[Updated June 1, 2012.] This is an open letter to Maine commmunities to help you understand why I have developed my 2-hour lecture and 12-hour seminar about abrupt climate change, and why they are important and relevant to your community.
The bottom line is that by mid-century or before, and continuing far beyond 2100, because of abrupt, chaotic and extreme climate change that can no longer be stopped, Earth will effectively become a different planet. Food production – and much else – in most regions of the world will be greatly hampered.
I’m willing to be wrong about my prognosis; on most levels, I hope that I am. But evidence is increasing daily, indeed, accelerating, that my view – a synthesis of the work of many scientists – is correct. The bizarre, extreme weather in 2011 and the beginning of 2012 in Maine and across the US and Earth is just the beginning of more drastic changes to come more quickly than most are expecting, let alone prepared for. As a society, we have not yet grasped the scale, speed and severity of the changes probably coming our way.
But the good news is that although Maine will not be spared from huge changes, it is a good place to be relative to most of the ‘lower’ 48 United States. And my motivation for teaching this seminar – and others that extend from it – is that if we understand what is coming, we can prepare and make the transition far more effectively. This is especially important for those with children in their lives, because they will face the biggest changes.
Yet the mainstream media, policy makers and even most climate scientists (like those of the IPCC) are not helping us achieve a full and accurate understanding of what we face. (The reasons for that are complex, and I discuss them in the seminar.) Therefore, I am working to share this information with Maine communities so that they can understand and better prepare for the future. I have also begun collaboration with several professional counselors – one of whom deals explicitly with issues of denial and despair – to develop ways to help us move past those so that we can accomplish what needs to be done quickly – shock-proofing our systems to meet our basic needs – because time is of the essence.
By synthesizing ideas that I have studied and taught for over a decade, I have developed this seminar – Climate 101 : Understanding Abrupt Climate Change Using System Sciences and Geophysiology – to help people who are not scientists as well as scientists and educators understand these issues. It offers crucial perspectives that – for reasons explained below – are not yet available in this integrated format anywhere else, including Maine colleges and universities. I’ve designed it as a 12-hour seminar that can be offered as a weekend intensive or stretched over several weeks. I can also offer versions ranging from 6 to 15 hours or more, followed by more advanced seminars.
The seminar explains abrupt climate change using easy-to-understand principles of system sciences and geophysiology, the scientific study of Earth as a self-regulating system called Gaia, without which one cannot fully understand climate change. Gaia theory and geophysiology – or “planetary physiology”, sometimes called Earth Systems Science – are science, not religion or mysticism. They are studied and taught in Britain and parts of Europe at major educational institutions and prestigious climate research institutions. The concepts taught in the seminar are understandable – rationally and intuitively – by adults with any background, including no science, and will significantly expand one’s understanding of how human systems, nature and life work.
Briefly, Gaia is the name that James Lovelock and the late Lynn Margulis – founders of Gaia theory – gave to Earth’s planetary-scale metabolism (complex chemistry like occurs in our cells) and homeostasis, the automatic self-regulation of the temperature and chemical composition of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, that works much like your homeostasis that automatically maintains your temperature, pressure, and the chemical composition of your body, like water, sugars, fats, amino acids, hormones, antibodies, salts, etc. In the seminar, I briefly describe those in terms of organisms like humans, then encourage one to “scale up the ideas” to understand Gaia. (A longer essay by me about Gaia is here.)
Other concepts in the seminar from system sciences required to understand Gaia and climate change include:
- feedback, both negative (stabilizing) and positive (accelerating), the latter causing extremely rapid changes in system behavior called phase transitions at critical thresholds (or ‘tipping points’);
- nonlinearity : I use images to graphically illustrate what that means and why it’s important;
- system (attractor) states : systems do not behave in just any way, but demonstrate relatively few, discrete behavioral states. For Earth, that’s cold (ice ages), warm (interglacials, like now) and hot (coming); there are no stable “in between” states;
- the theory of emergence (‘the whole is greater than a sum of its parts’) and non-equilibrium thermodynamics, or NET, the science of energy, energy gradients and energy flows necessary for life.
(More on those ideas and other principles of system sciences is here.)
Those ideas sound technical, but they are easy to understand rationally and intuitively for most adults, even those with no science background. And they apply to virtually every kind of system at every size scale. However, these principles are not yet available in most colleges and universities below the graduate level, and rarely – if ever – in the integrated fashion that I offer that are necessary to grasp the ‘big picture’ of Gaia and climate change. The reasons for their absence in education are complex, but include that universities – like science for the last 200 years – have compartmentalized into separate disciplines like physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, anthropology, economics, medicine, etc, with specialized principles and languages that are often not applicable outside of their purview. Further, most faculty are trained in reductionism (taking systems apart to study them) and mechanism (looking at nature as a ‘machine’), but lack adequate training in system sciences.
Lovelock – and Margulis until her recent untimely death – are rare scientists that deeply understand systems, who knew that Gaia cannot be understood using reductionism (alone) and mechanism. They have both argued that climate change is really only a symptom of a much more important problem: disruption of Earth’s metabolism and homeostasis by human activities. Unless we understand Gaia as something that is effectively alive – at least to the extent that it self-regulates (but is not conscious like us) – then we will miss that more important point. If we are to live sustainably on Earth, we must understand Gaia – rationally and intuitively – and make it one of the core ideas of our cultures.
Finally, here is a bit of background about me. I am an independent educator, not associated with any school or institution (by choice; feel free to ask why). I earned a PhD in ecology and evolution from University of New Mexico in 1990, after which I taught college biology and mathematics full time for 7 years before becoming an independent educator teaching principles of system sciences, life sciences, geophysiology and climate change.
In 2001, I founded a small, independent academy in Oregon where I taught these ideas for ten years before migrating to Maine in 2010 (again, for complex reasons). More about my background is available here.
I earn my living teaching this and related seminars and courses. I set my fees on a self-determined, sliding scale to make them available to as many as possible. Whereas my introductory overview lecture is free, my requested minimum fee for the full, 12-hour seminar is $75, but I invite larger contributions so that I can offer scholarships. Thus, if you are unable to pay $75 but want to attend, please contact me about scholarship information.
I have offered my seminar in Maine three times so far – in Lewiston, Skowhegan and Brooks. [Update: May 3: I’ve now offered it an additional 3 times in Waterville and Dexter; I am about to start two more in Waterville. More are in the works for summer, 2012.] It has received strong positive reviews. Even though some of the news is not good, I promise you an interesting, engaging set of presentations that will change your understanding of just about everything, including life itself, and help you understand how to better move into the future. If you have questions about it – topics, format, etc – or if you would like to read some reviews and/or communicate about it with some former participants, please contact me.
Alder Stone Fuller