DENIN Dialogue speaker discusses economics, environment, 'global weirding'
Michael Totten of Conservation International delivers a DENIN Dialogue talk on Nov. 30 in Mitchell Hall, above and below.


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1:26 p.m., Dec. 2, 2010----Michael P. Totten, chief adviser on energy, climate and green technology at the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business of Conservation International, delivered the 2010 DENIN Dialogue lecture on Tuesday, Nov. 30, in Mitchell Hall, speaking on the topic “Water in an Uncertain Climate Future.”

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The DENIN Dialogue Series is a semiannual lecture series sponsored by the Delaware Environmental Institute (DENIN) that brings experts of international renown in environmental research and policy to address the public at UD's Newark campus.

Totten said it is vital that economics and environmental awareness go hand in hand at this time in human history when there are vast numbers of poor people “alongside far more wealth than we've ever seen.”

That economic disparity is coupled with what he said his colleagues have termed “global weirding,” or extremes in weather that can lead to serious problems for life on the planet, including human life.

One of the results of this global weirding is a sharp decline in marine species, Totten said, noting that there has been a 40 percent decrease in phytoplankton, the base of the marine food web, in the last half-century. He also said that 37 percent of all fish species in North America are in danger of extinction.

Totten touched on how environmental impacts will lead to social conflicts as people battle for resources, pointing to the current conflict in the Sudan as an example.

“Resource conflicts and wars are occurring,” Totten said, and include genocide in Darfur and struggles over land, water and oil in other regions of Sudan. Such situations that put massive numbers of people in migration as refugees “are going to lead to more and more of these types of conflicts,” he said.

Because there are more people consuming fewer resources around the world, Totten said it is important to find environmentally friendly ways to distribute resources while creating economic vitality for impoverished countries.

Totten said an example of this is a water filter created by WaterHealth International that can disinfect one ton of water for only four cents. Because there are an estimated two billion people in the world without clean drinking water, he said this filter could help get clean water to those in need while also helping to foster economic growth, such as having community members perform maintenance on the filters, which in turn creates jobs and generates entrepreneurial opportunities.

When it comes to creating energy, Totten was strongly in favor of increasing the use of solar power.

“The one with the smallest footprint and my choice for the future, no matter what way you slice and dice it, has got to be photovoltaics,” he said. “It's so obvious that we forget the obvious. It's a power source that's available locally and daily everywhere worldwide, continuously for billions of years, never failed, never interrupted, never subject to the volatility of every other energy source used for economic activity.”


The Delaware Environmental Institute at the University of Delaware was founded to conduct research and coordinate partnerships that integrate environmental science, engineering, and policy in order to provide solutions and strategies that address environmental challenges. DENIN is directed by Donald Sparks, the S. Hallock du Pont Chair of Soil and Environmental Chemistry at UD.

Article by Adam Thomas
Photos by Evan Krape