Our legacy to future generations
Dr. Philip Duffy, President & Executive Director
I am haunted by the thought that climate policy decisions made in the next couple of decades will have profound and irreversible consequences lasting thousands of years. This is especially true if those decisions are made by defaulting to business as usual. Without strong action immediately, we could very soon commit to the ultimate melting of the Greenland ice sheet and of parts of the Antarctic ice sheet, which would result (eventually) in enormous amounts of sea level rise. We might also commit to large-scale thawing of permafrost, and resulting uncontrollable emissions of greenhouse gases. Any of these outcomes would literally alter the landscape and result in the displacement of many millions of people, including here in the US.
I suspect that the public may not grasp the urgency of addressing climate change. Public opinion polls on the subject, which are otherwise very thorough, don’t seem to address the issue of urgency. Maybe the pollsters don’t get it either! This lack of understanding is disastrous from a policy point of view. The idea that if we don’t fix climate change now we can always fix it later could not be more wrong.
Decisions whose consequences span generations, as those involving climate change do, are inherently problematical from a policy point of view. This was discussed in a remarkable “Perspective” published on February 8 in Nature Climate Change: “Decisions being made today will have profound and permanent consequences for future generations as well as for the planet; yet future generations are not part of today’s decision making, and today’s decision makers do not have to live with most consequences of their decisions.” It doesn’t help that economists “discount” the economic value of harms that happen in the future. As the authors of the Perspective write, “Discount rates may describe the economic view of how much we are willing to pay, but they do not answer the deeper moral and ethical questions of how much we should pay.”
The scientific community has perhaps done a disservice by focusing on impacts that will occur prior to 2100. The Perspective continues, “The scientific emphasis on the expected climate changes by 2100, which was originally driven by past computational capabilities, has created a misleading impression in the public arena – the impression that human-caused climate change is a twenty-first-century problem, and that post-2100 changes are of secondary importance, or may be reversed with emissions reductions at that time.”
It’s probably not too late now to successfully control climate change, but it will be soon if we don’t act very forcefully. Coincidentally, the window of time we have to act – 10 or 20 years – is about as long as I can expect to remain professionally useful. The recently concluded Paris Agreement is humanity’s best hope for controlling the problem. Beyond focusing the work of WHRC on making the agreement a success, I am dedicating myself personally to this end. We cannot succeed without your support, and I hope that you will stand by us as we ramp up our efforts.
The Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE)
ABoVE is a major, ten-year NASA campaign to study environmental change in western North America. With a better understanding of the vulnerability and resilience of the Arctic and boreal ecosystems to a changing environment, scientists will provide a basis for informing decision makers for responses at local, regional and international levels. The ABoVE campaign is an $8-million per year effort, and $12 million during two years of aircraft campaigns in 2017 and 2019. The overall science team leader of the ABoVE program is WHRC Senior Scientist and Deputy Director Scott Goetz.
Last month, Dr. Goetz chaired the second ABoVE science team meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. A cross-cut of the ABoVE science team (including WHRC scientists Sue Natali and Brendan Rogers) and a wide range of stakeholder organizations were represented. The latter includes a diversity of federal and Alaskan state agencies, universities, NGOs and native groups. According to Dr. Goetz, “Great progress was made advancing collaborative activities and leveraging the many resource management and research activities already going on in the state.” One component of the meeting focused on science team working sessions to advance plans that include where teams will be conducting field work, where aircraft-based sensors will be flown to collect data, which satellite observations will be tasked for coincident observations, and many other integrated project components. The next ABoVE meeting in May will take place in the Northwest Territories with a focus on Canadian stakeholder organizations. As Dr. Goetz puts it, “ABoVE is not only off the ground but is approaching cruising altitude.”
Fulbright scholarship awarded to WHRC scientist
Assistant Scientist Marcia N. Macedo has been awarded a J. William Fulbright Scholarship to advance her work in the Brazilian Amazon. The Fulbright Program is the US government’s flagship international exchange program; its Scholar Program provides opportunities to deepen the recipient’s expertise, work with additional resources and serve as a cultural ambassador. Dr. Macedo is the third WHRC scientist to receive the prestigious Fulbright, whose previous recipients were Drs. Scott Goetz and Michael Coe.
