Saturday, February 21, 2015
Comments due by Feb. 28, 2015
Leaving Onl Foottep? Think Again CHRISTOPHR SOLOMON F. 13, 2015 ONE of the most popular places for backcountry skiing in North America is Teton Pass in Wyoming, high above the adventure playground of Jackson Hole. This winter, as skiers and snowboarders unload gear for a day of sweat and powderskiing, the researcher Kimberly Heinemeyer has been moving among them with a clipboard. Dr. Heinemeyer, a senior scientist with the research group Round River Conservation Studies, explains that she’s studying the effect of recreation on wolverines. She asks skiers if they will wear a small orange GPS armband for the day that tracks their movement. Most people gladly agree. Wolverines, famously tough and elusive animals also known as “mountain devils,” are in trouble in the region. Roughly 300 are thought to remain in the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest. Climate change is eroding the latespring snowpack that the animals depend on to survive. Even so, in August, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew its proposal to list the animal as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. Environmental groups are suing. Over the last five winters, scientists have been trapping and fitting GPS collars to wolverines in Idaho and now in Wyoming while also affixing them to snowmobilers and those backcountry skiers. Then they’ve tracked the movements. Preliminary findings show that wolverines move faster and more often on weekends when people are playing in their mountain habitat. That may mean trouble for these animals during the brutal winters of the high Rockies, where every calorie counts. When we think of injuring nature, it is easy to point an accusing finger at mining companies and their strip mines or timber barons and their clearcuts. But could something as mellow as backcountry skiing or a Thoreauvian walk in the woods cause harm, too? More and more studies over the last 15 years have found that when we visit the great outdoors, we have much more of an effect than we realize. Even seemingly lowimpact activities like hiking, crosscountry skiing and birdwatching often affect wildlife, from bighorn sheep to wolves, birds, amphibians and tiny invertebrates, and in subtle ways. Impacts from outdoor recreation and tourism are the fourthleading reason that species are listed by the federal government as threatened or endangered, behind threats from nonnative species, urban growth and agriculture. Piping plovers and loggerhead turtles have been killed, and their nests disrupted, by beach traffic at Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina, for instance. Vernal pool fairy shrimp are threatened by humans walking through seasonal wetlands in California and Oregon. The major threat to manatees in Florida is being struck by recreational boats. And the list goes on. You’d be surprised by the ripples left by a dayhiker’s ramble through the woods. In 2008 Sarah Reed, an associate conservation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, and her colleagues found fivefold declines in detections of bobcats, coyotes and other midsize carnivores in protected areas in California that allowed quiet recreation activities like hiking, compared with protected areas that prohibited those activities. “That is the kind of difference that you don’t see often in ecological studies,” Dr. Reed said. Dogs, a frequent villain, weren’t the issue for these carnivores; people were, according to her research. Birds get ruffled, too. Researchers who studied trails around Boulder, Colo., found that populations of several species of songbirds, including pygmy nuthatches and Western meadowlarks, were lowest near trails. “There’s something about the presence of humans and their pets when they go on hikes that causes a bit of a ‘death zone’ of 100 meters on either side of a trail,” said Prof. Rick Knight of Colorado State University. Running, canoeing, cycling and similar activities negatively affected birds in nearly 90 percent of 69 studies that researchers reviewed in 2011. Reductions were seen in the number of nests built, eggs laid and chicks hatched or fledged. In Connecticut, wood turtles, labeled a “species of special concern” in the state, vanished from one wildlife preserve over 10 years after the area was opened to activities like hiking, researchers found. It’s tempting for the musclepowered recreation crowd (of which I’m a proud member) to argue that we’re lighter on the ground than those who roar into nature astraddle their growling snowmobiles and churning allterrain vehicles. Surely motorheads are to blame for any problems in the forest. The uncomfortable fact is, we’re all complicit. In a notyetpublished review of 218 studies about recreation’s impacts on wildlife, researchers found more evidence of impacts by hikers, backcountry skiers and their like than by the gaspowered contingent. Crosscountry skiers on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, for instance, can be more disturbing to moose than noisy snowmobiles, one recent study found. Grant Harris, a biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service and the main author of the study, explained that snowmobiles, while a noisy intrusion, announced their presence and