Tuesday, December 26, 2006

More on Debate of the Regional-Dependent Benefits of Planting Trees to Counter Global Warming

Another article related to the findings reported in my last post about the regional-dependent nature of the effectiveness of planting trees to offset carbon emissions and fight global warming.

Again, my take is that the concept of carbon offsets is good - an important climate "wedge" or piece of the carbon emissions reduction pie. We just need go to through this kind of debate and scientific oversight to make sure that people and businesses are really getting what they are paying for.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Is PG & E's Carbon Offsetting Program Supported by Science?

As I update news tonight, I find the following two stories on carbon offsetting:
The first one says that for planting trees to really have an impact in reducing global warming, you need to plant them in the tropics. Planting trees in the U.S., it claims, does little in the way of climate.

The second one says PG & E is selling its customers carbon offsets, and using revenues to plant trees in California.


Granted, the first article cites mechanisms other than just carbon sequestration by which planting trees helps fight global warming. And I'm not so sure the idea that planting trees in temperate regions doesn't affect the climate will hold up, scientifically (frankly, I'd need to read the whole scientific article to get a better sense of how solid their findings are).

But still, the finding is another piece of evidence that we have a ways to go before we get this whole carbon offsetting business - an important piece of the climate pie if done right - nailed down for consumers, businesses, and the planet.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Accountability of Ecosystem Impacts in the Green Products Market

As an ecologist, when I see "green" products, services and practices, it means one of four things to me, in terms of real impacts on the health of ecosystems:
1. The product's production impact is sustainable. For example, "certified" wood products should be produced via reclaimed wood or wood that is, following the best advice of scientists, from trees that have been sustainably logged. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, as demonstrated by the big difference in the sustainability of logging practices allowable by the similar sounding labels, "Forest Stewardship Council" (FSC) and "Sustainable Forestry Initiative" (SFI).

In other examples:

  • If I go to a ranch that boasts producing "sustainably raised" meats, I will find healthy native vegetation, soils, and streams, not a mess of weeds, eroding soils, and degraded muddy streams that smell of cattle excrement. Unfortunately, I have seen the latter more than once.
  • "Recycled" paper should be made from a significant (e.g., at least 30%) amount of post-consumer content and should really help reduce deforestation and resulting biodiversity loss.
  • "Organic" crops should be produced without toxic pesticides that harm soil and water quality and threaten the health of fish and wildlife (and people!)
2. The product's use impact is sustainable. For example, the product produces clean energy (and thus little pollution), is energy and fuel-efficient (and thus produces little in the way of carbon emissions and other pollution), or non-toxic (and thus won't harm the environment, the kids, or Fido). Examples include renewable energy products, energy-efficient appliances (e.g., EnergyStar certified), clean vehicles, and safe, non-toxic household cleaners.

3. The product's re-use potential is sustainable. In other words, the product is re-usable, "Cradle to Cradle" certified, or biodegradable/compostable. Examples include something simple like a canvas shopping bag, as well as computers and appliances whose manufacturers will take them back at the end of their life to re-use whatever parts and materials they can. Or plastic plates and cuttlery are made out of biodegradable materials. Such products help save land by (1) reducing the amount of waste going into landfills and (2) reducing our need to log/harvest/mine raw materials for use in manufacturing. They help people and businesses save money by reducing our waste disposal costs (among other ways!).

4. The claim is "greenwashing". If it doesn't fit into one of the above 3 categories, the claim of eco-friendliness is probably false. Veritable bullshit.

Numerous eco-certification systems and eco-labels have cropped up to help consumers sort through and verify claims that a product or service is "sustainable". So many that we now even need resources like Consumer Reports' "Eco-Labels" web site just to help us sort through which eco-labels are legitimate!

