Accelerating the Climate Revolution, Life on Venus Discussed at “Where on Earth Are We Going?” Symposium

The 18th annual “Where on Earth Are We Going?” Symposium of the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment was held on Oct. 16 and 17 in a virtual format as part of Homecoming and Family Weekend events.

During the 18th annual "Where on Earth Are We Going? Symposium of the Robert F. Schumann Institute of the College of the Environment," Jacob Scherr '70 (bottom left) and Amy Gomberg Kurt '04 (top right) served as keynote speakers of the event titled "Accelerating the Climate Revolution." Alys Campaigne

On Oct. 16, Jacob Scherr ’70 (left) and Amy Gomberg Kurt ’04 (center) served as keynote speakers of a discussion titled “Accelerating the Climate Revolution.” Barry Chernoff (right), the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology and earth and environmental studies, served as the event’s moderator.

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Five years ago this December, Jacob Scherr, an international environmental attorney, lit up the Eiffel Tower to mark the start of the “Climate Revolution” with the signing of the historic Paris Climate Agreement. Since then, the signs of a changing climate have become more evident, and calls for action, particularly from young people, have grown louder in spite of the Trump Administration’s determination to withdraw the U.S. from its international leadership on this existential threat. Scherr shared his decades-long first-hand perspective of where we are today in the U.S. and worldwide in dealing with the climate crisis. “I feel confident that we’ve indeed built a strong global architecture that can stimulate transformative climate action worldwide once there’s the political will,” he said. “I hope that I can return to Wesleyan for my 55th reunion in person, and I hope all of us can celebrate, then, the accelerating climate revolution.”

Amy Gomberg Kurt '04 managing regional government affairs for EDP Renewables (the 4th largest owner and operator of wind farms in North America, and around the world), spoke about her on-the-ground work on the needed rapid transition away from fossil fuels responsible for much of the greenhouse gas emissions.

Amy Kurt is the manager of regional government affairs for EDP Renewables, the fourth largest operator of wind farms worldwide.

On Oct. 17, College of the Environment Think Tank panelists Martha Gilmore and David Grinspoon discussed the possibility of life on Venus during a discussion titled “Habitability and Life on Venus." Barry Chernoff moderated the event. 

On Oct. 17, College of the Environment Think Tank panelists Martha Gilmore (top left) and David Grinspoon (bottom) discussed the possibility of life on Venus during a discussion titled “Habitability and Life on Venus.” Barry Chernoff (top right) moderated the event.

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David Grinspoon, the Menakka and Essel Bailey ’66 Distinguished Visiting Scholar in the College of the Environment and senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute, suggested that life similar to that on Earth could have existed in the clouds surrounding Venus. Although the planet itself is almost 900 degrees F and the surface pressure is almost 100 times more than that of Earth’s, the atmosphere 35 miles up is very similar to planet Earth’s. “New pictures show that Venus, in fact, may have had an Earth-like climate and even liquid water oceans for most of its history,
 maybe until just about a billion years ago,” he said. “We think Earth and Venus started out very similar, so then the question is, what happened to Venus? Did Venus have life, and what happened to that life?”

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Marty Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, studies the surface of Venus. “Venus is the closest Earth-size planet in the galaxy and the only one we can visit. Understanding how Venus and Earth diverged is key to understanding habitable planets generally,” Gilmore said. “Venus may have had an ocean for a few billion years during which it would have received materials from Earth. Like the Earth, Venus is geologically active, which is important to maintain habitability. Like Earth, life on Venus may have retreated to the only presently available niche: the Venus clouds.”