Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Archive: Oct 2017

  1. Scientific reticence on climate change- Jim Hansen

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    26 October 2017  by James Hansen read this draft discussion and find links to other papers here

    I am writing Scientific Reticence and the Fate of Humanity in response to a query from the editor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics who handled Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms. That paper, together with Young People’s Burden makes the case for a low global warming target and the urgency of phasing out fossil fuel emissions. We argue that global warming of 2°C , or even 1.5°C, is dangerous, because these levels are far above Holocene temperatures and even warmer than best estimates for the Eemian, when sea level reached 6-9 meters (20-30 feet) higher than today. Earth’s history shows that sea level adjusts to changes in global temperature. We conclude that eventual sea level rise of several meters could be locked in, if rapid emission
    reductions do not begin soon, and could occur within 50-150 years with the extraordinary climate forcing of continued “business-as-usual” fossil fuel emissions….
  2. Mediterranean Climate Wildfires: what you can do to better protect your home and our communities

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    by Sasha Berleman, Audubon Canyon Ranch fire ecologist, for Bay Nature October 24, 2017 Read full BayNature article here

    We live in a landscape that is adapted to frequent fire, yet for a century we have been suppressing fire as much as possible, thinking we could do this indefinitely without consequence. As a result, most of our undeveloped lands across the Bay Area, and much of Northern California even, have accumulated unnatural fuel loads — dead woody debris and leaf material as well as encroaching trees that collect over time.

    Here in the Bay Area, there isn’t a “no fire” option. Because of our Mediterranean climate — wet, cool winters and hot, dry summers — fire will always be a part of our world here. Additionally, as climate change affects our summers by extending that hot, dry season and causing hotter, drier weather within it, our fire season is getting longer and becoming more extreme….

    …On the home front, make sure you are regularly cleaning and clearing debris and fuels around your home. ....go to firewise.org … great instructions for creating “defensible space,” as well as types of home construction and landscaping that can make a huge difference in how your home fares in the face of fire.

    Beyond your home, voice your support for fuels treatments of all kinds across undeveloped lands. To date, land managers face immense backlash when the public hears of planned fuels treatments. It’s time to start supporting this work that so desperately needs to be done. Let your fire departments and politicians know that you support fuels treatments. Let your neighbors know how important they are. Educate yourself on the ecological adaptations of our landscapes to fire. Recommended reading: Introduction to Fire in California by David Carle....

  3. Sonoma County hazard plan foresaw deadly Wine Country fire

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    • some actions recommended in the 2011 report had yet to be completed, including mapping out accessible roads and bodies of water that could be used for fighting wildfires, and implementing long-standing recommendations to improve fire services, including possibly consolidating some fire districts

    by Joaquin Palomino and Kimberly Veklerov October 27, 2017 read full SF Chronicle article here

    On a hot September night in 1964, 70-mph winds pushed a cascade of flames through the dry vegetation of Mark West Canyon and into the outer edges of Santa Rosa, destroying more than 100 homes and burning 52,000 acres. Until this month, that blaze, known as the Hanley Fire, was the worst in modern Sonoma County history, and the path it carved was remarkably similar to the one the devastating Tubbs Fire would follow a half century later.

    ….As recently as last spring, a Sonoma County report on potential hazards facing the region cautioned that a fire comparable to the Hanley blaze could cause “catastrophic damage to the county and the city of Santa Rosa.”

    If multiple blazes broke out around the state during fire-weather conditions, firefighting resources in Sonoma County could be stretched beyond their capacity, the Hazard Mitigation Plan said. “It is not inconceivable,” it stated, “that a large uncontrolled wildland fire could overwhelm resources and cause significant damage.”…

    …The report also notes that parts of Sonoma County most prone to wildfires are heavily reliant on a shrinking number of part-time, volunteer firefighters, a problem seen across the county.

    To reduce the potential loss of life and property from a natural disaster in Sonoma County, the plan includes action strategies. Mitigation measures completed in recent years include:

    •A vegetation-abatement program in unincorporated areas that inspects properties and requires owners to remove dead plants, weeds and other potential fuel for fires. A pilot effort is in place in two areas that were not directly affected by the recent fires.

