The world doesn't have time to wait for people to change their energy consumption habits when it comes to the "greenhouse problem," says global warming expert Michael Oppenheimer.
It takes 30 to 50 years for cultural changes to take root. The greenhouse problem needs to be dealt with now through advances in technology, he says.
Oppenheimer's remarks came during a question and answer session after this year's Paul G. Blazer Lecture in the Humanities at the University of Kentucky Thursday night.
Oppenheimer, a leading scientific researcher and professor at Princeton University, said earlier that it was "particularly apropos" that he was talking about the greenhouse effect and global warming in a lecture named for the founder of Ashland Oil in a state that relies heavily on coal and a town that was recently put at the top of a list of U.S. metropolitan areas when it comes to carbon footprints.
Oppenheimer is a longtime participant in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the 2007 Nobel peace prize along with Al Gore.
A solution to the greenhouse problem is "indeed possible," he said, before walking an audience of several hundred people through some of the causes and effects of global warming and possible solutions to it.
Increasing fossil fuel usage driven by economic and population growth, as well as the depopulation of forests, are the leading causes of the greenhouse effect, which causes the climate to warm, he said.
What Oppenheimer is most worried about is intense heat waves like the one in 2003 that killed 35,000 people in Europe, he said.
Even if every factory were shut down, every fossil fuel-using vehicle taken off the road and the cutting of trees ceased, it would take a couple of hundred years for the carbon dioxide levels in the earth's atmosphere to reach pre-industrial levels, he said.
Some countries have started monitoring greenhouse gases, and some U.S. states have carbon dioxide emission caps in place in an effort to curb the greenhouse problem.
"It's just that the federal government has not played along," he said.
The United States needs to start "engaging other countries cooperatively" to deal with the problem of global warming. The federal government also needs to create more incentives and mandates, he said.