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Greenhouse Gas Emissions Remain the Primary Threat to Polar Bears

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 23:42

By USGS

Greenhouse gas emissions remain the primary threat to the preservation of polar bear populations worldwide. This conclusion holds true under both a reduced greenhouse gas emission scenario that stabilizes climate warming and another scenario where emissions and warming continue at the current pace, according to updated U.S. Geological Survey research models.

Greenhouse gas emissions remain the primary threat to the preservation of polar bear populations worldwide. This conclusion holds true under both a reduced greenhouse gas emission scenario that stabilizes climate warming and another scenario where emissions and warming continue at the current pace, according to updated U.S. Geological Survey research models.

Under both scenarios, the outcome for the worldwide polar bear population will very likely worsen over time through the end of the century.

The modeling effort examined the prognosis for polar bear populations in the four ecoregions (see map) comprising their range using current sea ice projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for two greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Both scenarios examined how greenhouse gas emissions may affect polar bears: one looked at stabilization in climate warming by century’s end because of reduced GHG emissions, and the other looked at unabated (unchanged) rates of GHG emissions, leading to increased warming by century’s end.

“Addressing sea ice loss will require global policy solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and likely be years in the making,” said Mike Runge, a USGS research ecologist. “Because carbon emissions accumulate over time, there will be a lag, likely on the order of several decades, between mitigation of emissions and meaningful stabilization of sea ice loss.”

Under the unabated emission scenario, polar bear populations in two of four ecoregions were projected to reach a greatly decreased state about 25 years sooner than under the stabilized scenario. Under the stabilized scenario, GHG emissions peak around 2040, decline through 2080, then decline through the end of the century. In this scenario, USGS projected that all ecoregion populations will greatly decrease except for the Archipelago Ecoregion, located in the high-latitude Canadian Arctic, where sea ice generally persists longer in the summer. These updated modeling outcomes reinforce earlier suggestions of the Archipelago’s potential as an important refuge for ice-dependent species, including the polar bear.

The models, updated from 2010, evaluated specific threats to polar bears such as sea ice loss, prey availability, hunting, and increased human activities, and incorporated new findings on regional variation in polar bear response to sea ice loss.

“Substantial sea ice loss and expected declines in the availability of marine prey that polar bears eat are the most important specific reasons for the increasingly worse outlook for polar bear populations,” said Todd Atwood, research biologist with the USGS, and lead author of the study. “We found that other environmental stressors such as trans-Arctic shipping, oil and gas exploration, disease and contaminants, sustainable harvest and defense of life takes, had only negligible effects on polar bear populations—compared to the much larger effects of sea ice loss and associated declines in their ability to access prey.”

Additionally, USGS researchers noted that if the summer ice-free period lengthens beyond 4 months – as forecasted to occur during the last half of this century in the unabated scenario – the negative effects on polar bears will be more pronounced. Polar bears rely on ice as the platform for hunting their primary prey – ice seals – and when sea ice completely melts in summer, the bears must retreat to land where their access to seals is limited. Other research this year has shown that terrestrial foods available to polar bears during these land-bound months are unlikely to help polar bear populations adapt to sea ice loss.

USGS scientists’ research found that managing threats other than greenhouse gas emissions could slow the progression of polar bear populations to an increasingly worse status. The most optimistic prognosis for polar bears would require immediate and aggressive reductions of greenhouse gas emissions that would limit global warming to less than 2°C above preindustrial levels.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2008 due to the threat posed by sea ice loss. The polar bear was the first species to be listed because of climate change. A plan to address recovery of the polar bear will be released into the Federal Register by the USFWS for public review on July 2, 2015.

The updated forecast for polar bears was developed by USGS as part of its Changing Arctic Ecosystems Initiative, together with collaborators from the U.S. Forest Service and Polar Bears International. The polar bear forecasting report is available online.

Polar Bear Ecoregions: In the Seasonal Ice Ecoregion (see map), sea ice melts completely in summer and all polar bears must be on land. In the Divergent Ice Ecoregion, sea ice pulls away from the coast in summer, and polar bears must be on land or move with the ice as it recedes north. In the Convergent Ice and Archipelago Ecoregions, sea ice is generally retained during the summer

Categories: Ecological News

Flatworms Could Replace Mammals for Some Toxicology Tests

Tue, 06/30/2015 - 13:44

By Kim McDonald
UC San Diego News Center

Laboratories that test chemicals for neurological toxicity could reduce their use of laboratory mice and rats by replacing these animal models with tiny aquatic flatworms known as freshwater planarians.

Freshwater planarians are small, inexpensive, easy to breed, sensitive to chemicals in the water and develop within a week. Credit: UC San Diego

Scientists at UC San Diego have discovered that planarians, commonly used in high-school biology labs to study regeneration and the primitive nervous system, are actually quite sophisticated when it comes to modeling the response of the developing human nervous system to potentially toxic chemicals.

The researchers published their findings in the current issue of the journal Toxicological Sciences.

“Because planarians have unique features such as a brain of intermediate complexity, a short regeneration time and offer the possibility of studying adults and developing worms in parallel, they make a good complementary system to existing animal models for studying developmental neurotoxicity,” said Eva-Maria Schoetz Collins, an assistant professor of biology and physics who headed the research group. “Using such alternative animal models will not only reduce costs, but will also significantly reduce the number of laboratory mammals used in toxicology tests.”

Humans are faced with thousands of potentially toxic compounds in their environment and new chemicals are added daily in the products we use, from pesticides to cosmetics to food additives. How to test these new chemicals for their safety has become a growing problem, given that traditional toxicology testing has long relied on laboratory rodents. Now, efforts are being made to replace them with alternatives that employ cultured cells or alternative animal models, such as zebrafish, that permit researchers to screen thousands of potential toxins more quickly and at a reduced cost.

“In recent years, several government agencies have begun to work together in what is called the ‘Tox21 Initiative,’ with the goal of changing the way toxicology testing has been done through in vitro assays such as cultured cells and alternatives to laboratory rodents,” explained Schoetz Collins. “Because each testing platform, be it an animal model or in vitro assay, has its limitations, it is important to perform tests across several platforms to determine the toxic concentrations and mechanisms of action for the development of reliable exposure guidelines for humans.”

Schoetz Collins and her collaborators began their study when they noticed that the planarians they were using in their laboratory experiments were particularly sensitive to different environmental conditions.

As an experiment, they developed a five-step semi-automatic screening platform to characterize the toxicity of nine known “neurotoxicants”—consisting of commonly used solvents, pesticides and detergents—and a neutral agent, glucose, on a species of planaria called Dugesia japonica. The researchers then quantified the effects of the various compounds on the planarians’ viability, stimulated and unstimulated behavior, regeneration and brain structure.

“Comparisons of our findings with other alternative toxicology animal models, namely zebrafish larvae and nematodes, demonstrated that planarians are comparably sensitive to the tested chemicals,” the scientists concluded in their paper.

“Like zebrafish and nematodes, freshwater planarians are small, inexpensive and easy to breed, sensitive to chemicals in the water and develop quickly,” in approximately one week, the researchers added.

But planarians also have important advantages to these alternative animal models.

“What renders freshwater planarians unique and particularly well-suited for developmental neurotoxicology is our ability to simultaneously study genetically identical adult and developing animals, allowing us to directly compare the effect of potential toxicants on the adult and developing brain, without possible complications from the variability of genetic factors,” the scientists wrote.

In addition, they added that the planarian nervous system is much more complex than that of nematodes, but simpler than that of zebrafish, and shares “the same neuronal subpopulations and neurotransmitters as the mammalian brain, to be relevant to human studies. In fact, the planarian brain is thought to be more similar to the vertebrate brain than to other invertebrate brains in terms of structure and function.”

Schoetz Collins emphasized that while her group’s research study demonstrates the viability of freshwater planarians as an alternative animal model for neurotoxicity, the aquatic flatworms won’t replace laboratory rodents, but will instead limit their use.

“Mammalian models will still be necessary,” she added, “but pre-screening with different models will allow us to select a smaller number of toxicants to be tested in mammals, thus reducing their use to the strict minimum.”

Other UC San Diego researchers involved in the study were Danielle Hagstrom, Olivier Cochet-Escartin, Siqi Zhang and Cindy Khuu.

Their paper in Toxicological Sciences is referenced at doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfv129. The project was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (5T32GM007240-37), Hellman Foundation, Burroughs Wellcome Fund and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Categories: Ecological News

Death Toll Soars in ‘Unbelievable’ Pakistan Heat Wave

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 13:52

By Nadia Prupis
Common Dreams

State of emergency declared for hospitals as heat stroke and dehydration claim hundreds of lives

Quetta, Pakistan

A deadly heat wave spreading through southern Pakistan has killed nearly 800 people in just a few days—a number that threatens to rise as temperatures remain unusually high this week.

At least 740 people have died of dehydration, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses in Karachi, the country’s largest city, since Saturday, with various sources estimating the death toll to have hit anywhere from 744 to 775. Local media reports that an additional 38 people have died in other provinces.

As temperatures hit 45°C (113°F) on Tuesday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared a state of emergency for hospitals, many of which have hit full capacity, with thousands needing care for heat stroke and dehydration.

