Tag: Peter Kareiva

Green is Good: Science-Based Conservation in the 21st Century

What does it mean for The Nature Conservancy to be “science-based” today? To always be casting a wider net for better solutions supported by evidence, write Mark Tercek and Peter Kareiva.

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Sanjayan: The Art of Communication is Conservation’s Best Hope

Peter Karevia and David Banks pay tribute to former Conservancy lead scientist Sanjayan, who has just joined Conservation International, as a master communicator and advocate for innovative, people-relevant conservation.

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Tracks and Shadows: The Best Conservation Book in 64 Years?

Conservancy chief scientist Peter Kareiva reviews Harry Greene’s new book Tracks and Shadows, calling it perhaps “the best conservation love poem ever written.”

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New Science: Time to Step Away from the Ecological Footprint?

How sustainably are we managing Earth? A new study co-authored by Conservancy scientist Peter Kareiva says we can’t even answer the question with the most commonly used metric.

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Beyond Magic: Why SNAP Can Help Us Solve Wicked Problems

The new Science for Nature and People collaborative has unprecedented power to address some of the world’s wicked problems, says Conservancy Chief Scientist and SNAP Acting Director Peter Kareiva.

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Peter Kareiva on How Nature Can Protect Us from Coastal Risk: An Interview

New York Public Television interviews Peter Kareiva on a new study touting the importance of nature in reducing the risk to people from coastal storms. Click through to watch the interview.

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Kareiva: Are We Thinking Globally When We Do Conservation?

Conservancy chief scientist Peter Kareiva argues that a key lesson in conservation — and one backed up by recent research — is to realize that when we impose strong conservation policy in one country, there is almost always leakage of our impacts, such that protected areas set up in one country may simply mean damage is done elsewhere.

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New Study: Coastal Nature Reduces Risk from Storm Impacts for 1.3 Million U.S. Residents

Nature reduces risk from coastal storms for millions of U.S. residents and billions of dollars in property values, says a new study from scientists at the Natural Capital Project and The Nature Conservancy.

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Conservation Future: Announcing the 2013 NatureNet Fellows

Nine young scientists — with specialties ranging from energy infrastructure to urban ecology, Kenyan pastoral techniques to nanotechnology — inaugurate a program designed to help kick-start conservation toward addressing the challenges facing people and nature in the 21st century.

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Kareiva: Consumption, Competitiveness and Conformity

Dasgupta, P.S., P.R. Ehrlich. 2013. Pervasive externalities at the population, consumption, and environment nexus. Science 2013 Apr 19; 340(6130):324-8 doi: 10.1126/science.1224664

I give a lot of public talks about the future of conservation and always do my best to paint an optimistic vision.

Inevitably, someone in the audience raises their hand and says, isn’t the real problem consumption and aren’t we doomed to an environmental collapse because of our patterns of ever-expanding consumption? I always admit consumption is a big issue, emphasizing it is not that we consume, but what we consume, and I warn about that preaching about consumption can be a turn-off. But I have not been able to frame a really strong answer.

In a recent article, Partha Dasgupta and Paul Ehrlich give me the seeds of a stronger argument.

They emphasize that two of the strongest universal human traits are competitiveness and conformity. We conform because we strive to find ways to relate to one another — after all we are a tribal species. And competitive consumption has been noted in almost all societies — rich and poor.

It is just that as wealth accumulates, the global impact of competitive consumption also grows. All true. But those same traits can also provide the momentum for change and improvement. Just think of the students at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada, who chided Chinese couples to not serve shark fin soup at their weddings (a traditional symbol of prosperity) with the poster campaign that labeled shark fin soup as “so 80’s.”

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‘Let’s Get Back to Ecology’: A New Interview with Peter Kareiva

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.

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Quick Study: Six Common Mistakes in Conservation Planning

Quick Study is just what it says — a rapid-fire look at a new conservation science study that might turn some heads.    

Study: Game, E.T., P. Kareiva, and H.P. Possingham. 2013. Six common mistakes in conservation priority setting. Conservation Biology 44(4):1-6.

The Big Question: Environmental problems are big, but resources for conservation are tiny — so conservation groups are constantly prioritizing what they do and recommend so as to allocate those resources better. So why isn’t conservation making more of a dent?

Study Nuts and Bolts: In this think piece, Game and co-authors argue that, while conservation presents its priority setting as science-based, conservation planners too often ignore or misapply decision science — the combination of mathematics, economics, philosophy, and psychology that is used by engineers, health, the military and business to help them make better decisions. And that systemic lack of decision science, the authors say, leads to six big mistakes that blunt conservation’s impact.

The Findings: Here are the six big mistakes (which you might also group under the broad headers “Timidity in Language” and “Fuzzy Math”):

1) not acknowledging conservation plans are in fact prioritizations (and thus recommendations);
2) not being precise about the problem they’re trying to solve;
3) prioritizing not actions, but species, habitats or locations (thus leading to inaction);
4) using arbitrary numerical values to arrive at prioritization arithmetic;
5) allowing look-up tables to hide priority-setting value judgments; and
6) failing to acknowledge the risk of failure for some conservation actions, which leads to skewed cost/benefit analyses.