I'm happy to see this type of independent verification of the true ecological sustainability of "green" prroducts and services starting to happen in the carbon market. I've always worried about whether when people or businesses claim they are going "carbon neutral" by offsetting a given amount (lbs or kg) or carbon emissions, that the "offsets" they purchase so they can make this claim are really accomplishing reductions in carbon emissions equivalent to the amount they are emitting. Is an online purchase of "carbon credits" from right here in my office, a little Tea Leaf Green playing on my computer, really equivalent to the amount of carbon emissions that I am paying to offset? How can I know and receive assurances that this invisible "product" is the amount of carbon savings that I am paying for? It seems efforts are well underway toward providing such assurances. A few recent articles and reports on the matter:
It's a good thing. Because as the New York Times reminded us today with "The Cost of An Overheated Planet", and as I heard firsthand this past April at the World Wildife Fund's Global Climate Camp, reducing our carbon emissions is an urgent matter. We need to take it seriously and make sure that when we buy a carbon offsetting product with the intention of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to compensate for those we are creating, we are getting what we pay for.

To prevent the rising sustainability trend from disappearing in a flash of confusion and deceipt, the same need applies to verifying the ecological sustainability of "green" products and services across the board.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

U.S. Lags in Environmental Performance, But We Predict: Not for Long

An outstanding article in the October, 2006 issue of Bioscience, titled Biodiversity: The Interplay of Science, Valuation, and Policy, reports on a new "Environmental Performance Index" devised by Yale University's Center of Environmental Law and Policy; Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network; the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland; and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.

The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) identifies specific targets for environmental performance (e.g., related to pollution control and natural resource management) and measures how close the world's nations come to those goals.

According to the article, Daniel Esty of Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and others evaluated the EPI of the world's countries and found that the U.S. finished with strikingly disappointing results:

"In the Americas, Canada is the top-ranked nation at 84.0. The United States is fifth at 78.5. Lowest is Haiti at 48.9."

"To put the US score of 78.5 in perspective, the European Union's scores ranged from Sweden's high of 87.8 to Belgium's low at 75.9. Many Asian and Pacific nations scored higher than the United States, such as Malaysia at 83.3, Japan at 81.9, Australia at 80.1, and Taiwan at 79.1."

What explains these differences?

"Wealth emerges as a major determinant of environmental performance", said Esty, "but at every level of development, some countries manage environmental challenges better than their peers, suggesting that policy choices and effort applied also matter."

"They matter a lot," emphasizes the article's author, Cheryl Lyn Dubas. "Differences in governance explain a significant part of the variation in EPI scores, Esty believes."

The good news - if inadequate policies, governance and effort are the root of America's falling behind even countries like Malaysia and Taiwan in environmental performance, Americans surely have both the knowledge and drive to fix these problems.

After all, environmental performance - sustainability - is on the rise in America as THE hot trend in everything from business and natural resource management practices, to building and interior design, to foods and even clothing. This trend is motivated, in part, by a rise in the public's awareness of the many benefits that sustainability provides - economic, security, health, quality of life and, yes, environmental. Energy independence not only helps us fight global warming, but boosts our freedom from foreign oil and thus national security, saves us money, boosts corporate profits, and curtails pollutants that harm the public's health. Eating organic not only reduces the influx of toxic pesticides into our soils and waterways, but into ourselves (and makes our food taste better)! Sustainable forestry not only protects the habitats of salmon and spotted owls, but helps protect communities and businesses from destructive floods and mudslides - intact forests providing the ecosystem services of reducing the severity of floods by absorbing rainfall and preventing mud slides by holding soils together.

But there appears to be something more - and perhaps deeper - to the rise of sustainability. It's just a feeling that I have, but after five years of being governed by fear of terrorism, and having been forced to face the prospect that global warming will bring more Hurricane Katrina-type disasters, sustainability seems to be providing a positive vision for America's citizens and decisionmakers to aspire to.

Thus, I am going to make a prediction: being tired of fear and hungry for hope, Americans are going to increasingly turn to sustainability as a beacon of hope for a better world for ourselves and our children. As a result, America can and will come back as a global leader in environmental performance and our future EPI score will reflect this comeback.

