Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Allan Savory TED Talk: How to green the desert and reverse climate change

March 9, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog received the following TED talk from a friend. Interested in drylands and desertification? Essential viewing – all 22 minutes of it! If what Allan Savory is saying holds true for drylands the world over then the implications are profound.

Wots this warming all about: Infographic about How Climate Change is Destroying the Earth

February 21, 2013

Hugh Paxton’s Blog is sure you’ve heard about global warming. But what is it? Allison Lee of springs to the rescue with a great infographic. I strongly recommend this for parents who are being pestered by their children with difficult questions, teachers who are being pestered by children with difficult questions, people who can’t figure out what the heck is actually going on and why it’s so darned cold…in fact most of us. The inforgraphic is really nicely put together and it covers all bases without sending you into a state of science-speak hibernation or raising your blood pressure to boiling point.

Hugh Paxton’s Blog gives this noble effort that rare accolade – A Hugh Paxton’s Blog Five stars rating. Share it around.

People need to know this stuff!

Thanks to Allison Lee and for sharing it around!

Best! Hugh in Bangkok (currently veering between floods and drought)

Hi Hugh,

I appreciate the response. You can check it out here:

Title: How Climate Change is Destroying the Earth

If you like it and think it’s a fit, I would love for you to share it.

Thank you!


From David Duthie: Climate Change Musical Chairs

August 22, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog always takes a David Duthie opinion piece seriously. Here he is on migration of species triggered by climate change and environmental destruction.

I hope I don’t have to migrate again because of climate change.

My family did last year during the Bangkok floods. Uncomfortable, and all we did was migrate upstairs.

Millions suffered worse.

So it’s not just wild animals or butterflies we need to think about. The following is like the canary in the coal mine – taken down to detect the presence of dangerous accumulations of gas. When the cheeps stopped and the canary died the miners migrated upwards to the surface. Very quickly. Duthie’s butterflies aren’t cheeping. But they are telling us something that is important.




There now seems little doubt that world leaders, distracted by financial meltdown, and the global public, who all expect “more tomorrow”, whether on the bottom or top rungs of the “consumption ladder”, plus an energy sector hell-bent on drilling and selling every last “drop” of fossil fuels, will conspire to drive us well beyond the safe target of 2 degrees of average temperature change, and faster than anyone predicted.

Already biodiversity is responding to this change with “its feet and fins” – almost every species is on the move – the IPCC 4th assessment cites 28,586 studies demonstrating significant biological changes in terrestrial systems – soon the only result worth publishing as a new result will be a species which is NOT moving!

It is sometimes hard to know what to do, as biodiversity planners, in the face of such turmoil, but in the past week or so a number of interesting articles/news items crossed my desk that show how a growing body of researchers are beginning to sort climate “signal from noise” and shape adaptive management strategies that MAY prevent the worst from happening.

In some sort of (late night) logical sequence, here, and below my signature, is what I compiled:

1. Yes, they really are ALL moving:

Massachusetts Butterflies Move North as Climate Warms

reporting on:

G. A. Breed, G. A. (early online) Climate-driven changes in northeastern US butterfly communities. Nature Climate Change; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1663 (open access; 4MB PDF)

2. And not all in the same way:

Studies Shed Light On Why Species Stay or Go in Response to Climate Change

reporting on:

Morgan W. Tingley, Michelle S. Koo, Craig Moritz, Andrew C. Rush, Steven R. Beissinger. The push and pull of climate change causes heterogeneous shifts in avian elevational ranges. Global Change Biology, 2012; DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2012.02784.x (subscription required)

T. L. Morelli, A. B. Smith, C. R. Kastely, I. Mastroserio, C. Moritz, S. R. Beissinger. Anthropogenic refugia ameliorate the severe climate-related decline of a montane mammal along its trailing edge. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2012; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1301 (open access)

3. But existing protected areas can act as “stepping stones” for species on the move:

Protected Areas Allow Wildlife to Spread in Response to Climate Change, Citizen Scientists Reveal

reporting on:

Thomas, C. D. (early online) Protected areas facilitate species’ range expansions. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1210251109 (subscription required)