Al Jazeera writes:

“The mortuary is overflowing, they are piling bodies one on top of the other,” said Dr Seemin Jamali, a senior official at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), the city’s largest government hospital.

“We are doing everything that is humanly possible here,” she said, adding that since Saturday, the JPMC had seen more than 5,000 patients with heat-related symptoms. Of those, 384 patients had died, she said.

“Until [Tuesday] night, it was unbelievable. We were getting patients coming into the emergency ward every minute,” she said.

Among those who have died, most have been either elderly or poor, officials say.

A former director of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency, Asif Shuja, said earlier this week that the soaring temperatures are an impact of climate change, fueled by rapid urbanization, deforestation, and car use. “The last 30 years – from 1993-2012 – had been warmer than the last 1,400 years. Scientists envisage a rise of 1-6.67°C in temperature till 2100 which will be disastrous,” he told the Express Tribune.

But as the Daily Pakistan points out, a study conducted by the Lancet/UCL commission this week found that only 15 percent of Pakistani citizens believe climate change is a major threat, while 40 percent are unaware or deny its existence. That makes Pakistan the “least aware” country in the South Asian region of the threats of climate change.

Commentator Juan Cole adds:

Average temperatures are set to go up by at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit because of the carbon dioxide we have already spilled into the atmosphere by burning petroleum, coal and natural gas. That will put Pakistan’s temperatures up to more like 114. It will go on up from there if we don’t find ways to stop emitting so much CO2.

Discontent is rising, too. Many residents are reportedly angry with some of the government measures being taken, such as power cuts, which they say prevent locals from using air conditioning and fans.

BBC reports:

Hot weather is not unusual during summer months in Pakistan, but prolonged power cuts seem to have made matters worse, the BBC’s Shahzeb Jillani reports.

Sporadic angry protests have taken place in parts of Karachi, with some people blaming the government and Karachi’s main power utility, K-Electric, for failing to avoid deaths, our correspondent adds.

The prime minister had announced that there would be no electricity cuts but outages have increased since the start of Ramadan, he reports.

Three weeks ago, India faced a similar deadly heat wave, which saw 1,200 people killed as temperatures hit nearly 50°C (122°F).

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Categories: Ecological News

Hope from the Pope

Thu, 06/25/2015 - 09:50
Pope Francis offers hopeful perspective on global crises

By David Suzuki

Pope Francis at Vargihna” by Tânia Rêgo/ABr – Agência Brasil. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 br via Wikimedia Commons

Earth has existed for 4.5 billion years, humans for somewhere around 150,000. But in my brief lifetime — less than 80 years — human populations have exploded exponentially, from two billion to more than seven billion. In that short time, we’ve created consumer societies and decimated the planet’s natural systems, used up resources, filled oceans with plastic and pollution, altered water cycles, and upset the Earth’s carbon cycle, disrupting global climate systems.

Our impacts on this small blue planet have been so rapid, widespread and profound that many scientists call this the Anthropocene Epoch. Much of it has coincided with the discovery and exploitation of fossil fuels, which showed great promise when I was a child. They were abundant and we didn’t understand the consequences of recklessly burning them. Cars were designed to use lots of gas and propel oil industry profits, not to conserve energy. Factories were built to create products and increase distribution efficiencies.

No longer confined to growing food and providing agricultural services, people moved to cities and, freed from the constraints of limited access to resources, grew rapidly in number, dramatically increasing consumption.

Because our technological prowess has grown faster than our knowledge, wisdom and foresight, much of what we’ve created is now crashing down around us — battered by pollution, ecosystem collapse, species extinction, resource scarcity, inequality, climate change and overpopulation.

Pope Francis recently put humanity’s situation in context — and offered hope for the future. Regardless of how you feel about religion or the Catholic Church, or even some ideas in the Pope’s encyclical, there’s no denying it contains a powerful, scientifically and morally valid call for radical change that will reach an audience far beyond the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

In his June 18 address, the Pope called on the world — not just Catholics — to recognize the need for change in the face of ecological crises such as human-caused global warming and the failure of growth-fueled market economics to facilitate human survival, happiness and prosperity. “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years,” he said.

In his wide-ranging address, Pope Francis spoke about pollution, climate change, water, biodiversity, inequality, poverty, economics, consumerism and spirituality. “The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world,” he said. “The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now.”

He also called out those stalling or preventing action to confront environmental problems, especially global warming: “Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.”

Connecting the dots between environmental degradation and inequality, he urged people to “integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Although parts of the address are bleak, the Pope argued that open conversation and changes in thinking, acting and governing could bring about positive change, even for the economy: “Productive diversification offers the fullest possibilities to human ingenuity to create and innovate, while at the same time protecting the environment and creating more sources of employment.”

And, he noted, “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning.”

The Pope joins a diverse global chorus of people calling for changes in our destructive lifestyle to confront crises such as climate change and the ever-growing gap between poor and rich.

These expanding and increasingly urgent calls to confront our hubris for the sake of humanity’s future represent a necessary shift in a way of thinking that has propelled us along what is, after all, just a recent and brief destructive course in our history. As Pope Francis said, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

 

Categories: Ecological News

‘Climate Is a Common Good’: Pope Francis Calls for Justice on Warming Planet

Sat, 06/20/2015 - 06:19

By Jon Queally
Courtesy of CommonDreams

Leader of Catholic Church says the richest owe the poorest a ‘great social debt’ for creating the climate crisis, ignoring warnings of its dangers, and refusing to act

‘The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,’ reads Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment which also says the most developed nations owe a ‘grave social debt’ to the poorest people on the planet who are being disproportionately and negatively impacted by human-caused global warming. Photo: NASA

A message to leaders and supporters of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Francis, cataloging the threat of climate change and the moral imperative to act aggressively to combat its root causes, is being heralded around the world on Thursday as a powerful—even ‘radical’—statement from one of the world’s most recognizable religious leaders.

“What makes the pope’s message so radical isn’t just his call to urgently tackle climate change. It’s the fact he openly and unashamedly goes against the grain of dominant social, economic and environment policies.”

~ Steffen Böhm, Sustainability Institute at University of Essex

Released in the form of a 180-page Papal Encyclical (pdf) — a formal letter to all the bishops of the church—the document codifies an official message from the spiritual leader, who makes the case that acting on climate change is not just a matter of decreasing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling global warming, but also involves addressing the inequities and injustices caused by the fossil fuel-driven economy and resulting climate change.

“This home of ours is being ruined and that damages everyone, especially the poor,” reads the pope’s message on the environment, climate, and social justice.

The encyclical states:

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognise the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the Earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the Earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.

Though a draft of the encyclical, leaked earlier this week, gave a sense of what Francis’ message would be, the Guardian notes that the document is “not only a moral call for action on phasing out the use of fossil fuels, as was expected,” but is also “infused with an activist anger and concern for the poor” that castigates “the indifference of the powerful,” including government leaders of the richest nations and the industrialists who profit most from the fossil fuel paradigm.

“The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty.”

~ Pope Francis

In his letter, Francis charges that the world’s most developed countries, which have benefited most from the use of coal, oil, and gas, owe a “grave social debt” to everyone else. “The developed countries ought to help pay this debt,” Francis states, “by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programs of sustainable development.”

Pope Francis speaking to the European Parliament in 2014. Photo: EU/flickr/cc

In the letter, the pope chastises those who would ignore the growing crisis despite all the warnings from the scientific community and beyond. It continues:

Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies. Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion. Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread.

Though acknowledging his message is aimed at the bishops and followers of one specific church, secular advocates for climate justice and international campaign groups welcomed the message as a powerful statement from an undeniably influential and global voice.

As Kumi Naidoo, head of Greenpeace International, stated: “Everyone, whether religious or secular, can and must respond to this clarion call for bold urgent action.”

And Lucy Cadena, climate justice campaigner for Friends of the Earth International, said her group welcomes the pope’s explicit connections between poverty, inequality and the need for climate justice. “Pope Francis is right to say that there is a moral imperative to act on climate change with the utmost urgency and ambition,” she said. “He is a friend of the earth and of the poorest and most vulnerable. Addressing climate change is a matter of justice: those who have contributed least to causing the crisis are suffering the greatest consequences.”

“Only when world leaders heed the Pope’s moral leadership on these two defining issues, inequality and climate change, will our societies become safer, more prosperous and more equal.”

~ Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International

Nicholas Stern, the British economist and author of an influential report on climate change, said the pope’s encyclical was of “enormous significance” because it could guide other leaders to follow suit. “Moral leadership on climate change from the Pope,” Stern said on Thursday, “is particularly important because of the failure of many heads of state and government around the world to show political leadership.”

Declaring that the pope’s message, in fact, is addressed people of all faiths as well as those who do not adhere to any religion, Janet Redman, director of the climate program at the Institute for Policy Studies, said Francis has challenged “the entire human community to take an honest look at the foundations of our society that has created wealth for some at the expense of the planet. The Pope has drawn a significant connection between our individual responsibility to care for creation and for each other, and the way we build the global economy.”

