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San Diego Symposium Explores Human-Climate Interactions

San Diego Symposium Explores Human-Climate Interactions

A symposium held at the Salk Institute will examine melting glaciers, rising sea levels and the rapid warming of Earth from climate change.

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The Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny, or CARTA, will host a free public symposium on Friday at the Salk Institute beginning at 1 pm.

Climatologists have recently confirmed carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere have surpassed 400 parts per million, the highest level of CO2 seen in thousands of years.

They say this is part of ongoing proof that human-induced climate change continues, but what that means for human civilization remains an unanswered question.

This doesn’t have to be a doomsday scenario, according to scientists meeting at the Salk Institute in La Jolla for the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny symposium.

At the conference, the scientists are looking at how humans evolved during periods of climate change in ancient times and saying we can adapt to future changes as well.

"Climate change is the most important challenge human society faces in this century," said Charles Kennel, a climate scientist and distinguished professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. "We are entering a world new to human experience, and we do not know what is going to happen. We can only know what has happened. We can learn how our early ancestors adapted to the huge changes in climate of the ice ages."

Kennel said the ancestors’ ability to adapt to a changing climate can be viewed as a message of hope as we witness our climate changing before our eyes.

"Scientists predict that if we continue on our present course, modern society will face unprecedented challenges from things like sea level rise and severe storms," he said. "Today’s drought in California may be a harbinger of things to come. It is our turn to adapt."

Smithsonian paleoanthropologist Rick Potts, who has done field work in Africa and Asia, said the climate has affected how humans have evolved. However, humans are now shaping how the climate is changing.

“The planet has a natural heating and plumbing system,” Potts told KPBS Midday Edition on Monday. “What humans are doing right now is meddling with that heating and plumbing system.”

The free public symposium, "Human-Climate Interactions and Evolution: Past and Future," will be at 1 p.m. Friday. Interested attendees can register here. A link to a live webcast of the symposium will be posted here on Friday.

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