Monday, October 30, 2006

More Posts on the Way Soon

Just a note that we'll be blogging more soon. Been a very busy few weeks here at CV as we've been hard at work getting the development of a new web system (slated for launch in 2007) going.

We are currently raising funds to support the completion of what we promise will be a very unique and excitingly useful (and even fun to use) online sustainability project. If you're interested contributing to this fund via a tax deductible contribution, please click here to donate online or learn where to send a check.

More soon...

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Transition to Clean Diesel in the U.S. Almost Complete - Now How About Some Hybrid Diesels in the U.S.!

The EPA has issued a press release, which many major newswires have picked up, that the transition to clean diesel fuel in the U.S. is almost complete.

I'm hoping that this opens the door to being able to buy a Toyota or Honda diesel in the U.S. sometime (very) soon. Ideally, a hybrid diesel. Such as Toyota's ES3 hybrid diesel, a more-than 5-year-old concept car that gets over 100 mpg! Or for my ecological field work, for which I need a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to access remote study sites, a hybrid diesel Toyota Hi-Lux.

If people who like the height and size of SUV's that get 10-20 mpg could purchase diesel versions, which get significantly better fuel economy, or better yet, hybrid diesel versions that get 40+ mpg, this would be a tremendous step toward both freeing America from dependence on foreign oil, and reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases and other harmful pollutants. This is especially true because without any alteration, diesel vehicles can run on home-grown biodiesel, and in summer months in warmer climates, you can even mix in straight vegetable oil, including filtered waste oil that local restaurants will often give you for free.

If I could be driving a hybrid diesel that I run on biodiesel (and mix in waste vegetable oil to help local restaurants save money on waste disposal while I save big bucks on gas), I'd be one very happy and energy independent camper - with significantly reduced gas costs and more money left in my wallet to spend on travel, music, home improvements and all sorts of other good things.

Friday, October 06, 2006

U.S. Loses Millions on Ecologically Damaging Post-Fire Logging

In late August, I reported that a special issue of the scientific journal, Conservation Biology, has explored the ecological impacts of post-fire logging, and found them to be devastating.

Now ENS is reporting that on just one (very contentious) post-fire logging operation in Oregon, the U.S. government stands to lose $2 million. So post-fire logging not only causes tremendous environmental damage, but also is a big money loser for taxpayers.

Nice job.

That's $2 million that could be put toward education, feeding and providing healthcare for the less fortunate, supporting farmers, or simply be saved for more beneficial projects. In the case of this contentious Oregon timber sale and many others, post-fire logging is clearly not only the wrong ecological decision, but also the wrong economic one.

World Health Experts - Air Pollution Causes 2 Million Premature Deaths Per Year

Environmental News Service is reporting that two million premature deaths per year are caused by air pollution.

This of course in addition to other health impacts of air pollution (from childhood cancer to asthma), and ecolocial impacts such as acid rain, global warming, ozone depletion, toxicity to trees and other plants, nitrogen saturation of soils that causes and accellerates invasions by nasty noxious weeds (thus harming agriculture)...

The good news - technologies and practices that reduce air pollution, from renewable energy to clean vehicles to green buildings and energy efficient appliances, help to solve all of these problems. Healthier people and planet alike!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

From Zero Waste to Biodiversity Conservation - of Recycling and Still-Undiscovered Species

Two stories in the last few days' environmental news have really struck a chord with me as far as just what it means on the ground - in terms of protecting natural habitats and their biodiversity - when we talk about working toward Zero Waste goals.

First, at a ceremony commemorating the State of California for achieving its goal of diverting over 50 percent (now 52 percent) of the 76 million tons of solid municipal wastes it generates yearly, Marin County was honored for recycling 65% of its garbage. That is both impressive and promising, and hopefully their achievement will guide other counties, cities, and states toward finding ways to achieve zero waste goals.

