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The Past is No Longer a Valid Guide to the Future
Dr. Charles Fletcher
Chip is globally recognized as a leading climate science expert. He is a Professor in the Dept of Earth Sciences at SOEST, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.
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Dr. Charles Fletcher
Dr. Charles “Chip” Fletcher is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, at the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He is also the Vice-Chair of the Honolulu Climate Change Commission. For his work in service to government agencies and public groups, he was the 2006 recipient of the Hung Wo and Elizabeth Lau Ching Foundation Award for Faculty Service to the Community given by the University of Hawaiʻi, Board of Regents. In 2011 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized his professional work with an Environmental Achievement Award in Climate Change Science and in 2018 he was given the Leadership Award by the Pacific Risk Management Ohana (PRiMO), a coalition of organizations with a role in hazard risk management in the Pacific region. That same year, the Hawai‘i Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation awarded Chip their 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award. Chip was also honored by Think Tech Hawai‘i with their 2019 Community Service Award for his work on the societal impact and relevance of climate change. His research focuses on Pacific paleo-sea level history, beach processes, and modeling the impacts of past, present and future sea level rise on island environments and communities. The results of his work are used by government agencies for administering coastal policy, establishing construction guidelines, and planning resilient infrastructure projects, and he communicates actively with the public via talks and writings geared towards a general audience.
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The Past is No Longer a Valid Guide to the Future

June 13, 2020

Kamal Kapadia  0:00  Thanks so much Chip for being with us today. I'm gonna do a little formal introduction and then a little bit of more of an informal one. Dr. Chip Fletcher is the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the School of Washington Sciences and Technology, SOEST at the University of Hawaii Manoa. He's also a professor in the Department of Sciences here, and he's also the vice chair of the Honolulu Climate Change Commission. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on earth science, climate change, coastal community resiliency, paleoclimatology and sedimentology. He's received a number of teaching research and Community Service Awards and he is globally recognized as a leading climate science expert. He frequently appears in Hawaii media discussing climate change.

So, Chip is not only an utterly brilliant climate science scientist, but to me, he embodies what academia really should be about, which is education and research in direct service of humanity and the planet. More than any other faculty person I know, Chip goes out of his way to engage the public, the media, the government, to educate them on climate change. And his research is of direct relevance to helping Hawaii become more resilient.

So, you know, I also live in Hawaii, and I'm personally grateful to him for this work that he does making it a safer place for all of us. Even beyond that his door is always open to folks who want to talk about climate change, like me. And in fact, when I first told him about our mission at Terra, and I'm gonna read out what he said, because I wrote it down. He said, I think you've taken on a critically important mission. Just think if everyone knew what you and I know we'd have this problem solved by next year. Education is a pervasive and unending need. So Chip, I want to thank you personally for being a role model and inspiration and climate change education. And without further ado, I will hand it over to you.

Chip Fletcher  1:58  Thank you, Kamal. Fantastic. So let's see share screen. And I want to thank everybody for coming to spend some time. I'm going to go into display mode here.

And I'm going to begin with the title here, which is different than the one that was advertised. But I'm pushing this message these days that The Past is no Longer a Valid Guide to the Future. And so many of us are so used to thinking of our past experiences to inform our behavior in the future. This is a fundamental, I think, animal characteristic. And it's maybe one of the things that's making it so difficult for us to get on top of this problem.

Another part of the climate change challenge is that it's no longer simple. We can't solve this problem simply by decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions, we need to adapt to the changes we've already put in motion, we need to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. And that is, unfortunately a problem we have not really strongly moved towards. And as Kamal mentioned, we need to engage in educating everybody we know so all four of these I see as fundamental steps forward to solving this problem.

What I'd like to do is overly ambitious, but I'm going to take a stab at it anyway. We're going to begin with talking about where we are, where we're headed, a little bit of paleoclimatology, discussion of biophysical tipping points, which is coming out of a paper in Nature late last year. Something about the emerging infectious disease problem, especially zoonotic diseases, just like COVID-19, the diseases we catch from animals and how this plays into our food choices, short bit about the global biodiversity crisis and then get into solutions very, very briefly. And I'm going to go over time, but I'm going to move quickly to try and minimize that.

So I know you guys have been well versed in climate change, I don't need to dwell on the basics. Here's our CO2 trace since the late 19th century. Temperatures shown here with our cold years tending to be La Niña or volcanic years, and our warm years tending to be El Nino years, CO2 accumulation is accelerating. warming is accelerating. We've currently reached a little over one degrees C above background temperature which has taken generally to be the mid to late 1800s. The rate of warming because it's accelerating..and because we have failed to significantly decrease our greenhouse gas emissions looks like it's on track to reach 1.5 degrees C by the end of this decade. That's also coming out of an opinion piece that was written in Nature magazine that I can, I can provide to you later, and 2.0 degrees C before mid century unfortunately.

