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. 甚麼促使你回歸中大服務? 我在香港出生、成長和接受教育,中大畢業後到美國升學, 在彼邦生活了三十九年。但我的根在這裏,對這片土地很 有感情,一直希望可服務香港,碰巧中大這個空缺正與我 專長和興趣相符,於是決定返港。 中大校園有何改變? 書院和學系多了,學生多了,學生組合更國際化。以前校園 山頭光禿,現在花木茂盛,建築物矗立其中如星羅棋布。 過往天然的海岸線亦因填海而改變了。 環境、能源及可持續發展研究所未來有何重點計劃? 第一,統籌:希望研究所可作為一個平台,聯繫不同部門 和學系,攜手進行與環境相關的研究,應付這與個人息息 相關的跨學科議題;第二,研究:會繼續有關氣象學的地 域性研究,如東亞氣象系統;第三,教育:藉着地球系統科 學等課程,引發學生對環境學的興趣;第四,知識轉移:研 究所的香港中文大學賽馬會地球保源行動,將透過成立賽 馬會氣候變化博物館、推行碳審計計劃、舉辦論壇和展覽 等,將知識向外推展。 科普工作的重要性在哪?你不時撰寫科普文章,下筆 有甚麼訣竅? 在科學學報發表論文,接觸層面有限。科學家獲社會支 持,因此有責任將知識傳遞予普羅大眾,發表科普文章是 有效方法。撰寫這類文章較寫專業論文更花時間,我會以 淺白的文字闡述艱澀概念,用生活化例子作比喻,輔以圖 像來解說,再請不熟悉這門學科的朋友給予意見,經過多 番修改始完成,但緊記準確是必須堅持的。發表了數篇 後,反應不俗,除了在《二十一世紀雙月刊》刊登,中國和 台灣也有刊物轉載,好些資料亦上載至香港天文台網站。 研究氣候變化多年,有哪些難忘經歷? 2007年聯合國政府間氣候變化專門委員會與美國前副總 統戈爾同獲諾貝爾和平獎。雖然自己只是委員會內幾千人 之一,但也感與有榮焉,覺得環境變化的研究工作獲肯 定。此外,香港氣象學會在1989年7月舉行首次海峽兩岸 氣象會議,當時內地政局混亂,負責人四出奔走,最終會 議得以順利舉行,成為行內一時佳話,亦反映氣候這議題 是不受地域和政治所限的。 在個人經歷中,哪些事件令你感覺氣候的危機? 即使不是專家,也可從日常生活中察覺到氣候的改變。居 於美國時,後園的樹木每年落葉,以往10月中至月底便要 清理,現在往往會延至12月初,這些微小變化,正反映夏天 愈來愈長。 人類面對最嚴峻的環境氣候問題是甚麼? 估計到二十一世紀末,全球平均氣溫會較現時上升攝氏二 至四度,熱浪出現更頻繁,持續日子更長,呼吸系統有毛 病的長者生命更受威脅;北冰洋將於2050年溶解,北極熊 沒了棲身之所,面臨 絕 種危機;人類不斷燃燒含碳物料, 致令空氣二氧化碳量增加,海水吸收後形成碳酸,酸性提 高,嚴重影響海洋生物生態環境。這些問題我們或許不會 親睹,但下一代卻要面對。 有人說氣候危機是危言聳聽,你怎樣回應? 我們都會購買保險來管理風險,這也適用於氣候變化。你 未必會在下個月就給汽車撞倒,可是你仍會購買汽車保 險。如果多年的科學研究數據顯示有些現象發生的機率是 百分之九十或九十五,我們不是也應做點甚麼嗎? 我們可有對策? 可以節源,減少燒煤及碳,轉用可再生能源;另也要鼓勵 市民節省用電,改用省電燈泡等,這可在教育方面着手。 劉雅章教授 Prof. Gabriel Lau 環境、能源及可持續發展研究所所長 Director, Institute of Environment, Energy and Sustainability (IEES)