February 2, 2016
Professor of Chemistry & Chemical Engineering
Director Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies at Carnegie Mellon University
If You Can’t See It, It Doesn’t Exist: Connections of Air and Climate Pollution with Policy Decisions
The effects of climate change, air pollution, and efforts by leaders to address these effects are pressing issues that pervade recent news-cycles – from climate talks in Paris to the increase in “red alert” days in Beijing. Dr. Neil Donahue will discuss “If You Can’t See It, It Doesn’t Exist: Connections of Air and Climate Pollution with Policy Decisions.”
Donahue is a Professor of Chemistry & Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University; and a Science & Engineering Ambassador with the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering. He directs the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research.
Climate pollution is mostly invisible and diffuse. More traditional air pollution — haze and smog — is visible and localized. However, both cause a world of hurt, and addressing them together may be a key to making progress on both. The “social costs” of pollution can be very high, with the costs of climate pollution distributed over the globe and over generations, while the social costs of air pollution bourn locally and immediately, including contribution to millions of deaths every year.
Donahue will discuss the role of three current research activities towards enabling decision-makers to consider the costs and benefits of policies that could affect both pollution types. The research includes fundamental experiments about fine atmospheric particles at CERN, the particle-physics research institute in Geneva; a collaboration to model the life-cycle of carbon in regional pollution in China; and development of a decision support tool for city policy makers to compare policy “intervention” options in terms of costs and effectiveness for climate and air-pollution benefits.
Donahue seeks to understand how Earth's atmosphere works and how humans affect the atmosphere. He strives to help all graduating CMU students understand the climate problem and to apply their outstanding problem-solving skills to solutions of this enormous challenge.
Donahue’s research focuses on the behavior of organic compounds in Earth's atmosphere. The world experts in his research group study what happens to compounds from both natural sources and human activity when they are emitted into the atmosphere. Recently, the group’s research has focused on the origin and transformations of very small organic particles, which play a critical role in climate change and human health. Particles scatter light, influence clouds, and kill roughly 50,000 people each year in the U.S., mostly of heart attacks.
Donahue earned a degree in physics from Brown University and a doctorate in meteorology from MIT. He spent nine years as a research scientist at Harvard before returning to Pittsburgh in 2000.
Recorded on Monday, February 1, 2016 at Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, PA.