And his message is “crystal clear,” argues Redman. “The current development model, based on the intensive use of coal, oil, and even natural gas, has to go,” she said. “In its place, we need renewable sources of energy and new modes of production and consumption that rein in global warming. Taxing carbon, divesting from fossil fuels, and ending public corporate welfare for polluters can help end the stranglehold dirty energy companies have on our governments, economies and societies.”

Many people, including author and activist Naomi Klein earlier this week, have expressed surprise and gratitude that Francis is willing to push boundaries by linking climate change and capitalism, the role of economic inequality, the machinations of consumerism, and the long-held (but largely ignored) demand that the global North owes the global South a significant social and financial debt when it comes to paying for the damage its done to the planet over the last hundred years or more.

As Steffen Böhm, director of the Sustainability Institute at University of Essex, notes, what makes the message “so radical isn’t just his call to urgently tackle climate change. It’s the fact he openly and unashamedly goes against the grain of dominant social, economic and environment policies.” Böhm praised the pope’s bold announcement, because “untainted by the realities of government and the greed of big business, he is perhaps the only major figure who can legitimately confront the world’s economic and political elites in the way he has.”

Speaking to the idea of what climate justice means in practice, Winnie Byanyima, international executive director of Oxfam International, said that because “gross and growing inequality between rich and poor has been made worse by the climate crisis” and “the emissions of the rich are driving weather extremes that hit the poorest hardest,” there is no other pathway than addressing both concerns as a single problem. According to Byanyima, “Only when world leaders heed the Pope’s moral leadership on these two defining issues, inequality and climate change, will our societies become safer, more prosperous and more equal.”

In the end, Böhm says the pope’s historical statement will help establish in the mind of the global population that the “time for bold, radical action on the environment as well as poverty eradication has come.”

“The language of the climate justice movement has just been adopted by the pope.”

~ Naomi Klein, author and activist

To quote directly from the encyclical: “The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty.”

Klein, who literally wrote the book on this subject and appeared on Democracy Now! Thursday morning to discuss Francis’ message, might be hard pressed to put it better. Perhaps most notable, she explained, is how closely the message that Francis has formalized as the church’s position corresponds to the critique articulated by activists and experts like herself. “The language of the climate justice movement has just been adopted by the pope,” she said.

Watch Democracy Now!:

Full Text of Encyclical Letter (pdf)

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Categories: Ecological News

Increasing Ecological Understanding with Virtual Worlds

Wed, 06/17/2015 - 13:57
Harvard Researchers Develop Cyberlearning Technologies for Environmental Education


In EcoMOBILE, students’ field trip experiences are enhanced by using two forms of mobile technology for science education–mobile broadband devices and environmental probeware. Credit: Shari J. Metcalf, Harvard University

Immersive interfaces like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality are becoming ever more powerful, eliciting investment from the likes of Google, Samsung and Microsoft. As these technologies become commercially available, their use in education is expected to grow.

Chris Dede, a professor of learning technologies at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, has studied immersion and learning technologies for twenty years.
“After 20 minutes of watching a good movie, psychologically you’re in the context of the story, rather than where your body is sitting,” Dede said.

Dede’s research tries to determine how immersive interfaces can deepen what happens in classrooms and homes and complement rich, educational real world learning experiences, like internships.

Two decades ago, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dede started investigating head-mounted displays and room-sized virtual environments. Some of his early immersive cyberlearning projects included River City (a virtual world in which students learned epidemiology, scientific inquiry and history) and Science Space (virtual reality physics simulations).

In his most recent projects, Dede and his colleagues have tackled the subject of environmental education, teaching students about stewardship.

“Our projects take a stance. They’re not just about understanding,” Dede said. “There’s a values dimension of it that’s important and makes it harder to teach. This is a good challenge for us.”

With support from NSF and Qualcomm’s Wireless Reach initiative, Dede and his team developed EcoMUVE, a virtual world-based curriculum that teaches middle school students about ecosystems, as well as about scientific inquiry and complex causality.
The project uses a Multi User Virtual Environment (MUVEs)–a 3-D world similar to those found in videogames–to recreate real ecological settings within which students explore and collect information.

EcoMUVE is a curriculum that was developed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education that uses immersive virtual environments to teach middle school students about ecosystems and causal patterns.
Credit: Shari J. Metcalf, Harvard University

At the beginning of the two to four week EcoMUVE curriculum, the students discover that all of the fish in a virtual pond have died. They then work in teams to determine the complex causal relationships that led to the die-off. The experience immerses the students as ecosystem scientists.

“It’s like a jigsaw puzzle,” Dede explained. “Each team member does part of the exploring, and they must work together to solve the mystery.”

At the end of the investigation, all of the students participate in a mini-scientific conference where they show their findings and the research behind it.
EcoMUVE was released in 2010 and received first-place in the Interactive Category of the Immersive Learning Award in 2011 from the Association for Educational Communications and Technology.

Writing in the Journal of Science Education Technologies, Dede and his team concluded that the tools and context provided by the immersive virtual environment helped support student engagement in modeling practices related to ecosystem science.

Whereas EcoMUVE’s investigations occurred in a virtual world, the group’s follow-up, EcoMOBILE, takes place in real world settings that are heightened by digital tools and augmented reality.

“Multi-user virtual environments are like ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ You go through the window of the screen and become a digital person in an imaginary world,” Dede said. “Augmented reality is like magic eyes that show an overlay on the real world that make you more powerful.”

The researchers took the same pond (Black’s Nook Pond in Cambridge, Mass.) and asked themselves: Why not augment the pond itself and have different stations around the pond where students can go and learn? What emerged was a cyberlearning curriculum centered on location-based augmented reality (AR).

Dede’s team created a smart-phone based AR game that students play in the field. Initial studies show significant learning gains using AR versus a regular field trip.

The virtual worlds and augmented reality are containers in which learning can be developed across a range of subjects, Dede says. The same approach could be applied to economics or local history.

But as appealing as the technology may be, truly successful immersive learning technologies are all about the “3 E’s” according to Dede: evocation, engagement and evidence.

Evocation and engagement are fairly easy in VR and AR applications. And increasingly, gathering evidence is too.

Dede’s project uses the rich second-by-second information on student behavior gathered by the digital tools to determine how well the project is teaching the students the core concepts. This allows for more accurate individual evaluation.

“We can now collect rich kinds of big data,” Dede said. “If we understand how to interpret this data, they can help us with assessment.”

With an award from NSF, Dede and his colleagues developed a rubric for virtual performance assessments, working towards a vision of diagnostics happening in real-time that impact the course of the learning.

“The embedded diagnostic assessments–or ‘stealth assessments’–provide rich diagnostic information for students and teachers,” Dede said.

The team has even developed animated pedagogical agents (like “Dr. C”, a simulated a NASA mars expert) as a way to bring people-based expertise to learning in a scalable way.

The latest direction for Dede’s research: using Go-Pro cameras to capture the inter- and intra-personal dimensions of students’ activities and equipping the AR devices with sensors so students can map critical biomes.

“There’s a whole bunch of great citizen science that we can see coming out of this,” he said.

Source: National Science Foundation

Categories: Ecological News

Predicting Forest Mortality

Tue, 06/16/2015 - 13:30

By Julie Cohen
The UC Santa Barbara Current

A National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis working group study analyzes a variety of factors contributing to forest die-offs

The western U.S. has been a hotspot for forest die-offs, such as this one in Colorado. Photo: William M. Ciesla, Forest Health Management

A combination of drought, heat and insects is responsible for the death of more than 12 million trees in California, according to a new study from UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). Members of the NCEAS working group studying environmental factors contributing to tree mortality expect this number to increase with climate change.

The study is the first of its kind to examine the wide spectrum of interactions between drought and insects. Lead author William Anderegg, a postdoctoral researcher at the Princeton Environmental Institute, and his coauthors first devised a framework to look at the effects that each stressor can have on tree mortality and then examined interactions among them. The researchers’ findings appear in New Phytologist.

“We wanted to be able to get a sense of how these die-off patterns will shift with climate change,” explained study coauthor Naomi Tague, an associate professor at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. “Are there huge forests that will be at higher risk of dying sooner?”

The western U.S. has been a hotspot for forest die-offs. Local economies in states like California and Colorado are highly dependent on the nature-based tourism and recreation provided by forests, which offer a scenic backdrop to the skiing, fishing and backpacking opportunities that draw so many people to live and play in the West. But lingering drought, rising temperatures and outbreaks of tree-killing pests such as bark beetles have spurred an increase in widespread tree mortality — especially within the past decade.

“Very often both drought and insects together are responsible for tree mortality,” explained Anderegg, “but there are several good examples of trees dying because of one impact and not the other. We’ve worked to detail the spectrum of interactions between drought and insects and examine how they go hand in hand to affect tree die-offs.”

Forest mortality has also been shown to impact everything from real estate to clean water. Property values in Colorado plummeted after swaths of coniferous forests were damaged by pine beetle infestations. Water purification services provided by forests continue to be disrupted when hectares of forests are lost to pests and drought. What’s more, forest die-off events are projected to increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades.

“If we want to account for forest die-off events at local and global scales, we need some way of estimating how often they are likely to occur,” Tague said. “We’re putting together the pieces of how climate conditions can affect that mortality and how to identify the specific stressors that cause it.”