4. And new approaches to systemic conservation planning can build more resilience around existing protected area systems

GROVES, C.R., et al (2012) Incorporating climate change into systematic conservation planning. Biodiversity and Conservation, 2012 vol. 21 (7) pp. 1651-1671 (open access)

The principles of systematic conservation planning are now widely used by governments and non-government organizations alike to develop biodiversity conservation plans for countries, states, regions, and ecoregions. Many of the species and ecosystems these plans were designed to conserve are now being affected by climate change, and there is a critical need to incorporate new and complementary approaches into these plans that will aid species and ecosystems in adjusting to potential climate change impacts. We propose five approaches to climate change adaptation that can be integrated into existing or new biodiversity conservation plans: (1) conserving the geophysical stage, (2) protecting climatic refugia, (3) enhancing regional connectivity, (4) sustaining ecosystem process and function, and (5) capitalizing on opportunities emerging in response to climate change. We discuss both key assumptions behind each approach and the trade-offs involved in using the approach for conservation planning.
We also summarize additional data beyond those typically used in systematic conservation plans required to implement these approaches.
A major strength of these approaches is that they are largely robust to the uncertainty in how climate impacts may manifest in any given region.

Craig Groves, a stalwart of The Nature Conservancy, AND a BIOPLANNER, co-authored “Designing a Geography of Hope: A Practitioner’s Handbook to Ecoregional Conservation Planning.” (open access at

I just love that phrase: “Designing a Geography of Hope”!

Best wishes

David Duthie


Massachusetts Butterflies Move North as Climate Warms

ScienceDaily (Aug. 19, 2012) — The authors of a Harvard study published August 19 in Nature Climate Change gathered their data from an unlikely source — the trip accounts of the Massachusetts Butterfly Club. During the past 19 years, the amateur naturalist group has logged species counts on nearly 20,000 expeditions throughout Massachusetts. Their records fill a crucial gap in the scientific record.

Once analyzed, the data show a clear trend. “Over the past 19 years, a warming climate has been reshaping Massachusetts butterfly communities,” notes Greg Breed, lead author on the study and a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Forest in Petersham.

Subtropical and warm-climate species such as the giant swallowtail and zabulon skipper — many of which were rare or absent in Massachusetts as recently as the late 1980s — show the sharpest increases. At the same time, more than three-quarters of northerly species (species with a range centered north of Boston) are now declining in Massachusetts, many of them rapidly. Most impacted are the species that overwinter as eggs or small larvae, indicating that these overwintering stages may be much more sensitive to drought or lack of snow cover.

The study creates new questions for managing threatened species. “For most butterfly species, climate change seems to be a stronger change-agent than habitat loss,” says Breed. “Protecting habitat remains a key management strategy, and that may help some butterfly species. However, for many others, habitat protection will not mitigate the impacts of warming.”

Breed points to the frosted elfin, a species that receives formal habitat protection from the state. This southerly distributed butterfly is now one of the most rapidly increasing species in Massachusetts, with an estimated 1,000 percent increase since 1992. Some of this increase may be due to habitat protections, Breed allows.
But over the same period, atlantis and aphrodite fritillaries, historically common summer butterflies in Massachusetts, have declined by nearly 90 percent — yet these northerly species remain unprotected.

The kind of information collected by the Massachusetts Butterfly Club is becoming increasingly valuable to scientists and land managers alike. Elizabeth Crone, senior ecologist at the Harvard Forest and another co-author on the study, notes, “Careful datasets from amateur naturalists play a valuable role in our understanding of species dynamics. Scientists constantly ask questions, but sometimes the data just isn’t there to provide the answers, and we can’t go back in time to collect it. This study would not have been possible without the dedication and knowledge of the data collectors on those 19,000 club trips.”


2. Studies Shed Light On Why Species Stay or Go in Response to Climate Change

ScienceDaily (Aug. 17, 2012) — Two new studies by scientists at UC Berkeley provide a clearer picture of why some species move in response to climate change, and where they go5

One study, published online Aug. 6, in the journal Global Change Biology, finds that changes in precipitation have been underappreciated as a factor in driving bird species out of their normal range. In the other study, published August 15 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers found a sharp decrease in range for the Belding’s ground squirrel, but noted some surprising areas where the species found refuge.

