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

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

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, who gave me permission to use excerpts from his review.

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.’’

Don’t support science but obscurantism!

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

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

Plastic pollution affects corals

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

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

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

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

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”.

Climate models do not overestimate long-term effects of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

The apparent “pause”, i.e. a smaller than predicted increase in air temperature over the last years in spite of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations has led some to believe that climate models are incorrect and that we should not worry too much about global warming. An important study by two leading climate researchers just published in Nature has now shown that the so-called pause is due to short-term chaotic fluctuations and that predictions for long-term trends are correct. We must expect serious global warming in future years. Abstract of the paper, published online 28 January 2014, below:

Jochem Marotzke & Piers M. Forster

Nature
517,
565–570
(29 January 2015)
doi:10.1038/nature14117

Most present-generation climate models simulate an increase in global-mean surface temperature (GMST) since 1998, whereas observations suggest a warming hiatus. It is unclear to what extent this mismatch is caused by incorrect model forcing, by incorrect model response to forcing or by random factors. Here we analyse simulations and observations of GMST from 1900 to 2012, and show that the distribution of simulated 15-year trends shows no systematic bias against the observations. Using a multiple regression approach that is physically motivated by surface energy balance, we isolate the impact of radiative forcing, climate feedback and ocean heat uptake on GMST—with the regression residual interpreted as internal variability—and assess all possible 15- and 62-year trends. The differences between simulated and observed trends are dominated by random internal variability over the shorter timescale and by variations in the radiative forcings used to drive models over the longer timescale. For either trend length, spread in simulated climate feedback leaves no traceable imprint on GMST trends or, consequently, on the difference between simulations and observations. The claim that climate models systematically overestimate the response to radiative forcing from increasing greenhouse gas concentrations therefore seems to be unfounded.

The State of the Earth and the Reaction of France and the Western World to Terrorist Attacks

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (about 2.2million cu.km, 10% of the total ice mass of Antarctica) has begun to collapse and may already have passed the point of no return. If all the ice in it will melt, sea levels will rise by about 4.6 m, and this may happen within the next few hundred years if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, flooding large coastal areas, coastal cities and even some cities far inland, such as Washington D.C. For details see here:

http://time.com/96173/antarctic-glacier-loss-is-unstoppable-study-says/

Overfishing, effects of climate change such as acidification, pollution particularly by plastics, etc., threaten the health of our oceans. Effects will be on the world’s food supply, air quality, climate stability, etc. The Global Oceans Commission has outlined a “rescue package” including a limit to gas and oil exploration, capping subsidies for commercial fishing, and creating MPAs, marine protected areas. For details see here:

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/06/24-2

What is largely responsible for all the mess? Our present economic system, in other words neoliberal capitalism with its overexploitation and little consideration of environmental impacts. See here:

“That Was Easy: In Just 60 Years, Neoliberal Capitalism Has Nearly Broken Planet Earth”

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/01/16/was-easy-just-60-years-neoliberal-capitalism-has-nearly-broken-planet-earth

However, why worry about all this, humans apparently cannot wait and are trying to speed things up even more.

Consider the recent attacks by some Muslim fanatics on the French satirical magazine Charlie and the reaction of Western governments to it. It seems that the proper reaction of the French government would have been to play things down and not up. But it did exactly the opposite, it played things up thus demonstrating “strength” to the electorate (President Hollande’s ratings went up by about 15%!!) and demonstrated to potential terrorists how to successfully challenge the west. It seems that the reaction was exactly what the terrorists wanted. Things were made even worse by millions of copies of the magazine with a cartoon of Mohammed on the front page distributed in various languages, causing uproar among muslims in many if not all countries (see attacks in Niger, planned attacks in Belgium, and the reaction of governments of various Muslim countries). Even the Pope, in strong terms, objected to the obvious insults against the Prophet and indeed any religion. – We are seeing, it seems to me, an ever increasing disregard for the rights of others, of the future of mankind, all in the name of short-term gains for the few who own the riches, and the political class which is trying to hold on to power whatever the long-term costs.

Climate change. Effects on small island states, and the view of the Australian Attorney-General

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

An article recently published in the Trinidad Express, a newspaper of a small Caribbean island state, deals with the latest climate assessment by the IPCC emphasizing the impact of climate change on food security, particulary in small island states:

http://www.trinidadexpress.com/featured-news/Climate-change-vs-food-security-255590621.html

Excerpts:
“Climate change ……… has a direct bearing on food security……. the IPCC warned that all aspects of food security including availability of food, stability of food supply and utilisation of food, are potentially affected by climate change.”……. “our climate is warming at a pace unparalleled in the history of the planet and that we no longer have the luxury of pretending that climate change is not happening.”

“Small island developing states are particularly at risk because of their small size, their geographic location. Because of their low-lying nature, sea level rise will inundate coastal areas,”.

At the same time, George Brandis, the Australian Attorney General, has the following to say, in line with views expressed by several others in the Abbott government:

“George Brandis has compared himself to Voltaire and derided proponents of climate change action as “believers” who do not listen to opposing views and have reduced debate to a mediaeval and ignorant level.”

Full article here:

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/climate-change-proponents-using-mediaeval-tactics-george-brandis-20140418-zqwfc.html

Barnaby Joyce, the leader of the Nationals and Minister for Agriculture in the Abbott government, has complained that the ABC does not give time (or sufficient time) to climate change “sceptics” (20 March 2014).

Future of the Earth

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

The pending climate change report will emphasize the choice we have, to face catastrophic climate change or take immediate action.

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/03/25-3

“The world’s leading climate scientists gathered in Japan on Tuesday to begin hashing out the final details of a “grim” climate report, which both leaked drafts and those familiar with its contents say will call on policy makers to take immediate action or face a climate future that will otherwise be marked by widespread ecological and human catastrophe.”

Any chance that the Australian government, which has consistently played down the effects of climate change, supports increased coal mining, dredging on the Great Barrier Reef, and wants to reduce renewable energy targets, will do anything substantial to reduce human induced climate change?

But there are of course other important issues: we now have Australian dames and knights! I would suggest to make Rupert Murdoch a knight; little chance that he will get a knighthood in Britain.

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 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/

……… 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.

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).