The study’s framework is a first step toward developing the tools that resource managers need to better predict the impacts of climate change on forests. Scientists and forest specialists are now tasked not only with determining what conditions prompt tree mortality but also how they will shape forested landscapes in the years to come. Being able to predict forest mortality in a changing climate is key to conservation and land use planning.

“Ultimately, forests are a critical part of western U.S. landscapes and state economies,” Anderegg said. “They are also a canary in the coal mine for climate change. These massive forest die-offs that we are starting to see are a sign that climate change is already having major impacts in our backyard.”

 

A combination of drought, heat and insects is responsible for the death of more than 12 million trees in California, according to a new study from UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). Members of the NCEAS working group studying environmental factors contributing to tree mortality expect this number to increase with climate change.

The study is the first of its kind to examine the wide spectrum of interactions between drought and insects. Lead author William Anderegg, a postdoctoral researcher at the Princeton Environmental Institute, and his coauthors first devised a framework to look at the effects that each stressor can have on tree mortality and then examined interactions among them. The researchers’ findings appear in New Phytologist.

“We wanted to be able to get a sense of how these die-off patterns will shift with climate change,” explained study coauthor Naomi Tague, an associate professor at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. “Are there huge forests that will be at higher risk of dying sooner?”

- See more at: http://www.news.ucsb.edu/2015/015489/predicting-tree-mortality#sthash.uZvpSFQs.dpuf

A combination of drought, heat and insects is responsible for the death of more than 12 million trees in California, according to a new study from UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). Members of the NCEAS working group studying environmental factors contributing to tree mortality expect this number to increase with climate change.

The study is the first of its kind to examine the wide spectrum of interactions between drought and insects. Lead author William Anderegg, a postdoctoral researcher at the Princeton Environmental Institute, and his coauthors first devised a framework to look at the effects that each stressor can have on tree mortality and then examined interactions among them. The researchers’ findings appear in New Phytologist.

“We wanted to be able to get a sense of how these die-off patterns will shift with climate change,” explained study coauthor Naomi Tague, an associate professor at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. “Are there huge forests that will be at higher risk of dying sooner?”

The western U.S. has been a hotspot for forest die-offs. Local economies in states like California and Colorado are highly dependent on the nature-based tourism and recreation provided by forests, which offer a scenic backdrop to the skiing, fishing and backpacking opportunities that draw so many people to live and play in the West. But lingering drought, rising temperatures and outbreaks of tree-killing pests such as bark beetles have spurred an increase in widespread tree mortality — especially within the past decade.

“Very often both drought and insects together are responsible for tree mortality,” explained Anderegg, “but there are several good examples of trees dying because of one impact and not the other. We’ve worked to detail the spectrum of interactions between drought and insects and examine how they go hand in hand to affect tree die-offs.”

Forest mortality has also been shown to impact everything from real estate to clean water. Property values in Colorado plummeted after swaths of coniferous forests were damaged by pine beetle infestations. Water purification services provided by forests continue to be disrupted when hectares of forests are lost to pests and drought. What’s more, forest die-off events are projected to increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades.

“If we want to account for forest die-off events at local and global scales, we need some way of estimating how often they are likely to occur,” Tague said. “We’re putting together the pieces of how climate conditions can affect that mortality and how to identify the specific stressors that cause it.”

The study’s framework is a first step toward developing the tools that resource managers need to better predict the impacts of climate change on forests. Scientists and forest specialists are now tasked not only with determining what conditions prompt tree mortality but also how they will shape forested landscapes in the years to come. Being able to predict forest mortality in a changing climate is key to conservation and land use planning.

“Ultimately, forests are a critical part of western U.S. landscapes and state economies,” Anderegg said. “They are also a canary in the coal mine for climate change. These massive forest die-offs that we are starting to see are a sign that climate change is already having major impacts in our backyard.”

- See more at: http://www.news.ucsb.edu/2015/015489/predicting-tree-mortality#sthash.uZvpSFQs.dpuf

A combination of drought, heat and insects is responsible for the death of more than 12 million trees in California, according to a new study from UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). Members of the NCEAS working group studying environmental factors contributing to tree mortality expect this number to increase with climate change.

The study is the first of its kind to examine the wide spectrum of interactions between drought and insects. Lead author William Anderegg, a postdoctoral researcher at the Princeton Environmental Institute, and his coauthors first devised a framework to look at the effects that each stressor can have on tree mortality and then examined interactions among them. The researchers’ findings appear in New Phytologist.

“We wanted to be able to get a sense of how these die-off patterns will shift with climate change,” explained study coauthor Naomi Tague, an associate professor at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. “Are there huge forests that will be at higher risk of dying sooner?”

The western U.S. has been a hotspot for forest die-offs. Local economies in states like California and Colorado are highly dependent on the nature-based tourism and recreation provided by forests, which offer a scenic backdrop to the skiing, fishing and backpacking opportunities that draw so many people to live and play in the West. But lingering drought, rising temperatures and outbreaks of tree-killing pests such as bark beetles have spurred an increase in widespread tree mortality — especially within the past decade.

“Very often both drought and insects together are responsible for tree mortality,” explained Anderegg, “but there are several good examples of trees dying because of one impact and not the other. We’ve worked to detail the spectrum of interactions between drought and insects and examine how they go hand in hand to affect tree die-offs.”

Forest mortality has also been shown to impact everything from real estate to clean water. Property values in Colorado plummeted after swaths of coniferous forests were damaged by pine beetle infestations. Water purification services provided by forests continue to be disrupted when hectares of forests are lost to pests and drought. What’s more, forest die-off events are projected to increase in frequency and severity in the coming decades.

“If we want to account for forest die-off events at local and global scales, we need some way of estimating how often they are likely to occur,” Tague said. “We’re putting together the pieces of how climate conditions can affect that mortality and how to identify the specific stressors that cause it.”

The study’s framework is a first step toward developing the tools that resource managers need to better predict the impacts of climate change on forests. Scientists and forest specialists are now tasked not only with determining what conditions prompt tree mortality but also how they will shape forested landscapes in the years to come. Being able to predict forest mortality in a changing climate is key to conservation and land use planning.

“Ultimately, forests are a critical part of western U.S. landscapes and state economies,” Anderegg said. “They are also a canary in the coal mine for climate change. These massive forest die-offs that we are starting to see are a sign that climate change is already having major impacts in our backyard.”

- See more at: http://www.news.ucsb.edu/2015/015489/predicting-tree-mortality#sthash.uZvpSFQs.dpuf

A National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis working group study analyzes a variety of factors contributing to forest die-offs – See more at: http://www.news.ucsb.edu/2015/015489/predicting-tree-mortality#sthash.uZvpSFQs.dpuf A National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis working group study analyzes a variety of factors contributing to forest die-offs – See more at: http://www.news.ucsb.edu/2015/015489/predicting-tree-mortality#sthash.uZvpSFQs.dpuf
Categories: Ecological News

Fix the Soil, Feed the Planet, Save the World: The Power of Regeneration

Fri, 06/12/2015 - 12:58

By Deirdre Fulton
Common Dreams

‘Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy,’ says Vandana Shiva

Seeking to elevate sustainable forms of agriculture such as agroecology, holistic grazing, cover cropping, permaculture, and agroforestry over industrial practices that degrade soil, introduce toxins to the food supply—and exacerbate climate change—a group of farmers, scientists, and activists are convening for the Regenerative International Conference in Costa Rica this week.

The conference, the first of a planned series of similar gatherings around the world, will focus on uniting movements, developing campaigns, and creating a global media plan to communicate specifically how restoring soil health can reverse damage to ecosystems around the world.

“This is new science that’s connecting the food issues with the climate issue, making it more and more clear that by fixing the soil, and fixing the way we produce food, we can fix the climate as well,” said Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association, in a press release on Monday.

Reports have shown how regenerative farming and ranching techniques—such as “holistic grazing,” which makes use of the movement and behavior of the grazing animals to break up and fertilize dry soil—can restore farmland and produce yields similar to industrial techniques, leading to far greater food security. In addition, the groups behind the conference point out that healthy soil can reduce the amount of water necessary to grow crops by as much as 60 percent.

“Bringing soil to the center of our consciousness and our planning is vital not only for the life of the soil, but also for the future of our society,” said Vandana Shiva, global activist and author of Soil Not Oil.

Shiva, a co-founder of the Regeneration International Working Group, added: “Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Categories: Ecological News

NASA Releases Global Climate Change Projections

Wed, 06/10/2015 - 14:41

By NASA

NASA has released data showing how temperature and rainfall patterns worldwide may change through the year 2100 because of growing concentrations of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere.

The new NASA global data set combines historical measurements with data from climate simulations using the best available computer models to provide forecasts of how global temperature (shown here) and precipitation might change up to 2100 under different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. Image: NASA

The dataset, which is available to the public, shows projected changes worldwide on a regional level in response to different scenarios of increasing carbon dioxide simulated by 21 climate models. The high-resolution data, which can be viewed on a daily timescale at the scale of individual cities and towns, will help scientists and planners conduct climate risk assessments to better understand local and global effects of hazards, such as severe drought, floods, heat waves and losses in agriculture productivity.