The two studies exemplify the type of research being explored through the Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology, or BiGCB, an ambitious effort to better understand and predict how plants and animals will respond to changing environmental conditions by studying how they have responded to earlier periods of climate change.

The first study’s findings challenge the conventional reliance on temperature as the only climate-related force impacting where species live. The authors noted that as many as 25 percent of species have shifted in directions that were not predicted in response to temperature changes, yet few attempts have been made to investigate this.

“Our results redefine the fundamental model of how species should respond to future climate change,” said study lead author Morgan Tingley, who began the research as a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. “We find that precipitation changes can have a major, opposing influence to temperature in a species’ range shift. Climate change may actually be tearing communities of organisms apart.”

The findings are based upon data gathered from the Grinnell Resurvey Project, which retraces the steps of Joseph Grinnell, founder of the UC Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, in his surveys of Sierra Nevada wildlife from the early 1900s. The resurvey project, which began in 2003, was led by Craig Moritz, former UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, and his colleagues at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.

For the bird study, the researchers included 99 species in 77 historic survey sites in Lassen Volcanic, Yosemite and Sequoia national parks, as well as in several national forests. In the century that has passed since the original Grinnell survey, summer and winter temperatures have increased an average of 1-2 degrees Celsius in the Sierra Nevada.
Yosemite experienced the most warming — with average temperatures increasing by 3 degrees Celsius — while parts of Lassen actually got cooler and much wetter.

Among the bird species that moved upslope are the Savannah Sparrow, which shifted upward by 2,503 meters, and other meadow species such as the Red-winged Blackbird and Western Meadowlark. The ones that shifted their range downslope include both low-elevation species like the Ash-throated Flycatcher and Western Scrub-Jay, and high-elevation species like the Cassin’s Finch and Red-breasted Nuthatch.

“Temperature did not explain the majority of these shifts,” said Tingley, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University’s Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy.
“Only when we included precipitation as an explanatory variable did our models adequately explain the movement patterns we observed.”

The researchers found that while rising temperatures tended to push birds to cooler regions upslope, increased precipitation, which is more common at higher elevations, pulled them downslope.

“We believe many species may feel this divergent pressure from temperature and precipitation, and in the end, only one wins,” said Tingley.

Notably, more than half of the bird species in each of the three study regions did not shift their range despite pressures from climate change. “Moving is a sign of adaptation, which is good from a conservation standpoint,” said Tingley. “More worrisome are the species that have not shifted. How are they adapting? Are they moving, but we just can’t detect it? Or are they slowly declining as environmental conditions gradually become less ideal where they live?”

The answers are complex, as illustrated by the second UC Berkeley paper about range changes for a species of squirrel found in the mountains of the western United States.

In that paper, researchers again used information obtained from the Grinnell Resurvey Project. Through visual observations and trapping surveys conducted throughout the mountains of California, they discovered that the Belding’s ground squirrel had disappeared from 42 percent of the sites where they were recorded in the early 1900s.
Extinctions were particularly common at sites with high average winter temperatures and large increases in precipitation over the last century.

“We were surprised to see such a dramatic decline in this species, which is well-known to Sierran hikers and was thought to be fairly common,” said study lead author Toni Lyn Morelli, a former National Science Foundation postdoctoral researcher who was based at UC Berkeley. “In fact, the rate of decline is much greater than that seen in the same region for the pika, a small mountain-dwelling cousin of the rabbit that has become the poster child for the effects of climate warming in the contiguous United States.”

Morelli added that the squirrels are thriving in areas that have been modified by humans. For example, irrigated Mono Lake County Park serves as an artificial oasis that sustains squirrel populations despite otherwise hot and dry conditions in eastern California.

“As predictions indicate that the range of the Belding’s ground squirrel could disappear out of California by the end of the century, these areas might be particularly important for this and other climate-impacted species,” said Morelli, who is now a technical advisor for the U.S. Forest Service’s International Programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Although the Belding’s ground squirrel is widespread, the rapid decline in its distribution is of concern because it is an important source of food for raptors and carnivores. However, the paper suggests that even when climate change causes large range declines, some species can persist in human-modified areas.

