Third book review of Klaus Rohde ed., The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Cambridge University Press 2013.

April 23rd, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

The third review of the book edited by me has just been published in Biological Conservation 182, 281-283 (February 2015)
Reviewer is Brian Drayton, TERC Cambridge, MA, USA.

For earlier reviews see here:
http://blog.une.edu.au/klausrohde/2013/11/10/review-of-klaus-rohde-ed-the-balance-of-nature-and-human-impact-cambridge-university-press-2013/

http://blog.une.edu.au/klausrohde/2013/12/17/2nd-book-review-of-klaus-rohde-ed-the-balance-of-nature-and-human-impact-cambridge-university-press-2013/

This latest review covers two books:

Green Equilibrium: The Vital Balance of Humans and Nature, Christopher Wills. Oxford University Press (2013). xxviii+280 pp.,
and The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Klaus Rohde (Ed.) Cambridge University Press (2013). xvi+413 pp.

Excerpts dealing with the book edited by me follow:

“These two books make good companions, and it is instructive to read them side by side. In doing so, the reader can reflect upon a central challenge to conservation science, and to the societies within which it carries out its business.”

……………..

“Klaus Rohde’s fascinating edited volume The Balance of Nature and Human Impact offers a snapshot of current research, exploring
evidence for or against equilibrium processes from an array of systems, interspersed with reviews of literature on selected topics. A brief gallop through the table of contents can only suggest its wealth of provocative entries.
Part I: ‘‘Nonequilibrium and equilibrium in populations and metapopulations’’ examines reef fishes ……..
ectoparasites on terrestrial hosts …….. and marine parasites. Part II: “Nonequilibrium and equilibrium in communities’’ examines plankton communities ……, community stability in relation to fire ……., marine and freshwater ectoparasite communities ….. and small mammal ectoparasites …. , and bird populations and communities. Part III addresses ‘‘Nonequilibrium and equilibrium on geographical scales’’ in the context of island flora and fauna …… and arctic vascular plant diversity and spatial variation ……… Part IV: ‘‘Latitudinal gradients’’ focuses on diversity gradients…..reviews the literature providing evidence for and against equilibrium and nonequilibrium explanations,” and ‘‘effective evolutionary time.’’
Part V: ‘‘Effects due to invasive species, habitat loss and climate change’’ is by far the largest section. …….. the section marks a transition, as all the rest of the book looks at ‘‘biocomplex’’ (coupled humannonhuman)systems—where the nonhuman component may include insects … coral reefs ….. , emerging infectious diseases ……., human impacts on biodiversity …… , amphibians …….. , and reptiles ……. Part VI: ‘‘Autecological studies’’ comprises two articles: ‘‘Autecology and the balance of nature—ecological laws and human-induced invasions’’ …… and ‘‘The intricacy of structural and ecological adaptations: micromorphology and ecology of some Aspidogastrea’’.
Part VII: ‘‘An overall view’’ sets much of the foregoing into a larger theoretical and practical context, coming back to the
challenges faced by conservation biology in a world in at least one kind of chronic disequilibrium: anthropogenic climate change. Rohde discusses interspecific competition as a regulator of communities, and the status of evolutionarily stable strategies. Finally, Rohde and co-authors discuss ‘‘How to conserve biodiversity in a nonequilibrium world.’’ Here we come to the crux of the matter. As Wallington et al. (2005) argue, much conservation strategy betrays an underlying ‘‘balance’’ orientation, which often takes the form of creating reserves and assuming that they will ‘‘do the job’’……….; or of reintroducing species or otherwise restoring a system, and then assuming that short-term success will last (also not a safe assumption……………. Rohde et al. argue cogently that in the world we now inhabit, equilibrium assumptions will result in deep design weaknesses in many conservation strategies, and the kind of reflective research represented by this volume as a whole must result in substantial innovation.”

