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Dr. Ken Caldeira

Staff Scientist at Carnegie Institution


Science at the edge of politics: climate, oceans, and energy


Today, I have one of the best jobs in the world, in that I come in to work every day and more-or-less ask myself what I feel like doing today. Nobody is telling me what to do. I choose to study things like climate change and ocean acidification, and, more recently, ways that we might transform our energy system so that we do not release any more of the carbon dioxide that causes climate change and ocean acidification. Not only do I get to have fun doing research, working with super-bright and highly motivated students and postdocs, but I also get to communicate what I have learned to influential people (like Bill Gates), to journalists, and to people like you.

I was not a particularly great high school student. I was smart but lazy. I later found out that my competition was both talented and hard-working and that if I was going to be successful, I would need to be talented and also would need to work hard. Key is that I followed my passion and had the confidence that I could be among the best in the world at whatever I chose to do.

I never felt that domain knowledge was particularly important. What was important was learning skills -- skills like knowing how to do mathematics, how to program a computer, how to write good English prose, how to present my ideas verbally, how to present my ideas graphically, and how to complete at least some of the projects I start. If you can play the violin, you can learn music theory quickly, but if you know music theory, it will still take you a lot of time and effort to become a good violinist.

It is also important to have a helping personality, because whatever you give out comes back to you.

Meet the Speaker:

Ken Caldeira is a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology and Professor (by courtesy) in the Stanford University Department of Earth System Science. Professor Caldeira has a wide-spectrum approach to analyzing the world’s climate systems. He studies the global carbon cycle; marine biogeochemistry and chemical oceanography, including ocean acidification and the atmosphere/ocean carbon cycle; land-cover and climate change; the long-term evolution of climate and geochemical cycles; and energy technology. Caldeira received his B.A. from Rutgers College and both his M.S. (1988) and Ph.D. (1991) in atmospheric sciences from New York University.

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