then quickly departed. But crosscountry skiers can sneak up on an animal without warning and then linger. Worse, animals “don’t know where the skiers are going to pop up next,” leaving them on edge. A century ago, nature had elbow room. Now, there’s a lot less of it, while recreational activities and nature tourism are growing in most parks, wilderness areas and other protected areas around the world. The National Park Service has allowed marathons in parks, for instance, and the controversial push by mountain bikers to ride in federal wilderness areas is heating up again. In British Columbia, more than three dozen snowcat skiing and heliskiing operations and backcountry lodges have opened in the last 20 years in the province’s wild life rich south.Today, some kind of recreation is allowed in 99 percent of the protected natural areas in North America. Conflicts with nature are a result. Still, scientists insist they don’t want to lock people out of nature. Spending time on a mountainside, or hipdeep in a trout stream, is tonic for brain and body. Research bears this out. And people who recreate outdoors are among nature’s most ardent constituents. Without them, “our landscapes would erode even faster than they are now,” said Dr. Heinemeyer, the wolverine researcher. The challenge is to find a nuanced balance between enjoying nature and protecting it, recognizing that recreation does not necessarily complement conservation or preservation. Last spring, officials in Banff National Park in Canada closed a section of the Bow Valley Parkway, one of the best places in the park to see wildlife at night. Closing the road allowed wolves, grizzly bears and other wildlife more chances to move along the pinched valley bottom during springtime, a critical period when they have young to feed. Such restrictions aren’t new in the United States or Canada, but we should be prepared to accept more of them. We might also consider allowing more recreation in some parks and natural areas but less in others to achieve conservation goals across a broader landscape. And in the case of future parks and protected areas, we need to carefully consider the goals for such places and how recreation fits in or doesn’t, because once it is allowed, it is tough to restrict. “Whether or not to allow public access is probably the most important decision that gets made,” Dr. Reed said. Of course not all wildlife is the same. Some species flee; others habituate. Some populations might be healthy enough to withstand disturbance; others, too fragile. We now know recreation is having impacts in ways that we hadn’t imagined. We must plan accordingly. Only if nature is healthy will it be able to sustain and support us in the future, when we burst through the door after a long week and hit the trail, looking to lean on its strong shoulders.
Friday, February 13, 2015
The findings also indicate that moderately reducing carbon emissions in the next 50 years is unlikely to hold off these periods, including at least one "megadrought" that could hit by the end of the century, according to the climate scientists. These arid periods will be drier, cover greater areas and last longer than anything we have experienced so far, and they could threaten not only natural ecosystems, but destroy the regions' agricultural sectors.
The work was funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation and published Thursday in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances.
The researchers developed several possible future scenarios that ranged from what they called the "business-as-usual" scenario, where atmospheric carbon levels continue to climb until the end of the century, to more moderately optimistic projections where carbon levels begin declining around 2050. They then compared their projections with evidence from past periods of climate change found in tree rings.
In every case, the projections indicated that big droughts will likely strike both the Central Plains region and the Southwest sometime in the next several decades.
"Even the scenarios that were fairly optimistic, in my opinion, will still bring about serious challenges for the Southwest and Great Plains," researcher Jason Smerdon told CNBC.
The results do not bode well for the agricultural future of the country—both regions are key producers of food, and persistent droughts in them would seriously limit food-production options.
Smerdon noted that serious droughts have already occurred in some areas—California's ongoing battle is the latest, but 11 of the past 14 years have been drought years across many Western states, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor data cited in a press release announcing the study. Groundwater supplies that typically provide relief during droughts have been depleted.
"These are troubling results regardless of what we do, but it is important to point out that these scenarios are based on choices we haven't made yet," Smerdon said. "So they are only projections—they are not commitments. But, there is a great urgency to those choices."
Friday, February 06, 2015
Comments due by Feb.14, 2015
An old controversy will find new ammunition in the new PBS program "Earth A New Wild". In this miniseries M Sanjayan argues that humans and animals can find common ground. Can they?