As evidence of our accelerating warmth. NOAA has given us the simple statistics that over the 80, the first 80 years of the 20th century, a new temperature record -a new global mean temperature record was set every 13 and a half years, but since then, we've set one on average every three years. And with only one and a 1.2 degrees C of warming, we have done incredible damage to the natural world. And we have now reached a 10% probability of sea level rise reaching two meters by the end of the century. That's the product of a structured survey of experts that was published late last year. Antarctic ice melt has tripled over the past five years. Greenland melting has quadrupled in the past decade. Greenland and Antarctica both may have tipping points someplace between 0.8 and three degrees C. So we may have potentially entered into the status of irreversible retreats of either of these two ice sheets. And in fact, it's already been concluded that that's the case for the west end Arctic sector of Antarctica

Arctic sea ice volume is down 50 to 70%. Since we first were able to measure it using satellites. We have a 12% increase globally in extreme rainfall, a 10% global increase in drought. Weather related natural disasters have more than tripled since the 1960s with significant insurance implications. Two years ago, the 16th largest insurers and reinsurance companies of the world held a conference and issued a press release, stating that we are rapidly entering a world that will be uninsurable. Annually these disasters caused more than 60,000 deaths. And we have 66% of humans on the planet facing the water shortage for at least one month every year.

We've seen a decrease in vertical ocean circulation which recycles heat down to the deeper parts of the ocean. And with a decrease in that, we see the buildup of sea surface temperatures which can fuel increasing storminess, especially in the tropics. We see the ocean gyres, the five grade ocean gyres the surface circulation gyres are shifting towards the poles. Ocean warming is taking place, acidification and a 2% loss of dissolved oxygen since 1950.

There's been a 60% decline in mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish since 1970. Over 500 species of land animals are on the brink of extinction, likely to be lost within 20 years. A 46% decrease in the number of trees since about 8000 years ago, and we still cut down 15 billion trees each year, constituting about 40 million acres of deforestation. Nearly one third of fish stocks are overfished. And more than 50% of these have reached their sustainable limit. Hurricanes are changing in ways that make them very dangerous. And coral reefs are projected to not last to the mid-middle part of the century.

And it's because of these extremely damaging occurrences that finally in 2015 in Paris, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change got agreement from all the world's nations to stop global warming before it reached two degrees Celsius. And to pursue efforts to end warming before 1.5 degrees. This is now - 1.5 degrees has now taken on canonical status. The emerging political climate platform for the Democratic Party in the United States targets 1.5 degrees. They are targeting a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions of seven and a half percent per year over the course of the 2030's.

They are walking away from carbon tax, they are walking away from a carbon market and they are looking at focusing on sectors such as transportation and energy, as well as sequestration direct targeting these sectors with federal government subsidies and laws & policies that would enhance these sectors rapidly moving in the right direction, contrary to what the current executive branch is doing in the US.

All of these very sad occurrences are the direct relationship of this linear relationship since World War II of an economy which is based on a model of growth. World GDP has increased in terms of trillions of $2,005 on the bottom axis, and the release of carbon dioxide is actually the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Any variation from this linear relationship is because of short term recessions. And now, for the first time, a pandemic that is leading to a variation in this relationship.

But the expectation is that as we're seeing all of the world's economies worry about putting people back to work that we will see our fossil fuel reliant economies come roaring back with the release of fossil fuels again. One of the amazing things about this period of the last three months is that we now know what it needs to look like to cut our fossil fuel emissions down 7%. It's been proposed and modeled that trends from the first six months of the year if they continue will lead to about a seven 7% decline in greenhouse gas emissions globally, even with the recovery that's starting to take place in a number of places.

So if we look at the history of co2 emissions, it looks like this. And that's what we need to do in order to stop warming at one and a half degrees. And this is exactly what the emerging climate platform for the Democratic Party in the US is proposing. This would require a seven and a half percent cut per year in emissions. And we need to reach zero emissions by mid century. And we need to sequester or remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the rest of this century and thereafter.

If we wish to establish social equity so that the emerging economies of the world can have the security and fresh water and food and transportation and education and health care that the developed world has established on the backs of burning fossil fuels, then the developed world has to totally decarbonize by 2030. This would give an additional couple of decades to the developing world to use the infrastructure that's in place, the fossil fuel infrastructure that's in place, to secure these important needs for improving their lifestyles, improving their quality of life, and to be aided by the developed world, in doing so.

So from a climate equity from a climate from a social equity point of view, the EU, North America and other developed nations need to reach zero emissions in 10 years. Unfortunately, fossil fuel use is accelerating faster than renewable fuel use. This is from the global carbon budget, which is one of my go to sites. The global carbon budget every year comes out with an assessment of the emissions through different sectors of the previous year. And they typically publish these assessments in Nature and Science. So unfortunately, what they discovered for 2019 is an acceleration of fossil fuel use above and beyond the acceleration from clean energy.

This is not unexpected. When we discovered oil, it did not replace coal. It moved in next to coal to fire up and expand the economy. So when we discovered fracking and the relatively affordable and expansion of the natural gas sector about a decade ago. It didn't replace oil, it moved in next to oil and coal as a new source of energy, all of which goes to promote the rapid growth of the economy, planet wide. So this is typical that clean energy is simply becoming a new partner, not a replacement for fossil fuels. And it's because of this that most of the world's energy economists listed over here on the left side are projecting continued CO2 emissions all the way to mid century. And all of these dashed lines and colored lines, you see come from these various projections, and the two lines that are heading down the purple and the black, those are the pathways to 1.5 and 2.0. Now, much of the continued emissions are projected to come from the developing world. And indeed, it is a matter of social equity for them to improve the quality and safety of their lives. But these emissions are also coming from the developed world and that's where the problem continues to lie.

