I have been involved with MPE2013 activities since the first organizing workshop was held at AIM in March of 2011, not as a mathematician with MPE areas of interest, but more as an institute staff member helping to bring about workshops or lectures, or helping with the webpages.
This has given me a bit of distance to observe the evolution of the initiative. One thing that I have noticed is that two years ago many of those involved were quick to point out that MPE2013 was not just about climate change or global warming, but about all the issues that face the planet. There was a real fear, or at least that was my perception, that saying too much about climate would be bad from a political standpoint. But it seems now that climate change is one of the topics that might help bring the real purpose of showcasing the role of mathematics in solving these problems to the forefront. And cautious mathematicians may be more wiling to publicly discuss the thorny issues that we need to talk about.
To borrow a phrase from Malcom Glaldwell, it seems to me there has been a “tipping point” in the public acceptance of the reality of global warming. It is becoming part of our every day culture. Just in the last month, President Barack Obama mentioned climate change in his inaugural address. Certainly, while it may or may not be due to climate change, the horrific east coast storm season has caught our attention.There was a recent question about this in the “Ask Marilyn” column and last Thursday, the clue for 31 DOWN in the New York Times Crossword was “Global warming subj,” (the answer was ecol).
My own real awakening came during Emily Shuckburgh’s talk at the Joint Mathematics Meeting in San Diego. This has already been the subject of one of these blogs, but I left that talk with a sense of urgency. We really do need to solve these major problems. This is not simply an academic exercise. When I saw Mary Lou Zeeman the day after the lecture we reflected on this. She said this is called “day zero,” the day in which one never thinks about the earth and climate change (and all the things that go along) in the same way again.
American Institute of Mathematics