Switching from whiskey to beer and the false promise of woody biomass

For The Natural Resources Council of Maine

Stephen Mulkey, PhD
15 October 2016

The Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, a woody biomass power plant that uses waste wood near Gainesville, Florida

“Well planned sustainable biomass power plants are a viable source of clean renewable electricity, and this is helpful for the task of phasing out coal-fired power plants. Knee-jerk opposition to all biomass projects has no sound scientific basis and is harmful to attempts to stabilize climate for the sake of our children, grandchildren, and future generations.” — James Hansen, Climate Science Awareness and Solutions Program, Earth Institute, Columbia University Continue reading “Switching from whiskey to beer and the false promise of woody biomass”


Rules of Engagement for The Environmental Century

For The Natural Resources Council of Maine

Stephen Mulkey, PhD
30 August 2016

milky-way-for-ssmulkey-1The Milky Way from the Palouse near Moscow, ID. Photo by Marie Glynn. 2016. All rights reserved.

Avoiding catastrophic climate change will be the organizing principle for humanity for the next 30 years. – Joe Romm, Founder of Climate Progress, 2016

The International Geological Congress is poised to officially designate the present as part of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. I call the 21st century simply The Environmental Century, because this is the century when our species must face the transformation of our planet squarely as a responsible adult, rather than continue our adolescent demands for special treatment by the universe. As the consequences of our actions become apparent, the cozy blanket of normalcy bias is finally being shed. Like most adolescents, coming of age for humanity will be fraught with fear, pain, and the possibility of tragedy. Continue reading “Rules of Engagement for The Environmental Century”

Glacier Lake from Eagle Cap Trail Maybe

Approaching the Ecological Event Horizon

Stephen Mulkey, PhD
For The Natural Resources Council of Maine

15 September 2016

oregon-forest-mortality-2011View from Tam McArthur Rim of lodgepole pine and whitebark pine killed by mountain pine beetle within the prior 10 years, Deschutes County, OR, in the Deschutes National Forest, September 2011. (Photo: Garrett Meigs, Oregon State University)

“If looking into the sun may cause blindness, then human insights into nature entail a terrible price.” – Andrew Glickson, Australian National University, 2014

“If we don’t act soon, there will only be tiny remnants of wilderness around the planet, and this is a disaster for conservation, for climate change, and for some of the most vulnerable human communities on the planet.” James Watson, University of Queensland, 2016


This past July, I had the privilege of backpacking in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness with two extraordinary young adults, Andrew and Sachi, who call me Dad. A curse of being an ecologist is that I sometimes see things that others don’t, and these things are often alarming. Continue reading “Approaching the Ecological Event Horizon”


The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Climate Change, and The Public Trust

Stephen Mulkey, PhD
For The Natural Resources Council of Maine

30 August 2016

_XYZ6725The Maine North Woods, Mark Picard / NRCM


On Wednesday, 24 August 2016, President Obama designated a large parcel of Maine’s North Woods as the nation’s newest federal parkland. Many environmental groups and environmentally inclined citizens have worked diligently for several years to create the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. These 87,500 acres were donated by Roxanne Quimby, a founder of the Burt’s Bees product line. The gift included a promised contribution of $40 million to support operations of the park. A gift of this magnitude is in the finest tradition of grand philanthropic giving to the National Park Service and is a much-needed boost to the chronically depressed economy of Maine. Although the benefits of preserving this area are manifold in the near to immediate term, I submit that the greatest value will be its ongoing contribution to our ability to respond to climate change. Continue reading “The Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Climate Change, and The Public Trust”

Mossy Chaos copy

The Value of Carbon Capture and Sequestration as an Ecosystem Service

For The Natural Resources Council of Maine

Mossy Chaos copy
Evidence of chloroplasts doing their job of carbon capture and sequestration in service of the exquisite plants in the Olympic Range of Washington. (Photo courtesy of S. Mulkey)

“Carbon dioxide is natural. It is not harmful. It is part of Earth’s lifecycle.”
Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) speaking in the House on Earth Day 2009

 “Essentially these communities of organisms are our life support system.” Hal Mooney, Achilles Professor of Environmental Biology, Stanford University, 2011


Over thirty years of industry-sponsored disinformation has compounded the public’s lack of scientific understanding of how our planet works. I recall the time in 2007 when I visited Florida Senator Bill Nelson’s office in Washington to speak on behalf of a doomed energy bill. A few minutes into my pitch, I realized that the young staffers dutifully taking notes did not understand that plants can affect the CO2 concentration of the atmosphere because they remove CO2 from the air. I was happy to explain photosynthesis and point out that every molecule of carbon in our bodies had been taken from the atmosphere by a plant before it entered the food web.

Public understanding of the profound disruption of the carbon balance of Earth should be as commonplace as our knowledge of influenza or how to drive a car. But, it is hardly fair to blame the public for scientific illiteracy when scientists use opaque jargon and doublespeak. Continue reading “The Value of Carbon Capture and Sequestration as an Ecosystem Service”

The integrity of ecosystems

For The Natural Resources Council of Maine

“An essential paradox of wilderness conservation is that we seek to preserve what must change.”  — Steward Pickett and P.S. White 1985

“We must focus our attention on the rates at which changes occur, understanding that certain changes are natural, desirable, and acceptable, while others are not.”  — Daniel Botkin 1990


We have arrived at a point in history when it is clear that we have the responsibility for the survival of countless species of plants and animals. Continue reading “The integrity of ecosystems”