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Wikimedia Commons 2020

As a novice backpacker in the Pacific Northwest there were several times when I mistook the peak in my near field of view to be the top of whatever mountain that was my destination. The phenomenon of the false summit is something that most people have experienced as a metaphor for life’s challenges. Present progress on addressing climate change is a false summit unless we fully understand the nature of any perceived progress and the extreme danger of ongoing climate and biosphere disruption.

As a member of the post-war generation the current environmental crises have carved an arc through my personal history. I have been aware of biosphere disruption through my work with a variety of terrestrial ecosystems from the beginning of my 40-year career as an ecologist. Rarely did my close friends understand or share my concerns. The environmental icon Aldo Leopold observed, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen.” Similarly, most people have paid scant attention to the onrushing consequences of climate change, which became apparent to me in the 1980s while conducting research in Central American forests. …


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All of my courses on climate change for spring 2021 are are…


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From geoengineering.org

“Geo-engineering holds forth the promise of addressing global warming concerns for just a few billion dollars a year.” Newt Gingrich 2008

“Solar geoengineering solves everything! It’s great! We don’t need to bother to cut emissions.” President Trump 2017

“The main findings are that any implementation of stratospheric geoengineering could end catastrophically for many species. Although if geoengineering were ever done, it would not make sense to abruptly end it, there are credible scenarios where this might happen. Should society ever take that risk?” Alan Robock, Rutgers University

It is obvious that climate change will be the biggest challenge of this century and it is the gravest threat to humanity since we wandered out of Africa about 100,000 years ago. The existing burden of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the current rate of emissions requires us to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The goals of the Paris Agreement cannot be met without such large scale long term withdrawals. Because we have wasted decades fighting the fossil fuel industry and the anti-science political opposition of mostly Republican legislators, our situation is becoming urgent and geoengineering is appearing likely. There are manifold extreme risks associated with this approach to mitigation of climate change. Because geoengineering is likely to be a major factor in the lives of the current generation in college it is imperative that we understand just how current plans and technologies for hacking the planet are not ready for primetime and dangerous. …


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Dandelions — a ubiquitous European invasive in North America

“An invasive species is defined as a species that is: 1) non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and, 2) whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”

- USDA legal definition

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

- Aldo Leopold

In a geological time frame there is little meaning to the terms alien or invasive. The vast majority of species on Earth have some degree of vicariance, i.e., mobility through time and space. Our perspective on species is often limited by our four score lifespan and our flawed concept of what constitutes an intact ecosystem. The sciences of ecology and evolutionary biology have largely been written by white boys that speak the King’s English. These founders believed that species and ecosystems changed only very slowly over relatively long time frames. …


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NRDC 2019

As a nation we have passed a political tipping point. The effects of decades of divisive rhetoric from right wing media and craven zero-sum political manipulation of race and economics by the GOP will be with us for decades to come. With the election of Trump our nation has been consumed by the negativity of his corruption, denial of science, overt racism, outright lies, and steady stream of illiterate demagoguery.

The divisions in American culture are deeper than ever and unlikely to be healed by a general election. We have paid a horrific price for not standing up to tyranny when it became apparent that the GOP would do whatever is necessary to maintain minority rule and that major media outlets would support these efforts. Despite the political fallout from Black Lives Matter protests and the federal mismanagement of the pandemic, it remains entirely possible or even likely that Trump will be re-elected or that the November election process will be manipulated. …


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Graphic from The Conversation

Indelible in my memory is that day that I lost my political virginity. In March 2007 I was just beginning to deliver an invited talk on the science of climate change to a joint committee of the Florida legislature when a conservative senator rose from his seat and called me a charlatan and demanded that I be dismissed. I was asked to step down.

The good news is that I finished my talk on time. The bad news is that the Florida legislature made it abundantly clear that the topic of my talk would be censored. Only one newspaper in the state carried the incident, and the denial of science in Florida became even more extreme under the administration of Rick Scott, who banished the term “climate change” from official business. …


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Poster from the WPA

I am an economist. As a professional ecologist I have been trained in the economy of nature. It is only those economists that service the financial industry who treat the human economy as if it is separate from the economy of nature. Since the time of Adam Smith the evidence has been overwhelming that they are tragically wrong.

I continue to be impressed by the twisted economic logic that has been applied to the mitigation of climate change and now to the management of COVID-19. In both cases governments and the financial industry have acted on the assumption that growing the economy, or in the case of COVID-19 rebuilding it, will fix these problems. …


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Photo by Anthony Quintano, via Flckr

There are several parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, but perhaps the most disturbing is the intentional disregard of the value of human life in favor of money. This is hardly the first time since the end of WWII that money vs. lives has defined our daily lives. From the institutionalized denial of the damage from smoking tobacco, to the utter failure of the war on drugs, to the brutal promotion of addictive opiates by Big Pharma, financial gain by big corporations and wealthy individuals has defined the market based reality of modern existence. …


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Tropical storms forming near the Intertropical Convergence Zone (Wikipedia)

It is obvious that all weather now occurs in a human-altered climate. Thus, the question is not if a weather event has been caused by climate change, but rather which features of that event are attributable to climate change. Attribution is a rapidly growing branch of climate science that is showing us how features of extreme weather, floods, droughts, and fires are likely connected to climate change. As much as 30 percent of the mortality associated with the European heat wave of 2003 is attributable to climate warming.

Hurricane Dorian is indicative of how the features of cyclones can be attributed to anthropogenic climate change. Such attribution also applies to aspects of hurricanes Harvey, Florence, Irma, Michael, and superstorm Sandy. As reported last year by the National Science Foundation hurricanes worldwide are becoming slower, wetter, and stronger. The science about hurricanes is becoming increasingly definitive. It seems clear that such storms will be part of our future on the Atlantic coast of the United States. …


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Ocean City, MD, USA. Facing rapid sea level rise.

“The IPCC report demonstrates that it is still possible to keep the climate relatively safe, provided we muster an unprecedented level of cooperation, extraordinary speed, and heroic scale of action.”
— Mario Molina. 2018. IPCC Nobel Laureate

Science does not blink. The special report issued by the IPCC in October 2018 is unequivocal in its warnings. We are out of time to take action to reduce fossil fuel emissions. We must engage in steep and immediate reductions in emissions if we are to keep the global average temperature from exceeding 2˚C by the early part of the second half of this century. The popular discourse about how many years we may have remaining to take this action is immaterial to whether we might achieve this. …

About

Stephen Mulkey

Environmental scientist and educator; forest and climate change ecologist.

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