Hence, we are on a pathway of continuing growth and emissions in 2017. We saw a one and a half percent increase in co2 emissions in 2018, a little over 2%. In 2019, we began to see potentially a flattening, but the reality is that it was due to a short term recession in China. And of course, because of the Covid situation anywhere from a four to 7% decrease in emissions this year, expected to recover towards the end of this year and into next year. So we're on a pathway to three to three and a half degrees celsius by the end of the century.

And if you're familiar with the RCP scenarios, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this is roughly equivalent to RCP 6.0. So it's not the 8.5 scenario which is the absolute worst case scenario. That is the good news and it may be the past mid century, we can see we might look forward to declining emissions. But three to three and a half degrees C of warming is still putting us into an incredibly dangerous world.

Let's look at some paleoclimatology. We know from ice cores, especially in Antarctica, that are captured by teams of scientists from around the world stored that there are trapped air bubbles, air bubbles that can serve as little samples of the atmosphere going back through time because the atmosphere is so well mixed. A sample of air from anywhere on the planet can be scaled and modeled to represent the overall chemistry of the atmosphere. You take a segment of ice, you melt it in a vacuum chamber, you release the gas and you measure the gas. And from Antarctica, we have 800,000 years of carbon dioxide history. And we know that these low points in carbon dioxide are Ice Ages, and these high points are warm periods known as Interglacials. At no time, well, during the course of this near million years, we see that the interglacial periods cycle through at roughly every 100,000 years.

We also see that natural amounts of carbon dioxide do not rise above 280 parts per million over this entire period yet, we have just reached 417 parts per million earlier this week as measured by the NOAA observatory on Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii. So what is responsible for this regular 100,000 year beat to climate? This rhythm is a product of changes in the tilt of Earth's axis. Every 41,000 years, we tilt towards and away from the sun, exposing the Arctic Circle to more sunlight and less sunlight. Every 100 to 400,000 years, Earth goes from a circular orbit around the sun to a very oblique orbit around the sun. Which means that our summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, maybe closer to the sun or further from the sun.

And Earth's axis wobbles draws a circle in the sky, which with the tilt, and this changing seasonality, all three of these together can change the length of the summertime. And if we have short, cold summers, then the snow from one winter doesn't completely melt. And the result is we get a buildup of snow, millennia after millennia. And our Arctic region, which is where most of the land is on the planet above  the Arctic Circle reflects more and more sunlight back into space because of the high albedo and that drives us down into an Ice Age. These three parameters also will organize at times into long hot summers, which melt more and more of the previous winter snowfall leading us to less than less snow and ice accumulation, more and more open ocean exposure - of the Arctic Ocean and the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans absorbing sunlight and then releasing the infrared radiation which is trapped by the greenhouse gases. So this is the natural pattern of climate change every 100,000 years because of what's known as these orbital parameters.

Now, the last Ice Age ended on the order of 20,000 years ago, and we now live in the Holocene or recent time Interglacial. You know about the proposals to identify a new epoch called the Anthropocene and these orbital parameters maximized their heating potential about nine to 8000 years ago. And since then, they have been reorganizing to take the planet down into the next Ice Age. And we've seen a net cooling on the planet of about one degree C, since about 8000 years ago.

We also see in the ice cores, the rise of methane associated with the expansion of rice agriculture about 5000 years ago in Southeast Asia. And we know that wetlands release methane. Wetlands tend to be a source of greenhouse gas and so our rice paddies and we also see the rise of carbon dioxide with the expansion of farming and the end of hunter gatherer societies and the deforestation that went along with that.

However, we have now captured the climate. And it's been calculated that we are going to miss the next Ice Age. It's not going to happen because we're now in control of climate. And we have warmed a little over one degree C. We have seen the irreversible retreat now ongoing of the Pine Island Glacier, and a number of other glaciers in West Antarctica. Arctic Sea ice is in wholesale collapse, and it may be as soon as 2030 when we see ice free summers in the Arctic Ocean.

Mountain glaciers if we were to stop releasing greenhouse gas right now we would still see the loss of one third of all mountain glaciers, on the planet by the end of the century, and as I've said, between acidification and warming, coral reefs are suffering enormously and and are projected to as ecosystems not survive to the mid part of the century. It's highly unlikely that we'll stop warming at 1.5 or even two. And we move through certain tipping points characterized by amplifying feedback with a number of major biophysical systems on the planet that I will talk about. And as I mentioned, we're on track to exceed three degrees C. And this could release some major systems, the East Antarctic ice sheets, permafrost and winter sea ice, among others. So the main point here is that we are now in control of Earth's climate.

There are nine major biophysical systems that are thought to have already passed into irreversibility, irreversible change, or are on the brink of it. One of the things to realize is that 1/10th of the globe has already warmed more than two degrees C, continents warm faster than oceans. And in the summertime, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, where most of the land is, we're seeing the rise of multiple heat waves. And we're seeing large areas where we generate our food - the breadbaskets of the world rise to as much as four degrees C excess warming in the summertime.

And we're starting to worry about parallel failure of two or more bread baskets. If we have a failure because of a drought in one of the world's major breadbaskets, the connectivity of the world's food systems can absorb that shock. But if we have the simultaneous failure of two bread baskets, the world's food system probably cannot absorb that shock and will see it radiate throughout humanity in the form of losses of food availability as well as spikes in the cost of food.

So the great pine forests of the Arctic are thought to be tipping over into a source of carbon because of wildfire and drought. Permafrost is collapsing 70 years earlier than projected by modeling. The overturning or vertical circulation in the North Atlantic, which takes certain surface waters and takes them down into the deeper portions of the Atlantic may have decreased as much as 15%. This would result in heat buildup in the tropics and slowing of the surface current that feeds that overturning circulation in the North Atlantic.

