The Pandemic and Climate Change: The Connection

The pandemic is humanity’s wake up call.  So, too, is climate change.  The world has experienced a pandemic not seen in a 100 years.  No country has been spared from disease.  Travelers from one country with high rates of Covid have caused outbreaks in counties with low rates of infection.  A delta Covid variant that is more transmissible and deadly has spread from India, where only 5% of people have been vaccinated.  Until all countries work together and achieve high vaccination rates the pandemic will be difficult to bring under control.

At the same time the Pacific Northwest has set numerous temperature records, as high as 121 degrees, since record keeping began nearly a hundred years ago.  A heat wave of this magnitude is a one in a 1,000 year event according to a recent analysis by a team of climate scientists (See   Such temperature extremes, fires and floods have been occurring all over the world, in the last two decades.  The alarms have been off for some time.

Greenhouse gases, like the virus, recognize no borders.  The emissions from one country affect the entire world.  As with the pandemic, it will be impossible to bring climate change under control unless all countries work together and reduce emissions.  Humanity has received its wake up calls.  Whether we wake up in time is still an open question.


The Average Temperature of the World Continues to Rise

The average temperature of the world continues to rise due to increasing levels of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions.  Our planet’s history shows that temperatures are highly correlated with carbon dioxide levels.

Small changes in carbon dioxide have large impacts on earth’s climate. Carbon dioxide levels are 25% higher than observed in 800,000 years and the temperature is higher and accelerating faster than in the past 2,000 years. As a result the science shows that there are now more intense droughts, forest fires, and hurricanes. Such events, due to human induced climate change, will become worse in the future, having significant impacts to planetary life and human survival. Millions of species and entire ecosystems are in great jeopardy because it will be impossible to adapt to ever increasing temperatures.

The best scientific assessments, published, and extensively peer reviewed, indicate that ecosystems and agriculture will be irreversibly damaged if average temperatures rise more than about 3 degrees Centigrade.  To stay within a 2 degree rise, projections show that net carbon emissions must be decreased by nearly 100% in just the next 30 years. Yet world fossil fuel consumption continues to rise.  Temperatures already have risen one degree since 1990 and the planet is on track to equal or exceed the 2-3 degree maximum target by 2050.

Imagine a planet where droughts, floods, and human starvation continues for thousands of years and hundreds of human generations.  As the oceans rise from loss of glacial ice, populations in shore cities around the world will be forced to move creating large migrations.   As conditions become more dire there will be economic, social, and political collapse.

Polls show that the public is certainly concerned about global warming and the majority of people want action.  More scientists must become advocates, clearly communicating to the media that we only have a decade or two to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.  Realistic economic and political solutions to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, such as a carbon tax that would be given to Americans as a tax credit, must be promoted.  We have little time left.  The time for action and speaking out is now.


Climate Change: The Defining Challenge of the 21st Century

Recently, I gave a talk on “Climate Change:  The Defining Challenge of the 21st Century” at Northwestern University and Loyola.  The primary message was as follows: unless politicians and world governments move quickly, climate change will become irreversible.  People must get involved (see Bill McKibben and  It is possible to bring carbon emissions down to the necessary 80% reduction level by 2050, but time is getting away from us.  Still, the planet will warm likely greater than the two degrees centigrade, causing coral reefs to be largely exterminated and we will experience severe drought, wires, famine, and more intense storms.  Find ways to lower your energy use.  By doing so, you will save money and possibly the planet.


The Climate Crisis is Now

A climate crisis is upon us. The historical drought, fires, and temperature shattering records of 2012 are not due to a natural weather cycle.  This year follows the worst drought and fires in Texas during 2011 that caused a 5 billion dollar loss in agricultural and property damage in an single state.  NOAA scientists, who have some of the top climate scientists in the world, determined that there was just one chance in 20 that the Texas drought was natural. They concluded it was the result of human induced climate change.  For more than 20 years, every scientific assessment has concluded that our world will have more severe weather events just like we are having now unless we reduced our greenhouse gas emissions from use of fossil fuels. But we continue to use more fossil fuels every year.

Driving across the western U.S. you see vast tracks of corn, stunted, and brown.  The ears of corn are almost non-existent in many locations.  The absence of corn is not simply due to lack of water, but because corn cannot pollinate well when temperatures soar above 100 degrees.  Then there are the fires, which may be the worst in U.S. history.  In Colorado Springs, 450 homes were destroyed as flames swept down at 60 miles per hour having consumed dried out forests.  As you walk through the neighborhood, you can feel the homeowners’ sadness, looking upon the small memorials made of personal items that survived the fire.  The burned out remains of a coal powered air conditioner is a reminder that our choice of electrical energy is damaging our lives and those of future generations.  Yet on the Midwestern plains, groups of wind generators majestically turn against the blue sky.

