Newsletter No. 428

8 No. 428, 4.12.2013 What made you return to serve CUHK? I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I completed my bachelor’s degree at CUHK, furthered my study in the US and lived there for 39 years. However, I still felt my roots are in Hong Kong and aspired to work here. There happened to be an opportunity in CUHK which fit my specialty and interest. I jumped at the offer. What changes have you noticed on CUHK campus? There’s now more Colleges, Faculties, and students. The student mix is broader. The barren hilltops have been transformed to leafy terrain dotted with buildings. The natural shoreline has been altered due to land reclamation. What’s the focus of the IEES? First is coordination. IEES serves as a platform for collaboration among different departments and units to conduct cross-disciplinary research on the environment, a topic which has much to do with everyone. Second is research. IEES continues the research on meteorology in regions such as East Asia. Third, education. If offers the Earth System Science programme to arouse the interest of students on the subject. Fourth, knowledge transfer. The CUHK Jockey Club Initiative Gaia at IEES promotes knowledge to the wider public through the establishment of the Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change, organization of a carbon reduction project and a series of conferences and exhibitions. What’s the importance of general science education and what’s the technique of writing a good general science article? The readership is limited if research results are only published in academic journals. Scientists are supported by society, hence they have the responsibility to contribute to the community. The publication of general science articles is one effective way in which they can do that. It takes me even more time to write this kind of article than professional ones, because I have to explain complicated concepts simply. I need to quote daily life examples and use graphics. I usually give the drafts to my friends who are unfamiliar with these subjects for their comments and then revise several times. I must ensure accuracy. I have written a few articles and received favourable feedback. Apart from being published in the bimonthly magazine Twenty-first Century , they have been reprinted in several publications on mainland China and Taiwan. Some information has been uploaded to the website of the Hong Kong Observatory. You have conducted climate change research for many years. Have there been unforgettable experiences? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former US Vice-President Al Gore Jr., in 2007. Although I am only one of the thousands of scientists of the IPCC, I was thrilled and felt privileged to share the honour. This is a recognition for the research on climate change. Besides, in July 1989, the Hong Kong Meteorological Society organized its first cross-strait conference. The committees made every effort to enable the conference to materialize despite the unstable political atmosphere. Climate change is an issue beyond regional and political boundaries. Can you sense the climate crisis in your daily life? Even ordinary people will sense climate change in daily life. When I lived in the US, the tree leaves in my backyard usually fell in mid- or late-October. But now I find this happening in mid-December. This imperceptible change indicates summer is now longer. What are some of the most urgent issues? We anticipate that at the end of the 21st century, the average temperature of Earth will increase by 2 to 4°C. The heat waves will increase significantly in duration and frequency. This will threaten the lives of the elderly especially those with respiratory problems. The Arctic Ocean will become ice-free in 2050 and polar bears will lose their habitat. The waters of Earth are becoming more acidic as carbon dioxide released by humans into the atmosphere dissolves into ocean. This leads to the formation of carbon acid which has a negative impact on marine life. We may not live long enough to witness these changes, but our next generation will certainly suffer. For those who don’t think climate change is pressing or urgent, what would you tell them? We all buy insurance to manage risk. The same applies to climate change. You may not be hit by a car next month, and yet you still buy autoinsurance. If years of scientific research indicate that the probability of something happening is 90% or 95%, wouldn’t you also do something about it? How can this situation be altered? We can burn less coal and carbon, or turn to renewable energy. We have to promote conservation such as use of energy saving light bulbs. This can be done by education. 什么促使你回归中大服务? 我在香港出生、成长和接受教育,中大毕业后到美国升学, 在彼邦生活了三十九年。但我的根在这里,对这片土地很 有感情,一直希望可服务香港,碰巧中大这个空缺正与我 专长和兴趣相符,于是决定返港。 中大校园有何改变? 书院和学系多了,学生多了,学生组合更国际化。以前校园 山头光秃,现在花木茂盛,建筑物矗立其中如星罗棋布。 过往天然的海岸线亦因填海而改变了。 环境、能源及可持续发展研究所未来有何重点计划? 第一,统筹:希望研究所可作为一个平台,联系不同部门 和学系,携手进行与环境相关的研究,应付这与个人息息 相关的跨学科议题;第二,研究:会继续有关气象学的地 域性研究,如东亚气象系统;第三,教育:藉着地球系统科 学等课程,引发学生对环境学的兴趣;第四,知识转移:研 究所的香港中文大学赛马会地球保源行动,将透过成立赛 马会气候变化博物馆、推行碳审计计划、举办论坛和展览 等,将知识向外推展。 科普工作的重要性在哪?你不时撰写科普文章,下笔 有什么诀窍? 在科学学报发表论文,接触层面有限。科学家获社会支 持,因此有责任将知识传递予普罗大众,发表科普文章是 有效方法。撰写这类文章较写专业论文更花时间,我会以 浅白的文字阐述艰涩概念,用生活化例子作比喻,辅以图 像来解说,再请不熟悉这门学科的朋友给予意见,经过多 番修改始完成,但紧记准确是必须坚持的。发表了数篇 后,反应不俗,除了在《二十一世纪双月刊》刊登,中国和 台湾也有刊物转载,好些资料亦上载至香港天文台网站。 研究气候变化多年,有哪些难忘经历? 2007年联合国政府间气候变化专门委员会与美国前副总 统戈尔同获诺贝尔和平奖。虽然自己只是委员会内几千人 之一,但也感与有荣焉,觉得环境变化的研究工作获肯 定。此外,香港气象学会在1989年7月举行首次海峡两岸 气象会议,当时内地政局混乱,负责人四出奔走,最终会 议得以顺利举行,成为行内一时佳话,亦反映气候这议题 是不受地域和政治所限的。 在个人经历中,哪些事件令你感觉气候的危机? 即使不是专家,也可从日常生活中察觉到气候的改变。居 于美国时,后园的树木每年落叶,以往10月中至月底便要 清理,现在往往会延至12月初,这些微小变化,正反映夏天 愈来愈长。 人类面对最严峻的环境气候问题是什么? 估计到二十一世纪末,全球平均气温会较现时上升摄氏二 至四度,热浪出现更频繁,持续日子更长,呼吸系统有毛 病的长者生命更受威胁;北冰洋将于2050年溶解,北极熊 没了栖身之所,面临 绝 种危机;人类不断燃烧含碳物料, 致令空气二氧化碳量增加,海水吸收后形成碳酸,酸性提 高,严重影响海洋生物生态环境。这些问题我们或许不会 亲睹,但下一代却要面对。 有人说气候危机是危言耸听,你怎样回应? 我们都会购买保险来管理风险,这也适用于气候变化。你 未必会在下个月就给汽车撞倒,可是你仍会购买汽车保 险。如果多年的科学研究数据显示有些现象发生的机率是 百分之九十或九十五,我们不是也应做点什么吗? 我们可有对策? 可以节源,减少烧煤及碳,转用可再生能源;另也要鼓励 市民节省用电,改用省电灯泡等,这可在教育方面着手。 刘雅章教授 Prof. Gabriel Lau 环境、能源及可持续发展研究所所长 Director, Institute of Environment, Energy and Sustainability (IEES)