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2nd book review of Klaus Rohde ed.: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press 2013

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

The review, by Professor W.E.Williams, was published a few weeks ago by Choice Reviews, copyright American Library Association.

For copyright reasons only short extracts are included here. For a previous review see

……… specifically addressing two questions: the extent to which equilibrium processes, particularly competition,…..describe natural ecological systems, and whether ……..human disturbances–climate change, land-use change, introduction of invasive exotics, and so on–primarily upset existing equilibria or instead amplify disequilibria already present. Twenty-four papers and three concluding chapters examine these questions in widely different ecosystems, ….. plankton, coral-reef fishes, Australian birds, animal parasites, and many more. There are 29 contributors to the volume, ………Each chapter contains its own extensive list of references, and the book’s index is quite good……….. the book will appeal primarily to academic ecologists, although some essays are general enough to be useful to those more broadly interested in human ecological impacts. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, researchers/faculty, and professionals.

The end of capitalism? How to combat climate change.

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

We are rapidly approaching collapse of the present economic system, which cannot cope with the challenges of human induced climate change. An interesting article in Spiegel International deals with this problem: Harald Welzer, “Climate Summit Trap: Capitalism’s March toward Global Collapse”:

Some extracts:

Capitalism Triumphant

………. The primacy of economics has prevailed. It no longer seems to matter how we………. get through…….this century if the world grows warmer by three, four or five degrees Celsius. National economies require an ever-growing dose of energy if their business models are to continue functioning, and, in the face of this logic, all scientific objections to the contrary are just as powerless as the climate protest movements, ……..

…………. in ….. human history many cultures failed because they did not adapt …….. to new conditions. The Vikings left Greenland in part because they clung to animal husbandry despite practically having to carry their cows out to pasture in the spring, because the lack of winter feed had left the animals too weak to walk. The Vikings would have just needed to come up with the idea of eating fish instead, but to them that seemed as inconceivable as renouncing the idea of growth does to nations today. The Vikings believed they could not live without cows, just as we believe that a high quality of life rests on expansion.”

Two approaches to escape from this trap have recently been developed:

1. ” ‘Economy for the Common Good’

This means we need a method of searching for new strategies that can’t be coopted by the sleek, but unfortunately destructive, principle of capitalism. Imagine, for example, what might happen if a large number of businesses make the improvement of the common good — instead of an increase in their profits — the goal of their commercial efforts.

There are ….. already more than 1,400 companies,…….. in German-speaking countries that have made a commitment to the concept of the “economy for the common good,” an idea developed a few years ago by Christian Felber, the Austrian co-founder of Attac. Around one third of these companies have annual balance statements to show it.

In the medium term, the “economy for the common good” movement aims to make such accounting legally binding. The principle is that the more common-good “points” a business achieves, the more legal benefits it should enjoy.”

2. “The Argument for Divestment

Another, even more effective, instrument for creating this sort of change is the “Fossil Free” divestment campaign launched last year by American environmental activist Bill McKibben……… based on the simple idea that entire industries’ commercial foundation can be destroyed if funds are withdrawn from them. Private financial investment alone already amounts to a considerable sum. But serious clout could be achieved if the endowments of American colleges and universities, the assets of church organizations and city budgets, were no longer invested in companies that destroy the foundations of future human survival.

Such initiatives are now active at nearly 400 American schools, colleges and universities. Four colleges and 10 cities, including Seattle and San Francisco, have made the decision to divest. The campaign has also spread to Europe, where University College London just joined the movement.”

Partners in Crime, Canada and Australia now Brethren in Arms on Climate Change Policy

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

The right-wing Canadian government (keen to sell Canada’s huge reserves of coal-seam gas) has lauded Australia for abolishing its carbon tax. This may have serious consequences for global warming.

See here:

Recent developments in Australia, according to the Sydney Morning Herald (14.11.13): “Labor struggles to seal carbon deal……repeal legislation revealed funding of Australia’s $3 billion renewable energy agency would be slashed by $435 million……The independent agency was established to support renewable energy projects and research.”

So, do not only ignore research on climate change and ways to combat it, but gag it! All the way with big business supported by the right-wing (Murdoch and others) media!

