Paul Allen's Environmental Legacy Lives On
The world lost an important environmental icon on Monday with the passing of Paul G. Allen. He died from complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in Seattle, according to his company Vulcan Inc. He was 65.
Allen, who co-founded Microsoft with his childhood friend Bill Gates and owned the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, was also a major philanthropist devoted to making the world a better place.
In 1986, Allen founded the Seattle-based project and investment firm Vulcan Inc. to help oversee many philanthropic initiatives, which include conservation, preserving ocean health, transportation electrification and fighting climate change.
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio paid tribute to his fellow environmentalist on Monday.
"Sad to hear of the passing of Paul Allen, who was a strong advocate for environmental protection," DiCaprio tweeted. "He and the team at Vulcan played a pivotal role in developing the Shark Conservation Fund alongside [the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation]. His legacy lives on via his incredible work as a philanthropist and investor."
Sad to hear of the passing of Paul Allen, who was a strong advocate for environmental protection. He and the team a… https://t.co/vMVNQTeKgs— Leonardo DiCaprio (@Leonardo DiCaprio)1539650114.0
His Global FinPrint initiative was introduced in 2015 to assess the planet's diminishing number of sharks and rays and to aid management and conservation efforts for marine life.
Captain Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, said Allen was a "great force for marine conservation" and noted that Vulcan co-produced their 2018 high-seas documentary Chasing The Thunder.
In 1997, Allen launched Vulcan Productions, an independent film production company.
Sadly Paul Allen died today at the young age of 65. Paul was a great force for marine conservation. His company… https://t.co/OVTfwIP6NZ— Captain Paul Watson (@Captain Paul Watson)1539658891.0
Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, also said Allen will be sorely missed but his legacy will continue.
"We will remember Paul Allen as a champion and supporter of wildlife, conservation and the environment," Solheim tweeted on Tuesday. "He and Vulcan Inc. were instrumental in hugely impactful work on everything from elephants to sharks."
We will remember Paul Allen as a champion and supporter of wildlife, conservation and the environment. He and… https://t.co/K5exT2B7xc— Erik Solheim (@Erik Solheim)1539694282.0
Allen's lifetime of philanthropic giving to science, technology, education, conservation, the arts and community improvement totaled more than $2 billion, according to the Allen Institute.
He was among the list of the world's leading philanthropists who pledged to give away the bulk of their fortunes to charity.
"Those fortunate to achieve great wealth should put it to work for the good of humanity," Allen wrote several years ago after announcing that he was donating most of his fortune to charity, the Associated Press reported.
The pledge "reminds us all that our net worth is ultimately defined not by dollars but rather by how well we serve others."
Vulcan CEO Bill Hilf said in a press release that "millions of people were touched by his generosity, his persistence in pursuit of a better world, and his drive to accomplish as much as he could with the time and resources at his disposal."
Allen, his team and his conservation partners helped launch the Great Elephant Census in 2013 to count Africa's savanna elephants.
"Our goal was to learn how many remain and where, then use the information to help protect these iconic animals from the poachers that are driving them toward extinction," Allen wrote in 2016.
The census showed that elephant populations in 18 countries declined by 30 percent.
Paul Allen's 'Great #Elephant Census' Shows Catastrophic Decline in Africa https://t.co/4F5irXSX86 @CenterForBioDiv @LeoDiCaprio @PaulGAllen— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1472734306.0
Earlier this month, Allen announced that the non-Hodgkin's lymphoma he battled in 2009 had returned and he planned to fight it.
"I've begun treatment and my doctors are optimistic that I will see a good result. Appreciate the support I've received and count on it as I fight this challenge," he tweeted.
Some personal news: Recently, I learned the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma I battled in 2009 has returned. I’ve begun treat… https://t.co/5PTQa9y69C— Paul Allen (@Paul Allen)1538426879.0
Allen's family released the
"My brother was a remarkable individual on every level. While most knew Paul Allen as a technologist and philanthropist, for us he was a much loved brother and uncle, and an exceptional friend.
Paul's family and friends were blessed to experience his wit, warmth, his generosity and deep concern. For all the demands on his schedule, there was always time for family and friends. At this time of loss and grief for us—and so many others—we are profoundly grateful for the care and concern he demonstrated every day."
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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