The reason it is slowing is because of that big blue dot up there-- that's fresh water streaming off of Greenland, which is stratifying the North Atlantic Ocean and as we slow the surface currents, we have already begun to see and it may continue drought, hitting the Amazon forest and drying of the West African monsoon and the East Asian monsoon. And the buildup of heat in the South Atlantic which can lead to accelerated ice loss in Antarctica.

We know that Antarctic ice melt has tripled over the past five years. And that in West Antarctica where that intense red, dark red is located, that melting already appears to be irreversible. We know that in portions of East Antarctica we are seeing the outlet glaciers in certain areas appear to become unstable. We're seeing tidal that is with the tides, we see fluctuations with global positioning system stations high up on the glaciers reflecting the influence of tides. And Greenland, the melting has quadrupled over the past decade.

And it could be that with only one and a half degrees C of warming, we may pass into a state of irreversible decline. As I've said, It's been projected that the coral reefs will be lost by the mid century when we reach two degrees Celsius. Exactly where the tipping point is for the Amazon rainforest is unknown. But we're approaching it, it's thought. You can't just turn these ecosystems on and off like a light switch. This applies to coral reefs, as well. These are very complex relationships, predator prey relationships, mating relationships, seasonality, relationships and migratory relationships. And when they get damaged, they don't come back and how far can you damage them before the whole system begins to unravel.

And Arctic sea ice, another major system which has consequences for the albedo of the planet. It's been referred to as the refrigeration system for the entire planet. That high albedo reflectS sunlight and as we lose it, we replace it with sunlight absorbing dark surface that then releases the infrared radiation that's trapped by greenhouse gases.

Alright, so those are major systems that we're worried about. And of course, we are in the midst of dealing with an infectious disease that ultimately has to do with feeding ourselves. We have this incredible rise in the human population across the planet. If you're 40 years old, the population from when you were born was only 3 billion people and now it is above 7 - 7.5 billion and we need to feed all these people.

Since 1970, food crop production has increased 300% and half of all agriculture expansion has come at the expense of forests. The photo in the background is a soy field that is cutting into the Amazon rainforest. We have destroyed an area the size of Africa to grow animals for eating. Over 80% of farmland is used for livestock, but it produces only 18% of food calories, and 37% of protein. Cattle and the grain they eat us one third of all available land surface on this planet, and 16% of all available freshwater. One third of the grain that we produce goes to feed beef and it generates 100% more greenhouse gas or 100 times more greenhouse gas than plant based agriculture. And the industrial style of raising mono crops of soy and corn and other types of grain to feed not only beef, but pork and poultry rely on the overuse of synthetic pesticides and nutrients which flow off into the watershed and destroy coastal waters.

Look at this graph of land use per 100 grams of protein. We have lamb, beef, dairy products. These are all related to animal agriculture in one form or another. And they result in habitat loss. As we destroy habitat, we come in closer contact with portions of the world that humans have not come in contact before. And it's an opportunity for what's known as spillover events or. Spillover event is where we get a pathogen of some sort of virus or bacteria that transfers from wild animals to humans. In fact, three out of four, every new or emerging infectious disease comes from animals and these are called zoonotic diseases. They include rodents, bats, primates, deer, and others. There have been 335 diseases that have emerged in recent decades. They can be carried by ticks, mosquitoes, fleas and snails. We can get them directly through wet markets and our contact with other types of animal body fluids, especially with concentrated animal feeding operations, which I'll talk about in a second. And these diseases are food and waterborne so that they can be carried into our kitchens with the very food products that we buy.

There's a very strong climate change connection. And in fact, you're familiar with most of these diseases Ebola, HIV, dengue, malaria, West Nile, Zika, SARS, MERS, Anthrax, Marburg virus, and now COVID-19 is the latest one. The vectors that carry these are expanding because of climate change, and disasters or extreme weather events will drive animals together and also create conditions where humans are exposed to a lot of these pathogens. droughts and heat waves will do the same thing as well as floods. Dengue fever has increased 30 times over the last 50 years and it's related to increased temperatures. And all of these anthrax, bird flu, encephalitis, Zika, Ebola, dengue, Hantavirus and the others, they've all increased. They are occurring with greater frequency and we see them occurring after extreme weather events.

So this is the graph of emerging infectious diseases. Agriculture is associated with 25% of them. And ag is associated with 50% of the zoonotic emerging infectious diseases. Here again, there's another social equity element. Many of the farms that provided the Western world with this food are in wetland areas, especially rice and the Mekong Delta and other parts of Southeast Asia. While the food production does lead to increased health, the conditions of farming, the overuse of pesticides, and the fertilizers that are put on the crops lead to a growth in vector borne diseases. So the very farmers that are providing the Western world with this food are at the same time being exposed to increased malaria, just a semi sisto symbiosis, and other forms of waterborne diseases.

Then there's this other entirely different form of agriculture - concentrated animal feeding operations. In a normal wild setting, a virus cannot afford to be highly pathogenic. It will kill its hosts and therefore take itself out of existence. But when you have these confined animal operations, where thousands of animals are confined in a small area, a virus or a bacteria can afford to evolve greater virulence, because there's an endless supply of hosts. These factory farms in fact generate 98% of the meat in the United States.