Conservation is often billed as people vs. nature. But a new documentary argues that cohabiting with wildlife can actually be mutually beneficial. It features a poor farmer in Africa, to take one example, who turned part of his land into forest and ended up with much more productivity.
The series EARTH A New Wild is hosted by conservation scientist M. Sanjayan, who takes viewers to 29 countries to show how animals and people can live more in balance.
National Geographic spoke with David Allen, the Emmy-winning executive producer of the series.
In the miniseries M. Sanjayan says, "Give nature a helping hand and people will benefit from it." What does that mean?
We have got to realign our attitude to wilderness. The idea that there is nature out there and people are separate from it shouldn't be part of our modern world anymore.
My own work making natural history films probably hasn't helped because we've romanticized wilderness. Take the popular BBC seriesPlanet Earth. If aliens had beamed that show to their planet and then come over to visit us, they'd be so horrified by the reality of what our world is like.
Nature and people are everywhere and are completely connected. There is nature out there that can be salvaged, but with us [staying] in the picture. So this film isn't about the isolated little pockets of wilderness that are left. For example, we show how New York City is trying to regenerate its bay with oysters. That brings nature right into a large city.
Another theme in the miniseries is people and animals finding common ground, including the landowners in Missouri who shared some of their water to make a wildlife refuge, which attracted more than a million snow geese.
People have actually been finding common ground with nature for generations, but many people underestimate the value of the nature around them. For example, in the "Plains" episode we show how herders are an integral part of the landscape. In the "Forest" episode we show how people are beginning to understand the value of a tree. There are many other examples of people really needing nature.
Common ground is essential, but the question is whether we're going to do it in a harmonious way that is good for people and nature or in a battle that is not going to help anyone.
The film presents an idea that may be counterintuitive to conservationists, that ranch animals that are threatened by predators are good for grasslands because they encourage plants to grow. You show a resurgence in biodiversity in Yellowstone National Park after wolves returned, and a spike in productivity on a Montana ranch after a cowboy started herding his cows as if predators were present, even though they aren't.
It's an incredibly controversial concept in some sense, but the idea that the plains evolved with giant herds of big Pleistocene animals that have since been largely taken out of the equation makes a lot of sense. The ecology is connected to the animals that graze the grasses.
The secret is not just to increase the size of your stock by ten times. It has to be a highly managed grazing system. You have to run your animals around as if they were driven by predators, so you never let them stand and graze in one place too long.
Still, any suggestion that domestic animals are good for conservation is a difficult thing to push because it's counterintuitive to those who have long pointed to the perils of traditional overgrazing. Finding this out for himself over the course of making the film was part of Sanjayan's journey, which also shows that he didn't approach the project as a know-it-all.
Sunday, February 01, 2015
Comments due by Feb. 8, 2015
It was 8 degrees in Minneapolis on a recent January day, and out on Interstate 394, snow whipped against the windshields of drivers on their morning commutes. But inside the offices of Cargill, the food conglomerate, Greg Page, the company’s executive chairman, felt compelled to talk about global warming. “It would be irresponsible not to contemplate it,” Mr. Page said, bundled up in a wool sport coat layered over a zipup sweater. “I’m 63 years old, and I’ve grown up in the upper latitudes. I’ve seen too much change to presume we might not get more.” Mr. Page is not a typical environmental activist. He says he doesn’t know — or particularly care — whether human activity causes climate change. He doesn’t give much serious thought to apocalyptic predictions of unbearably hot summers and endless storms. But over the last nine months, he has lobbied members of Congress and urged farmers to take climate change seriously. He says that over the next 50 years, if nothing is done, crop yields in many states will most likely fall, the costs of cooling chicken farms will rise and floods will more frequently swamp the railroads that transport food in the United States. He wants American agribusiness to be ready. Mr. Page is a member of the Risky Business Project, an unusual collection of business and policy leaders determined to prepare American companies for climate change. It’s a prestigious club, counting a former senator, five former White House cabinet members, two former mayors and two billionaires in the group. The 10 men and women who serve on the