Climate lecture series will call for ‘unprecedented action,’ 1.5 minutes at a time

The talks are aimed at calling attention to climate change, with a nod to the goal of keeping warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst effects.

Thanks to the actions of humans, our planet has already warmed about 1 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels. We’re on target to hit 2 degrees warmer by the middle of this century.  

Wide-angle view of a heavily mined landscape with a refinery or energy facility in the background.

It’s a stated goal of the Paris Agreement and a recommended target of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that we stay under a threshold of 1.5 degrees of warming. Doing so won’t mean avoiding all harmful effects, but it will help us avoid the worst devastation.

That 1.5-degree figure has loomed large among those committed to slowing or stopping climate change. And it’s helped give shape to a lecture series beginning on Penn’s campus this week. The 1.5 Minute Climate Lectures, to be held at noon on Wednesdays in September at the Benjamin Franklin statue in front of College Hall, will allow faculty members and students to share a snapshot of how their research informs our understanding of climate change as well as to call for action to slow or stop it.

“The IPCC special report that came out last year says we’re facing an unprecedented situation and specifically calls for unprecedented action,” says Simon Richter, who formulated the idea for the series and organized it in concert with Paul Sniegowski, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Although all kinds of climate and sustainability related things are going on at Penn, what we’re doing is nowhere near enough,” Richter says.

Starting Sept. 4, this “hijacking” of the 60 Second Lecture series will feature more than 20 speakers from a variety of departments, from biology to philosophy to English, in the School of Arts and Sciences, which has previously organized and hosted the lectures, but also from the Stuart Weitzman School of Design and Wharton School. Representatives from climate-focused student groups will also participate. 

“As dean of the College,” says Sniegowski, who will give an introduction to the talks on Sept. 4, “what I know from talking to our students is that they care very deeply about the future of Earth’s climate—and they should. People my age aren’t going to be around to see the worst of it, but the students will—and their children will—and they know this.”

That’s why Sniegowski didn’t hesitate in supporting Richter in organizing the series. 

“One of my big motivations in going forward with this was thinking about how the students will be hearing how their professors, the very people who are entrusted with their education, are working on these problems,” Sniegowski says.

Those faculty members include Karen Goldberg of Penn Arts and Sciences, sharing how innovations in chemistry may aid in addressing emissions; Eric Orts of Wharton, taking about the need for business to engage politically on the issue; and the Weitzman School’s Megan Ryerson and Tom Daniels speaking about the climate impact of airplane travel, and the significance of our food production system as a contributor to and victim of climate change, respectively. Many more will also speak during the series.

The lectures will be captured on video and made available for sharing on social media. Richter, who will discuss “The Climate Patient’s Bill of Rights” on Sept. 18, is hopeful the event will increase climate literacy on campus and beyond and create the conditions that will allow the Penn community to take unprecedented action.

“We have to raise awareness about this, not just for the people who already know and care,” he says. “This is so urgent that everyone needs to know about it.”

The full schedule of the 1.5 Minute Climate Lectures is available online: