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There is a quote near the start of frequent contributor JoAnn Greco’s cover story on climate scientist Michael E. Mann, who joined Penn’s faculty last fall, that pretty well encapsulates his approach to the issue of climate change. In the course of a class discussion on reports that the 2015 Paris Accords’ goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius likely will not be met, Mann used the analogy of a highway: “We may miss the 1.5 exit, but we can still take the 1.6 exit. Our only obstacle is political—a self-defeating prophecy.”

The lead author of a 1998 Nature article that introduced the iconic “hockey stick” graph’s vivid visualization of the rise of global temperatures in tandem with industrialization, Mann has been a lightning rod in the battle between climate action and denial ever since. As the evidence for human impact on the climate has gained wider acceptance, fossil fuel companies and their allies have shifted to a variety of deflection strategies to block action, he argues in his 2021 book, The New Climate War.

Meanwhile, other voices, mostly on the left, offer a message of doom, despairing that the world will ever get its act together to respond before disaster strikes. With a message that balances “urgency and agency,” Mann has become what JoAnn describes as a “calming voice to offset the gloomy prognosis”—or the “Mann in the Middle,” as our title has it.

Ever since he was leading protests on campus as an undergraduate, Ira Harkavy C’70 Gr’79 has been working to improve university–community relations in West Philadelphia and, more recently, across the country and around the world, serving as the founding director of what is now the Netter Center for Community Partnerships since 1992.

In “Ode to Ira,” associate editor Dave Zeitlin C’03 reports on a discussion about the center’s roots and guiding principles between Harkavy and John Jackson, Penn’s new provost and an admirer and collaborator of Harkavy as faculty member and administrator. He also shares highlights from a panel of alumni whose work with Harkavy and the Netter Center has shaped their subsequent careers that was convened as part of the center’s 30th anniversary celebrations. (“That is the reach of reaches, where others spread the word and teach others,” said Harkavy. “And it was profound.”)

Renewed and expanded community engagement is also in the air at Morris Arboretum and Gardens, which is marking its 90th anniversary with a name change that highlights its riches in flowers and plants as well as trees, along with a variety of accessibility improvements and new programs. We took the occasion to ask photographer Candace diCarlo—whose last assignment, “The Olden Bough” [Mar|Apr 2023], was also tree-related—to pay a visit back in May for “Birthday Blooms.” Assistant editor Nicole Perry supplies a brief text on the venue’s history and some of what’s new in the way of exhibits and research work.

Spring also brings with it the annual rites of Alumni Weekend and Commencement. Both went forward in happily normal fashion this year, but the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and its role in shaping the experience—and demonstrating the resilience—of the Class of 2023 was acknowledged at several points during the Commencement ceremony. Meg Gladieux C’23 GEd’24, who wrote our story in “Gazetteer,” puts it well: “Coming together again did feel like a triumph—that we could once again have some community when a few short years ago it felt so irreparably broken.”

—John Prendergast C’80

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