governing committee don’t agree on much. Some are Democrats, some Republicans. Even when it comes to dealing with climate change, they have very different perspectives. Some advocate a national carbon tax, some want to mandate companies to disclose their climate risks. Mr. Page suggests that the world may be able to get by without any mandatory rules at all. Some members want to push investors to divest from fossil fuel companies. Several favor construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, while one member has spent more than $1 million lobbying to stop it. But they all do agree on one issue: Shifts in weather over the next few decades will most likely cost American companies hundreds of billions of dollars, and they have no choice but to adapt. The committee started in June as a way to promote a study that it commissioned, “Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States.” But it has since evolved into a loose network of missionaries who publicize the report’s ominous data far and wide, in talks at the Clinton Global Initiative conference, briefings with the American Farm Bureau Federation and breakfast meetings with local chambers of commerce. On Jan. 23, the group released the second chapter of the Risky Business project, focused on the effects on the Midwest: “Heat in the Heartland.” A report on California is next. With $1.7 million in grants from the MacArthur Foundation and others, the group is hiring a fulltime staff. The group is led by three men: Tom Steyer, the hedge fund billionaire whose super PAC spent $73 million last year attacking Republicans who denied climate change and promoting awareness of the issue; Henry M. Paulson Jr., the former chief executive of Goldman Sachs and the Treasury secretary under President George W. Bush; and Michael R. Bloomberg, New York City’s former mayor and the billionaire founder of the financial information company Bloomberg L.P. Each spent $500,000 to commission the Risky Business research and each has his own particular goals for the initiative, all of which would be served by making the climate threat feel real, immediate and potentially devastating to the business world.Mr. Paulson wants companies to implement and regulators to enforce disclosure rules regarding climate risk and carbon emissions for publicly traded companies. Mr. Bloomberg views the work as a way to spur city governments and local businesses to work together on climate issues and not “kick the can down the road,” he said. Mr. Steyer sees the dollarsandcents research as a way to neutralize conservatives’ arguments that environmental regulation always hurts business. “One side argues morality and polar bears, and the other side argues jobs,” Mr. Steyer said. “You’re never going to win with polar bears.” Embracing Adaptation To understand how the Risky Business Project came to be, it’s helpful to look at how the climate change battle has been waged over the years. In the early days, discussion was focused on fixing the problem and staving off disaster. This has been the strategy environmentalists have used to respond to all sorts of risks for years: Scientists identify the harm, publicize it, debate with the responsible industry and expect legislators to take action. The very idea of thinking about how to adapt to drastic environmental changes was basically considered taboo, an acknowledgment of defeat. “Earlier on, you wouldn’t use the ‘A’ word in polite conversation,” said Henry D. Jacoby, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T. and a climate policy researcher — the “A” word being “adaptation.” “People thought you weren’t serious about mitigation. ‘Oh, you’re giving up.’ ” But climate change defied that playbook. There was no immediate crisis to point to — no bird eggs laced with DDT, no acid rain corroding city monuments. There was no one industry to target or overwhelming constituency to push legislators. “The rationalist, evidencedriven, faith in the political process approach to solving environmental problems has been really effective in many realms,” said Hal Harvey, who advised the Risky Business group and is chief executive of Energy Innovation, a green policy firm. “But it has done bupkis for climate change.” Indecision and indifference have prevailed instead. A majority of Americans in 2014 surveys by Pew Research and Gallup acknowledged climate change was happening, and 83 percent of Americans say that without emissions reductions, global warming will be a problem in the future, according to a January survey conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and the environmental group Resources for the Future. But in survey after survey, those same Americans rank climate change at or near the bottom of pressing issues, far behind jobs, the economy and health care. In the meantime, powerful lobbies, including fossil fuel groups, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, stand in the way of regulation. Climate change has become a partisan issue — a cause for conservatives who fear government overreach. It was in this context that in November 2012, Mr. Steyer convened a meeting at his Pescadero, Calif., ranch. The month before, he had stepped down from