“Taken together, these two studies indicate that many species have been responding to recent climate change, yet the complexities of a species’ ecological needs and their responses to habitat modification by humans can result in unanticipated responses,” said Steven Beissinger, professor at UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and the senior author on both studies.
“This makes it very challenging for scientists to project how species will respond to future climate change.”

Funding from the National Science Foundation, National Park Service, and California Landscape Conservation Cooperative helped support this research.


3. Protected Areas Allow Wildlife to Spread in Response to Climate Change, Citizen Scientists Reveal

ScienceDaily (Aug. 10, 2012) — A new study led by scientists at the University of York has shown how birds, butterflies, other insects and spiders have colonised nature reserves and areas protected for wildlife, as they move north in response to climate change and other environmental changes.

The study of over 250 species, led by researchers in the Department of Biology at York, is published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The conclusions were based on the analysis of millions of records of wildlife species sent in predominantly by members of the public.

The work represents a major new discovery involving collaborators in universities, research institutes, conservation charities, and regional and national government but — crucially –fuelled by ‘citizen science’.

Many species need to spread towards the poles where conditions remain cool enough for them to survive climate warming. But doing this is complicated because many landscapes across the world are dominated by human agriculture and development, which form barriers to the movement of species. The mainstay of traditional conservation has been to establish protected areas and nature reserves to provide refuges against the loss of habitats and other threats in the surrounding countryside.

But this method of nature conservation has been questioned in recent years, partly because of continuing degradation of habitats in reserves in some parts of the world. Increasingly, however, the value of protected areas is being question because climate change is taking place — wildlife sites stay where they are while animal species move in response to changing conditions.

However, the new research shows that protected areas are the places that most animal species colonise as they spread into new regions.
“Protected areas are like stepping stones across the landscape, allowing species to set up a succession of new breeding populations as they move northwards,” said lead author Professor Chris Thomas, of the University of York.

Co-author Dr Phillipa Gillingham, now a Lecturer at Bournemouth University, calculated that species are on average around four times more likely to colonise nature reserves than might be expected. “For the seven focal species of birds and butterflies that we studied in greatest detail, 40 per cent of new colonisations occurred in the mere
8.4 per cent of the land that was protected,” she said. “Similar patterns were observed among more than 250 invertebrate species.”

But the study showed that species vary greatly in how much they need reserves.

“Some species, such as the Dartford warbler and silver-spotted skipper butterfly, are largely confined to nature reserves,” said Dr David Roy, of the Natural Environment Research Council’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. “Whereas others like the nightjar and stone curlew are less dependent on these sites.”

Dr Richard Bradbury, of the RSPB, said: “Sites of importance for wildlife stand out like beacons in otherwise impoverished landscapes.
This study shows that the hugely important role they play now will continue undiminished in the future. Protecting these arks, as well as restoring and re-creating new ones where we can, will provide the vital network enabling more species to survive the spectre of climate change.”

“This study is a great example of how volunteer recorders and national monitoring schemes together provide the information to answer key conservation questions of global importance, such as how we can help wildlife cope with climate change,” added James Pearce-Higgins of the British Trust for Ornithology. “Only through the dedicated effort of so many people can we undertake the scale of long-term monitoring required.”

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Australia: Climate change – Scientists discover first hybrid shark

January 6, 2012

Hugh Paxton’s Blog is not sure whether the first discovery of a hybrid shark is encouraging or disturbing. Sharks have survived countless global upheavals and have changed little in basic design for well over 100 million years. Perhaps the following gives a clue as to how they’ve managed it. That some feel the need to do it now is perhaps the marine equivalent of the canary alarm. Not gas in a coalmine. But greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Thought provoking I hope.

Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post

Scientists have identified the first-ever hybrid shark off the coast of Australia, a discovery that suggests some shark species may respond to changing ocean conditions by interbreeding with one another.