And these densely packed factory farms lead to the host to host transmission of both viruses and bacteria without the evolutionary pressure for them to become more mild. In fact, Europe and the US are the world's biggest exporters of swine flu as well as avian flu. And it's because of these concentrated animal operations. And the way we keep these animals alive and this is not just beef, but it includes pork and poultry is by pumping them full of antibiotics.

You get two benefits with the antibiotics, they counteract the bacteria, it also makes them grow faster. Nearly two-thirds of all drugs used in human medicine are sold for food animal use, they are sold to the animal food industry. And of course you all know that the overuse of these medicines leads to bacterial resistance, which has been pinpointed as one of the major threats as we move deeper into the 21st century. Our inability to combat bacteria because it has evolved resistance to our medicines. 

How are we going to double or triple food production as it has been projected without unleashing a host of new infectious diseases? The answer is to eat a more plant-based diet.

Alright. I know I've run 45 minutes here. I can either stop here and take questions or I can run through a couple of other quick topics, but it's probably going to be another 10 minutes. What do you want to do Kamal? Do you want to switch over to questions at this point?

Kamal Kapadia: Maybe we take a few questions and then we can return. Alright, okay. Laney, you want to just look at the questions? 

Laney Seigner: Yeah I'll call a few of you to answer your questions that are coming in and then we'll keep going because this is honestly, we gotta, we're building to something here, we got to get to the end. So let's see Ani, I see that you have two questions in the Slack, feel free to ask both of them or the one that you feel is most relevant, so we'll start with you. 

Anirudh Gupta: Thank you Laney. And Chip, you scared the hell out of us. That was like 45 minutes of hell! 

Chip Fletcher: I am not done yet (chuckles all around)

Anirudh Gupta: But it was the truth. So thank you for that. I want to ask you if there are any reverse tipping points as well. So we did a deep dive read on the nine main tipping points that if came to fruition would blow our whole carbon budget but is there any reverse tipping point, you know, like a good tipping point that is also on the horizon.. And if it came true would aid in our mitigation efforts? 

So there are unknown potentially negative feedbacks that could slow down some of the behavior. They aren't, they aren't emphasized very much because we have not yet encountered any that show the potential magnitude of the positive feedbacks, but just for example the more you melt the Greenland ice sheet, the greater the possibility of melt water going down into the pores of the ice and refreezing. And potentially freezing portions of the Greenland ice sheet to the bedrock. But when you take water from a liquid state to a solid state, it actually releases heat. And so models take that into account and the amount of heat that's released in going from liquid water to ice overcomes is greater than the potential for freezing the ice on to the bedrock. 

So there are these negative feedbacks, but none of them are yet understood to be sufficient to represent a serious solution. 

Anirudh Gupta: Yeah, for example, we did leave that with increasing carbon there would be increased vegetation because plants have more carbon dioxide to breathe so that could essentially you know be a negative influence but it wouldn't be a tipping point, right? 

Chip Fletcher: No not even near that that's been known for quite a while that's taken into account in the models in all the temperature models. Someone else? 

Laney Seigner: Yeah, let's see, maybe let's take one more and then keep going. Ryan, I'm gonna call on you for your next questions here. 

Ryan Barrett: For sure. What do you think about offsets versus cutting emissions versus negative emissions? 

Chip Fletcher: So I think carbon offsets are just cheating. We should dispel with those completely, they should not be counted, they shouldn't be budgeted. Negative emissions is what it's all about. And see sequestration as a must-have. 

Ryan Barrett: Short and sweet...

Laney Seigner: Yeah, very concise and so yeah. Dr Fletcher,if you're willing to continue let's do that and then I'll go on the rest of the more of these questions in the Slack afterwards. Thank you.

Chip Fletcher: Yeah, I'm pretty close to the end here. So, we have a global biodiversity crisis. Global deforestation is accelerating. We think we see a crash in insects but the numbers, global numbers are very weak and we have to extrapolate from large-scale local studies.

And as I've mentioned earlier, the 60% decline in vertebrate animals, a 83% decline of all mammals and a 50% decline of all plants now this extends back several thousand years and has to do with hunting originally, but then leading to deforestation and habitat loss. But our impact on the natural world, lots of people say I'm not worried about the planet. I'm worried about the, you know, humanity. Well the planet is not going to automatically recover from this abuse. It's been estimated that it will take five to seven million years for the natural world to recover from what we're doing to it.

So the global wildlife population has decreased in recent decades. And amazingly if you measure by biomass, of all mammals on earth 96% percent are cows and people. And only 4% are wild. And of birds 70% of all birds on the planet are now industrial poultry -- chickens, turkeys and others. Only 30% are by wild and these are quickly being extirpated by feral cats. A paper came out recently. I think there are three; they calculated three billion birds are killed in North America every year by feral cats. And scientists are publishing new terms. We're now talking about the sixth mass extinction in earth history. Biological annihilation. Pushing terrestrial biodiversity beyond a planetary boundary. Approaching a state shift in or as bias fear. Marine deformation. And this warning by 15,000 co-authors, most of them ecologists, that humans have pushed Earth's ecosystems to their breaking point and are well on the way to ruining the planet.

Solutions- I'm going to go through this quickly because I know that you guys have been talking about this or you will. We know how to solve this crisis. So this is trends in carbon dioxide emissions to mid-century. These are the stated policies which we are not matching and this is what we need to do to align with the goals of stopping warming at one and a half to two degrees C.

