The Long Game: Facing Reality in the Environmental Century

170907084916-01-golf-wildfire-trnd-super-teaseGolfing while the mountains burn. Photo from Beacon Rock Golf Course.

Personally, I would rate the likelihood of staying under two degrees of warming as under 10 percent. – Michael Oppenheimer 2017

Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.  – Thomas Merton

Under a concrete sky on 5 November 2014, Michele and I awoke to realize that Paul LePage had been re-elected as governor of Maine. Once again, Mainers had split their votes three ways and LePage was elected by a minority of the voters to another four-year term. We were deeply disappointed because during his first term LePage had made clear his disdain for environmental concerns. Little did we know that the next few years would make LePage’s first term look like the good old days. Continue reading “The Long Game: Facing Reality in the Environmental Century”

Ecology, Loss, and Triage

Rainforest-burning-NASA-2014Amazonia burning. NASA Earth Observatory 2014

“I don’t think of all the misery, but of all the beauty that remains.”

–Anne Frank

On Sunday, 30 April 2017, the New York Times reported that global marine fisheries are being pushed to the brink. This and countless other imminent losses prompt me to once again point out that management of the global biosphere is necessary if we are to have any hope of controlling climate change and feeding ourselves. Human impacts on ecosystems are pushing the living planet into a new regime characterized by disrupted ecological relationships and accelerating extinctions on local, regional, and global scales. Ecological disruption causes ongoing positive feedbacks from widely-distributed natural sources of emissions, thus further disrupting the climate system. Globally, we are approaching a state of unmanageability on many fronts. Continue reading “Ecology, Loss, and Triage”

Carbon capture and sequestration the old fashioned way

Last week the mainstream media and many of the social media outlets hailed the experiment in Iceland that has demonstrated the ability to capture CO2 from the air and turn it into rock. The Guardian proclaimed “CO2 turned into stone in Iceland in climate change breakthrough” and the journal Science headlined “Inject baby, inject!”. A similar, highly engineered coal-fired power plant operating in Canada has struggled to show cost effectiveness. Science saluted the technology in Iceland as a breakthrough that if scaled up could rapidly sequester large quantities of climate-warming CO2.

Oh, really now? Continue reading “Carbon capture and sequestration the old fashioned way”

Curriculum for sustainability in the environmental century

This is the opening keynote address to the national conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education held in October 2015 in Minneapolis. Here I outline my argument for the curriculum reform necessary to meet the environmental and sustainability challenges of the coming decades.

I don’t know that my recommendations are the only path forward, but I assert that it is high time for higher education to get off its duff and embrace a new form of relevance. When I have presented these ideas at various institutions, I typically get nodding heads and smiling faces, and utterly no willingness, or perhaps ability, to act. The silos of our institutions have walls that are thick and high.

I offer the mirror test as a thought experiment for any administrator or faculty member who reads these words:

In ten years will you be able to look in the mirror and say with integrity and conviction that you did the best you could to bring about positive change and needed reform?

I am sure that some of you will think me preachy and overly righteous. Perhaps so. But, I believe that the purpose of our fine careers is not to be comfortable. We are afforded the highest privilege of civilized society. We are paid to be intellectuals, and we are asked to give back in the form of scholarship, research, teaching and outreach.

I am merely suggesting that we direct our efforts to addressing the greatest challenge in the history of our species.

This seems like a reasonable and timely proposition.

A positive vision for Maine: A knowledge-based adaptation economy

Presently the governor of Maine has proposed a tax on nonprofits. This would severely impact the private colleges and universities in the state.  Per my argument below, this is coming at a time when re-investment in higher education is absolutely essential if we are to develop the adaptive capacity to respond to climate change.  Moreover, the state’s public institutions that comprise the University of Maine system are presently in the process of financial meltdown.  The U Maine system requires broad scale systematic foundational restructuring if it is to survive.  
The blog below provides a plan for a better future for Maine.  Leaders in the state are not talking about the kind of foundational change that is needed, and this is my attempt to at least start the conversation.  A version of this will appear in the Maine press in the near future.  A later installment will detail exactly how a knowledge economy will make money for Maine
This morning a new report from the U Maine Climate Institute was released.   This report confirms that natural resources in Maine are under imminent threat from climate change.


A slow motion train wreck is underway in Maine. This collision will play out over the next few decades and leave the state with an increasingly damaged economy and devastated natural resources. An economy with fewer and fewer young workers is running headlong into the effects of climate change on our natural resources. Continue reading “A positive vision for Maine: A knowledge-based adaptation economy”