A team of 10 Australian researchers identified multiple generations of sharks that arose from mating between the common blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) and the Australian blacktip (Carcharhinus tilstoni), which is smaller and lives in warmer waters than its global counterpart.

“To find a wild hybrid animal is unusual,” the scientists wrote in the journal Conservation Genetics. “To find 57 hybrids along 2,000 km (1,240 miles) of coastline is unprecedented.”

James Cook University Professor Colin Simpfendorfer, one of the paper’s co-authors, emphasized in an e-mail that he and his colleagues “don’t know what is causing these species to be mating together.” They are investigating factors including the two species’ close relationship, fishing pressure and climate change.

Australian blacktips confine themselves to tropical waters, which end around Brisbane, while the hybrid sharks swam more than 1,000 miles south to cooler areas around Sydney. Simpfendorfer said this may suggest the hybrid species has an evolutionary advantage as the climate changes.

As a result, he wrote, “We are now seeing individuals carrying the more tropical species genes in more southerly areas. In a changing climate, this hybridization may therefore allow these species to better adapt to different conditions.”

The researchers – who had been working on a government-funded study of the structure of shark populations along Australia’s northeast coast – first realized something unusual was going on when they found fish whose genetic analysis showed they were one kind of blacktip but their physical characteristics, particularly the number of vertebrae they had, were those of another. Shark scientists often use vertebrae counts to distinguish among species.

The team also found that several sharks that genetically identified as Australian blacktips were longer than the maximum length typically found for the species. Australian blacktips reach 5.2 feet; common blacktips in that part of the world reach 6.6 feet.

Demian Chapman, assistant director of science of Stony Brook University’s Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, said the idea that sharks can interbreed is “something a lot of shark biologists thought could happen but now we have evidence, and it’s fantastic evidence.”

He added, however, that the fact that these two species were so closely related made it easier for them to mate than wildly divergent ones.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to see great white/tiger sharks anytime soon, or bull/Greenland sharks,” he said. “If any species was going to hybridize, it was going to be this pair.”

TED and Carbon Disaster: Pavan Sukhdev: Put a value on nature! | Video on

December 16, 2011

Hugh Paxton’s Blog has become TED Talks aware! I’d heard of TED but hadn’t got around to actually having a look until last night. I am now an enthusiast! There are, to date, 700 or so TED speeches on video and all have several things in common. Unlike most speeches, they are short, understandable and to the point. They are also extremely interesting and are delivered by people who know what they are talking about. I watched Pavan Sukhdev (click link below) and was most impressed, not to mention depressed. Give him a go. He makes Green Economics understandable. And he talks of obvious, and terrible consequences, that many world leaders at the failed Durban Climate Change summit this month ignored. Pavan’s economic models showing the value of leaving warm water coral reefs and mangroves, as well as rainforests, alone, are compelling. Thailand’s conversion of mangroves to shrimp farms…well. Pavel doesn’t mention the tsunami that killed so many tens of thousands (including my wife’s first boss, a gentle, clever, ungainly Englishman very much in love with his new wife, who also died) but those who have ears can hear.  

I used to teach at quite a few schools and universities and I think these TEDs would make ideal teaching aids. Loads of topics are covered. Humanity has lots of ideas. Some are really bad ones. This bouquet is people at their best.  A Hugh Paxton Blog 100 percent thumbs up!


A deal in Durban (The Economist)

December 14, 2011

Hugh Paxton’s Blog rates the following article from The Economist as an excellent summary of what happened (and what didn’t) at Durban. Thailand has experienced extreme floods this year and even now some parts of Bangkok remain underwater. The fun’s not over. Meteorologists are predicting a drought and already farmers are sinking artesian wells in rice fields that until a few weeks ago were flooded. What does Durban mean? More of the same.

A deal in Durban

IN THE early hours of December 11th, after three days and nights of exhausting, often ill-tempered, final negotiations, the UN’s two-week-long climate-change summit ended in Durban with an agreement.

Its terms—assuming they are acted upon—are unlikely to be sufficient to prevent a global temperature rise of more than 2°C. They might easily allow a 4°C rise. Yet with many governments distracted by pressing economic worries, the deal was as much as could have been expected from Durban; perhaps a little more.