……………

“Both books under review make the case ……. that the unexamined assumption of ‘‘balance’’ has contributed to many of our current ecological crises, and inhibits proper responses to them. In some cases, a naive reading of ‘‘balance’’ contributes to the assumption that in time, any disturbance caused by human activities will be remedied by Nature as it comes back into balance. In other cases, the ‘‘balance of nature’’ is reified without sufficient understanding of ecological systems and their dynamics, so that intended remedies result in further, different disturbance or even system transformation. Our challenge …….. is to convey a much richer, but perhaps just as satisfying, understanding of the way things work, and the implications of that understanding for what conservation must become. As Donald Worster (1994) wrote in his seminal treatment: ‘‘It is a pattern of behavior based on the idea that preserving a diversity of change ought to stand high in our system of values, that promoting the coexistence of many beings and many kinds of change is a rational thing to do. . . .Such a strategy of trying to conserve a diversity of changes may seem paradoxical, but it is founded on a crucial and reasonable insight. We may have to live with change, may even be the products of change, but we do not always know—indeed, we cannot always know—which changes are vital and which are deadly.’’

Australian universities: cracks open up in the ivory towers. Neoliberal economics at its ugliest

April 22nd, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

A number of years ago I was sitting in the breakfast room of a hotel in Münster/Westphalia next to a German professor, we were talking about the university system in Germany. He dropped some remarks about universities in Australia: “yes, and in Australia degrees are for sale, at least that is what I was told by an Australian colleague.” I was sceptical about that remark, because during my active days at an Australian university I did not encounter cases of degrees for cash. But the situation has changed. Governments have cut funding for universities, funding is based on student numbers, and a large proportion of universities’ funding is supplied by fee-paying foreign students. Foreign students represent one of the largest sources of income for the Australian government. Students expect something (a degree, not necessarily quality) for their money, and so standards have continually been watered down, even at the most prestigious universities. Students have even employed agencies to have their essays written for them and employed people to sit in for them at examinations. And these are not exceptions, such cases are widespread. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald, 22.4.2015 gives a brief and concise overview of what is happening. See here:

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/smh-editorial/gaping-cracks-open-up-in-the-ivory-towers-20150421-1mq4do.html

Extracts:
” Fifty per cent of all work submitted now is plagiarised, according to one source – a huge increase on what was happening only five years ago. Students who can barely speak English are initially failed, and then, when their work is re-marked, are given a pass, allowed to register as professionals, and enter the workforce.”
Lecturers “know which students are cheating, and which are plagiarising the work of others; they know whose English is too poor to pass, and who lacks the knowledge or intelligence to graduate. It is when they attempt to act on what they know in an intellectually honest manner, however, that they find obstructions in their way.”
“Decades of government policies in higher education which have destroyed the traditional university as an independent community of scholars and turned it into a degree factory serving the ephemeral interests of the economy are the real cause.”
“The expectation that all courses in all faculties must have some vocational end in view; the destruction of student life with the end of compulsory unionism; the insistence that all research must have immediate practical application – these different trends, all of them market-based, all of them philistine, have all transformed our universities for the worse.”

The government has plans to make the situation even worse by deregulating university fees, i.e. allowing universities to set their own fees in order to get their hands on more cash. These plans have so far been blocked by the Senate, but the government has not given up. Neoliberal economics at its ugliest!

Don’t support science but obscurantism!

April 18th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

If you don’t know the meaning of obscurantism, here it is (from the source of all wisdom, Wikipedia): “Obscurantism (/ɵbˈskjʊərəntɪsm/) is the practice of deliberately preventing the facts or the full details of some matter from becoming known.”

This is what the Australian government is doing, in this case represented by the Minister of Education Christopher Pyne. See here:

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/call-for-pynes-resignation-over-4-million-funding-to-climate-contrarian-20150417-1mnp51.html

It cut many millions of Dollars in funding from the budget of CSIRO, the foremost research organisation in Australia which has done much work on the science of climate change, and many other science projects, but is quite happy to invest four million in a centre to be located at the Business School of the University of Western Australia and devoted to misleading the public (officially “The new centre will focus on applying an economic lens to proposals to achieve good for Australia, the region and the world,” said a statement from UWA).

