Faculty conversations: Tom Dietz

April 1, 2011

The Earth’s climate is changing, and it is largely due to human activities.

That’s the conclusion — with 80 to 90 percent certainty — that Tom Dietz and the other members of the Panel on the Advancing the Science of Climate Change came to in their report submitted to Congress two years ago.

“Each of those conclusions comes from several different lines of research,” said Dietz, a professor of sociology and affiliated with the Environmental Science and Policy Program.

About 20 scientists had to agree to every word of the 350-page report, which was sent out to 20 independent reviewers.

“They made, in the case of our recent report, 600 comments. We have to respond to every one of those comments to their satisfaction,” said Dietz, who served as vice chair of the panel. “It’s a pretty arduous process to go through, but the end result is that we have pretty clear statements about the science.”

Dietz’s work hasn’t stopped there.

He recently started a joint venture between MSU and the University of Michigan to anticipate what climate change will look like in the Great Lakes region. The venture, known as the Great Lakes Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center, aims to help decision-makers whose decisions will be affected by climate change.

At the February meeting of American Association for the Advancement of Science — the largest general scientific society in the world — Dietz chaired a session on measuring sustainability. He also chaired a session about social networks and sustainability, which examined who in a social network was most influential on people's knowledge and opinions of sustainability.

“If we’re going to move toward sustainability, we have to understand those social networks and where people are getting their information, who they trust, who they don’t trust, and how information and values flow so that we can better communicate,” Dietz said.


Sue Nichols
Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability
(517) 432-0206