It is particularly important given the often forgotten linkages between these kinds of accomplishments in recycling and other types of accomplishments in protecting the environment. For achievements in recycling not only mean reduced waste going into landfills, and less space needed to be occupied (and purchased - expensive!) to put our garbage. They not only save us and future generations natural resources - allowing materials such as paper, cans, bottles and plastics to be made from recycled materials instead of raw materials such as trees, freshly mined aluminum, and fossil fuels (and the expansive amounts of water that it takes to operate extractive operations such as mines).

Achievements in recycling mean that we are making strides in protecting our remaining natural habitats - from forests to deserts, from oceans to rivers - and their biodiversity. For example, Conservation Value's brochures and business cards are made from Living Tree's Deja Vu matte paper, made from 40% post-consumer waste and 10% hemp/flax. According to Living Tree, using one ton of this recycled paper saves 12 fully grown trees, 3,466 pounds of wood use, 2,461 kilowatt hours of electricity, 1,049 pounds of greenhouse gases, 541 pounds of solid wastes, and 5,097 gallons of water. With Americans alone using 85 million tons of paper per year, go ahead and calculate the conservation achievement if all of us used this paper! By recycling and buying recycled, Americans can save about a billion trees per year!

The importance of this relationship between recycling and biodiversity conservation was demonstrated yesterday in India, where a new species of bird was discovered!

So what does the discovery of a colorful new bird species in India have to do with achievements in recycling?

The fact that new species of birds are still being discovered provides a reminder of the riches of undiscovered plants, fungi and other species that, likewise, remain to be discovered, and that could provide such societal benefits as cures for cancer, solutions to fossil fuel dependence, and rescue from diseases that attack our food supply. But that could also be whiped off the face of the planet, undiscovered by humanity, their benefits lost, if they are rare or localized species that end up being lost to such extractive forces of habitat destruction as deforestation, mining, and oil and gas development.

The more we recycle and buy recycled, the fewer habitats that could contain such undiscovered natural riches will be destroyed. And the more likely it will be that these riches will be found and used to improve our lives and the lives of our children for generations to come.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Communicating the Science of 'Salvage' Logging to the Public

The new issue of Conservation Biology contains a special section on "The Ecological Effects of Salvage Logging After Natural Disturbance," with a particular focus on the politically controversial topic of post-fire logging.

Section editors, scientists Reed Noss and Bruce Lindenmayer, point out that in modern industrial societies, waste and messiness, such as that perceived to be caused by forest fires, are seen as bad and in need of "cleaning up" (i.e., logging). They continue that the fundamental justification for postdisturbance ("salvage") logging is that "if by cleaning up dead and dying trees after a disturbance, some money can be made from the timber, so much the better."

But is logging a forest after it burns the best way to maintain a healthy productive forest that provides not just wood for lumber, but also ecosystem services such as protection against floods and landslides, recreational opportunities, and biodiversity?

Quite the contrary, conclude Noss and Lindenmayer.

They state that "in many cases, forest ecosystems are more strongly affected by postdisturbance logging than by the initial disturbance... Ecologically informed policies for postdisturbance management of forests need to be in place before major disturbances inevitably take place in order to avoid the ad hoc decisionmaking that often leads to poorly planned and ecologically damaging salvage operations."

Contributor, Richard Hutto, concludes that he is "hard pressed to find any other example in wildlife biology where the effect of a particular land-use activity is as close to 100% negative as typical salvage logging."

Noss and Linenmayer sum up the section:
'The papers in this special section provide a strong argument for increased research and monitoring on the effects of natural disturbances and postdisturbance logging on forests. A call for more research is not a call for business as usual and certainly not a call for increased levels of salvage logging. Quite the contrary, available evidence points to often severe long-lasting negative effects of postdisturbance logging on a wide variety of ecosystems and their biota. To log what is often the most biologically diverse and threatened forest condition in the landscape is fundamentally irrational."
"Finally", they note:

"we believe new terminology is needed. The word salvage implies that something is being saved or recovered, whereas from an ecological perspective this is rarely the case."
As a scientist, I found this section to be a fascinating and important contribution to the field of conservation biology. However, as a connector between conservation science the the public, I wish that it had addressed more explicitly how post-fire logging affects ecosystem services - what are the best post-fire management treatments for maintaining such forest ecosystem services as protection against dangerous floods and landslides, water filtration/safeguarding of drinking water supplies, and providing healthy fish and wildlife populations important to hunters, fishers and biodiversity alike? In other words, how do different post-fire treatment options influence the livelihoods, safety, and quality of life of surrounding human communities and users of the forests?

