One noble scientist's take on global warming

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LISA MULLINS: One of the participants in this week's Nobel symposium on climate change is Yuan Tseh Lee. He's a native of Taiwan who won the Nobel Peace Prize for Chemistry in 1986. He also spent many years teaching in the US. We spoke to Dr. Lee today during the symposium by cell phone. He told us that while he and his colleagues at the London meeting feel a great deal of urgency about climate change, they also have hope for the first time in quite awhile.

YUAN TSEH LEE: Let me be very frank with you. The big differences is because of the new administration in the United States, President Obama. He was quite convinced that we should do something. That made a tremendous difference. The previous president didn't quite believe in global warming, and he wasn't ready to work with other countries to do something about it. So all the Chinese coming here believe that something will happen now.

MULLINS: One of the people who spoke at this meeting was Nicholas Stern, who is the former government advisor in Britain, who spoke about the lack of representatives from the developing world at this conference. Basically, he was saying, �Look. In the future, within 40 years, people on this planet in the developing world will suffer the most from climate change, not those of us who are in the West.�

LEE: Yeah. That's right.

MULLINS: As someone who knows very well the developed and the developing world, including in Asia right now, do you agree with that?

LEE: I agree with that viewpoint, so I have to play a role. And 65 years ago when I was in Taiwan, we went through a period without electricity and I know how the lives look like.

MULLINS: So since you know what's it like to go without lights, without energy when you were growing up in Taiwan, do you feel right now as if developing countries are doing what they have to do even if they are lower emitters of greenhouse gases?

LEE: Well, you know, 65 years ago, it was toward the end of the Second World War. No electricity � we depend everything on sunshine: from the food, clothing, housing, everything came from the sunshine. But during the last 100 years in Taiwan, in many parts of the developing countries there's drastic change. Simply put, we call it Americanization. Americanization of developing world. So now we depend on fossil fuel and consuming too much mineral resources. And suddenly we found out that the earth used to be -- an infinite earth become finite, and this was produced like cannot be absorbed by the earth anymore.

MULLINS: Professor Lee, do you think that that could be a model? I mean, you're talking about relying on sunshine in the pre-industrial era in Taiwan.

LEE: Yeah.

MULLINS: Is it possible that the sun itself provides the answers to many of the problems that we face right now?

LEE: Oh, I think so. That's the only way.

MULLINS: But our needs are so much different than they were obviously when you were growing up?

LEE: Well, the sunshine provides something like 10,000 times the energy we need on the surface of the earth. The advancement of science and technology will go a long way, but at the same time, we learn to live a simple life. We learn to be more frugal, restricted, and we have a sustainable society.

MULLINS: That's Yuan Tseh Lee, who won the 1986 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. We spoke to him today from the Nobel Laureate symposium on climate change in London.