Category Archives: Tools

Abrupt Climate Change Fiction

Cover Fifty Degrees Below

American ecological science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson recently talked to the Guardian about his new, near-future climate change novel 50 degrees below, which presents a scenario of future climate change, its impacts and humanity’s response.

From the Guardian:

Set in an America of the almost-now, Fifty Degrees Below (and the first volume of the trilogy, Forty Signs of Rain) tells the story of the efforts of a loosely-connected group of scientists, campaigners and politicians to provoke a national response to the crisis of global warming. Unfortunately for them, as environmental aide Charlie Quibbler observes, it’s “easier to destroy the world than to change capitalism even one little bit”. It is not until the combination of two colliding storm systems and an unprecedented tidal surge causes Washington’s Potomac river to bursts its banks and overwhelm the country’s capital at the climax of book one that the world sits up and takes notice. But, by this point, the polar ice caps have already begun to melt in earnest, shutting down the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and creating environmental conditions that could usher in a new ice age. The last ice age, 11,000 years ago, took just three years to start.

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Dreaming a New New Orleans


On the Sustainability weblog WorldChanging, Alan AtKisson writes about rebuilding New Orleans -Dreaming A New New Orleans, Version 1.

He sees the possibility of a future New Orleans that combines elements of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Scenarios TechnoGarden and Global Orchestration, by using technological innovation to ‘green’ the city, ecological engineering to produce a safe livable city , and poverty alleviation to produce a fair and open city. He envisons how these things can combine to noursh a vibrant distinctive creative city.

AtKisson writes based upon his experience with a regional vitalization process in New Orleans:

What follows are very preliminary thoughts on principles for eventually creating a “New New Orleans,” one that is more environmentally secure, more economically successful, and more socially healthy and equitable, while retaining the culture that made it world famous. As the news reports continue to create a picture of the city’s horrible descent into hell, such an exercise feels a bit foolhardy; but there is so much dreaming to be done, to restore this great and wondrous city, that the dreaming must begin now.

Beginning in 2001, my firm was engaged by a consortium of regional leaders in New Orleans to help them design and launch an ambitious regional initiative, called Top 10 by 2010. … this extraordinary group worked together for a year and a half to craft a new foundation for regional progress. It was just in the process of re-forming and assessing progress so far when Katrina struck.

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WRI 2005: Environment key to helping poor

The World Resources Institute has just published its 2005 report The Wealth of the Poor: Managing ecosystems to fight poverty its available online as a pdf file.

WRI describes the report in their press release:

“Traditional assumptions about addressing poverty treat the environment almost as an afterthought,” said Jonathan Lash, president, World Resources Institute (WRI). “This report addresses the stark reality of the poor: three-fourths of them live in rural areas; their environment is all they can depend on. Environmental resources are absolutely essential, rather than incidental, if we are to have any hope of meeting our goals of poverty reduction.”

Village by village: Recovering Fiji\

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Building resilience to deal with disasters

Last week Science had a special issue on Dealing with Disasters with focus on the role of building or conserving resilience. The Tsunami disaster on 26 December 2005 clearly highlighted the vulnerability of coastal communities, and has triggered a global discussion on how to deal with increasingly severe natural and human induced catastrophes. Today humanity increase the risk for extreme events by simultaneously e.g. accelerating climate change, simplifying ecosystems, and concentrating human populations in coastal areas and cities.

In the special issue, Neil Adger and co-authors focus on coastal communities and explore their social-ecological resilience by looking at the diverse mechanisms they have developed for living with, and learning from, change and unexpected shocks. The authors also discuss the complexity of how resilience can be both increased and decreased through the same development. For example, global tourism increases the risk of infectious and vector borne diseases, but enhance resilience through the development of interlinked local communities, improved communications and the growth of national and international NGO network that link societies.

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Global Consequences of Land Use

Growing world population and increasing wealth are driving demands for more food production. Croplands and pastures occupies today roughly 40% of the land surface and global land cover and is according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) the main modification humanity makes to land cover, and therefore a main driver of ecological change, and biodiversity loss at the global scale.

In a new paper in Science, Jonathan Foley et al. reviews the Global Consequences of Land Use , and discuss consequences of land use on food production, water resources, forests, regional climate and air quality and infectious diseases. They highlight the challenge of managing trade-offs between immediate human needs and maintaining the capacity of the biosphere to provide goods and services in the long term.

Current trends in land use allow humans to appropriate an ever-larger fraction of the biosphere’s goods and services while simultaneously diminishing the capacity of global ecosystems to sustain food production, maintain freshwater and forest resources, regulate climate and air quality, and mediate infectious diseases…

…The conclusion is clear: Modern landuse practices, while increasing the short-term supplies of material goods, may undermine many ecosystem services in the long run, even on regional and global scales. Confronting the global environmental challenges of land use will require assessing and managing inherent trade-offs between meeting immediate human needs and maintaining the capacity of ecosystems to provide goods and services in the future. Assessments of trade-offs must recognize that land use provides crucial social and economic benefits, even while leading to possible longterm declines in human welfare through altered ecosystem functioning.

…Society faces the challenge of developing strategies that reduce the negative environmental impacts of land use across multiple services and scales while maintaining social and economic benefits.