Increases in efficiency and motors, buildings and all types of appliances. Amping up the use of renewables as energy sources. And then going into sectors such as electric vehicles, sequestering carbon in the atmosphere and then changes in personal behavior and our choices.

A paper came out recently on social tipping points, which I find fascinating. Not only policy steps such as removing fossil fuel subsidies and incentivizing renewable energy. I think it was calculated that all of the subsidies we give to the fossil fuel industry if we were simply to reprogram those towards the renewable energy industry, we would have this problem solved.

But also revealing the morally harmful nature of fossil fuels and I know that here in Hawaii and I think it's true of the US in general that single-use plastics are starting to move into the category of immoral. And the laws that are passing to stop the use of plastic bags at shopping in various types of markets. That's also starting to move into sort of socially unacceptable behavior so we may begin to start to see this for fossil fuels and certainly you need to. And changing our standards for architecture and engineering. Divesting from fossil fuels and strengthening climate education and engagement. Wouldn't be wonderful if on everything we bought we not only saw the price but the carbon footprint? It would make a stop and think twice. I know that the price makes us think twice, maybe the carbon footprint will make us think twice as well.

We see amazing movement around the planet non-violent, but disruptive political protests that were really growing until the epidemic hit or the pandemic hit and extreme non-violent disruptive protests with Extinction Rebellion. 

And farming can offer some real tools if we go from this extractive type of farming which releases carbon dioxide into the air to using cover crops and getting away from deep plowing and turning soil from an average of 1% carbon content around the world back to its native carbon content of 3%t if every piece of ag land in the world could go back to its natural carbon abundance of three percent. That's the equivalent of pulling the amount of carbon dioxide out of the air that we've put into it. So ag can solve these problems. 

Then of course pulling carbon dioxide out of the air through these industrial mills and turning it into useful products such as kerosene which is jet fuel. We should have a set of these around every airport in the world and these should be the source of our jet fuel.

And of course eating plant-based foods, getting away from animal agriculture and this is the last slide eating a more plant-based diet. Talking about climate change and getting the daily dose of climate news, that's extremely important. Voting. And protesting. 

All right. That's the end. I'll turn off the screen share and we can go back into question mode.

Laney Seigner: Awesome, thank you so much Dr Fletcher that was a great way to sort of wrap things up and conclude and I just want to say that your talk was incredibly timely for the learners in our cohort because we've been really diving into the climate science in the past three weeks and especially talking about things like tipping points and the difference between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees C of warming, so thank you for bringing all of this together in your talk. So I'm gonna get right into some more of the questions from the Slack.

Toral, would you like to ask your questions that you posted?

Toral Varia: Yes thank you so much. I must say, I was very glad that there are solutions out there so my heart was sinking through the presentation and then boom solutions! I was really happy about this but I actually have one very important question that I'm trying to understand is that.

While renewable energy’s benefits and advantages are really out there, people do acknowledge that industries governments- why has it failed ti replace the fossil fuels? What is it about fossil fuels that still is the go to solution for economies that are looking to kind of either emerge or recover?

Chip Fletcher: Well there are several answers to that. 1-Our entire way of life is embedded in fossil fuel infrastructure, so. You know ships airplanes automobiles trains everything is built on fossil fuels and to pivot to a new form of energy. It's like turning a giant the world's largest ship on a dime, it's just extremely hard to do. 

The only way to do that or the fastest way to do that is to get the government involved. Government has to put together the policies to force these changes. But the global leader, the United States is filled with individuals who think that big government is bad, and unfortunately there are lots of past examples where big government has been bad.

So there's this whole mindset that has developed that small government is good and it's called the Republican Party and getting them to break out of their world view, their perception of the world is extremely difficult and that's where education comes in. 

And there are maverick republicans who see the science and will accept the science and allow the science to inform their dogma. But those are open-minded, lifelong learners and unfortunately our species is not filled with individuals like that. So those are two of the things that you know, we develop a world, a worldview and then we have that perception bias right that we constantly reinforce them.  That reinforcement bias we will turn towards information that reinforces what we think we already know and that's another thing that keeps us from having an open mind about the world. We need to turn towards sources of information that are reliable and counter and counteract or fight our reinforcement bias. It's very hard to do.

That's just a little bit of it but you know, it also turns out that a lump of coal is an amazingly easily, it's packed with energy and it's easy to move around same with the barrel of oil, so the fossil fuels come with a lot of benefits and we've we have benefited from fossil fuels enormously but we should have started walking away from them rapidly after the 1970s.

Toral Varia: Thank you so much. Laney, should I ask my second follow up question? 

Laney Seigner: Sorry, yeah go ahead that was a good one, yeah keep going. 

Toral Varia: Given your exposure to a lot of things to do with climate change solutions, mitigation so on and so forth, I'm really curious to understand what is your impression regarding the intent of the developing world, do you see that there are genuine efforts by Global South countries and why?

Chip Fletcher: So the developing world has more problems to solve than the developed world. The developing world has to care for its people because they haven't yet as a general population risen to the level of health and security. And this is one of the truly evil parts about the broken social contract on Planet Earth that we are putting onto those least able to handle  the problem of instantly pivoting into a clean form of energy. 

Most of the fossil fuel emissions are coming from the developing world. And those political systems have to see to the public health and safety at the same time and repair and lift public health and safety at the same time that they have to pivot to to clean energy. Those most capable of helping, us, the US is walking away from the moral obligation. So it's a terrible situation.