These are the types of questions whose answers will, in my view, resonate most strongly with the public and decisionmakers as they strive to understand why it is important that forest management, especially of recently burned habitats, is based on sound science.

Here at Conservation Value, we'll continue to come back to this topic - the types of wording and communication approaches that resonate most strongly with the public's support for conservation and sustainability - so check back often.

Monday, August 28, 2006

E.O. Wilson's Plea for Christian Environmentalism

The New Republic has just published Harvard conservation biology legend, E.O. Wilson's, plea for Christian environmentalism...

Wilson, as usual, states an elegant case. Some highlights:

- "In destroying the biosphere, we are destroying unimaginably vast sources of scientific information and biological wealth. Opportunity costs, which will be better understood by our descendants than by ourselves, will be staggering. Gone forever will be undiscovered medicines, crops, timber, fibers, soil-restoring vegetation, petroleum substitutes, and other products and amenities. Critics of environmentalism forget, if they ever knew, how the rosy periwinkle of Madagascar provided the alkaloids that cure most cases of Hodgkin's disease and acute childhood leukemia; how a substance from an obscure Norwegian fungus made possible the organ transplant industry; how a chemical from the saliva of leeches yielded a solvent that prevents blood clots during and after surgery; and so on through the pharmacopoeia that has stretched from the herbal medicines of Stone Age shamans to the magic-bullet cures of present-day biomedical science.
These are just a few examples of what could be lost if Homo sapiens pursue our current course of environmental destruction. Earth is a laboratory wherein nature--God, if you prefer, pastor--has laid before us the results of countless experiments. We damage her at our own peril."

Amen Dr. Wilson. Amen.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Soothing Relaxation: Nature's Healing Power

I spent last week up in northern California's Trinity Alps and Lost Coast, and once again, some time outside has left me relaxed, rejuevnated, positive, productive and full of fresh ideas.

Amid reports that Americans are receiving less and less vacation time and working more and more, I have to wonder whether we are actually getting any more done by working so much more or whether we are burning out our work force and just paying people to work more, while they become less and less happy, productive, and innovative.

I say that as long as employees can demonstrate an ability to get their work done and meet their deadlines, give them more vacation time, not less. I'd even give my staff an extra week or two of outdoors-oriented vacation a year, with the understanding that it is meant to inspire fresh ideas and increased productivity once they come back to the office. Less stressed employees mean happier employees, who are more pleasant to be around and foster a far more positive, productive workplace environment.

A few days outside does wonders for the soul in some kind of deep, primal way. It is a kind of relaxation and recharging that, for me at least, is not matched by any other.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Green Buying Decisions: Purchase Price vs. Operating Cost

It has often been said that one of the major hindrances to people buying clean, efficient, money-saving, and pollution-reducing technologies - be they solar electric systems, energy efficient appliances, or hybrid vehicles - is their higher purchase price.

This even though the operating cost (and thus lifecycle cost, from purchase to retirement) of cleaner technologies is often considerably lower.

Take for example the simple purchase of a compact fluorescent light bulb. Even back in 2001, when they were much more expensive and not as efficient, author, Andy Kerr, noted that an $8.99 compact fluorescent bulb used 11 hours a day (e.g., an outdoor light kept on for security reasons) would save the buyer $10.84 of electricity annually, compared to a typical $0.40 incandenscent bulb. That, Kerr noted, "works out to an annual return on investment of 121 percent over a one year period. Do you have any (legal) investments that pay over 100 percent annually"?

