June 7, 2013
Eelgrass and shellfish restoration programs are among the most successful in The Nature Conservancy’s marine portfolio — but what’s left to understand or implement? Bo Lusk, marine steward with The Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve program, discusses both the science we still need to accelerate the impact of sea grass and shellfish restoration, and what science we already have that should be applied more widely.
May 17, 2013
Nature Conservancy Chief Scientist Peter Kareiva recently gave an interview to Biodiverse Perspectives, a blog written by more than 100 graduate students in biodiversity science around the world. It’s an excellent Q&A, with one of the best distillations yet of Kareiva’s thinking on conservation’s focus on biodiversity versus the benefits of a broader focus on ecology.
Read the full interview here. But here’s a quote to whet your appetite:
“I have what some think is a heretical view of biodiversity. Look — I do want to prevent extinctions. But I think what should be a reasonable concern for biodiversity has turned into a numerological and narrow counting of species, and has led to an over-emphasis on research aimed at rationalizing why biodiversity should matter to the general public. Ecology matters to the general public because ecology is about water, pests and pestilence, recreation, food, resilience and so forth. Perturbations to ecosystems in the form of massive pollution, land conversion, harvest, species loss can all distort ecology. But focusing so narrowly on producing graphs that on the horizontal axis display number of species and on the vertical axis report some dependent ecological function (that is distantly related to human well-being) strikes me as not worth so much research. Let’s get back to ecology — understanding how systems work, what controls dynamics, the role of particular species as opposed to the number of species, to what extent do ecosystems compensate for species losses, what factors contribute to resilience, whether there really are thresholds — all those are terrific research questions. Counting species, and trying to produce what is, as far as I can tell, usually very weak evidence for the relationship between biodiversity per se and ecological function is off-track.
“Early on in my job at TNC I presented to business leaders some of the empirical data plots from classic biodiversity and ecological function studies. These are studies we all interpret as strong evidence for the importance of biodiversity. I can tell you unequivocally when they saw the actual data they were totally unimpressed and unconvinced. It caused me to look more objectively at the data.”
As always, let us know what you think in the comments.
May 13, 2013
Last week, Earth hit a long-awaited (and much dreaded) climate milestone: the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (as recorded at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory) has exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in the 55 years atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been measured — and perhaps not since the Pliocene Epoch, which was between 2.6 and 5.3 million years ago.
The reading was just for a single day — May 9 — and will fall in the summer if previous annual trends hold. But even with substantial improvements in energy efficiency and conservation, atmospheric CO2 levels will continue to grow over the coming decades unless significant global steps are taking to stabilize them — among them, a large increase in zero-carbon energy production. What will it take to achieve that increase? (I’ll speak on that topic tonight at 7:30 PM as part of “The Future of Energy,” a Nature Conservancy/WBUR panel discussion at Boston’s BSA Space that also includes Daniel Kammen of the University of California-Berkeley and Jigar Shah, clean-tech entrepreneur. Learn more about the panel and The Future of Nature discussion series.)
Obviously, political will would help get us to zero-carbon energy. But innovations in several key areas could have a big impact. And innovations that lower costs of zero-carbon solutions, making the switch relatively painless for families and businesses, should help bolster political will.
The future of zero-carbon energy production is a big, complicated topic, but there are three areas that seem particularly worthy of discussion: 1) the importance of energy storage for renewables, 2) the diversity of options for zero-carbon electricity, and 3) zero-carbon transportation.
May 7, 2013
If the definition of insanity is making the same mistakes over and over, then many cities have taken a certifiable approach to securing their water supplies — and they need some radical therapy before taking the big economic, ecological and human hits that come with a permanent state of thirst.
That’s the conclusion from a new study in the journal Water Policy, whose authors compared the water supply histories of 4 cities — San Diego, Phoenix, San Antonio and Adelaide, Australia. Among the lessons learned? Urban water conservation, recycling and desalination aren’t silver bullets. In fact, the best solution may lie upstream with farmers — saving just 5-10% of agricultural irrigation in upstream watersheds could satisfy a city’s entire water needs.
Brian Richter, a senior freshwater scientist at The Nature Conservancy and the study’s lead author, told me more about what cities need to do to say on the right side of dry.
April 23, 2013
Salt evaporation ponds formed by salt water impounded within levees in former tidelands on the shores of San Francisco Bay. (More on how the colors are formed below.) Image credit: dsearls/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.
Over the weekend, Toronto Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente sharply laid out what she and other journalists such as Keith Kloor have called the key philosophical battle of environmentalism today — between, as she puts it:
the purists and the pragmatists, the pessimists and the optimists – between the McKibbenists, who believe we’re on the brink of global catastrophe, and those who think human beings are more resourceful and the Earth is more resilient than the doom-mongers say they are.
Exhibit A of these eco-optimists for Wente? Peter Kareiva, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy. Wente says that “Kareiva and his fellow enviro-optimists are the key to saving environmentalism from terminal irrelevance.”
As Wente puts it:
He argues that the purists have been terrible for environmentalism because they’ve alienated the public with their misanthropic, anti-growth, anti-technology, dogmatic, zealous, romantic, backward-looking message. (As a young scientist, he testified in favour of restricting logging to save the spotted owl. Then he saw the loggers sitting at the back of the room, with their children on their shoulders. After that, he became convinced that environmentalism wouldn’t work so long as it was framed in terms of either/or.)
Read Wente’s full column and let us know what you think.
April 16, 2013
Maasai milking a cow, Tanzania. Credit: mar is sea Y/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.
The recent move by Tanzania’s government to seal off 30,000 Maasai people from access to 1,500 square kilometers adjacent to the Serengeti in the name of wildlife conservation has drawn intense protests from both the Maasai and non-governmental organizations working in the country. The government will prevent the Maasai from grazing their cattle on a choice grazing area in the Loliondo Highlands — which the Maasai consider ancestral lands — but will allow a “Dubai-based luxury hunting and safari company” access to the land, reports The Guardian. The argument is that Maasai grazing practices are harming wildlife.
Eddie Game, conservation planning specialist at The Nature Conservancy, has written a blog post for the Australian site The Conversation arguing that the Tanzanian government’s tack is an example of “fortress” conservation that is “unnecessarily blunt and crude.” While Maasai grazing practices have reduced long-lived grass species prevalence in Tanzania in favor of seasonal species with deleterious effects for wildlife, Game says northern Kenya provides a shining example of “how pastoral livelihoods and wildlife conservation can be compatible.” Money quote:”
Through the agreement of community-run conservancies, sections of communal pastoral lands in northern Kenya are set aside as grass banks. These areas are reserved for wildlife to graze but can be used by traditional pastoralists as emergency grazing lands for cattle in times of drought.
The grass banks are complimented by establishing rotational grazing practices that encourage pastoralists to graze their animals together and in a systematic fashion, allowing land to rest ungrazed for a period each year. Regular treatment of cattle for disease (a concern also in the Maasai lands) is provided as an incentive for collective grazing. A guaranteed price and safe transport of livestock to markets gives pastoralists the security to reduce their herd sizes. And the rapid spread of mobile connectivity and mobile banking technology is providing an alternative avenue for savings in remote rural areas.
Tourism is also thriving in these community-run conservancies, notes Game — with tourists clamoring to see both wildlife and pastoralists at work. “It is sad indictment of the Tanzanian government that the international public are being presented with an overly simplistic and unnecessary choice between wildlife and the traditional lifestyle of the Maasai,” Game concludes.
Read his full post here.