“NASA is in the business of taking what we’ve learned about our planet from space and creating new products that help us all safeguard our future,” said Ellen Stofan, NASA chief scientist. “With this new global dataset, people around the world have a valuable new tool to use in planning how to cope with a warming planet.”

The new dataset is the latest product from the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX), a big-data research platform within the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Center at the agency’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. In 2013, NEX released similar climate projection data for the continental United States that is being used to quantify climate risks to the nation’s agriculture, forests, rivers and cities.

“This is a fundamental dataset for climate research and assessment with a wide range of applications,” said Ramakrishna Nemani, NEX project scientist at Ames. “NASA continues to produce valuable community-based data products on the NEX platform to promote scientific collaboration, knowledge sharing, and research and development.”

This NASA dataset integrates actual measurements from around the world with data from climate simulations created by the international Fifth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project. These climate simulations used the best physical models of the climate system available to provide forecasts of what the global climate might look like under two different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios: a “business as usual” scenario based on current trends and an “extreme case” with a significant increase in emissions.

The NASA climate projections provide a detailed view of future temperature and precipitation patterns around the world at a 15.5 mile (25 kilometer) resolution, covering the time period from 1950 to 2100. The 11-terabyte dataset provides daily estimates of maximum and minimum temperatures and precipitation over the entire globe.

NEX is a collaboration and analytical platform that combines state-of-the-art supercomputing, Earth system modeling, workflow management and NASA remote-sensing data. Through NEX, users can explore and analyze large Earth science data sets, run and share modeling algorithms and workflows, collaborate on new or existing projects and exchange workflows and results within and among other science communities.

NEX data and analysis tools are available to the public through the OpenNEX project on Amazon Web Services. OpenNEX is a partnership between NASA and Amazon, Inc., to enhance public access to climate data, and support planning to increase climate resilience in the U.S. and internationally. OpenNEX is an extension of the NASA Earth Exchange in a public cloud-computing environment.

NASA uses the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records. The agency freely shares this unique knowledge and works with institutions around the world to gain new insights into how our planet is changing.

Additional information about the NASA climate projection dataset is available at:
https://nex.nasa.gov/nex/projects/1356/

The dataset is available for download at:
https://cds.nccs.nasa.gov/nex-gddp/

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/earth

Categories: Ecological News

World Oceans Day 2015

Mon, 06/08/2015 - 10:12
Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet

Since 2009, people around the world have celebrated World Oceans Day. The United Nations General Assembly took the concept, first proposed in 1992 and made it official on 5 December 2008. Since then, the event has grown and spread as the realization of the ocean’s importance to humanity has increased.

We have come to learn that oceans drive global systems that make it possible to live on this earth. So much of what we take for granted – oxygen, rainfall, much of our food – is dependent on the health of the ocean.

As understanding grows it is apparent that management of this global resource is of prime importance.

“Together let’s ensure oceans can sustain us into the future. Let us reflect on the multiple benefits of the oceans. Let us commit to keep them healthy and productive and to use their resources peacefully, equitably and sustainably for the benefit of current and future generations.” Ban Ki-moon Did you know:
  • Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth’s surface, contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water, and represent 99 percent of the living space on the planet by volume. To date only a little over 1 percent of the ocean is protected.
  • An estimated 50-80 percent of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface and the oceans contain 99 percent of the living space on the planet. Less than 10 percent of that space has been explored by humans.
  • Tiny marine plants called phytoplankton release half of all oxygen in the atmosphere through photosynthesis.
  • The oceans account for 96 percent of all the water on the surface of the Earth, the remainder being freshwater, in the form of rivers, lakes and ice.
  • The ocean absorbs approximately 25 percent of the CO2 added to the atmosphere from human activities each year, greatly reducing the impact of this greenhouse gas on the climate.
  • Oceans absorb about 30 percent of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming.
  • Total carbon deposits in coastal systems such as such as mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows may be up to five times the carbon stored in tropical forests.
  • Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.
  • Globally, the market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is estimated at $3 trillion per year or about 5 percent of global GDP.
  • Oceans contain nearly 200,000 identified species, but actual numbers may lie in the millions.
  • Oceans serve as the world’s largest source of protein, with more than 2.6 billion people depending on the oceans as their primary source of protein.
  • Marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people.Subsidies for fishing are contributing to the rapid depletion of many fish species and are preventing efforts to save and restore global fisheries and related jobs, causing ocean fisheries to generate US$ 50 billion less per year than they could.
  • As much as 40 percent of the world oceans are heavily affected by human activities, including pollution, depleted fisheries, and loss of coastal habitats.
  • Source: United Nations 

As the importance of the oceans is better understood, they are being brought more into focus. The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO) has organized a full day dedicated to the ocean’s role in the climate system, ahead of the global climate change negotiations taking place during the (COP21) at the end of 2015 in Paris.

As stated on the UN website, “The purpose of this 2015 World Oceans Day, as an official COP21 event, is to mobilize and unite political actors, scientists, youth and civil society for the protection of marine ecosystems and to place the ocean at the heart of the climate change negotiations. Until now, the main focus of the negotiations has been mostly on greenhouse gas emissions, while ocean related issues have remained overlooked.”

Around the World

People everywhere are celebrating World Oceans Day 2015 in different ways. In Borneo, a conservation group called Tropical Research and Conservation Centre restore damaged coral reef ecosystems using diving volunteers. Save the Sea Restaurant Campaign in Germany and the UK is a collaboration between The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) and top seafood and Michelin-starred restaurants to raise money and awareness for their work to secure truly sustainable, well-managed fisheries. Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco is celebrating World Oceans Day for a full week! Sea Speaks to the Soul in Dubai is raising awareness to reduce plastic, planting native Ghaf trees, doing mangrove rehabilitation and beach clean ups.

The opportunities to contribute to sustaining our oceans are endless and continue all year round.

 

Categories: Ecological News

Today is World Environment Day

Fri, 06/05/2015 - 10:31

World Environment Day was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1972, and is celebrated every June 5th. The United Nations Environment Program describes WED as its “principal vehicle for encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the environment.” More than 100 nations will be involved in this year’s celebration, with all manner and scale of activities, including marathons, music, clean-ups and educational events.

This year’s World Environment Day theme is: “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care” – focusing on conscious consumption, food waste, water conservation, and energy consumption patterns.

As we strive to live within our planetary boundaries, while population growth and economic development persevere unabated, World Environment Day serves as an opportunity to channel our collective power to treat our planet and its resources responsibly.

For more information and to find an event near you, visit UNEP.

Categories: Ecological News

Last Chance Saloon

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 22:04
Hard bargaining in Bonn this week will probably decide whether the crucial climate talks in Paris in December can save human civilisation from ultimate collapse.

By Paul Brown

Trying to beat the heat in India, where the temperature in some southern states has recently topped 47°C.
Image: Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons

LONDON, 1 June, 2015 − The text of the agreement on how the world will tackle climate change and set targets that will keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels is being negotiated in Bonn, Germany, this week.

The 2°C limit has been set by politicians to prevent the planet overheating dangerously − but the cuts in carbon emissions required to achieve it have so far not been agreed.

It is this gap between the policy goals agreed  by world leaders and their lack of action to achieve them that the Bonn conference seeks to address.

The meeting, which opened today, will last for 10 days as working groups grapple with action to reduce carbon emissions, how to finance technology transfer, and how to adapt to sea level rise and other unavoidable consequences of present warming − such as the current heatwave affecting India, where temperatures in some southern states have topped 47°C.

Devastating Consequences

Scientists and environment groups have said that this year’s negotiations are humanity’s “Last Chance Saloon”. If steep emissions cuts are not agreed and implemented quickly, the global temperature has little chance of staying under 2°C − with devastating consequences for the natural world and human civilisation.

There are signs that momentum towards agreement is increasing. A report by Globe International, which will be given to delegates, reveals that three-quarters of the world’s annual emissions of greenhouse gases are now limited by national targets.

The 2015 Global Climate Legislation Study shows that the number of climate laws and policies aimed at limiting emissions passed by national governments had increased to 804 this year, up from 426 in 2009 when the Copenhagen climate talks collapsed, and from just 54 in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was agreed.

The lead author of the study, Michal Nachmany, a researcher at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, says: “With three-quarters of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions now covered by national targets, we can be more confident about the credibility of the pledges that countries will make ahead of the crucial summit in Paris.

“This growing amount of legislation provides evidence that the world’s major emitters are taking serious steps to tackle climate change in their countries.” ~ Professor Samuel Fankhauser

“While collectively these pledges are unlikely to be consistent with the international goal of avoiding global warming of more than 2°C, the existence of national legislation and policies should provide the opportunity for countries to strengthen the ambition of their emissions cuts after the summit.”

Professor Samuel Fankhauser, co-director of the Grantham Institute and co-author of the study, says: “Every five or so years, the number of climate laws and policies across the world has doubled. This growing amount of legislation provides evidence that the world’s major emitters are taking serious steps to tackle climate change in their countries.

“By writing their intentions into law, the world’s leaders have shown that international climate change talks do lead to national action in the vast majority of countries.”

