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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Remembering Firor

Air Date: Week of November 16, 2007

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John Firor (Photo: Bob Bumpas/UCAR)

Living on Earth pays homage to John Firor, planetary scientist and climate change expert, who recently passed away at 80 years of age.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Back in 1991, during the first year of weekly broadcasts for Living on Earth, our small editorial staff packed up for the very first conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists held in Boulder, Colorado. And perhaps the person who made the largest impression on me at that meeting was John Firor. In a gentle, almost soft-spoken way, Dr. Firor, who was then the head of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, spelled out the science of climate change, and how things might change quickly.


John Firor (Photo: Bob Bumpas/UCAR)

Temperatures had shifted between periods of glaciers and non-glaciers rapidly—perhaps in as little as 30 years. And he and a panel he led warned us that we were seeing more carbon dioxide in the air than had been seen for hundreds of thousands of years according to ice core samples. In other words, he said, we were headed for trouble, and a lot of it.

John Firor died earlier this month at the age of 80, after a long career of studying the earth, and many years of leadership in planetary science. In an interview in 2000 he spoke with Living on Earth about the debate over climate change, and the lack of understanding by many people.

FIROR: What they don't recognize is that people are dependent on the biological wealth of the earth, ecosystems of one sort or another. And ecosystems are not adaptable. If you change the temperature of a forest, make it higher; many of the tree species cannot reproduce. Their seeds will not germinate at higher temperatures, things of this sort. So the question of whether a climate change is good or bad has been debated, but the shift has occurred over 20 or 30 years to saying it's mostly bad because there are irreversible changes that will affect everything we do, and many of them are detrimental to human occupation of the earth.

CURWOOD: John Firor, speaking with Living on Earth. The long time leader of the national center for atmospheric research leaves behind a generation of earth scientists he led and helped to train. He will be missed.

 

Links

Living on Earth September, 8 2000: Climate Predictions with John Firor

"John Firor, 80, Early Voice on Environment, Is Dead" in The New York Times

 

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