Yeah, I don't blame many leaders in the developing world, not many but for choosing the health and welfare of their humans and their communities over the need to get away from fossil fuels. I don't blame them for doing that. They need help. 

Toral Varia: Thank you so much.That's very helpful

Laney Seigner: Yes, thanks for that and let's go on. We have two more questions in the Slack. We'll go to Cody and then Nilesh and then we'll open it up for any more public questions. Yeah time permitting. So, go ahead Cody. 

Cody Simms: Great thanks Dr. Fletcher, um, my question is you know, of the sort of large industries that are most responsible for carbonization? I think of energy agriculture, mobility transportation and real estate construction. Which of these do you believe is sort of farthest behind on the change curve right now? You know, we have a lot obviously, there's a lot going on and with the need to end fossil fossil fuels and the energy sector but there's a lot of innovation happening in renewables.  So am curious which of those sort of sectors you believe is the furthest behind and which ones do you think will actually be hardest to change with effort? 

Chip Fletcher: Well, I don't know how they balance out in terms of carbon footprint, but I know that making steel. I think there still needs to be a fair amount of technological development and making low-carbon steel.

Concrete I think, we're solving that problem. We have local concrete known as carbon-carbon cured and as you as the concrete crystallizes that actually pulls the CO2 out of the air as I understand it. And I know that the Hawaii State Department of Transportation is trying to use more low carbon concrete.

So you might lump all that together in construction. I don't think, I see much in the way of renewably powered construction equipment. You know, I think much of the construction equipment of the world is still the internal combustion engine. Although I know from driving that electric car you can get plenty of torque out of an electric car, so I would think the construction industry could move that way quickly if they were incentivized.

Shipping is a major problem, but I see it as an investment potential, you know. There is this group of hedge funds and multi-billion dollar investors called Impact Investors that want to do good things for humanity and they will give money at very very low percentage rates less than 1%. It's like getting a credit card for a quarter percent. Right? You would jump at that opportunity. That's cheap money. These folks, there's trillions of dollars of investment opportunity available and green shipping in green ports are one huge area that I think we can see a lot of growth especially because those two areas are behind the curve yet there's lots of very creative technology that's being thought about in green shipping and green ports.

Agriculture. So Jay Ensley was a candidate for president of the US he eventually had to quit but the US Department of Agriculture gives subsidies to almost every American farmer and his climate platform was based on hanging those subsidies on regenerative agriculture rather than extractive agriculture. It was wonderful and I understand that that's making its way into Biden's platform as well. And I understand that large industrial agriculture companies see that regenerative agriculture makes good business sense anyway, so it's not going to be hard to convince them to use cover crops to pump phosphorus and nitrogen back into the soil, using cover crops and stopping the erosion and runoff etc. So, I think agriculture has enormous capacity, but we need to get away from our habit of eating animals.

Laney Seigner: The learners in our first course are really going to dive into these sectors of solutions and their mitigation potentials in an upcoming class. So you guys are going to be more of your own research and dive a little bit more into some of these answers. So thanks for sparking that Dr. Fletcher. Nilesh I'm going to turn it over to you for your question.

Nilesh Bansod: All right, thanks. So Dr. Fletcher, you showed a very compelling graph which had a very good relation between the GDP growth and the increasing CO2 concentration. One of the things, in your solutions, is one of the things I didn't see as much was do we need to be thinking about degrowth right, especially some of the developed nations, starting first and maybe even the developing nations strictly, more strictly, in the GDP sense, do we need to think about degrowth? If yes, how can we get people to swallow this hard pill?

Chip Fletcher: I am sorry...I didn’t get the main point...what type of economy?

Nilesh Bansod: I am saying...Do we need to think about slowing down our economies?

Chip Fletcher: Yeah, you know this, this need to constantly buy new things is a major problem and we do that because we're being manipulated by the advertising community. They know, they figured out what pushes our buttons and you know, our minds are constantly played with and hijacked by the media and I'm vulnerable to this.... I think I've become Amazon's best customer in the last two months, you know. Buying things that I've convinced myself I need with an enormous carbon footprint being shipped here.

So this is a product of a culture and which you're talking about is a culture change. So how do we do that, right? We need to capture the advertising world and get them to send a different message. We need to get them to talk about recycling more of a circular economy reuse, you know, and it's the same time the recycling industry has collapsed. You know, recycling really no longer exists as a as a viable global industry anymore and selling recyclable materials to Southeast Asia and China was a form of income for many Western communities that they used to develop their recycling capacity to pick up recycled goods and to, you know, to collect process and ship things for recycling would earn money that they would apply towards this. This little economic sector is well all that is collapsed now. So you've got multiple aspects to this problem.

Nilesh Bansod: That helps you, thank you. 

Laney Seigner: Thanks for that and we have one additional question from one other member of the audience from the public. Murs, if you're able to ask your question go ahead but if you're worried about your microphone not working feel free to send me a chat and I can ask it out loud.

Okay maybe I'll just go ahead and ask it. So it's two questions related to agriculture- one is related to hydroponics and thoughts about that as a soil is form of agriculture if that could help with the the feed the world challenge without causing deforestation and then the other question about plant-based meats being developed by multi-billion dollar companies like Beyond Meat. Many big food chains are incorporating these new items into their food menu- does this help us mitigate the situation at hand?