An extract from the article:
“The government would cover roughly a third of the cost for an Australian iteration of Dr Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre at the University of Western Australia (UWA), confirmed Mr Pyne’s office following an investigation by The Guardian Australia.

The news comes on the heels of the Danish economist’s move to the UWA’s school of business and his appointed as Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s advisors on foreign aid.

Labor and environmental activists heavily criticised the appointment, questioning why someone who played down the effects of global warming should be advising on policy concerning developing countries in the Pacific that were exceptionally vulnerable to climate change.”

Dr.Lomborg is not an environmental, but a political scientist and is highly sceptical of the importance of climate change. He has lectured on statistics and the new centre at UWA is in the business and not the science school. He does not deny that climate change is real and human-induced, but thinks it is “not the end of the world”. Climate scientists do not claim that climate change is necessarily “the end of the world”, but Dr.Lomborg’s views differ sharply from those of the vast majority of climate scientists who take the risks much more seriously and want to do something about it. The establishment of the Consensus Centre and the appointment of Dr.Lomborg can only mean that the Liberal-National Government will continue its politics based on the denial of the seriousness of the threat posed by climate change, and shown by the reduction in the clean energy target, the abolishment of the carbon tax, etc.

More about the Copenhagen Consensus Center, the Danish equivalent of the Australan version and run by Dr.Lomborg, and the donors supporting it here:
http://desmogblog.com/2014/06/25/millions-behind-bjorn-lomborg-copenhagen-consensus-center

Australia’s climate change policy all talk and no action

April 12th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

See here:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/10/australias-climate-change-debate-all-talk-and-no-action

Extracts:
“The government is refusing to accept a political compromise on the renewable energy target (backed by Labor, the renewables industry and big business) because it thinks the industry won’t be able to reach the target, but the only reason industry wouldn’t reach the target is the absence of a political compromise.”

The government will set a post-2020 emissions reduction target without a policy to get there.

“The government is not including climate change in long-term planning exercises that really should be planning for climate change.”

And not to forget: even the term “climate change” appears to be taboo in government papers. It has been replaced by a term which puts much less urgency on the problem: “climate variability”. All in line with the views of Tony Abbott and some of his ministers, who do not take climate change seriously (in Abbott’s word: “crap”).

Put a Prize on Carbon Now!

April 7th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

Have a look at the article linked below.

Extract:

“An international team of scientists has tried a new approach to addressing the complex argument about the costs of climate change – and, once again, the prediction is that the costs of inaction will be so much greater than paying the bills now.

The researchers − from the UK, Switzerland and the US − conclude that policy-makers must apply the brakes and put a high price on carbon emissions “before it is too late”.”

http://www.eco-business.com/news/cut-carbon-now-to-avoid-climate-tipping-points/

The Destruction of Nature

April 7th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

A friend sent me this very useful link:

Overpopulation, overconsumption in pictures

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/gallery/2015/apr/01/over-population-over-consumption-in-pictures?CMP=fb_gu

This is where our present economic system has led us and which has to be stopped!

Plastic pollution affects corals

March 21st, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

Many studies have shown that enormous quantities of plastic get into the oceans. However, we know little about the effects of plastic on the marine environment. Now, a study by Hall, Berry and Rintoul, published in Marine Biology, has shown that corals, which feed on plankton (beside synthesizing organic matter using symbiotic zooxanthellae) ingest (but do not digest) microparticles of plastic, possibly with severe adverse consequences. For details see here:

http://www.coralcoe.org.au/news/great-barrier-reef-corals-eat-plastic

Full reference here:

Microplastic ingestion by scleractinian corals by N.M. Hall, K.L.E. Berry, L. Rintoul, M.O. Hoogenboom, Marine Biology. DOI 10.1007/s00227-015-2619-7

Amazon rainforest: declining ability to absorb carbon

March 19th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

An article just published in Nature 519, 344-348 (19 March 2015), doi:10.1038/nature14283, shows that the Amazon rainforest’s ability to act as a carbon sink, i.e. to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, declined over the last decade.