We have a choice.  Business as usual, where our world energy will be dominated by damaging fossil fuels or one powered clean renewable wind and solar.  Romney’s energy plan is for coal, against renewable energy, and will curtail EPA’s authority to control damaging greenhouse gas omissions.  Large wind companies such as Vestas are laying off workers because the Republican controlled Congress has not renewed a tax break for wind generation.  Coal and oil companies have received massive tax breaks for decades.  Obama, who said on September 6th that “climate change is not a hoax”, strongly supports renewable energy and transition fuels such as natural gas.  The election is about many choices and directions, but it is also about the energy path we shall take and the world our children will live in.


Kauai’s Renewable Energy Future

The Garden Island News of Kaua’i published the following on December 9, 2011.

The energy conference hosted by Kaua’i Economic Development Board this Tuesday made clear once again that Kaua’i can obtain the majority of its energy from sun, wind and water. The planned goal is to have 70% renewable energy production by 2030.

Kaua’i can do better than 70% renewable and do it much sooner for its electrical power. Goals of 50% renewable within five years (2017) and 90% renewable in eight years (2020) are readily achievable. There are great advantages in having shorter time horizons. People will save money sooner. Centralized solar voltaics and wind generated power are cheaper than the oil produced electrical power produced on Kaua’i which as everyone knows is by far the most costly in the nation. By having a more aggressive near term renewable goal, planning and installation of renewable energy must begin now, and not put off many years into the distant future. To meet either the 50 and 90% renewable goals, every year should have a sizable 10-12% annual target.

As a environmental scientist who has studied and lectured on climate change for many years, we have only a limited time, perhaps just a decade, to begin bringing our global warming greenhouse gases under control. The longer we delay environmental damage, such as to our sensitive coral reefs, will become irreversible. Because Kaua’i is blessed with abundant solar and wind resources, there is nothing stopping Kaua’i and the state from becoming the nation’s and world’s model for renewable energy. We can all recall that it was commitment to a powerful vision and persistent political will that got us to the moon in less than decade. We can do the same for renewable energy on Kauai.


Kauai and Climate Change

Kauai and Climate Change

The magical Garden Island of Kauai is calling me again, this time for six months or more. One of the few places left on this earth where the natural beauty, tranquility, and people can come into perfect balance. You get up with the sun, pass by a dozen waterfalls, run barefoot on the beach, take a swim, crawl under an umbrella with the noon sun day beaming overhead, as a cool breeze blows. It is as close as humans get to nature’s paradise. (Of course through meditation paradise can be found going inward….but that is a topic for another time).

Back to Kauai to wrap up a book, start another one, and see what it might be like to live in a place overlooking the Pacific Ocean, while the humpback whales play and give birth in their wintering place. Then to my beach…Ke’e beach…at the end of the road where you can see endless ocean to the west or the magnificent, rugged Na Pali coastline to the south…or swim with gentle sea turtles while snorkeling. And yes, it is possible to still do environmental consulting!

Yet climate change is happening rapidly and Kauai cannot escape it. Paradise is on borrowed time. We know for a fact that coral reefs are rapidly dying off due to greenhouse gases that spew from our gas guzzling cars or the fossil fuel power plants that produce the electricity that light our homes. In two generations most of the reefs and fishes they support will be gone on Kauai…and sadly all over the world. Likely, the dozen or more waterfalls that spring forward after a Kauai rain on the north side will be fewer in number as world rainfall patterns shift. Texas experienced the worst drought, temperatures and fires in history….exactly what is expected with climate change decades into the future. Yet it is already happening now. And there will be more droughts, floods, crop losses, and disease. All because humanity does not have the will to combat the pollution causing climate change, which will leave future generations an irreversibly degraded world.

Al Gore Group Photo

So my last environmental cause will be giving lectures on climate change and making people aware of the issue….like the great champion Al Gore is doing… whom I had the pleasure to hear and meet recently. Turn off your TVs, get off the sofa, and do something to make the environment a better place for your children’s, children’s children.

For more climate change information see


The Gulf Oil Spill: What Lessons Can We Learn?

The Gulf oil spill was inevitable. With a long history of safety violations, BP ignored standard practices and cut corners drilling the Macondo Project well a mile below the water’s surface. The Minerals Management Service of the Department of Interior, which simply rubber stamped oil company procedures, had inadequate oversight of the drilling operation. Once the blowout preventer failed, there were no reliable solutions to quickly contain and capture the oil from the damaged well head. BP and the Coast Guard did not have a sufficient plan to deal with such a massive oil spill. The oil industry and the federal government did not have the equipment, and still does not sufficient equipment, to recover the floating oil to mitigate the ecological damage that will likely last decades.