    •Stricter safety standards for new homes, particularly those built in high-risk wildfire areas. These include additional building restrictions on venting, roofing and siding materials.

    •Providing a free, roadside wood chipping service to help residents create or maintain a buffer around their homes, also known as a defensible space.

  4. Living close to green spaces is associated with better attention in children

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    • new study concludes that children with more greenness around their homes may develop better attention capacities.

    October 25, 2017 Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) read full ScienceDaily article here

    The research shows that children with higher greenness around their homes had better scores in the attention tests.

    ….”this is the first time that the impact of lifelong residential exposure to green spaces on attention capacity in children has been studied.” These results “underline the importance of green areas in cities for children’s health and brain development,” says Dadvand….

    Payam Dadvand et al. Lifelong Residential Exposure to Green Space and Attention: A Population-based Prospective Study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2017; 125 (9) DOI: 10.1289/EHP694

  5. Investing in conservation pays off, study finds

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    • The study by an international team of researchers found that the $14.4 billion that countries spent on conservation from 1992 to 2003 reduced expected declines in global biodiversity by 29 percent.
    • Conservation spending reduced species decline and that development pressure increased it, but unevenly. A country’s size, number of species present, and the conservation status of those species at the start of the study period all played a role in determining its biodiversity decline score
    October 25, 2017 University of Georgia read full ScienceDaily article here
    Governments and donors have spent billions of dollars since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit attempting to slow the pace of species extinctions around the world. Now, a new article provides the first clear evidence that those efforts are working….

    …Among the study’s findings were that 60 percent of the world’s biodiversity loss could be attributed to seven countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, China, India, Australia and, principally driven by species loss in Hawaii, the U.S. Meanwhile, another seven countries — Mauritius, Seychelles, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Poland and Ukraine — saw their biodiversity improve.

    The good news is that a lot of biodiversity would be protected for relatively little cost by investments in developing countries with high numbers of species,” said Gittleman. He added that it was important to note that as development pressures increase, conservation spending will have to keep pace. Policymakers could use the model to determine these budgets.

    This model provides a framework we can use to balance human development with maintaining biodiversity,” said Gittleman. “In my view, this is an empirical scientific framework of true sustainability.”

    ….Conservation spending had a greater impact in poorer countries than wealthier ones, for instance, and in countries with greater numbers of threatened species. Agricultural expansion had very little effect in countries that already had a lot of farmland than in those with little, and economic growth had less effect in the poorest countries, although its impacts grew stronger as a country’s population increased….

    Anthony Waldron, Daniel C. Miller, Dave Redding, Arne Mooers, Tyler S. Kuhn, Nate Nibbelink, J. Timmons Roberts, Joseph A. Tobias, John L. Gittleman. Reductions in global biodiversity loss predicted from conservation spending. Nature, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nature24295

  6. How Improved Land Use Can Contribute to the 1.5°C Goal of the Paris Agreement

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    • The goals of the Paris Agreement cannot be met without
      significant contributions from the land sector, including
      supply-side measures in forestry and agriculture, and demand-
      side measures related to healthier diets and reduced food waste.
    • Through significant emissions reductions and carbon removals, the
      land sector can contribute about 25 percent of the progress needed
      to meet the 1.5°C goal formulated under the Paris Agreement.
    • Land-sector emissions have to peak by 2020 and become net-zero
      by 2040–50 and net-negative thereafter.

    October 2017 Read full ClimateFocus article and report here

    Climate Focus’ How Land Use Can Contribute to the 1.5°C Goal of the Paris Agreement develops a roadmap of action for the land-use sector to meet its necessary contribution to the Paris Agreement. The analysis relies on a modelling of land-sector development trajectories optimizing least-cost pathways, a bottom-up assessment of mitigation potentials, and a correction of potentials for political feasibility. The Global Biosphere Management Integrated Assessment Model, a partial-equilibrium model developed by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, formed the basis of our modelling.