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MA Desertification Synthesis

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (see earlier posts Biodiversity Synthesis and 1 and 2.) has released Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Desertification Synthesis which is freely downloadable from the internet (as a 3 Mb pdf).

My summary of the report is drylands cover about 40% of Earth’s land surface. These areas contain about 2 billion people (~1/3 of world), but only 8% of the world’s supply of water.

Compared to people living in other ecological regions, people living in drylands have the lowest levels of human well-being, including the lowest per capita GDP and the highest Infant Mortality Rate.

Between 1/10th and 1/5th of drylands are degraded – their croplands, pastures and woodlands have been ecologically simplified reducing their economic productivity. The primary causes are over-cultivation, over-grazing, deforestation, and poor irrigation practices

There is substantial variation in rainfall in drylands. Climate change is expected to worsen this variation. People in these regions are already vulnerability of climate variation, climate change and population growth are expected to further decrease the ability of people to maintain their well-being in the face of social and environmental change. However, there are many possible institutional, economic, and ecological responses the people, businesses, and governments can adopt to reduce this vulnerability. In particular, approaches that integrate land and water management are needed.

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TechnoGarden : Finland?

The MA Scenario TechnoGarden is based on the emergence and spread of ecological property rights and technology. Pieces of this potential world are described in a Washington Post article about how the growth of green business in Finland is being stimulated EU policies.

Finnish entrepreneurs are investing in eco-friendly businesses. Their most important salesmen may not be Finnish businesspeople (for whom, many here acknowledge, salesmanship is not a natural talent), but the European Union’s regulation writers in Brussels who set the community’s ecological standards.

Proventia, for example, hopes to make millions from the new E.U. regulation requiring the original manufacturer to recapture and recycle at least 75 percent of the contents of every piece of electronics and electrical equipment sold in Europe. The new standard comes into force in August, and adapting to it will cost companies (including some U.S. corporations) huge amounts of money, according to Noponen. He hopes Proventia companies will earn a lot of that money.

Proventia Automation, another member of the group, already produces machines that can cut up television sets and computer monitors, separating leaded from unleaded glass with a laser and recycling all the glass and other valuable, reusable components. Noponen hopes the E.U.’s new standard will produce numerous new customers for this technology.

More broadly, his firm can provide information technology and management advice to help manufacturers figure out how to meet the new rules most efficiently. Manufacturers of electronic equipment can actually make money by recycling their own creations when their useful lives are over, Noponen said.

via WorldChanging

Nature uses fiction to communicate global risks of Avian flu

The 1918 flu pandemic killed 50 million people across the globe. This weeks Nature is devoted to the potential of an avian flu pandemic and contains both news and scientific reports on the subject. To highlight and communicate the risks involved story telling is used in the form of a future weblog, written by a made up freelance journalist.

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MA Biodiversity Synthesis released

Ecosystems and Human Well-being: the Biodiversity Synthesis Report, the first cross-cutting synthesis report from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) has been released at an event at McGill University. The report can be downloaded from the MA web site for free (its 13.4Mb).

Key findings of the study are:

+ Biodiversity benefits people through more than just its contribution to material welfare and livelihoods. Biodiversity contributes to security, resiliency, social relations, health, and freedom of choices and actions.

+ Changes in biodiversity due to human activities were more rapid in the past 50 years than at any time in human history, and the drivers of change that cause biodiversity loss and lead to changes in ecosystem services are either steady, show no evidence of declining over time, or are increasing in intensity. Under the four plausible future scenarios developed by the MA, these rates of change in biodiversity are projected to continue, or to accelerate.

+ Many people have benefited over the last century from the conversion of natural ecosystems to human-dominated ecosystems and from the exploitation of biodiversity. At the same time, however, these gains have been achieved at growing costs in the form of losses in biodiversity, degradation of many ecosystem services, and the exacerbation of poverty for some groups of people.

+ The most important direct drivers of biodiversity loss and ecosystem service changes are habitat change (such as land use changes, physical modification of rivers or water withdrawal from rivers, loss of coral reefs, and damage to sea floors due to trawling), climate change, invasive alien species, overexploitation, and pollution.

+ Improved valuation techniques and information on ecosystem services demonstrates that although many individuals benefit from biodiversity loss and ecosystem change, the costs borne by society of such changes are often higher. Even in instances where knowledge of benefits and costs is incomplete, the use of the precautionary approach may be warranted when the costs associated with ecosystem changes may be high or the changes irreversible.

+ To achieve greater progress toward biodiversity conservation to improve human well-being and reduce poverty, it will be necessary to strengthen response options that are designed with the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as the primary goal. These responses will not be sufficient, however, unless the indirect and direct drivers of change are addressed and the enabling conditions for implementation of the full suite of responses are established.

+ An unprecedented effort would be needed to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss at all levels.

+ Short-term goals and targets are not sufficient for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystems. Given the characteristic response times for political, socioeconomic, and ecological systems, longer-term goals and targets (such as for 2050) are needed to guide policy and actions.

+ Improved capability to predict the consequences of changes in drivers for biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and ecosystem services, together with improved measures of biodiversity, would aid decision-making at all levels.

+ Science can help ensure that decisions are made with the best available information, but ultimately the future of biodiversity will be determined by society.