As the world celebrates Earth Day and the signing of the Paris Climate Accord, as well as the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl and the 5th of Fukushima, I write this to summarize some of my thoughts and beliefs that have evolved over the past 40+ years. I have been very fortunate to have had incredible teachers, mentors, and colleagues, and friends who encouraged me to not only read and learn, but to think holistically about the environment and the sciences that defined my lifetime academic career.
This serious reflection began, when Susan and I were at a special dinner engagement. I was talking to a couple from San Diego who were visiting their daughter going to HSU. The woman said I looked familiar, and (what happens a lot) we figured out she took a class from me at College of the Redwoods in 1975. She said I, and the class, had a tremendous impact on her life; mainly because she had written a paper for the class on which I had given her an “A.” She went on to explain the significance of this in so many ways. The title of the project was “global warming and climate change.” Now this was 1975, pre-Internet, and pre-Al Gore! The only way to do research then was to go to the library and physically search through the available scientific journals and published papers. There were no books written about this, though she remembers being overwhelmed by the amount of “scientific” material available. The consensus she concluded was that the burning of fossil fuels, namely oil, coal, and natural gas, released excess carbon into the atmosphere that impacted the heat exchange balances in the global environment; and this man-made activity threatened serious known and unknown changes that could impact our current civilization. All this research was coming from the top scientists at most of the global oil companies and trade associations, with little coming from governments or NGO entities.
Fast forward to today, or actually 1990, when the first UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report came out actually delineating the magnitude of causes and impacts of climate change. I was extremely interested, since I had a tiny part in the writing of this huge document (my colleague Peter and I were hired to researched potential aspects of renewable energy…I looked into hydrogen.) I remember watching the Today Show when a spokesman for the ICPP tried to summarize the enormous diversity of information in under three minutes. The program then shifted to another scientist who basically said all HIS research proved that the IPCC was totally wrong and they were just trying to scare people. This was the infamous Pat Michaels, then a professor at the University of Maryland, later at University of Virginia, and now chief spokesman for the Heritage Foundation. He was/is one of the 3% or so of “experts” who have received millions of dollars from Exxon/Mobil, the Koch Brothers, The American Petroleum Institute, etc. to lie, misconstrue, mis-state…whatever it takes/took to confuse and brainwash the public as to the real dangers of climate change, and the positive, economically and socially benefiting ways it could be mitigated.
This was the beginning, and it’s all coming to light today, with not only Exxon/Mobil, but Shell, BP, most of the fossil trade organizations, and a myriad of “non-profit” policy associations slowly being identified and called out for their callous terrorist actions on the global population. It truly is the “greatest hoax on mankind.” All to protect profits. A handful of individuals…the Kochs, Lee Raymond, Roy Tillerson, and other big money conservatives pooled their wealth and power and literally bought and paid politicians, the media, and anyone else they felt they could use…it’s pretty well laid out in the recent very interesting book “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer.
My student and I talked some time about this…it is so overwhelming. That paper in my class had a huge impact. The concept of how chemicals in our environment can impact life processes led her to eventually get a Master’s in chemistry and a 30-year career in environmental chemistry work. Her husband is a medical researcher, and their daughter is studying natural resources at HSU.
Does a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil impact us here on the Northcoast? What if I had given her a “C” on the paper?