Eugene Weekly : News : 5.29.08

Climate Apocalypse
Euglena Academy educates on global warming
By eva sylwester

The end of the world as we know it is coming in the next few decades, Alder Fuller says. But he recently re-opened his local independent school, Euglena Academy, anyway. 

Climate change will be more drastic than commonly believed, and we’re heading for a climate-induced apocalypse, according to Fuller. “I’d be delighted to be wrong about this,” he said.

Fuller says he holds a doctorate in ecology and biological evolution and has taught at a community college in New Mexico and part-time at Evergreen State College in Washington. He recently took a six-month break to update the curriculum for his Euglena Academy, run out of a west Eugene warehouse. He is making plans for the science-based school’s future despite what he believes is the coming end of the world.

Fuller made a May 16 presentation introducing one of his weekend seminars, which are college-like classes about scientific issues for adults. Fuller’s read of the climate science is that climate change cannot be stopped. He advocates reducing carbon emissions dramatically in hopes of slowing climate change, but he said planning to adapt to coming changes is also necessary.

The world’s main synthesis of climate science research comes from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report was published in 2007 with input from more than 1,200 authors and 2,500 scientific expert reviewers from more than 130 countries. It noted that Earth has unequivocally been warming since the mid-20th century. The report predicted that global average temperatures would increase, depending on the rate of greenhouse gas emissions, by 3.2-7.2  degrees F, by the end of the 21st century. The IPCC panel’s worst-case scenario is a global average temperature increase of 11.5 F, according to Fuller.

“We have to realize IPCC is a consensus,” Fuller said. “Every government in the world has line-item veto over every word in the IPCC report.” Many vetoes, he added, came from the U.S. and China.

Fuller predicted that climate change would reach a critical tipping point and then progress rapidly into a climate no longer recognizable as Earth rather than continuing to gradually change at a relatively constant rate. This rapid change would happen because of positive feedback, a chain reaction caused by a variety of biological processes setting each other off, he said.

The Earth naturally moves in cycles of ice ages and interglacial periods, Fuller said. The planet was actually cooling between the years 1000 and 1900 A.D., but the unprecedented carbon emissions of human industry stopped it from going into another ice age, Fuller said. There was another period of cooling between 1940 and 1970, confusing scientists about whether the earth was warming or cooling until 1988, when the larger warming trend became apparent.

Fuller said the models currently available for predicting climate change are solid on the direction of the change toward increasing temperatures but fuzzy on specifics of when and how fast the change will come. The Pacific Northwest is predicted to face the dual challenge of becoming hotter and wetter, with less snow and more rain. Fuller said climate change could result in a global average temperature hotter than today by 10.8-14.4 degrees F. For comparison, today’s global average temperatures are only 5.4-9 degrees F, hotter than the last ice age.

Fuller said climate change wouldn’t be the end of all life on Earth, but James Lovelock, an independent British scientist Fuller frequently quoted, has predicted that Earth’s human population will drop to less than one billion by 2100.

An unexpected inheritance from a relative he’d never met enabled Fuller to start his school (formerly called ProtoTista) in 2001. The Euglena Academy curriculum includes two intensive weekend workshops on climate change and four levels of multi-week classes on scientific literacy, systems science, biology and climate change. Tuition for the weekend workshops is $100, and the multi-week classes cost $30 per week.

Euglena Academy resides in a nondescript warehouse in an industrial area, but the interior of the unit features classroom equipment, social space, a kitchen and even a workout area. 

Academy student Daniel Cassidy described the classes he took as “more engaging and better” than typical college classes. 

Philip Mancus said the Euglena Academy supplements his coursework as a UO doctoral student in sociology. “Earth system science helps me to understand what kinds of changes need to be made,” he said in an email.

Euglena Academy will offer a free presentation on climate change from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, May 31, and Friday, June 6. For more information and to reserve a space at the presentation, visit Euglena Academy’s website (