The problem is, as the report points out, that current targets and timetables to achieve them are not enough to limit greenhouse gases sufficiently to get below the agreed 2°C limit.

Under Pressure

However,  politicians are coming under pressure to improve their pledges. Ahead of the Bonn meeting, a business summit in Paris showed that many companies are pushing their political leaders for action.

This is a marked change from the last two decades, a time when the fossil fuel industry has lobbied to slow decisions on tackling climate change.

In Paris, 25 worldwide business networks − representing 6.5 million companies from 130 countries − demanded political action to achieve a low-emission, climate-resilient economy.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the organiser of the Bonn conference, says: “With some 200 days to the UN climate convention conference in Paris, the growing momentum for change and for action is rapidly gaining ground across countries, companies, cities and citizens.

“News of yet another group of stakeholders committing to long-term emission reduction targets or ambitious investments in renewable energies is emerging almost daily – building confidence and a sense of ‘can do’ among nations as we enter the final six months of 2015.”

Whether this optimism is justified will be seen in the next week as the working groups refine the technical agreements that heads of governments are expected to sign in Paris in December.

Recurring Problems

Among the many recurring problems that have created a stumbling block is the amount of money pledged by rich nations to developing countries to help them avoid fossil fuel use and adapt to climate change. So far, the pledges to provide billions of dollars in technical help and adaptation have not been followed by the cash.

As well as trying to seal an agreement for action after 2020, the Bonn conference is also working  to accelerate action in the five years until then – which  are currently covered by no legally-binding international agreement. The particular focus here will be on  scaling up the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency in urban areas.

The fact that China and the US are now working together to reach an agreement in Paris is also helping move the talks along.

However, some developing countries, notably India, are still saying their priority is lifting their poor out of poverty, rather than reducing their emissions.

To this end, India is exploiting far more of its coal reserves, and jeopardising hopes of global reductions in emissions. – Climate News Network

 

Categories: Ecological News

Norway’s $900bn Sovereign Fund to Cut Coal Investments

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 10:24

By Tierney Smith

Creative Commons: Greg Goebel, 2012

In a move sending shock waves through international energy markets, Norway is on the cusp of abandoning most of its coal investments, following an unanimous recommendation by a parliamentary committee on Thursday.

The bipartisan agreement reached by the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs calls for the country’s US$900 billion Sovereign Wealth Fund to divest its holdings in companies that generate more than 30 percent of their output or revenues from coal-related activities from the beginning of next year.

The move has been welcomed by campaigners as a sign that the country is “really taking a lead” on climate action.

Arild Hermstad from the Norwegian NGO “The Future in our Hands” said:

“Coal is bad for all aspects of our environment: it destroys landscapes, contaminates water resources, pollutes the air and is the number one threat for our climate. Such investments are not in line with the values of Norwegian society, and the unanimous vote of the Finance Committee means that this is now recognised across all party lines.”

Campaigners estimate that the move could see as much as $5.5 billion divested – around half of the fund’s current US $11 billion of coal holdings – including investments in companies such as Germany’s RWE, China’s Shenhua, Duke Energy from the United States, Australia’s AGL Energy, and Poland’s PGE.

Norwegian MPs say the move represents a “great victory for our climate”, breaks “new ground for institutional investors” and sets a strong precedent for funds around the world to abandon “the world’s poorest performing sector” in the face of mounting climate risk.

Norway has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, with environmental campaigners putting the country’s massive fund in their sights.

Today’s decision marks one of the biggest wins for the global divestment campaign, which has recently secured commitments from the Church of Englandthe University of Edinburgh, and many more.

Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org said:

“If you’d told any of us, three years ago, that the planet’s largest sovereign wealth fund would begin divesting, we would have laughed. The way this idea–that the world has far more fossil fuel than it can burn–has spread is an enormously hopeful sign. There’s much work to be done taking on coal, oil, and gas but the momentum is definitely on our side.”

With Norway’s fund managers regarded as some of the best globally, this move should also send a chill down the spin of investors in dirty fossil fuels globally.

IEEFA director of finance, Tom Sanzillo said:

“This is a financially defensive and prudent course of action to protect the Fund from further losses from its coal-mining and coal-burning power-generation investments. Coal markets globally are in the midst of a wrenching structural decline. No investment fund in the world—be it university, pension or institutional—can make a compelling financial case to hold these equities in their portfolio any longer.”

Commentators warn the Norwegian Parliament’s decision, which will be finalised on June 5, will create a domino effect on the rest of the investments sector.

See more at: http://tcktcktck.org

Categories: Ecological News

‘Putin’s Tigers’ are Thriving in the Wild

Fri, 05/29/2015 - 23:45

By Dr. Maria N. Vorontsova
IFAW

This month marks the one year anniversary of the biggest Siberian tiger release in history. Four of the five Amur (aka Siberian) tigers released last year in the Russian Far East have adapted successfully to life in the wild. Newly released video captured by a camera trap positioned at the Khingan Nature Reserve shows a healthy tigress, Ilona, marking her territory.

Satellite tracking and camera trap videos show that the rehabilitated orphan tigress continues to thrive in the Russian forests near the Chinese border. By tracking her movements, scientists have learned that she is hunting wolves, deer and wild boar.

“Success stories like Ilona are helping to change the opinion and policy of officials in the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources,” said Maria Vorontsova, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Russia director. “There was a general belief that it was impossible to rehabilitate and return orphan tiger cubs back to the wild. IFAW and our partner groups have now proven that it is indeed possible.”

Nicknamed “Putin’s tigers” after President Vladimir Putin’s participation in the release, all but one of the five tigers have successfully adapted to life in the wild. Kuzya, Ilona, Borya and Svetlaya have been tracked and are establishing territories of their own. Ustin was caught after months of wandering near human settlements, along the Chinese-Russian border and was ultimately taken to the Rostov-on-Don zoo due to public safety concerns.

The tigress Zolushka (which means Cinderella in Russian) was released in 2013 and was the first to be successfully rehabilitated and reintroduced to the wild. Scientists report that she is doing well and continues to thrive in the Bastak Nature Reserve. It is believed that she found a mate, Zavetny, and may already have given birth to cubs. If the young survive, they will increase the remaining population of approximately 400 wild Amur tigers.

With ongoing support from the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, a multi-group collaboration between IFAW, Special Inspection Tiger, A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Phoenix Foundation make this tiger rescue, rehabilitation and release possible.

About IFAW
Founded in 1969, IFAW rescues and protects animals around the world. With projects in more than 40 countries, IFAW rescues individual animals, works to prevent cruelty to animals, and advocates for the protection of wildlife and habitats. For more information, visit www.ifaw.org.

Categories: Ecological News

Heatwave Grips India

Fri, 05/29/2015 - 13:45

By Jon Queally
Common Dreams

Workers, the elderly, and the homeless are most vulnerable as severe weather hits hard and, yes, climate change is being called a factor.

The deathtoll related to an ongoing and “unprecedented” heatwave in India has soared to nearly 1,200 people, according to the nation’s health ministry on Wednesday, with no respite for hundreds of millions of people expected until at least the weekend.

According to officials quoted in the Hindustan Times, most of the victims have been construction workers, the elderly or the homeless. In regions across the subcontinent this week, temperatures have sweltered populations with thermometers pushing towards 50°C (or 122°F) and high levels of humidity stifling air quality. In response, India’s Meteorological Department has issued what are called “red box” warnings for various states where the maximum temperatures are expected to remain above 45°C.

“This year, the heatwave condition is unprecedented and there has been a large number of deaths. The Health Ministry is likely to come up with an advisory soon for all the states and common people,” a senior health Ministry official told the Press Trust of India (PTI).

As Pakistan Today reports, conditions may well get worse before they better:

Roads have melted in New Delhi, where forecasters said they expected the high temperatures to continue into next week — adding to the misery of thousands living on the capital’s streets with little shelter from the hot sun.

“Maximum temperatures won’t fall substantially. However, major relief can be expected from June 2 as there are indications of good showers,” [a local forecaster] said.

Hospitals in the worst-affected states were on alert to treat victims of heatstroke and authorities advised people to stay indoors and drink plenty of water.

Hundreds of people — mainly from the poorest sections of society — die at the height of summer every year across the country, while tens of thousands suffer power cuts from an overburdened electricity grid.

Authorities in the worst-hit state of Andhra Pradesh in southern India, where nearly 900 people have died since May 18, called for emergency water distribution areas to be set up.

As with ongoing flooding in Texas and Oklahoma in the United States this week, the extreme heat in India has been attributed to the convergence of seasonal weather patterns beset by the El Nino in the Pacific Ocean and the overall impact of increased global temperatures due to human-caused climate change. According to the International Business Times:

Experts say an El Nino, which leads to a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, triggers scorching weather across Asia.

However, even without an El Nino the global warming in the last few decades has potential for damage.

“On account of 0.8 degree warming during the past hundred years, one must expect more heat waves even without an El Nino. El Nino will increase the atmospheric temperature and hence add to the problems created by global warming,” J Srinivasan, chairman, Divecha Centre for Climate Change at Indian Institute of Science told IBTimes UK.