running his hedge fund, Farallon Capital Management, to devote himself to the environment. He wanted to devise a way to fight climate change more effectively, and he had assembled some highly regarded thinkers to help him brainstorm. Attendees included the environmentalists Bill McKibben and Mr. Harvey, and the political strategists John D. Podesta and Chris Lehane. As cattle grazed on native grasses outside, and a waterfiltering ecosculpture burbled on the patio, the participants tossed ideas around the kitchen table. Mr. McKibben discussed his fossil fuel divestment campaign. Others suggested stoking a social media groundswell. One suggested making life hard for climate changedenying politicians (the latter idea became the basis for Mr. Steyer’s super PAC, NextGen Climate Action). While Mr. Steyer was devising his political strategy, the staff at Next Generation, his nonprofit group, were at work trying to solve another critical question: How do you make climate change feel real and immediate for people? Kate Gordon, senior vice president of Next Generation, Mr. Steyer’s nonprofit, whose mission focuses on climate change and improving the economic prospects of families, found inspiration in a British report called the Stern Review, published in 2006. It was an economic analysis, sponsored by the British government, which examined all the costs of climate change, eventually concluding that the price of curbing global warming paled compared with the costs of doing nothing. Ms. Gordon pitched Mr. Steyer on an American version — what would become the Risky Business report. It would be a way to discuss in a practical, dollarsandcents way how businesses would have to adapt to climate change, while also making a clear case for taking action to mitigate the coming environmental crises. He liked what he heard. The team wanted to bulletproof the report, so that public discussion would not become a politicized debate about their methods or their messengers. So they contracted an economic research firm, the Rhodium Group. They also reached out to Mr. Paulson, a Republican, and Mr. Bloomberg, an independent, to see if they would cosponsor the study and help form a bipartisan committee. Both agreed, and over the following summer and fall, the three enlisted other leaders through their personal networks. Mr. Paulson called Mr. Page, whom he knew from the Latin America Conservation Council. Through a contact of Ms. Gordon’s, they signed up Henry G. Cisneros, the former housing and urban development secretary under President Bill Clinton and now a real estate developer. Mr. Steyer called Robert E. Rubin, the former secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton and a longtime friend and mentor from their days at Goldman Sachs. For some, like Mr. Cisneros, it was the first public involvement with climate change. For Mr. Rubin, it marked a change in perspective. During his time in the Clinton administration, the Treasury Department argued the aggressive emissions reductions proposed in the Kyoto Protocol would harm the economy. Mr. Rubin wouldn’t make that argument now. “I think it’s the existential threat of our day,” he said. “Once you see it as having catastrophic impact, any economic argument follows that, because you’re not going to have an economy.” Mr. Page’s involvement with the committee was the subject of “a fairly energetic debate” within Cargill, he said. In the end, he decided to participate because the study was an analysis of potential outcomes, not one that purported to make concrete predictions or specific policy recommendations. He also figured it would be best to be involved in any report that planned to say something about his industry, especially one with such prominent backers. He didn’t want them “using the Risky Business report to terrify the U.S. population about its food supply,” he said. Cargill “hasn’t weighed in” on the regulatory debate, Mr. Page said, because the company prefers to examine rules case by case. (“Is capandtrade per se bad? No. Is the way it was administered in Europe ineffective? Absolutely,” he said). Unlike other committee members, he seems to favor voluntary commitments to reduce greenhouse gases. Generally, the company is opposed to any regulation that will force it to shut plants, retire equipment or otherwise “destroy fixed capital,” he said. In May 2014, the committee members gathered at the Bloomberg Philanthropies offices in Manhattan to hear two of the authors commissioned by the Rhodium Group — Robert E. Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University, and Solomon M. Hsiang, an economic policy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley — present their findings. Among their conclusions if the status quo persisted: Climate change would increase energy demand in Texas by between 3.4 and 9.2 percent by midcentury. Crop yields in Missouri and Illinois would face a 15 percent decline over the next 25 years. And in the Northeast, annual property damage from severe storms — from hurricanes to blizzards — would likely increase $11.1 billion, to a total of $15.8 billion by the end of the century. Of all the members, Mr. Rubin is most preoccupied with the socalled tail risks — lowprobability events where the most damage is done. Mr. Page, on the other hand, prefers to prepare for the most likely outcomes. At the meeting in May, some of those differences were discussed. As the report was being put together, Cargill scientists had argued that the agriculture industry was well prepared to adapt to changes. Mr. Bloomberg was skeptical, Mr. Page recalled. During a break, Mr. Bloomberg took Mr. Page aside and peppered him with questions: Do these technologies exist? Or are you saying they will someday — “as in, we know there will be a cure for cancer, but we have no idea when or how?” Mr. Page said he respected Mr. Bloomberg’s diligence in seeking answers, although he maintained that adaptation was more a matter of execution for the food industry, not research and development. “But the guy’s a good reporter, let’s put it that way,” Mr. Page said. Light Touch With the Message Mr. Paulson works on the upper floors of a skyscraper in downtown Chicago, with a conference room overlooking the Chicago River. In January, the wind across it is cutting, and ice floes drift along the sides. By midcentury, if the Risky Business report is right, those ice floes will be gone. When Mr. Paulson speaks to local groups, he makes sure to bring data from the report tailored to their county. “I’m not just having an abstract conversation about climate being this big risk. I can say, ‘Let me tell you!’ ” he said, slapping the table. “Here’s what this is going to mean to you, your industry and your family. Suddenly people are interested.” Mr. Cisneros says he uses a soft touch when speaking to real estate groups, so that people don’t feel lectured to. “I say, ‘This has not been my highest priority either, but it’s got my attention, and I want to share it with you,’ ” he said. He warns audiences to budget for spiraling insurance premiums in coastal states like Florida, and to keep in mind that in droughtprone regions like California’s Central Valley, water permits may become hard to acquire. Mr. Page treads especially lightly when addressing farmers’ groups, as he says they have been conditioned to think of global warming as a liberal euphemism for more regulation. Instead of coming right at the issue, he takes a circuitous route. “I ask simple questions: ‘Would you like universities to suspend research on seeds that grow in higher temperatures? Of course not! That’s all I’m saying!’ ” he said, raising his hands defensively. “You get people to acknowledge that they, too, have anxieties. It’s a microacknowledgment, not a macroacknowledgment.” Through this kind of education, several committee members hope to recruit business leaders to the side that helps, not hinders, the fight against climate change. “The whole point of all of this is that it can be mitigated,” Mr. Paulson said. “The enemies of what we’re trying to do are shorttermism and a sense of hopelessness. But if we act soon we can avoid the worst outcomes and adapt.” Even so, the committee members seem to have a long road ahead of them. After meeting with Mr. Page, Jon Doggett, executive vice president of the National Corn Growers Association, said he was skeptical that the report would influence farmers much. His members need nearterm incentives to cut greenhouse gases — immediate cost savings, government incentives and so forth, he said. “Are we going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions today because we believe there’s an economic benefit 15 years from now? That’s way too hypothetical for a familyowned and operated business that has to make a payment this year,” Mr. Doggett said. “The banker doesn’t get paid in hypothetical dollars.” Dale Moore, executive director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation, which lobbies in Washington on behalf of farmers and ranchers, said he agreed with Mr. Page that climate seemed to be in a “more extreme cycle” and that agribusiness would do well to develop hardier seed strains. But the group’s members remain skeptical that humans cause climate change. They are part of a consortium opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s new proposed rule limiting coalfired power plants. But not all business groups feel this way. The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce parted ways with the national Chamber of Commerce in 2011 specifically because the views of Seattle members on climate change differed so drastically with the sort of climatedenying statements the national group was making. “We were hosting clean technology conferences,” said Maud Daudon, president of the group, “and they were issuing statements that came from an entirely different place.” Bit by bit, the Risky Business Project’s committee members hope to turn the tide, bringing Congress around to the way that a majority of Americans feels. “We’ve made progress on things like civil rights, smoking, gay marriage and other things that seemed impossible to move when businesspeople joined the silent majority,” said Mr. Cisneros. “Congress tends not to act until the broad mainstream, including business, is aboard.” And if business feels the pain in its wallet, it will feel the heat to act, even on the coldest of days.