    We determined the 40 countries with the highest technical mitigation potential and assessed the feasibility of mitigation action based on their political will and ability to realize this potential. Finally, we outlined 10 priority actions to reduce the land-use sector’s contribution to global warming. The actions range from avoided deforestation, restoration of forests, to diet shifts and reduced food waste.

    …We developed a roadmap of action that relies on:

    • effective forest protection (reduced deforestation)
    • enhanced restoration
    • sustainable forest management
    • halting peatland burning
    • peatland restoration
    • a shift to healthier diets
    • reduced food waste and losses
    • enhanced soil carbon sequestration
    • increased efficiency of synthetic fertilizer production and use
    • reduced emissions from rice paddies
    • reduced emissions from livestock (enteric fermentation)
  7. Solar power crushes its own record for cheapest electricity ‘ever, anywhere, by any technology’

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    • The lowest price for solar power last year is the highest price now.

    see full ThinkProgress article here

    Prices for new solar power projects are falling so fast that the cheapest prices from 2016 have become the ceiling price for solar today.

    In April 2016, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reported that the record low unsubsidized solar energy price was 3.6 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), in a March 2016 contract in Mexico….This month, every single bid that Saudi Arabia received for its 300-Megawatt (MW) Sakaka solar project was cheaper than that….

    The lowest bid price was 1.79 cents/kWh. For context, the average residential price for electricity in the United States is more than six times that, 12 cents/kWh.

    The jaw-dropping price of 1.79 cents is not about to become the new ceiling for solar bids — since the market conditions in Saudi Arabia are fairly unique and it’s not clear the bidder, Masdar (owned by the United Arab Emirates) and its French partner EDF would actually make money at that price.

    But, still, seven of the eight bids were below three cents — and the two lowest bids were “the lowest prices ever recorded at a global level,” as PV magazine noted,

     

  8. Soil Restoration: 5 Core Principles

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    Christina Jones, PhD October 17, 2017 read full article in EcoFarming Daily

    Imagine there was a process that could remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, replace it with life-giving oxygen, support a robust soil microbiome, regenerate topsoil, enhance the nutrient density of food, restore water balance to the landscape and increase the profitability of agriculture. Fortunately, there is. It’s called photosynthesis….

    ….It comes as a surprise to many to learn that over 95 percent of life on land resides in soil and that most of the energy for this amazing world beneath our feet is derived from plant carbon. Exudates from living roots are the most energy-rich of these carbon sources. In exchange for ‘liquid carbon,’ microbes in the vicinity of plant roots — and microbes linked to plants via networks of beneficial fungi — increase the availability of the minerals and trace elements required to maintain the health and vitality of their hosts (1,2).

    Microbial activity also drives the process of aggregation, enhancing soil structural stability, aeration, infiltration and water-holding capacity. All living things — above and below ground — benefit when the plant-microbe bridge is functioning effectively….Over the last 150 years, many of the world’s prime agricultural soils have lost between 30 and 75 percent of their carbon, adding billions of tons of CO2 to the atmosphere (3)….