Additionally, as the Times of India reported earlier this week, a recent study by the Germany-based Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research warned that specific areas India, including highly-populated urban enclaves like Hyderabad, can expect more hot days in the future thanks to the global warming.

If you think the heat wave this year is the worst, prepare for tougher times ahead. Hyderabad is likely to get hotter in the next few years, with the average number of severe heatwave days increasing.

Generally the city suffers a maximum of five heatwave days’ in a year. According to experts, this number will go up to as many as 40 days per year in the future. [...]

A heat wave’ day is when the temperature is five degrees Celsius or more than the average temperature recorded on that particular day over the last three decades. For example, the temperature recorded on Saturday was 43.6 degrees Celsius against a normal maximum temperature of 39.5 degrees Celsius recorded on the same day in the last few years. According to the Met officials, this is five degrees Celsius more than the normal temperature.

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Categories: Ecological News

Clean Water Rule Protects Streams and Wetlands Critical to Public Health, Communities, and Economy

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 04:55

By EPA.gov

Does not create any new permitting requirements and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions

In an historic step for the protection of clean water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army finalized the Clean Water Rule today to clearly protect from pollution and degredation the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.

The rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined and predictably determined, making permitting less costly, easier, and faster for businesses and industry. The rule is grounded in law and the latest science, and is shaped by public input. The rule does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions.

“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures – which is why EPA and the Army have finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect these important waters, so we can strengthen our economy and provide certainty to American businesses.”

“Today’s rule marks the beginning of a new era in the history of the Clean Water Act,” said Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. “This is a generational rule and completes another chapter in history of the Clean Water Act. This rule responds to the public’s demand for greater clarity, consistency, and predictability when making jurisdictional determinations. The result will be better public service nationwide.”

People need clean water for their health: About 117 million Americans – one in three people – get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection before the Clean Water Rule. America’s cherished way of life depends on clean water, as healthy ecosystems provide wildlife habitat and places to fish, paddle, surf, and swim. Clean and reliable water is an economic driver, including for manufacturing, farming, tourism, recreation, and energy production. The health of our rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters are impacted by the streams and wetlands where they begin.

Protection for many of the nation’s streams and wetlands has been confusing, complex, and time-consuming as the result of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. EPA and the Army are taking this action today to provide clarity on protections under the Clean Water Act after receiving requests for over a decade from members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists, and the public for a rulemaking.

In developing the rule, the agencies held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over one million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. EPA and the Army also utilized the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies which showed that small streams and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger downstream water bodies.

Climate change makes protection of water resources even more essential. Streams and wetlands provide many benefits to communities by trapping floodwaters, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering pollution, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. Impacts from climate change like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures threaten the quantity and quality of America’s water. Protecting streams and wetlands will improve our nation’s resilience to climate change.

Specifically, the Clean Water Rule:

  • Clearly defines and protects tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters. The Clean Water Act protects navigable waterways and their tributaries. The rule says that a tributary must show physical features of flowing water – a bed, bank, and ordinary high water mark – to warrant protection. The rule provides protection for headwaters that have these features and science shows can have a significant connection to downstream waters.
  • Provides certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters. The rule protects waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries because science shows that they impact downstream waters. The rule sets boundaries on covering nearby waters for the first time that are physical and measurable.
  • Protects the nation’s regional water treasures. Science shows that specific water features can function like a system and impact the health of downstream waters. The rule protects prairie potholes, Carolina and Delmarva bays, pocosins, western vernal pools in California, and Texas coastal prairie wetlands when they impact downstream waters.
  • Focuses on streams, not ditches. The rule limits protection to ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream. So ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.
  • Maintains the status of waters within Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems. The rule does not change how those waters are treated and encourages the use of green infrastructure.
  • Reduces the use of case-specific analysis of waters. Previously, almost any water could be put through a lengthy case-specific analysis, even if it would not be subject to the Clean Water Act. The rule significantly limits the use of case-specific analysis by creating clarity and certainty on protected waters and limiting the number of similarly situated water features.

A Clean Water Act permit is only needed if a water is going to be polluted or destroyed. The Clean Water Rule only protects the types of waters that have historically been covered under the Clean Water Act. It does not regulate most ditches and does not regulate groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, or tile drains. It does not make changes to current policies on irrigation or water transfers or apply to erosion in a field. The Clean Water Rule addresses the pollution and destruction of waterways – not land use or private property rights.

The rule protects clean water necessary for farming, ranching, and forestry and provides greater clarity and certainty to farmers about coverage of the Clean Water Act. Farms across America depend on clean and reliable water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. The final rule specifically recognizes the vital role that U.S. agriculture serves in providing food, fuel, and fiber at home and around the world. The rule does not create any new permitting requirements for America’s farmers. Activities like planting, harvesting, and moving livestock have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and the Clean Water Rule preserves those exemptions.

The Clean Water Rule will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

More information: www.epa.gov/cleanwaterrule and http://www.army.mil/asacw

Categories: Ecological News

Get a (Red) Nose Job

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 09:51
May 21, 2015 is the inaugural USA Red Nose Day It’s a tough act to follow…

For 30 years, the Brits with all their dour, dry humor, have raked in mega bucks in their Red Nose Day, a fundraiser for impoverished children at home and abroad, presented by the BBC.

This year, the first Red Nose Day USA is being celebrated and broadcast in a special 3-hour live event on NBC tonight, May 21. Walgreens and M&Ms are co-partnering the event.

Every Little Bit Helps

For many, the concept of charity giving to any extent that can make a difference is defined by the likes of the Gates Foundation, Angelina Jolie, Robert Redford, who give millions of dollars to support various causes, many aimed at reducing poverty around the world.

Comic Relief brought Red Nose Day to the people, giving them the opportunity to laugh and have fun, all the while making it possible to donate small amounts to help a huge cause. This concept works in the UK and the hoopla surrounding the first U.S. RND indicates that the concept of fun and giving will work here in the United States.

With climate change wreaking havoc around the globe, help is desperately needed, not just in rural areas of Africa and Asia, but here in the United States. Drought is threatening children and families in California’s Central Valley; fierce tornadoes have whipped through southern states, leaving devastation in their wake – and children and families in dire need.

In Africa and Asia, where poverty is a way of life to many, funds from charity events such as this, bring much needed help to those in need.

The charities earmarked to receive funds from this RND event are already on the ground helping the needy, and this extravaganza will help them continue their work.

Comic Relief, the 501(c)(3) charity and sister site to the UK charity of the same name is the lead fundraiser for the event, with 12 charities slated to benefit from the fundraiser. The pre-selected charity partners are Boys & Girls Clubs of America; charity: water; Children’s Health Fund; Feeding America; Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund; LIFT; National Council of La Raza; National Urban League; Oxfam America; Save the Children and United Way.

The Fun-Raiser

The line-up for this event is spectacular! Ed Sheeran, Josh Groban, Christian Slater, Al Roker, Andy Cohen, Kellan Lutz, Kermit the Frog Julia Roberts, Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon, Blake Shelton, Richard Gere, Reese Witherspoon, Jack Black, Michelle Rodriguez, Julianne Moore, Pharrell, One Direction, Keith Urban, John Mellencamp, John Krasinski, Zac Efron, Nick Cannon are just a few of the stars who will be joining hosts Seth Meyers, David Duchovny and Jane Krakowski. Each host will present and hour-long portion of the show that is happening at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom.

The UK version of the event, one of the BBC’s highest-rated Friday night shows has raised over $1 billion in donations over the past 30 years. It will be fun to see if the original concept of creator/producer Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Bridget Jones Diary,” “Notting Hill”), that “mass media and celebrities can help raise money and increase awareness of poverty in order to save and change millions of lives” is a viable concept in the U.S.

Go to the Red Nose Day site to donate – all amounts, large or small, are greatly appreciate by those on the receiving end.

Categories: Ecological News

Rhino Return to Samburu

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 22:29

By Wanjiku Kinuthia
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

Critically endangered black rhino reintroduced to a native habitat 25 years after the last individual was poached in the area

Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

Monday (May 18, 2015) the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy have embarked on a relocation programme in a bid to expand black rhino habitat in the country, and boost populations of the iconic species.

At least 20 preselected rhinos will be moved from Lewa, Nakuru and Nairobi National Parks to a sanctuary within the community owned and operated Sera Community Conservancy.

Two rhino have already been successfully moved and released to their new home.

This will be the first time in East Africa a local community will be responsible for the protection and management of the highly threatened black rhino, signaling a mind shift in Kenya’s conservation efforts. This pioneering move demonstrates the Government of Kenya’s confidence in the local community, and materialises the promise to support community-based conservation initiatives as provided for by the new Wildlife Act, 2013.

It is expected that the presence of black rhino in Samburu County will be a significant boost to tourism in the area whilst providing new job opportunities for local communities. Parts of the Sanctuary will also be set aside for dry season grazing for local herders, and the community look forward to increased overall security in the area.

