In storms’ wake, aquarium explores climate change

Dr. Susan Solomon.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Dr. Susan Solomon.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have prompted fresh debate among scientists and politicians on the role climate change may play in creating conditions for superstorms. That makes the New England Aquarium’s fall lecture series all the more timely.

The series, which kicks off Thursday and runs each Thursday through Nov. 14, features seven scientists and researchers on climate change. Among them is Dr. Susan Solomon,, a professor of environmental studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who will speak Oct. 26 about how science and public policy have battled such previous environmental challenges as smog, leaded gas, and ozone depletion.

Dr. Solomon recently discussed her field of study.

What are some of the common themes you’ve seen throughout these environmental policy successes?


“One of the things that happened in the ‘60s and ‘70s was that people became very concerned about how the environment was changing. We, I think in part, developed those concerns because our environmental problems were so immediate. So what we saw was that there was very, very bad smog for example in Los Angeles. . . . With my students, I talk about the three Ps. P number one is that these issues were deeply personal so we felt personally threatened. We could either see them and feel them and taste them, like smog. . . . The second one is perceptible, and the third one is that we saw pathways for practical solutions.”

When you’re teaching environmental policy, how do you keep the politics out of the conversation?

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“My goal is really to communicate to people the elements that combine to affect public policy on environmental issues. That’s the kind of thing that I’m going to do in this talk. So I try to do that by talking about the past cases where we’ve actually been remarkably successful at dealing with environmental challenges. . . . Personally I just don’t try to define things as ‘this is politics and this is history.’ I think, frankly, it’s difficult to do that unless you come up with some set of clear definitions, and one of the problems is that people’s definitions of politics are different.”

Why do you identify yourself as an optimist when it comes to climate change?

“Because we’ve done such amazing things on so many other environmental problems, and I believe we will do so again. We have pathways to solutions. When I say, ‘we will solve the problem,’ I don’t necessarily mean the United States. . . . If we choose not to lead in this someone else will, and I think the problem will be solved over time. Managed is really the right word. We very seldom solve environmental problems, but we figure out how to manage them.’’

If you go

All lectures begin at 7 p.m. in the Aquarium’s Simons IMAX Theatre in Boston. Pre-registration is encouraged on the Aquarium’s website or call 617-973-5200 for more information.

Sophia Eppolito can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SophiaEppolito.