The Walter Orr Roberts Distinguished Lecture is an annual lecture given as part of UCAR/NCAR’s public outreach to the broader community, made possible through private donations.

Lose-win option: Are people in developing countries paying with their lives to reduce climate change?

A.R. (Ravi) Ravishankara

October 13, 2020

Walter Orr Roberts

Dr. Walter Orr Roberts presided over the founding of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) as its first director and was the first president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). Among many tributes to his considerable achievements was the United Nations Environment Programme's North America Leadership Award. Dr. Roberts was the first scientist to be so honored. 
A trailblazer, Walter Orr Roberts set up the High Altitude Observatory in 1940 on the Continental Divide at Climax, Colorado, which evolved from a one-man operation affiliated with the Harvard College Observatory to a research division of NCAR. While there he laid the foundations of his scientific reputation, making original contributions about the behavior of the sun by photographing its prominences and corona through artificial eclipses of the sun by means of a newly invented solar telescope called the coronagraph, of which he completed the Western Hemisphere's first example. 
In 1960, the National Science Foundation asked Roberts to be the director of the newly formed NCAR, which he headed until 1968. He simultaneously held the presidency of UCAR from its inception in 1960 until 1973. Roberts, a visionary, was influential in establishing Boulder’s space and rocket science communities that later spawned the University of Colorado’s Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics and Ball Brothers Research Corporation, now Ball Aerospace Systems Division.
Walter and Janet Roberts skiing in front of the original Climax site, 1941
Credit: NCAR Archives
When he retired from administrative duties, Roberts devoted more time to scientific endeavors on a larger scale in his role as a teacher/adviser to students and colleagues as well as leaders of government, business and industry around the world. He was instrumental in fostering the first greenhouse "glasnost" teleconference between the Soviet Union and the United States; the 1988 computer-mediated teleconference linked 12 scientists from each country in an ongoing dialogue about climate change and its potential impacts, political, social and economic as well as geophysical. From 1974 to 1981, Roberts directed the Program on Food, Climate and the World's Future of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies and was a senior fellow and trustee emeritus of that organization.

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Past WOR Distinguished Lectures

1998Warren Washington
John Firor
Susan Solomon
Timothy Brown
Joachim Kuettner
2004Joanne Simpson
Timothy Wirth, Conference on World Affairs
Jim Hansen
Katharine Hayhoe, Director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University
Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences in Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Atmospheric Science, MIT
Hurricanes, Climate, and Culture: How We Cope with Natural Disasters
Tracey Holloway, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison; President, Earth Science Women's Network; Leader, NASA Health and Air Quality Applied Science Team
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