The candidates earmarked for translocation range from six and a half years to 20 years old. Candidates are meant to reflect natural demographics and encourage natural breeding conditions. All animals will be fitted with satellite-based transmitters for close monitoring. The community rangers have been trained by Lewa and KWS in data gathering, anti-poaching operations, bush craft and effective patrolling – and will have the back up of the Lewa, NRT and KWS Anti-Poaching Units.

According to International Union for the Conservation of Nature, populations of the Eastern black rhino (Diceros bicornis michaeli) plummeted by 98% between 1960 and 1995 primarily as a result of poaching and hunting.

However, conservation efforts have managed to stabilise and increase numbers in most of the black rhino’s former ranges since then. Kenya’s population has increased from 381 since 1987 to a current estimate of 640. It is projected to rise significantly in the near future, especially with growing partnerships between government, communities and conservation organisations. It is hoped that the new rhino sanctuary will benefit Kenya’s black rhino population

Sera Community Conservancy, established in 2001is a member of NRT umbrella. It is governed by a council of elders, an elected board of trustees, a management team and the residing communities which include the Samburu, Rendille and Borana.

This translocation is jointly supported by Samburu County Government, USAID, The Lundin Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, San Diego Zoo, St. Louis Zoo, Tusk Trust, The US Fish and Wildlife Service, Zurich Zoo, and several private philanthropists.

The Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is an award-winning catalyst and model for community conservation, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features on the IUCN Green List of successful protected areas. Lewa is the heart of wildlife conservation, sustainable development and responsible tourism in northern Kenya and its successful working model has provided the framework on which many conservation organisations in the region are based. www.lewa.org

The Northern Rangelands Trust is an umbrella organisation that aims to establish resilient community conservancies that transform lives, secure peace, and conserve natural resources. There are now 27 NRT-member community conservancies across northern and coastal Kenya, home to over 300,000 people who are managing over 31,000 square kilometres of land and safeguarding a wide range of species and habitats. NRT is now widely seen as a model of how to support community conservancies, and its success has helped shape new government regulations on establishing, registering and managing community conservancies in Kenya. www.nrt-kenya.org

The Kenya Wildlife Service is a State Corporation established by the Act of Parliament, CAP 376, (now repealed by Wildlife Act, 2013) with a mandate to conserve and manage wildlife in Kenya. It also has a sole jurisdiction over 27 both terrestrial and marine National Parks and oversight role in the management of 28 national reserves and private sanctuaries.www.kws.go.ke

Categories: Ecological News

Link Forests into Food Security Efforts, UN Told

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 04:23

By SciDevNet

International efforts to address food insecurity must pay more attention to the role forests play in food production, say a panel of scientists.

A report issued on 6 May (see video) by the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), a body convened by the United Nations, says forests should be considered as food sources, rather than just areas for conservation. It says the concerns of people living in or near forests should be included in the final version of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), one of which currently focuses on ending hunger and promoting sustainable agriculture.

The report warns that most governments separate forests from food production when making policy, usually having different departments deal with each. As a result, the two areas must compete for funding and political attention, and policies that benefit one may harm the other, according to the report’s authors.

“The report’s main emphasis is to recognise the complementary role of forests to agriculture and promote the awareness that we already depend on forests for supplementing conventional agriculture,” says Bhaskar Vira, director of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute in the United Kingdom and chair of the IUFRO’s Expert Panel on Forests and Food Security, which produced the study.

Governments own around 80 per cent of global forests, the report says, but management rights are increasingly being transferred to indigenous communities. The authors say that ensuring local people have access to forest resources is vital to helping them sustain a nutritious diet.


Watch the report’s presentation at the UN

Vira says existing policies to end hunger have largely neglected the value that forest foods — for example, fruits, seeds and wild meat — can add to people’s diets.

Another advantage of making better use of forests in food production is that it would strengthen local people’s ability to resist environmental changes, the report says. Vira says forests appear to be a more-resilient food source under extreme weather conditions caused by climate change than field-based agriculture.

The report’s message of paying more attention to forests in the SDGs was echoed by Dominic White, head of international development at the United Kingdom branch of conservation charity WWF.

“Sustainable development depends on the maintenance of healthy forests and the services they provide,” he tells SciDev.Net. “It is essential that the global community agrees strong SDGs and puts the intelligent management of natural capital at the heart of social and economic development.”

References
Forests, trees and landscapes for food security and nutrition — A global assessment report (International Union of Forest Research Organizations)

Categories: Ecological News

Human Security at Risk as Soil Depletion Accelerates, Scientists Warn

Fri, 05/08/2015 - 02:43

By Sarah Yang
UC Berkeley News Center

Scientists warn that humans have been depleting soil at rates that are orders of magnitude greater than our current ability to replenish it. They say that fixing this imbalance is critical to global food security over the next century.

Steadily and alarmingly, humans have been depleting Earth’s soil resources faster than the nutrients can be replenished. If this trajectory does not change, soil erosion, combined with the effects of climate change, will present a huge risk to global food security over the next century, warns a review paper authored by some of the top soil scientists in the country.

The paper singles out farming, which accelerates erosion and nutrient removal, as the primary game changer in soil health.

“Ever since humans developed agriculture, we’ve been transforming the planet and throwing the soil’s nutrient cycle out of balance,” said the paper’s lead author, Ronald Amundson, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental science, policy and management. “Because the changes happen slowly, often taking two to three generations to be noticed, people are not cognizant of the geological transformation taking place.”

In the paper, published today (Thursday, May 7) in the journal Science, the authors say that soil erosion has accelerated since the industrial revolution, and we’re now entering a period when the ability of soil, “the living epidermis of the planet,” to support the growth of our food supply is plateauing. The publication comes nearly two weeks ahead of the Global Soil Security Symposium at Texas A&M University, a meeting held as part of the declaration of 2015 as the International Year of Soils by the United Nations.

A future ‘phosphorous cartel’

The authors identify the supply of fertilizer as one of the key threats to future soil security. Farmers use three essential nutrients to fertilize their crops: nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous. The paper credits the discovery of synthetic nitrogen production in the early 1900s for significantly increasing crop yields, which in turn supported dramatic growths in global population. Because the process of synthesizing nitrogen is energy-intensive, its supply is dependent on fossil fuels.

Unlike nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous come from rocks and minerals, and the authors point out that those resources are not equitably distributed throughout the world. The United States has only 1 to 2 percent of the world’s potassium reserves, and its reserves of phosphorous are expected to run out in about three decades.

“This could create political challenges and uncertainties,” said Amundson. “Morocco will soon be the largest source of phosphorous in the world, followed by China. These two countries will have a great deal of say in the distribution of those resources. Some people suggest we will see the emergence of a phosphorous cartel.”

Contributing to climate change

Another threat to soil security relates to its role as a mass reservoir for carbon. Left unperturbed, soil can hold onto its stores of carbon for hundreds to thousands of years. The most recent estimates suggest that up to 2,300 gigatons of carbon are stored in the top three meters of the Earth’s soil – more carbon than in all the world’s plants and atmosphere combined. One gigaton is equal to a billion tons.

But agriculture’s physical disruption of soil releases stored carbon into the atmosphere. Based on the area of land used for farming worldwide, 50 to 70 gigatons of carbon has been released into the atmosphere throughout human history, according to the paper. Proponents of sequestration, the long-term storage of carbon in soil, have argued that regaining this carbon will be a means to mitigate continuing fossil fuel emissions of the greenhouse gas.

“Carbon sequestration plans won’t make a dent in the amount of soil released by climate change,” countered Amundson. “The amount of carbon stored through sequestration would be tiny compared to the potential amount lost through global warming.”

Of particular concern are the large carbon stores in the soils in the planet’s polar regions. Researchers have found that temperatures are increasing at greater rates in the northern latitudes.

“Warming those areas is like filling your freezer with food, then pulling the plug and going on vacation,” said Amundson. “There will be a massive feast of bacteria feeding on the food as the plug gets pulled on the stored carbon in the frozen soil. Microbes are already starting the process of converting the carbon to CO2 and methane.”

Recycling soil nutrients

The authors recognize the human reliance on farming and note that most of the Earth’s most productive soils are already in agricultural production. However, they argue for  better management of the soils we rely upon.

One proposal is to stop discarding nutrients captured in waste treatment facilities. Currently, phosphorous and potassium are concentrated into solid waste rather than cycled back into the soil. Additionally, more efficient management is needed to curtail losses from soil. Excess nitrogen, for example, is considered a pollutant, with the runoff sapping oxygen from the nation’s waterways, suffocating aquatic life and creating dead zones in coastal margins.

Amundson noted that it did not take too long to get people to start separating paper, glass and aluminum cans from their trash for recycling.

“We should be able to do this with soil,” said Amundson. “The nutrients lost can be captured, recycled and put back into the ground. We have the skillset to recycle a lot of nutrients, but the ultimate deciders are the people who create policy. It’s not a scientific problem. It’s a societal problem.”

Other authors on the paper are Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, an associate professor of soil biogeochemistry at UC Merced; Jan Hopmans, a professor of hydrology at UC Davis; Carolyn Olson, a senior scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Climate Change Program; A. Ester Sztein, assistant director at the National Academy of Sciences Board on International Scientific Organizations; and Donald Sparks, a professor of plant and soil science at the University of Delaware.

Categories: Ecological News