Chip Fletcher: Yes, so what does Burger King's thing called? The Miracle Burger or something or? So Burger King is the quick food chain and they have the Whopper and now you can get the Whopper as a plant-based meat and it's delicious, but I think it's mostly delicious because they put all sorts of sauce on top of it. And the sauce is delicious, but we eat a lot of plant-based meat at my house and it's very good. And if you guys are gonna, if your class is gonna dive into the meat thing, don't forget to look at the medical literature because it turns out that eating meat is just bad for you right. There's a direct correlation between the rise of cancer ,individuals having cancer and how much meat they eat so that's one element. 

And yes, the large amount of investment going into plant-based foods is a wonderful thing and I hope it continues. I hope it breaks out into what you see as the standard food in the supermarkets in the US and other developed nations as well as the developing world.

As far as aquaponics. I don't know a lot about it. I worry a little bit about if it's aquaponics as a form of developing fisheries. I guess aquaponics-- that's more aquaculture. I worry about the pollution and the parasites that come with agriculture but aquaponics I don't know much about it. You know I worry about the fresh water use and whether or not fresh water is something that's becoming more scarce with climate change in your local area, but otherwise. I haven't heard anything negative about aquaponics.

Laney Seigner: I am going to give it over to Kamal for one last question and to wrap us up. So Kamal, go ahead and take it away. 

Chip Fletcher: One last thought about food is look at the Dutch and the warehouse food and the micro agriculture that they're engaged in and I think they are the second largest exporter of food in the world and they're one of the smallest nations. They're growing food apparently with LED lights, you can program the frequency to actually hit the exact frequency of photosynthesis. For different types of plants, so there's some amazing technology being developed there. 

Kamal Kapadia: I have a question that we like to ask all our guest speakers so most of our students are coming from outside the climate space and you know trying to figure out either how to sort of apply a climate lens to the existing work or transition to work in this space. Do you have any advice for them as they try to find that path? Any thoughts, any advice and suggestions?

Chip Fletcher: Yeah, I think climate change is part of everything it's you know. If you're a professional dancer or a weaver or an artist or if you build bridges if you are a bus driver, it doesn't matter what you, what your potential career path is. Climate change is there as a central part of it if you choose to uncover it and discover it.

And because we are still in the transitional phase you may be forced to embark on a career where your job requires you to do not climate healthy action. Because there's still so many careers that are, that haven't and so many industries that haven't pivoted to climate appropriate behavior. You may be forced to do climate inappropriate behavior. But because you know about climate change you can inform those that you work with and you can just in your little way, you can begin to steer whatever you embark on in a more climate appropriate way. 

Secondly, there are amazing wealth opportunities and career opportunities embedded in climate change because just look at it from thirty thousand feet we are trying to change human society. We're trying to change every aspect of the socioeconomic framework of how we live. If you really get creative and as you guys get embedded into climate change thinking, you'll see literally at every level an opportunity. And so that's an opportunity to do good things. 

It's also an opportunity to build a career for yourself and to build wealth for yourself. So all those things are consistent and you're taking the right first step, which is to build your awareness and your level of knowledge.

Laney Seigner: Thank you so much for that. So yeah, so maybe I’ll close it out here if that sounds good. I opened up the chat for any last minute things and appreciations but this has been really incredible. I feel like we've been on a pretty exciting roller coaster throughout this talk and I personally both learned a lot and found a lot that I want to follow up on.

So thank you and anyone who would like to share about this on social media. We from the Terra team are asking that you use the hashtag #TerraTalks and tag @terradotdo on Twitter. So, I'll just put that in the chat if you're sharing around because these will continue throughout the course and future courses and we hope to get engaging speakers and engaging audience members like yourselves throughout yeah going forward into the future. So thank you all for first being with us for this sort of extended session and much gratitude and appreciation to you all.

Chip Fletcher: Thank you guys, that was a lot of fun great questions. You should be very proud of yourself, so good on you. Keep it up. Yeah. I'll send you my PowerPoints Kamal. 

Kamal Kapadia: That would be brilliant. Thank you. Yes. Yeah. Yeah a lot of. We're getting a lot of appreciative messages in the chat as well. 

Chip Fletcher: Oh good. Yeah, I can see them. 

About the Certificate
12 weeks long. Between 6-10 hours of time commitment every week
Each class is just 20-25 learners with extensive skills, background, passion
Instructor & Teaching Assistants available via Zoom, Slack and email
100% online, with 5-7 expert live talks. All available for later viewing
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Climate Change: Learning for Action
Interactive program with an instructor walking you through the paces
12 Weeks

Next cohort starts

June 2021
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Frequently asked questions
Who would benefit most from this program?
Anyone who wants a grand overview of the entire climate landscape. Anyone who wants to shift their time & energy into doing climate work.
What if I don't like the program?
If you're less than 3 weeks into the program, we'll refund you 100%. Our only request would be to give us feedback so we can improve the program.
Will the classes fit my schedule?
Yes. Most of the classes are asynchronous so you can decide when to go through them during the week. Our expectation is that everyone will be back in sync when a new week starts. The main live elements are the expert talks which will also be recorded for later viewing.
Is there a credential at the end of the program?
Yes. We'll give you something to prove that you completed this program. However, we're hoping you're doing this program for the intrinsic love of solving climate change.
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We want all qualified learners to apply, regardless of financial status. Let us know about your financial need when you apply and we'll do our best.
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Yes. We currently expect to run more cohorts in Oct & Dec 2020.
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