Climate change politics after the Australian elections

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

We now have a new government (for those from overseas:”Liberals” plus “Nationals”, i.e., right-wing) under Prime-Minister Tony Abbott, a practising Catholic and apparently friend of Cardinal George Pell, both climate change “sceptics” (see my post “On the road to fascism? Climate change and media concentration“). Abbott is on record as having earlier referred to climate change science as “crap”, although he now says that he believes in climate change and human contribution to it. Among the first actions of this new government was the dissolution of the Climate Council headed by Professor Flannery, a scientific body that had advised the previous government and the Australian public on climate change. Further actions were funding cuts to public services leading to the reduction by hundreds of staff of the CSIRO, the major Australian research organisation which – among many other projects of vital importance to the country – has done much work on climate change.

Miranda Devine in the Murdoch tabloid Sunday Telegraph November 10, 2013 illuminates the attitude of he new government on climate change politics very well. She writes in an article headed “Change is in the wind on climate”: “What a delicious decision of the Abbott government not to send a minister to the latest UN climate-change conference… Environment Minister Greg Hunt can’t go to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change talks in Poland. He’ll be too busy…repealing the carbon tax! Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at the other end of the RSVP.”……. “Howard’s” (an earlier liberal Prime Minister of Australia) “takeaway is that politicians should not allow themselves to be browbeaten by the alleged views of experts….laws affecting the daily lives, including sensitive social issues, should never be made other than by politicians.” (Devine’s comments are not meant to be sarcastic, they reflect what she has expressed in numerous earlier articles in the Murdoch press).

Some articles by various commentators in other newspapers on recent events illuminating the government’s approach to climate change and related environmental issues in the following.

Southeastern Australia recently experienced particularly wide-spread and seasonally early bushfires that caused considerable damage. Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate change negotiations, was in Australia at about that time. She drew a link between the strength of the bushfires and climate change. The Sydney Morning Herald (25.10.13), a Fairfax newspaper, reported about the reactions of the Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Environment Minister Greg Hunt to this statement as follows: “Hunt taps Wikipedia for bushfire backing…Greg Hunt says” (in an interview with the BBC World Service)” Wikipedia, the online answer to everything, provides evidence that the unseasonal bushfires plaguing NSW are not linked to climate change…..Mr Hunt has been at the centre of a storm about climate change since Prime Minister Tony Abbott accused the head of the United Nations’ climate change negotiations, Christina Figueres, of talking “through her hat” on the issue.” “The fires are certainly not a function of climate change, they are a function of life in Australia, Mr.Abbott said.”…”The rebuke prompted Ms.Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, to release another statement in which she pointed out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had already found a causal link between climate change and bushfires and its next report in 2014 would build on that.” … In the Sydney Morning Herald October 26-27: “Professor Will Steffen, who co-authored the soon-to-be-released bushfire report by the Climate Council, was responding to Mr. Abbott’s assertion in a newspaper interview with the leading climate sceptic Andrew Bolt that drawing a link between the savage bushfires now plaguing NSW and climate change was “complete hogwash”…”The Climate Council report, a summary of which was revealed by Fairfax Media on Friday, found a clear link between rising temperatures and a longer, more dangerous bushfire season in south-eastern Australia”….”The Climate Council, which was reformed as an independent body after Mr.Hunt abolished it on his second day in the job, will release the report in full next month”….

Interesting that Peter Hatcher, the international editor of the SMH, concluded in the same issue of the Sydney Morning Herald, that Tony Abbott really meant the same thing as Christina Figueres. (???? difficult to believe).

In the election campaign, Abbott made abolishment of the carbon tax, which was introduced by the previous Labour government, a key issue. He wants to replace it with a “direct action” policy, paying polluters to pollute less. The Sydney Morning Herald contacted 35 economists and found that 33 of them supported carbon pricing, rejecting the Direct Action policy. However, Abbott rejects any form of carbon pricing and will not make any binding commitments above a 5% reduction by direct action by 2020 “in he absence of very serious like-binding commitments in other countries….” (SMH 13.11.13).

Review of Klaus Rohde ed.: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact. Cambridge University Press 2013.

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

This review, by Aldina M.A. Franco, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, was published online (Advance Access) in “Integrative and Comparative Biology”, October 22, 2013, pp.1-3.
For copyright reasons, only short extracts are included here.