This 121% annual return didn't even finish covering the full savings of using that cleaner, pollution-reducing compact fluorescent! For the more efficient bulb lasts 10 times longer, so you can also add on savings such as less time spent purchasing new bulbs, and less money spent on gas needed for the trip to the store to purchase new bulbs (the way gas prices are going, you probably already have to spend more on the gas than on the bulb, itself!)

Obviously now, with compact fluorescents often down below $2/bulb (e.g., in the multi-pack at Costco), and energy costs rising, the return is much greater! While the initial purchase price of incandescent light bulbs is still lower, both the operating cost and the lifecycle cost of compact fluorescents constitute huge savings for consumers and businesses alike!

Does this apply to bigger purchases. Like buildings (huge purchases!)? A 2003 State of California report on The Costs and Financial Benfeits of Green Buildings found that while the cost of building green was $4 greater per square foot over 20 years, the energy savings alone were $5.79 per square foot, exceeding the costs. Water savings tacked on an additional $0.51 per square foot, and harder to measure "productivity and health value" was over $35 per square foot. As the report states, "total financial benefits of green buildings are over ten times the average initial investment required to design and construct a green building."

So then why do most people continue to focus on purchase price in making their buying decisions?

I'll bet if annual operating cost was stuck on a product right next to the purchase price, and people could see the entire lifecycle cost, their purchasing decisions would change considerably! This might already be starting to happen with some major appliances, where the yellow Energyguide tag lists the operating cost. New fridge--do you go with the much cheaper $500 energyhog or the more expensive $800 saver? Look at the annual energy cost and figure out how much money you'd have left in your pocket after a few years with the cleaner model (which would also leave you with the bragging rights that you get for doing your part to help fight global warming!) If the difference in operating cost is $100 per year, for example, you'd make your money back in 3 years, and after that, it's money in your pocket with bragging rights to boot!

I wish there were a web site that we could go to for quickly finding the operating cost of all sorts of common consumer and industrial items. That way when we're making a purchasing decision and considering the costs vs. benefits of going green, we'd be able to very quickly figure out how much we'd save on operating costs by spending a little more on purchase price!

There are already some resources that can help with this, that reveal the operating costs of:
  • Cars and trucks: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/bestworst.shtml
  • EnergyStar provides the ability to compare things like energy use of appliances, electronics an other items, but not necessarily a clear, straightforward comparison of operating costs among all items.
  • As noted earlier (and demonstrated in the image above), the yellow tag on many applicances reveals their annual operating cost. When shopping, don't forget to tally that up with the purchase price and figure out how much you'd save with the more efficient model over the lifetime of your appliance!
  • I'm sure there are more out there...
If any of you out there know of good reasources for quickly comparing the operating costs of everything from appliances to cars to homes and electronics, please post them in the comments!

It would be great if we could inspire the creation of a web site/database for comparing the purchase prices vs. operating costs of all sorts of paired/grouped greener vs. conventional items.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Sustainability for Security's Sake

Among the most important benefits of society's current push toward sustainability is security.

It is now quite apparent that society's dependence on fossil fuels for energy supplies is threatening not just the environment, but also to plunge the world into deadly energy wars.

Already the U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of Americans' hard-earned tax dollars to (who's kidding who) position itself to defend oil reserves in the Middle East. Even a couple of years ago, people were already starting to realize that if the U.S. had invested the money it's spent on the Iraq War into clean, efficient renewable energy and energy conservation technologies and infrastructure, we could have set ourselves on the road to energy independence (and greatly enhanced our security, as well as the health of our environment and the stability of our economy!). Woops.

Now ENN has posted an intriguing article titled, "Where Are the World's Looming Water Conflicts?" The importance of this predictive article cannot be understated, especially given that 2002 predictions of a water war between Israel and Lebanon have now born themselves out.