The core of it is, in effect, a quid-pro-quo arrangement between the European Union and big developing-country polluters, including China and India. For its part, the EU will undertake a second round of emissions abatement under the Kyoto protocol, after its main provisions expire at the end of 2012. That will prolong the shelf-life of a treaty that imposes no emissions-cutting burden on any developing country.

In return, all countries have agreed to negotiate a new mitigation regime by 2015 and make it operational by 2020. Crucially, this new regime will see the burden of emission-cutting shared among all countries, even if rich ones will still be expected to do much more than poorer countries.

This commitment, which was reached despite last-ditch resistance from China and India, and despite little enthusiasm for it from America, looks like the Durban summit’s biggest achievement. It promises to break a divisive and anachronistic distinction between developed and developing countries, which has thoroughly poisoned the waters of the UN process. It has also rendered it ineffective, given that the so-called developing countries given a free pass under Kyoto, including South Korea and Saudi Arabia as well as China and India, are now responsible for 58% of global emissions.

That is why the biggest developing-country polluters, chiefly China and India, were so reluctant to relinquish their freedom to pollute. With most other elements of a deal in place, almost 36 hours after the climate summit was due to have ended, the Indians were the last major obstacle to it. Their particular objection was to the insistence of the EU and its allies that the successor to Kyoto must be legally binding on all countries. “Am I to write a blank cheque and sign away the livelihoods and sustainability of 1.2 billion Indians, without even knowing what [the new agreement] contains?” asked the Indian environment minister, Jayanti Natarajan. “I wonder if this is an agenda to shift the blame on to countries who are not responsible [for climate change].”

With the prospect of no deal looming, the Europeans and Indian delegations were urged to go “into a huddle” in the middle of the conference hall and work out a compromise. They did so and, as per a Brazilian suggestion, agreed that the putative new deal would be “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force.”

What that may mean is anyone’s guess. It was sufficient for the EU, whose belief in legally enforceable international agreements is shared by the Brazilians, to claim success. Yet it is also unclear how important this distinction really is. The Kyoto protocol is legally binding, but contains no provisions to enforce penalties against those who fail in their mitigation endeavours. This has allowed Canada to overshoot its target, massively, with impunity. Unless penalties for failure are inserted into the successor protocol, or instrument, or outcome—which China and India would almost certainly not allow—it is hard to imagine how it would have greater force.

A more important issue will be the scale of the future regime’s ambition to curb global warming, as reflected in the mitigation targets countries assume under it. The Durban agreement includes an acknowledgement that there is a widening gap between the mitigation efforts currently promised and those required to keep warming within the broadly recognised 2°C safety limit. It remains to be seen whether this will spur countries to take the costly actions that closing this gap would require. The inadequacy of action on climate change hitherto suggests it may not.

Agreement was also reached in Durban on a package of other climate-friendly additional measures. Perhaps most notably, they included agreement on the broad design of a global Green Climate Fund, which will funnel some of the $100 billion that rich countries have promised to make available to poor ones by 2020, to help them cut emissions and adapt to climate change. Again, there was no agreement—and little discussion—on the important question of where the money will be found.

Business leaders, among whom such things matter, appeared unimpressed by these omissions. “The agreement reached was more of a victory for the UN process, than for the global climate, or in creating a new business imperative,” said Jonathan Grant, head of sustainability and climate change at PwC. “Business will shrug its shoulders over Durban and wait for direction from national capitals.”

Among the main players in Durban, the Europeans emerged with most credit. Even as EU leaders were attempting to negotiate the survival of their currency, in Brussels on December 9th, their negotiators were most prominent in Durban and surprisingly forthright. A cynic might reflect that this signalled how toothless the UN process has become. Yet the Europeans’ efforts were appreciated by many developing countries, including poor African and small island ones most threatened by global warming. Their strong support for the EU’s proposals made it much harder for the Indians and Chinese to decry them as a developed-world plot against the poor and helpless.

