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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 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).

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.”

Climate Science is a Hoax

Saturday, March 30th, 2013

A just published scientific article examines the mind of so-called climate change sceptics.


NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax

An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science
1. Stephan Lewandowsky1
2. Klaus Oberauer1,2
3. Gilles E. Gignac1
1. 1University of Western Australia
2. 2University of Zurich
1. Stephan Lewandowsky, School of Psychology, University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, Western Australia 6009, Australia E-mail: stephan.lewandowsky@uwa.edu.au
Psychological Science March 26, 2013, 0956797612457686

Abstract
Although nearly all domain experts agree that carbon dioxide emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific evidence. Internet blogs have become a platform for denial of climate change, and bloggers have taken a prominent role in questioning climate science. We report a survey of climate-blog visitors to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Our findings parallel those of previous work and show that endorsement of free-market economics predicted rejection of climate science. Endorsement of free markets also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that, above and beyond endorsement of free markets, endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the Federal Bureau of Investigation killed Martin Luther King, Jr.) predicted rejection of climate science as well as other scientific findings. Our results provide empirical support for previous suggestions that conspiratorial thinking contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.”

(Cited from http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/03/25/0956797612457686.abstract

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:

http://blog.une.edu.au/klausrohde/2012/08/10/new-book-the-balance-of-nature-and-human-impact/

Details of the book (contents, contributors, excerpts) can be found here: http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item6964672/?site_locale=en_GB

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.

Homeopathy justified? The Placebo Effect

Friday, January 25th, 2013

There seems to be no scientific justification for homeopathy. How can medications that do not contain any or hardly any active molecules have a curative effect? If so, why do insurance companies which are not known for their benevolence and free-spending activities cover the costs of homeopathy in some countries?

Can the placebo-effect give an explanation? Is it possible that, if people strongly believe in something, they may feel relieved and the insurance companies have to pay less for a relatively cheap homeotherapeutic treatment than for a “proper” one? After all, even in generally accepted treatments based on well established, scientifically “approved” procedures a placebo effect may be at least partly involved.

See this article, which describes experiments to find the physiological basis for the placebo effect:

http://harvardmagazine.com/2013/01/the-placebo-phenomenon

some excerpts here:

.”…….. researchers have found that placebo treatments—interventions with no active drug ingredients—can stimulate real physiological responses, from changes in heart rate and blood pressure to chemical activity in the brain, in cases involving pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even some symptoms of Parkinson’s.”

“The study’s results shocked the investigators themselves: even patients who knew they were taking placebos described real improvement, reporting twice as much symptom relief as the no-treatment group. That’s a difference so significant, says Kaptchuk, it’s comparable to the improvement seen in trials for the best real IBS drugs.”

“This suggested that placebo treatments spurred chemical responses in the brain that are similar to those of active drugs, a theory borne out two decades later by brain-scan technology. “

Why are the Chinese so clever, and why will they become even cleverer? A perhaps astonishing aspect of Communist politics. And 100 other problems that might and should worry or inspire students and others

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Chinese have had a long history of “eugenic” selection, by putting those in positions of influence who had passed rigorous state examinations. It seems that this policy has now been brought up to date by incorporating findings of modern science. How has the “West” responded?

See this very interesting article by an evolutionary psychologist. And see many other responses to the question of what one should worry about most.

http://edge.org/responses/q2013

Can science explain everything?

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Among many scientists and the general public the view is widespread that the only justifiable approach to solving problems in nature is the scientific one. Is there a role for philosophy? What is the evidence for the multiverse approach to cosmology and for evolutionary explanations of why our universe seems to be fine tuned to the evolution of life? Can questions of ethics be resolved by science alone? Professor Austin L. Hughes, a distinguished biologist at South Carolina University, has given a penetrating analysis of the problems. See here:

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-folly-of-scientism

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:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/11/20121118123349598830.html

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:

http://www.cambridge.org/gb/knowledge/isbn/item6964672/The%20Balance%20of%20Nature%20and%20Human%20Impact/?site_locale=en_GB

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.”

Contents:

“Preface
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

Index.”