increasing climate extremes.
But Robert Oglesby isn't into finger waggling either.
He alluded to “the wide chasm” between scientists and policymakers who try to respond to scientific findings and said both groups have quit expecting those on the other side to approach them.
“The realization they’ve come to,” Oglesby said, “is they realize both parties have to cross the bridge and meet in the middle.”
In his lecture on UNL’s East Campus, Buja rejected suggestions that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had taken an alarmist stance on rising temperatures and more extreme wet-dry cycles.
“If anything, we are being much too conservative,” he said.
He pointed to another climate watcher’s observation that the world will either mitigate, adapt or suffer from changing climate patterns.
“Frankly, I think we’ll be doing some of all of those.”