Center for Applied Mathematics Colloquium

Louis GrossUniversity of Tennessee Knoxville
A Rational Basis for Hope: Human Behavior Modeling and Climate Change

Friday, April 12, 2024 - 3:45pm
Rhodes 655

Abstract: It is easy to lose confidence in the capacity for human social and political systems to respond effectively to the challenges from rising average global temperature and associated climate change. A working group of diverse researchers with backgrounds in mathematical modeling, climate science, psychology, sociology, economics, geography and ecology has addressed the question as to whether there is any rational basis to expect that human behavioral changes can sufficiently impact climate to significantly reduce future mean global temperatures. Climate models can readily make assumptions about reductions in future greenhouse gas emissions and project the implications, but they do this with no rational basis for human responses. We have developed models to build such a rational basis to link social system and human behavior with climate. This includes a model from the theory of planned behavior in social psychology, linked to extreme events obtained from a climate model, and feedback to global emissions. Results from these efforts is that there is indeed some rational basis for hope, with social, political and technical feedback processes driving future climate policies and emissions. Under some circumstances these lead to a meaningful reduction of projected future average temperature.

Bio: Louis J. Gross is a Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology and Mathematics at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He was the Founding Director of the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), a NSF-funded center to foster research and education at the interface between math and biology. He is Director Emeritus of The Institute for Environmental Modeling which provides an accessible collection of calculators to assist in human and ecological risk assessment for toxicants and radionuclides. He was co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Theoretical Ecology and co-author of the textbook Mathematics for the Life Sciences. He has served as Program Chair of the Ecological Society of America, as President of the Society for Mathematical Biology, President of the UTK Faculty Senate, Treasurer for the American Institute of Biological Sciences and as Chair of the National Research Council Committee on Education in Biocomplexity Research. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Ecological Society of America and of the Society for Mathematical Biology. He is a long-time volunteer for Jubilee Community Arts, hosted and produced folk music programs for WUOT-FM, performs with the Lark in the Morn English Country Dancers and serves as House Sound Engineer for concerts at the Laurel Theatre in Knoxville.