What’s It All Mean? While Game et al. do say that conservation is generally moving in the right direction in how it sets priorities, most individual planning makes at least one of the above mistakes — leading to misspending and declining public confidence in conservation when the public finds out that those priorities weren’t chosen all that scientifically.  So, time to bone up on those decision science skills, says Game.

“We conservation scientists prioritize a lot — but we’re not typically trained in the formal skills of prioritization that many other fields depend on,” he told me. “That’s a recipe for wasting our precious resources.”

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Margaret Wente on Kareiva and the ‘Enviro-Optimists’

Salt evaporation ponds formed by salt water impounded within levees in former tidelands on the shores of San Francisco Bay. There are many of these ponds surrounding the South Bay. As the water evaporates, micro-organisms of several kinds come to predominate and change the color of the water. First come green algae, then darkening as orange brine shrimp predominate. Finally red predominates as dunaliella salina, a micro-algae containing high amounts of beta-carotene (itself with high commercial value), predominates. Other organisms can also change the hue of each pond. Colors include red, green, orange and yellow, brown and blue. Finally, when the water is evaporated, the white of salt alone remains. This is harvested with machines, and the process repeats. Image credit: dsearls/Flickr user through a Creative Commons license.

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.

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Kareiva: Vanishing Soils, the World’s Dirty Secret

We talk a lot about the biodiversity crisis, the energy crisis, the water crisis, the climate crisis, the food crisis, deforestation and so on. But what about the soil crisis?

Today, around the world the mean rate of soil loss is roughly ten times the rate at which soil is replenished. In some countries such as China, the rate of soil loss can be as high as 50 times greater than replenishment.

It is hard to imagine a better indicator of our failure to achieve sustainability. What could be more fundamental than the soil that grows the plants from which 99% of humankind’s calorie intake is derived?

From a biodiversity and conservation perspective, this soil loss also impinges on many of our more traditional concerns. It represents nutrient and sediment flow into our rivers and estuaries, to the detriment of fisheries.

Conservation has many narratives of profligate humanity soiling their nest and creating some sort of eco-catastrophe. Often those narratives are overstated and excessive.

But in the case of soil, the doom-and-gloom has some merit. Some historians have examined the arc of human history as a series of civilizations bankrupting their soils.

And it is not just data and science. If you have gardened and felt the comfort and seduction of warm, fertile soil in your hands, you know how primal is the link between people and soil. When someone back in the recesses of time coined the term “Mother Earth,” I have to believe she or he was thinking of warm soil.

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Kareiva: Marine Pollution and a World of Waste

I was just revising the “marine chapter” for a textbook I have coauthored, and looking at reviews from professors who had taught a conservation course using our first edition. We were criticized for making marine conservation too much about fishing and marine protected areas, while neglecting ocean pollution as a big deal, and probably the greatest threat to our oceans.

It turns out these critics were right.

For much of human history the ocean has been viewed as a place to dispose of waste where it would be so diluted that it does no harm. We now know better.

Dead zones, floating mats of plastics, and toxic chemical residues in marine fish tissue are striking evidence that human waste and by-products could be every bit as much of a threat to our oceans as over-fishing.

Dead zones now affect more than 400 systems, and cover vast areas of the ocean — more than 475,000 square kilometers. Plastic debris in the oceans is now so common it is hard to find a beach without washed up plastics. This plastic is much more than a matter of aesthetics; all sea turtles, 45% of marine mammals, and 21% of seabird species are harmed by plastic.

The sheer volume of human waste products and the fact that most people live along coasts means that there will be no simple, single measure that can address marine pollution.

Take something as specific as cigarette butts — over 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded annually, and researchers have observed a 96-hour mortality effect (measured as LC-50) in larval topsmelt (a Pacific ocean silverside) at a dilution of one cigarette butt per liter of water. Latte-drinking enthusiasts in my hometown of Seattle have given rise to elevated caffeine concentrations in Puget Sound, which are known to cause chemical stress in mussels and other marine invertebrates.

So what are we to do?

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Forest Dilemmas

Too many deer. Logging one tree to save another. Beavers versus old growth. Welcome to forest conservation in the Anthropocene. Beginning Monday, July 21, join us for a provocative 5-part series exploring the full complexity facing forest conservation in the eastern United States.

What is Cool Green Science?

noun 1. Blog where Nature Conservancy scientists, science writers and external experts discuss and debate how conservation can meet the challenges of a 9 billion + planet.

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3. Home of Weird Nature, The Cooler, Quick Study, Traveling Naturalist and other amazing features.

Cool Green Science is managed by Matt Miller, the Conservancy's deputy director for science communications, and edited by Bob Lalasz, its director of science communications. Email us your feedback.

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