Among the big developing countries, India may feel most aggrieved. Not unreasonably, it fears that any mitigation action will impose costs on it that it can ill afford to pay, in particular by constraining its ability to grow its economy and thereby withdraw millions from poverty. China, the world’s biggest polluter, whose average emissions per head are already bigger than some European countries, will worry less. It has long seemed resigned to having to undertake more stringent emissions-cutting, indeed its recent heavy investments in renewable energy and energy-efficiency schemes suggest it foresees profits in this.

America has reason to be glad of the outcome. It has long bewailed the asymmetry of the Kyoto protocol—this was the ostensible reason why it failed to ratify it. Yet it was apparent in Durban that the American negotiators, envoys of a put-upon Democratic president, showed little enthusiasm for almost any part of the international process.

Their objections to some elements of the final deal were, though roundly denounced, in fact perfectly reasonable. They worried, for example, that the global Fund would be too tightly bound to the wider—slow-moving and largely ineffective—UN process. It is a shame they could not get their way in keeping it more separate.
And yet, that the world’s most powerful country—whose scientists have made a vast contribution to climate science—was reduced to playing a bit-part in negotiations over the future of the world’s climate was more than unimpressive. It was demeaning. And next time America demands that China, India or Brazil take bold steps for the global good, on trade or security, it will no doubt be remembered.

Global Green Revolutions – what did you reduce today?

September 17, 2010

More food for thought and less food in the waste bins of the world could help preserve biodiversity by reducing areas of cultivation. Here are some interesting ideas in a letter by David Duthie of UNEP – Global Environment Facility


Food security continues to loom large in the media as the result of the
recent dramatic pressure on wheat production due to drought in Russia
and flooding in Pakistan.

This evening I was reading an article which attempts to place recent
approaches to solving the food security “problem” into a broader,
long-term development context that has great relevance to biodiversity
planning where agriculture continues to be a major negative driver on
biodiversity loss.

The article, by Valeni Rull is: Rull, V. (2010) Who needs a greener
revolution? EMBO reports vol. 11 (9) pp. 659-663 and can be downloaded

The article draws heavily on recent debate on “degrowth”, as flagged
previously on BIOPLAN, and cites extensively from a special issue of the
Journal of Cleaner Production; Volume 18, Issue 6; pp. 511-606 (April
2010) on “Growth, Recession or Degrowth for Sustainability and Equity?
click above for details.

This article reviews the burgeoning emerging literature on sustainable
degrowth. This is defined as an equitable downscaling of production and
consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological
conditions at the local and global level, in the short and long term.
The paradigmatic propositions of degrowth are that economic growth is
not sustainable and that human progress without economic growth is
possible. Degrowth proponents come from diverse origins. Some are
critics of market globalization, new technologies or the imposition of
western models of development in the rest of the world. All criticize
GDP accounting though they propose often different social and ecological
indicators. Degrowth theorists and practitioners support an extension of
human relations instead of market relations, demand a deepening of
democracy, defend ecosystems, and propose a more equal distribution of
wealth. We distinguish between depression, i.e. unplanned degrowth
within a growth regime, and sustainable degrowth, a voluntary, smooth
and equitable transition to a regime of lower production and
consumption. The question we ask is how positive would degrowth be if
instead of being imposed by an economic crisis, it would actually be a
democratic collective decision, a project with the ambition of getting
closer to ecological sustainability and socio-environmental justice

Most articles in this issue were originally presented at the April 2008
conference in Paris on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability
and Social Equity. This conference brought the word degrowth and the
concepts around it into an international academic setting. Articles of
this special issue are summarized in this introductory article. Hueting,
d’Alessandro and colleagues, van den Bergh, Kerschner, Spangenberg and
Alcott discuss whether current growth patterns are (un)sustainable and
offer different perspectives on what degrowth might mean, and whether
and under what conditions it might be desirable. Matthey and Hamilton
focus on social dynamics and the obstacles and opportunities for
voluntary social action towards degrowth. Lietaert and Cattaneo with
Gavaldà offer a down-to-earth empirical discussion of two practical
living experiments: cohousing and squats, highlighting the obstacles for
scaling up such alternatives. Finally van Griethuysen explains why
growth is an imperative in modern market economies, raising also the
question whether degrowth is possible without radical institutional changes.

