Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Report

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Environment and Society

First Advisor

Steven Burr

Abstract

The greatest trick is to create the greatest crisis society has ever known without anyone recognizing it as such. In a society that mainly works with a sudden crises mentality, a problem whose negative effects are slowly spread out over decades and centuries is very easy to ignore, no matter how dire those effects will be in the long run. This trick is made all the more potent by occurring in a society that must witness destruction before it acts in a substantial manner; if visible destruction wrought by the crisis only occurs when it is too late to do anything about it, then the consequences could potentially lead to society’s collapse. Climate Change comes extremely close to being this greatest trick; propagated by a society that generally no longer finds the importance of providing for the needs of future generations through the preservation of natural resources and natural areas relevant, climate change is all too easily ignored or given importance much lower than necessary because its visible consequences only occur in this medium. Unfortunately a disconnect between humans and their survival needs prevents recognition of these resources as something more than a luxury; they are items humans require for survival. The salmon fisheries of Alaska, the breadbasket of the Great Plains, the rangelands of the West, these are all outcomes of previous climate changes; what happens to U.S. society if the current climate change leads to an environment that puts these ecosystems at a disadvantage, or, worse yet, leads to their end? While this might seem like the spoutings of a doom and gloom prophet or conspiracy theorist, one only needs to look to the fossil record to find evidence this outcome is not only possible, similar if not worse outcomes have occurred before! It seems that an old saying, slightly modified for the correct context, holds true: those who do not know (geologic) history are doomed to repeat it.

However, there is hope; if society can be made aware of the severity of the consequences of climate change, it can at least prepare for these outcomes, if not reduce them. What better way to do this in U.S. society than by revealing how something this society treasures is threatened by climate change. Something that has been repeatedly called “America’s best idea.”

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