The scientific narrative about the climate and biosphere is mostly useless

Stephen Mulkey
9 min readMay 12, 2019
Photo by the author

If we fail to change course, it will take millions of years for Earth to recover an equivalent spectrum of biodiversity. Future generations of people will live in a biologically impoverished world. — A Global Deal for Nature. Dinerstein et al. 2019.

Like war thinking and money thinking, the problem with carbon reductionism is that it reduces “everything matters” to “one thing matters.” — Charles Eisenstein. Climate — A New Story 2019

For much of my professional life I have been a research ecologist, specializing in carbon relations of plants in tropical forest. As such, the impacts of climate change and deforestation have been apparent to me for over 30 years. Like many scientists who are even passingly familiar with the state of the biosphere, I am desperately alarmed at the decimation of our planet’s biodiversity and the ever-expanding extractive consumerism that is the foundation of the global economy.

The recent report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), despite its terrible name, puts this in stark terms noting that society must radically change or face progressive collapse of the ecosystem services that underpin civilization. Although the biodiversity crisis is presently driven by habitat destruction (especially through the expansion of agriculture) and depletion of natural resources, climate change will soon become a major driver of ecosystem disruption worldwide. Over a half-million terrestrial species and up to a third of marine corals and mammals are at risk. If left unchecked, climate change and biodiversity loss will end the present version of civilization.

It is not a question of if, but rather when, this confluence of crises will disrupt the flows of energy and materials through societies.

For decades awareness of these facts has had little effect. We lament the state of the planet and worry about what will happen, but there has been no fundamental change in human affairs. The capitalist juggernaut seemingly grows more invincible with every passing year. The Trump administration has pulled out all the stops on the fossil fuel driven economy. Beginning in 1970, the EPA was a model of environmental protection for the rest of…

Stephen Mulkey

Environmental scientist and educator; forest and climate change ecologist.