The article also led me to revisit a seminal article written by Kenneth
Boulding in 1966 – “The economics of the coming spaceship earth” where
he describes much of the same thinking – even down to predicting algal
biofuels! Thanks to Google, you can read the article by clicking here.

We already know that we cannot make much progress with biodiversity
goals and targets unless we mainstream, but we have much more work to do
to recognise how transformative that mainstreaming needs to be if it is
to be successful – the Rull EMBO article makes a calm and rational
contribution towards that goal.

Best wishes

David Duthie

Namibia Does Its Bit For Global Warming

December 22, 2009

Namibia sent 37 delegates to Copenhagen. En route and return they collectively added more than 59 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (as well as wracking up an impressive $581,552 bill in travel and subsistence allowances).

The delegation’s message to the world? Developed countries cause all the pollution so they should pay to solve the problem.

Nice going fellahs! Couldn’t you have just sent a fax?

Here’s some promising research! A Bacterium that converts CO2 to Liquid fuel!

December 15, 2009

Brilliant! CO2 scrubbed from industrial processes may be processed into a liquid fuel that will work with existing automobiles!
Bacteria Engineered to Turn Carbon Dioxide Into Liquid Fuel
ScienceDaily (Dec. 11, 2009)

An end to Global Warming? Is Gaia opening the window to let more heat out?

December 9, 2009

Here’s Charles Paxton’s review of :

The End of Global Warming
By Art Horn
The above link can be found at

This is an interesting article and worth a read, but I’m worried that it is feeding me the sort of line that I’d like to hear in order to sleep better at night. I’m not convinced, but I am intrigued. My knowledge of geology, though amateur, tells me that both warming and cooling of global average temperatures is likely to continue for as long as Earth spins through the Cosmos, so Horn’s title struck me as fanciful from the outset.  In many past ages (e.g. The Cretaceous) there has been a marked correlation between relatively high levels of atmospheric CO2, relatively high average temperatures and relatively high sea levels.

The use of Dr. Richard Lindzen and Yong-Sang Choi’s MIT climate study seems puzzling to me. I’m not sure that it supports Horn’s argument at all well. Should the notion of Earth emitting more heat into space now than predicted by the supercomputer climate modelers be seen as evidence that the atmosphere isn’t warmer than it was before?

Here’s the cause of my doubt on this point – If there’s more heat energy in the atmosphere than there used to be, wouldn’t you expect more of that heat to be emitted into space even if there is more of a CO2 blanket now? I would. The atmospheric blanket is permeable after all. Is it possible that (compared with the recent past) a greater total amount of heat can be emitted, even if a greater total amount of heat is being contained compared to the recent past? More overall heat emission looks suspiciously like proof of overall warming to me. How could more heat be being emitted now if there is less heat in the atmosphere to be emitted? Ergo, there seems to be more heat now, not less.

It would be sweet if Gaia was “opening up the window” somehow and venting a greater proportion of the heat now than before despite the greater CO2 concentration. I’d like to believe that, but what is the chain of reasoning to support that idea? and what data is that based upon? I’d like to see a digest of that, and then I’d feel more relaxed about discounting the warming threat, anthropogenic or not.

Could the supercomputer climate models  have underestimated the amount of heat emitted (3 Watts per meter modeled on the ground instead of the 4 watts measured from orbit ) and there still be a potentially dangerous increase in global average temperature?  As far as I know, Yes. And the reason I don’t know any different, seems to be a major flaw in Horn’s article.

Can someone please clarify whether this ERBE satellite data study is proof of global warming or not? Did the MIT study take into account the effect of varying altitude of the satellite (failure to factor-in that variation has been a source of errata in past climate study based upon satellite data).

In short, were Arrhenius and Callendar and other predictors of anthropogenic atmospheric warming from CO2 right or wrong? That’s the multi-billion dollar question. I’m hoping that the Copenhagen Climate Conference will clarify this point beyond reasonable doubt so that our leaders will have a strong mandate to take appropriate action.

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