To avoid future disasters, until reliable solutions are found and implemented, a moratorium on deep-ocean well drilling needs to remain in place. Blowout preventers are not always reliable, especially in deep waters. In sensitive artic ocean areas, the U.S., Canada, Norway, and Greenland require wells to have a relief well drilled simultaneously, rather than after the fact. Significant resources must also be immediately available for future accidents, such as tanker size skimmers, that can quickly recover large quantities of oil and reduce the need for toxic dispersants.

However, having just technical fixes to prevent future oil spills misses the most important lesson to be learned. Continuing our heavy use of oil and other fossil fuels is the wrong pathway. High risk wells are being drilled because the world is running out of oil. Our society and national interests are dominated by our need for oil that is now being used at a rate faster than it is being found. As a limited non-renewable fossil fuel, in a decade or two, oil will become even more difficult to find and even more expensive. Vast amounts of oil money will continue to go to nations that do not always share our interests.

Any nation that continues to rely on imported oil, as the U.S. does for transportation, will have its national security constantly under threat. This has led James Woolsey, former CIA director, to state that the U.S. must remove oil as a strategic national issue ( He argues, as do many others, that we need to continue to increase mileage standards for automobiles; require cars to be made that can use other fuels besides gasoline; increase the manufacture and use of hybrid and fully electric cars; and convert trucks and buses to natural gas, which is abundant in our country.

Our nation must have a long-term energy policy that will move us away from our dependency on oil and other non-renewable fossil fuels. Climate change, due to fossil fuel usage, is already occurring and will continue to become more severe leading to agricultural impacts, more frequent floods, and intense hurricanes. There is a significant economic cost in waiting to reduce to fossil fuel usage and delaying renewable energy sources. Over 80% of our energy comes from fossil fuels, yet the science shows that we will need to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% in just 40 years to have a livable planet for future generations. Unless there is a strong political and societal commitment, similar to the 10 year moon shot program implemented in the 1960s’, there will be more oil spills, climate change, and a lower quality of life for all. We have an opportunity to learn from the Gulf spill and we need to learn quickly.


Moon Mission: Sustainability for the Future

Dr. Milton Clark has started a collaboration with Worlds Nest in Taos, New Mexico, an organization devoted to sustainability ( Other than world peace, there is no other more important goal for humanity than to ensure the sustainability of the earth for future generations. Under Rober Plarr’s visionary direction, Worlds Nest has assembled a team of scientists and engineers to develop energy saving ideas and to promote green technology. With a population expected to increase by 50% in 50 years so will the demand for resources including water, food, and energy. A major change in direction away from fossil fuel use is needed to combat global warming. This will only happen if the nation commits to a focused research program, similar to that developed by President Kennedy to reach the moon, where the most efficient new energy technologies can be developed and implemented in less than a decade. Without a major commitment now it will be very difficult and costly to stop global warming and future generations will face a degraded world.

On August 10, 2007, Dr. Milton Clark presented a seminar “Moon Mission: Toward a Sustainable Future” at Worlds Nest, which outlines obstacles and solutions to key environmental problems. To download the presentation go to Peter White’s website,


Taking Action on Global Warming

In an editorial, “Taking Action on Global Warming”, Dr. Milton Clark is urging scientists to speak up on global warming concerns. Global warming has now become the ethical and moral environmental issue of our times. Not only is global warming already occurring, it is proceding at a rapid rate. Aggressive actions need to commence now, and must be well underway within the next decade, in order to reverse the rapid buidup of greenhouse gases. The National Academies of Sciences from the G-8, China, India and Brazil stated that the science of global warming was“sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action”. As a society we must engage in a comprehensive science and engineering approach similiar to that which John F. Kennedy proposed to reach the moon.

See Editorial PDF:


Global Warming Address

Dr. Milton Clark give a talk on “Global Warming: The Science, Impacts, and Strategies” to a large audience on June 16. The science is clear. Global warming is occurring and human beings are primarily responsible. The debate is over.

Warming in the Arctic is taken place at a rapid rate (just as predicted) with a temperature increase already of 5 degrees with impacts on infrastructure as permafrost melts and also effects on ecosystems and wildlife. Aggressive strategies are needed within the next ten years, otherwise a tipping point may be reached where it will be extremely difficult to reverse a runaway greenhouse effect. A Moon Shot NASA style project needs to undertaken now where the best energy efficiency technologies and energy sources (e.g., hydrogen, nuclear, renewable) are developed and placed into wide usage. Global warming has now become an ethical and moral issue since we know that future generations will have a lower quality of life if we fail to address this issue now.

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