“Human impact on the natural environment has reached unprecedented levels. Humans are present on all continents; almost all ecosystems have been modified by human activities through habitat loss and fragmentation, overexploitation, pollution, and invasive species. More than 35% of the land area is used for agriculture and built-up areas, 40% of the terrestrial productivity is appropriated by humans, 50% of all coral reefs are lost or degraded, 70% of recognized marine fisheries are fully exploited, over- exploited or depleted; humans use more than 50% of the available runoff of fresh water. In addition, human emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants have been associated with global climatic changes. The scale of the human impact on the planet now has global consequences; thus, many scientists argue that the world has entered a new era designated the Anthropocene.
This book summarizes ecological responses to global environmental change; it is relevant to interested readers of different backgrounds trying to understand why scientists are worried about current environmental change. Evidence shows that in geological times species have appeared and disappeared as the climate and ecosystems changed. Ecosystems are dynamic and adapted to those changes, however, as clearly demonstrated in Chapter 13, past climatic changes have occurred over large temporal scales, while human-induced impacts are occurring at a much faster rate. The question then is: will populations, communities, and ecosystems be able to respond to these fast changes in the environment or will the earth lose a large part of its biological diversity? This is discussed in detail in Part V, which is particularly interesting to students and the general public; it gives an overview of the impacts of human activities for a range of taxonomic groups.”


“Part VII—The overall view
This section includes two last chapters that are written for a wide audience. Chapter 25 summarizes previous chapters and the main messages of the book. Chapter 26 presents a wide variety of facts on how the Australian press and TV have misrepresented the debate on climatic change. It is clearly argues that powerful individuals (corporations) dictate the general public’s views on important scientific debates that need a societal discussion (e.g., global climatic change and our ethical responsibility toward preventing other species’ extinction and the deterioration of ecosystem services). The main message of this book is that understanding equilibrium and disequilibrium conditions is fundamental to better predict the consequences of global environmental change on natural systems and, I think, this is ultimately needed to guarantee human long-term persistence on earth.”

The results of misinformation about climate change in the U.S.

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Inspite of recent announcements by the American president, nothing important has yet happened with regard to climate change. Large sections of the American public remain unconvinced that human activities are responsible. Why? Lack of scientific evidence certainly is not the reason. See here:

A quote from this article:

“The disinformation campaign can only survive for so long. We saw, as in the case of tobacco, there was a similar disinformation campaign decades ago to obscure the science and the scientific link between the use of tobacco products and lung cancer. But eventually the truth of what the science had to say became accepted. There are some positive signs that we are moving in that direction; the rest of the world is moving increasingly towards renewable energy …. We are lagging behind but we are slowly making progress ourselves.”

- Michael Mann, director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center

What is cheaper? Paying a tax to prevent disastrous consequences of climate change or waiting for the consequences?

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

The heading of a recent article in The Guardian:

“Climate change making extreme events worse in Australia – report

Country faces more frequent and more severe weather events if it fails to make deep and swift cuts to carbon emissions”

Full article here:

A recently published scientific report in Nature Geoscience has shown that forecasts about global warming have been remarkably accurate (

Interesting, in this context, that Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition, according to the Sun Herald, has signaled that Professor Tim Flannery’s job as climate commissioner would go if the Coalition wins government. “It does sound like an unnecessary position given the gentlemen in question gives us the benefit of his views without needing taxpayer funding.” Also “Mr Abbott said if elected as prime minister on September 14 and given the opportunity to revoke the carbon tax a whole range of climate change bureaucracies would also be axed.”

See here:

Of course, Tony Abbott’s views about climate change are well kown (see here:

See also my article here:

The Balance of Nature and Human Impact: Book Launch

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

I have drawn attention to this book in an earlier post (see here:

Details of the book (contents, contributors, excerpts) can be found here:

The book has now been published (Cambridge University Press, February 2013) and the Vice-Chancellor and Head of the School of Environmental and Rural Sciences will launch it on March 11 from 1-2 p.m. in the C.J. Hawkins Homestead foyer – W47.

Global warming, Obama wants to take action

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Two thirds of proven fossil energy sources must stay in the ground; put a price on carbon:

See the previous post on this topic.

New book: The Balance of Nature and Human Impact

Friday, August 10th, 2012

A new book, dealing with effects of climate change, habitat destruction and fragmentation, and invasive species, will be published by Cambridge University Press early next year. I am the editor and about 30 leading scientists from around the world have contributed chapters. A further 20 have contributed by reviewing chapters.