Abstract:
“Atmospheric carbon dioxide records indicate that the land surface has acted as a strong global carbon sink over recent decades, with a substantial fraction of this sink probably located in the tropics, particularly in the Amazon. Nevertheless, it is unclear how the terrestrial carbon sink will evolve as climate and atmospheric composition continue to change. Here we analyse the historical evolution of the biomass dynamics of the Amazon rainforest over three decades using a distributed network of 321 plots. While this analysis confirms that Amazon forests have acted as a long-term net biomass sink, we find a long-term decreasing trend of carbon accumulation. Rates of net increase in above-ground biomass declined by one-third during the past decade compared to the 1990s. This is a consequence of growth rate increases levelling off recently, while biomass mortality persistently increased throughout, leading to a shortening of carbon residence times. Potential drivers for the mortality increase include greater climate variability, and feedbacks of faster growth on mortality, resulting in shortened tree longevity. The observed decline of the Amazon sink diverges markedly from the recent increase in terrestrial carbon uptake at the global scale, and is contrary to expectations based on models.”

In addition, of course, the area covered by rainforest in the Amazon has decreased markedly due to largely illegal logging, reducing even more the forest’s ability to mitigate the effects from ever increasing carbon emissions due to human activities.

Who believes in evolution? Who believes in human-induced climate change?

February 25th, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

What do leading figures of the political Right, i.e. the Republicans in the U.S. and the Liberals in Australia, think about important scientific theories? Here are some answers.

EVOLUTION, views of possible Republican candidates for President of the U.S. (a quote from The New Yorker, February 19, 2015: The Evolution Catechism, by Adam Gopnik):

“none of the likely Republican candidates for 2016 seem to be convinced. Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida said it should not be taught in schools. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is an outright skeptic. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas will not talk about it. When asked, in 2001, what he thought of the theory, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said, ‘None of your business.’ ”

http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/evolution-catechism

HUMAN-INDUCED CLIMATE CHANGE, views of the then opposition leader and now Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, and the then leader of the Liberals in the Australian Parliament, Nick Minchin (a quote from Klaus Rohde: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2013, page 403):
“According to Malcolm Turnbull, a prominent Liberal, the leader of the Australian Liberal party……., Tony Abbott, has publicly declared that man-induced climate change is “crap” (ABC, 2009). Also according to Turnbull, Nick Minchin, the former leader of the Liberals in the Senate, has declared that all the fuss about global warming is nothing but a left-wing conspiracy (ABC, 2009). Lefties who lost their cherished Communist cause now need a new one, and they found it: global warming”.

Compassion and cooperation, not selfishness is at the basis of human evolution, unfortunately missing in neoliberal economics as often practised

February 23rd, 2015 by Klaus Rohde

Lynn Margulis proposed a long time ago that cooperation is at the root of evolution even at the cellular level. That is, evolution is more than a selfish struggle between entities (the survival of the fittest). Indeed, cells of which we are composed, consist of components that were originally separate organisms but found it advantageous to live together supporting each other (in symbiosis). Her idea has been supported by much empirical evidence. Other authors have found evidence for the same principle at the levels of individuals and groups of individuals. Now P. A. Spikins and collaborators have found evidence that compassion with other individuals, cooperation between them, has evolved very early in human evolution, indeed – according to her – a sense of aesthetics and cooperation evolved before higher (human) intelligence and selfish behaviour had evolved. Neanderthal men which lived many thousands, and Australopithecines which lived millions of years ago and are our direct ancestors, apparently (indicated by fossil evidence) showed acts of kindness and cooperation.

See here for evidence:

https://www.york.ac.uk/media/archaeology/documents/staff/staffpersonalfiles/Compassion7.pdf

A summary of the research is given in a recent book:

http://www.amazon.com/How-Compassion-Made-Human-Archaeology/dp/1781593108

One should ask: what is the basis of the widespread assumption in neoliberal economics that if we all live and work with our selfish interest foremost in our minds, an “invisible hand” will lead to the best for everybody? The idea that selfishness is our main characteristic is simply foolish and contradicts evolutionary evidence. We are primarily social beings and our survival depends on compassion and cooperation with others.