The ENN article provides yet another reminder that whether through new techologies that conserve water (and save money!), or through improved land management practices that protect, purify, and store drinking and agricultural water supplies (i.e., management practices that protect the ecosystem service of water purification), sustainability is about much more than protecting the health of the environment.

It is about protecting and improving our security, the safety of our children and families, the stability of our economy, the public's health, and our overall quality of life.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Back to Posting With New, More Sustainable Digs

So I've just finished moving to new, bigger, and more sustainable, digs in El Cerrito, CA. Just a couple of minutes up the road.

Although I really enjoyed living up in the east bay hills with all the trees and beautiful views, it was a more car-dependent location than I'd like (both for pollution's sake and for my wallet's sake). So we chose to move down into the flats, a 2-minute bike ride from the nearest BART Station, a 2-minute walk from the nearest bus line, and walking or biking distance from most needed amenities. It is our hope that this cuts our gas costs and emissions considerably.

We are particularly excited that this property has plenty of space for a veg oil tank, and even though the Toyota hybrid diesel that I want is not yet available (hint hint, Toyota), we are planning on getting a high-mileage diesel and going biodiesel ASAP (mixing about 50% veg oil and 50% biodiesel as long as it is warm enough). You don't need much more than a kindergarden reading level to see the writing on the wall that gas prices are headed over $4/gallon sooner than later. Possibly much sooner the way this Middle East situation is unraveling. The more we can do to buffer our wallets against that ASAP, the less painful this will be (and of course, it will also reduce our greenhouse gas emissions considerably!).

We've made good progress in greening the new space, replacing all bulbs with compact fluorescents, installing water conservation devices on sinks and toilets, buying some nice used (as opposed to new) furniture where we needed fixtures (re-using perfectly good items), bringing in all recycled paper products and biodegradable plastic garbage bags, putting up a clothes line rather than use an energy-hungry dryer, keeping many appliances and electronics (entertainment electronics) unplugged when not in use to conserve energy, keeping the place and our clothing (and ourselves) clean with eco-friendly cleaners and detergents, using solar to power our battery rechargers and backyard fountain, and filling the fridge with lots of locally and organically grown foods. Fortunately, the house comes with double-paned windows and central air (which we'll rarely need in the Bay Area's temperate climate), and the landlord has offered to cover the cost of a compost, which we'll use on our organic garden (which we have quickly created from a very pesky patch of weeds). He wants us to maintain a too-thirsty lawn, so we've reseeded it with the most drought tolerant, low water use grass seed we could find (and plan to gradually sneak native grass and wildflower seed mix into the grassy areas, as well as native california wildflowers into all the flower beds).

Off for an afternoon hike. Enjoy your weekends!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Does the Ecological Footprint Motivate Sustainable Behavior? More Conservation Tips from Psychology

In her presentation, "Psychology to Determine Whether Interventions Are Working", Amara Brook of Santa Clara College noted that the ecological footprint approach to motivating change to more sustainable behaviors doesn't necessarily work.

She and cohorts conducted a study that found that after receiving bad ecological footprint results (that respondants have a undesirably large footprint), participants were often so demoralized that they were less likely to follow up with a pro-environment action.

What are possible solutions to make the footprint method more effective?
1. Framing the feedback of a negative result as a "learning tool" rather than as a "personal failure". That users should take the result as just something to help them learn how to live more sustainably, not a personal failure.

2. Providing immediate tips for decreasing the footprint is a good way to quickly turn despair into inspiration and action.

Tuesday at the Conservation Biology Conference: Conservation Tools and Tips from Psychology

This morning's seminar on Conservation Tools and Tips from Psychology, organized by Carol Saunders (Chicago Zoological Society) and Gene Myers (Western Washington University), had some interesting implications for private land conservation, and conservation in general.