Using a combination of remote sensing, field observations and statistical modeling, Dr. Macedo studies land-use change in the tropics. Under the Fulbright scholarship, she will spend six months in Brazil to launch a new research initiative with partners at the University of Brasília (UnB) and the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), WHRC’s long-time Brazilian collaborator. During her stay, she will quantify greenhouse gas emissions from small reservoirs, originally constructed to provide drinking water for cattle. Dr. Macedo will divide her time between Brasília and Tanguro Ranch, a research station in the state of Mato Grosso.
Dr. Macedo’s previous work has shown that there some 10,000 small reservoirs in the Amazon’s upper Xingu watershed, but little is known about their cumulative greenhouse gas emissions. Her Fulbright project will provide the first estimates of methane and carbon dioxide fluxes from small reservoirs in the Amazon and will determine whether they are globally important sources of emissions. Her study will be used as the basis for collaborative research to quantify net annual fluxes from reservoirs and develop strategies for their regulation and management in emerging agricultural frontiers.
“This scholarship provides an exciting opportunity to sink my teeth into a research question we’ve been thinking about for years,” says Dr. Macedo. “My six-month stay will allow me to collect new field data, work with world-class biogeochemists at UnB, and strengthen our existing collaborations with IPAM at the interface of science and policy. And,” she adds, “I’d also like to learn to play the Brazilian pandeiro!”
An ecosystem ecologist, Dr. Macedo is interested in understanding the causes of human-induced land change and its consequences for aquatic ecosystems. She earned her M.Sc. in Sustainable Development & Conservation Biology from the University of Maryland and her Ph.D. in Ecology, Evolution, & Environmental Biology from Columbia University. She was a postdoctoral fellow at WHRC before becoming an assistant scientist in 2013.
Field notes from the Amazon
This winter, in collaboration with colleagues from MBL and IPAM, the WHRC Amazon Team has been at Tanguro Ranch in Mato Grosso, Brazil, to launch a new National Science Foundation-funded project. Twenty scientists, including many new students and postdoctoral fellows, took part in the start of a large multi-year project. This field campaign marked the first in a series of experimental nutrient additions designed to understand how excess fertilizer is processed by tropical streams, as well as the role of riparian forests in filtering nutrient runoff.
Coastal and Ocean Acidification Forum at WHRC
A forum on Coastal and Ocean Acidification, whose hosts include US Congressman Bill Keating and Massachusetts State Representative Tim Madden, will take place at WHRC on March 28, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The conference will focus on the impact of increasing coastal and ocean acidity and its effects on coastal communities. Legislators, government officials, scientists, business leaders, economic stakeholders, and private citizens from throughout Southeastern Massachusetts will discuss this “perfect storm” of factors that has put our region front and center in the climate crisis.
Three panels – legislative, economic stakeholders, and scientific/research – will tackle the current challenges of coastal and ocean acidification and work toward positive solutions to improve our coastal environment and economy.
Video of WHRC’s COP21 presentation
The video, Spotlight on Paris, is now online. See and hear the WHRC experts’ presentation about the Paris Agreement and what it means for the world.
Hot off the Press
The latest book by WHRC founder George M. Woodwell, A World to Live In: An Ecologist’s Vision for a Plundered Planet, will be published in March by MIT Press. The book has received glowing pre-publication endorsements from such environmental luminaries as James Gustave Speth, David W. Orr, and Bill McKibben, who writes that “very few have devoted careers as long or as eminent to the preservation of the planet. George Woodwell has earned the right to sum up a lifetime’s worth of thinking, and he does so here with precision and panache.” Signed copies of Dr. Woodwell’s book will be available through WHRC (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Pedal for the planet – and for WHRC
How can you take part in a life-changing 5-day bike ride or hike adventure, while raising awareness of sustainability, renewable energy and environmental causes? Join a Climate Ride event! When you register, you can select Woods Hole Research Center as the beneficiary of your fundraising dollars. The money you raise will help WHRC further its mission and its vision of a healthy and sustainable planet.
Discover why Climate Ride is the premier green event in the country. Amazing riding, epic scenery and inspiring company all combine to make this a remarkable experience. Climate Ride also features a nightly speaker series, with keynote presenters focusing on bicycle advocacy, sustainability, and renewable energy. Learn more and register at www.climateride.org
Woods Hole Research Center is an independent research institute where scientists investigate the causes and effects of climate change to identify and implement opportunities for conservation, restoration, and economic development around the world.