Some examples of chapters are: physics of climate, effects of climate change on Arctic vegetation, amphibian decline, the futures of coral reefs, emerging infectious diseases, effects of climate change on insect populations, alternative stable states of plant communities, the mathematics of species invasions, effects of climate change on North American and Australian birds, and a concluding chapter dealing with measures necessary to conserve biodiversity.

Details can be found here:

Here are some excerpts from the book:

“It is clear that nature is undergoing rapid changes as a result of human activities such as industry, agriculture, travel, fisheries and urbanisation. What effects do these activities have? Are they disturbing equilibria in ecological populations and communities, thus upsetting the balance of nature, or are they enhancing naturally occurring disequilibria, perhaps with even worse consequences? It is often argued that large-scale fluctuations in climate and sea-levels have occurred over and over again in the geological past, long before human activities could possibly have had any impact, and that human effects are very small compared to those that occur naturally. Should we conclude that human activity cannot significantly affect the environment, or are these naturally occurring fluctuations actually being dangerously enhanced by humans? This book examines these questions, first by providing evidence for equilibrium and non-equilibrium conditions in relatively undisturbed ecosystems, and second by examining human-induced effects.”


Introduction Klaus Rohde
Part I. Nonequilibrium and Equilibrium in Populations and Metapopulations: 1. Reef fishes: density dependence and equilibrium in populations? Graham Forrester and Mark Steele
2. Population dynamics of ectoparasites of terrestrial hosts Boris Krasnov and Annapaola Rizzoli
3. Metapopulation dynamics in marine parasites Ana Perez del Omo, Aneta Kostadinova and Serge Morand

Part II. Nonequilibrium and Equilibrium in Communities:
4. The paradox of the plankton Klaus Rohde
5. A burning issue: community stability and alternative stable states in relation to fire Peter J. Clarke and Mike J. Lawes
6. Community stability and instability in ectoparasites of marine and freshwater fish Andrea Simkova and Klaus Rohde
7. Ectoparasites of small mammals: interactive saturated and unsaturated communities Boris Krasnov
8. A macroecological approach to the equilibrial vs. nonequilibrial debate using bird populations and communities Brian McGill

Part III. Equilibrium and Nonequilibrium on Geographical Scales:
9. Island flora and fauna: equilibrium and nonequilibrium Lloyd Morrison
10. The turbulent past and future of arctic vascular plants: climate change, spatial variation, and genetic diversity Christian Brochmann, Mary E. Edwards and Inger G. Alsos

Part IV. Latitudinal Gradients:
11. Latitudinal diversity gradients: equilibrium and nonequilibrium explanations Klaus Rohde
12. Effective evolutionary time and the latitudinal diversity gradient Len Gillman and Shane Wright

Part V. Effects Due to Invading Species, Habitat Loss and Climate Change:
13. The physics of climate: equilibrium, disequilibrium and chaos Michael Box
14. Episodic processes, invasion and faunal mosaics in evolutionary and ecological time Eric Hoberg and Daniel R. Brooks
15. The emerging infectious diseases crisis and pathogen pollution Daniel R. Brooks and Eric Hoberg
16. Establishment or vanishing: fate of an invasive species based on mathematical models Yihong Du
17. Anthropogenic footprints on biodiversity Camilo Mora and Fernando Zapata
18. Worldwide decline and extinction of amphibians Harold Heatwole
19. Climatic change and reptiles Harvey B. Lillywhite
20. Equilibrium and non-equilibrium in Australian bird communities – the impact of natural and anthropogenic effects Hugh Ford
21. Population dynamics of insects: impacts of a changing climate Nigel Andrew
22. The futures of coral reefs Peter Sale

Part VI. Autecological Studies:
23. Autecology and the balance of nature-ecological laws and human induced invasions Gimme Walter
24. The intricacy of structural and ecological adaptations: micromorphology and ecology of some Aspidogastrea Klaus Rohde

Part VII. An Overall View:
25. The importance of interspecific competition in regulating communities, equilibrium vs. nonequilibrium Klaus Rohde
26. Evolutionarily stable strategies: how common are they? Klaus Rohde
27. How to conserve biodiversity in a nonequilibrium world Klaus Rohde, Hugh Ford, Nigel R. Andrew and Harold Heatwole