Diminishing Options and The Climate Endgame

One of the strongest hurricanes on record, Ivan, was photographed on September 11, 2004 from an altitude of about 230 miles by NASA Astronaut Edward M. (Mike) Fincke. At the time, Ivan was in the western Caribbean Sea and reported to have winds of 160 mph.

“Make no mistake: The election of Donald Trump could be devastating for our climate and our future.” Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club, November 2016

“This world is your world but that doesn’t mean you can always stop it from burning.”
― Oli Anderson from Personal Revolutions: A Short Course in Realness 2016

There are many uncertainties about how the new administration will govern beginning on 20 January 2017, but it is all too clear that addressing climate change will not be on the agenda. Continue reading “Diminishing Options and The Climate Endgame”

The Election and A Call to Service in The Anthropocene

Stephen Mulkey, PhD
4 November 2016

heather-webHeather at peace. Photo: S. Mulkey, Lakes Basin, The Eagle Cap Wilderness

“Elections have consequences.” – Barack Obama, 5 November 2008.

“Donald Trump can fool a lot of people, but you can’t fool Mother Nature.” Jacob Scherr, an attorney who is the former director of the international climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, 3 October 2016.

Climate change is complex. Within the scientific community, there is a broad consensus about its reality and cause, but experts hold a range of opinions about its impacts and how to address it. As any public scientist can tell you, it is hard to articulate a simple and compelling description of how the change of a few hundred parts per million of a trace gas can lead to potentially catastrophic consequences. Although complex in its interactions with natural systems, it is broadly correct to say that climate change presently amplifies the ongoing disruption of the biosphere driven by the forces of habitat destruction and extractive use of natural resources. By midcentury and beyond it will increasingly be a primary driver of the global transformation of ecosystems. The changes ensuing over this and coming centuries will be tectonic, but this message of scientific complexity and consequences does not play well in Peoria. Once again, the US political process has not made understanding this most critical of issues a prerequisite for the job of president. Continue reading “The Election and A Call to Service in The Anthropocene”

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”

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”

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”

What qualifies as scientific authority?

For The Natural Resources Council of Maine

“Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change,” Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH)

“…this 97% [of climate scientists accepting human-caused global warming], that doesn’t mean anything.” Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)

“Reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Stephen Colbert, satirist

studies_consensussource Skeptical Science 
Continue reading “What qualifies as scientific authority?”