    ….PRINCIPLES FOR SOIL RESTORATION

    1. Green is good — and year-round green is even better. Every year, photosynthesis draws down hundreds of billions of tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere. The impact of this drawdown was dramatically illustrated in a stunning visualization released by NASA in 2014 (8). The movement of carbon from the atmosphere to soil — via green plants — represents the most powerful tool we have at our disposal for the restoration of soil function and reduction in atmospheric levels of CO2….
    2. Microbes Matter. A healthy agricultural system is one that supports all forms of life. All too often, many of the life-forms in soil have been considered dispensable. Or more correctly, have not been considered at all. The significance of the plant-microbe bridge in transferring and stabilizing carbon in soil is becoming increasingly recognized, with the soil microbiome heralded as the next frontier in soils research….
    3. Diversity is Indispensable. Every plant exudes its own unique blend of sugars, enzymes, phenols, amino acids, nucleic acids, auxins, gibberellins and other biological compounds, many of which act as signals to soil microbes. Root exudates vary continuously over time, depending on the plant’s immediate requirements. The greater the diversity of plants; the greater the diversity of microbes and the more robust the soil ecosystem….
    4. Limit Chemical Use. The mineral cycle improves significantly when soils are alive. It has been shown, for example, that mycorrhizal fungi can supply up to 90 percent of plants’ N and P requirements. In addition to including companions and multi-species covers in crop rotations, maintaining a living soil often requires that rates of high-analysis synthetic fertilizer and other chemicals be reduced to enable microbes to do what microbes do best….
    5. Avoid Aggressive Tillage. Tillage may provide an apparent quick-fix to soil problems created by lack of deep-rooted living cover, but repeated and/or aggressive tillage increases the susceptibility of the soil to erosion, depletes soil carbon and organic nitrogen, rapidly mineralizes soil nutrients (resulting in a short-term flush but long-term depletion) and is highly detrimental to beneficial soil-building microbes such as mycorrhizal fungi and keystone invertebrates such as earthworms….

    It is not so much a matter of how much carbon can be sequestered by any particular method in any particular place, but rather, how many soils are sequestering carbon. If all agricultural, garden and public lands were a net sink for carbon we could easily drawdown sufficient CO2 to counter emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

    Everyone benefits when soils are a net carbon sink. Through our food choices and farming and gardening practices we all have the opportunity to influence how soil is managed. Profitable agriculture, nutrient-dense food, clean water and vibrant communities can be ours … if that is what we choose.

  9. U.S. Unprepared to Face Costs of Climate Change, GAO Says

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    • The risks are big, and they’re rising, a new report says.

    • The GAO says, if emissions stay on their current course, rising temperatures could mean up to $150 billion in lost labor productivity due to missed work hours, up to $89 billion in coastal damage and up to $87 billion in increased energy costs, annually. Agricultural losses could reach $53 billion a year, even though some crop yields could climb.

    Georgia Gustin Oct 25 2017 See full Inside Climate News article here

    The auditing arm of Congress says the costs of climate change are likely to soar in the decades ahead, and it is urging the federal government to get a better grip on the risks to the economy and to the federal budget.

    The Government Accountability Office, in a report issued on Tuesday, cited a range of research concluding that the costs of worsening droughts, floods, wildfires, heat waves and storms will run into hundreds of billions of dollars and threaten many parts of the economy, while hitting some regions particularly hard.

    But so far, it said, too little is being done to understand and defend against the dangers.

    “Even with the magnitude of these disaster recovery costs, the federal government does not have government-wide strategic planning efforts in place to help set clear priorities for managing significant climate risks before they become federal fiscal exposures,” the report says.

    Already, the report noted, direct costs to the federal government for expenses like firefighting, flood insurance and payments for lost crops have come to about $350 billion in the past decade. (The figures don’t include tens of billions yet to be paid for the latest season of storms and fires; and the costs inflicted across the whole economy are much bigger than those reflected in the federal budget.)…

  10. Americans want a tax on carbon but how to get one?

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    • Americans are willing to pay a carbon tax that would increase their household energy bills by $15 per month, or about 15%, on average

    October 24 2017 read full SkepticalScience article here

    According to a new study published by Yale scientists in Environmental Research Letters, Americans are willing to pay a carbon tax that would increase their household energy bills by $15 per month, or about 15%, on average. This result is consistent with a survey from last year that also found Americans are willing to pay an average of $15 to $20 per month to combat climate changeAnother recent Yale survey found that overall, 78% of registered American voters support taxing and/or regulating carbon pollution, including 67% of Republicans and 60% of conservative Republicans…

    ….The new Yale study also asked survey participants how they would like to use the revenue generated by a carbon tax. Supporting the development of solar and wind energy and funding infrastructure improvements were the two most popular choices (around 80% support), followed by assisting displaced coal workers (73% support) and paying down the national debt (67% support). Interestingly, the option of returning the revenue back to taxpayers was supported by fewer than half of Americans – both Republicans and Democrats….