First, Saunders presented some fascinating findings and guidelines from the emerging field of conservation psychology. Among other items, she repeated the results of a study that we reported in the "Editor's Picks" Section of the Conservation Value web site a couple of weeks ago: that behavior is very strongly affected by social norms - it is likely to mirror what other people are doing. People want to be a part of the group. Littering, she noted as an example, has been found by researchers such as Cialdini to be more likely when there is already litter on the ground. When there are people picking up litter, however, passersby are not very likely to litter.

Some sample psychology-based solutions that she proposed for conservation practitioners included:
1) It is important for managers and practitioners to highlight pro-environment social norms - instances where "everybody is doing it".
2) Highlight the positive and negative environmental impacts of decisions and choices. Provide information and prompts that help people understand the impacts of their choices and give them something to brag about when they do something good. Self fulfillment - the praise people receive for doing good - is a powerful psychological motive.
3) Break down identity conflicts, for example between "ranchers" and "environmentalists" by highlighting shared identity and concerns. This helps lower emotional barriers to solutions.
4) Create ways for pro-environment behaviors to make a positive statement about social values. For example, going solar, biodiesel, or buying a hybrid vehicle, and getting praised for being both patriotic and practical by helping make America more energy independent.

Amara Brook of Santa Clara Collge presented a lecture titled "Psychology to Determine Whether (Conservation) Interventions are Working." She emphasized that it is important to understand and address why people are either against pro-environmental actions, or are literally carrying out environmentally-harmful actions.

Brook and colleagues conducted a study to evaluate landowner attitudes toward Endangered Species Act protection of the Preble's Jumping Mouse. They found that that a key reason for landowners not taking conservation actions is that while landowners consider themselves to be conservationists and stewards of the land, they resent environmentalists who lobby for protection while not themselves sacrificing to make the protection happen. So it is not necessarily the idea of protecting the mouse, itself, that irks them. It is being asked to be the ones to pay, as well as a control issue--the feeling of being forced to take action against their will, rather than as an equal partner sharing in the glory of the solution.

Brook's presentation showed why when it comes to private land conservation, collaboration and incentives/cost sharing are key--they address root causes of the mistrust and resentment that are often the motivating force behind anti-conservation behaviors.

Monday, June 26, 2006

More from the Conservation Biology Conference: Benefits of Urban Green Spaces and Environmental Justice Implications

Researcher Michael Gavin just presented a very interesting lecture in which he noted that green spaces in cities provide such social benefits as:

1. Increased social interaction in the community - more cohesion in neighborhoods with more green space (likely due to people spending more time outside in their shared green spaces)
2. Less social conflict
3. Reduced stress levels, and faster recovery from stressful events
4. Increased patient recovery from illness and injury - both in the quantity (faster) and quality (to what level they recover) of recovery
5. Kids and Playing: kids play more creatively, and more in general in neighborhoods with more green space.

But there is a problem here, with important implications for environmental justice.

It seems that areas of cities with the most green space tend to be the most affluent and the most white.

There are clear benefits to green space, but they are not equitably distributed throughout society.

This leaves me wondering if given findings like this, it would be a good idea, from a crime-reduction perspective, to target urban poor neighborhoods for greening projects. The results of this talk suggest that not only would these projects green what are currently often the most dismal and violent neighborhoods in cities. But they would also reduce social discord and stress, and increase community cohesion. Could urban greening therefore help to reduce the economic and health costs of urban crime and policing?

Anybody out there with more information on whether such projects are happening and what kind of results they are achieving?

Farmers: Costa Rica National Park Generates Critical Rainfall

In her talk, "Research and Conservation on the Osa Peninsula after Corcovado National Park's Creation, 1975-1990", conservation biologist, Catherine Christen, noted that farmers to the east of the Costa Rican National Park say that its establishment has been a boon to their livelihoods. This is because maintaining the intact and breathtakingly diverse coastal tropical rainforest has helped generate and maintain the rainfall that they need to sustain their successful operations. This is a good reminder of the valuable ecosystem service of generating precipitation/maintaining the climate that is provided by healthy rainforests.

Blogging the Conservation Biology Conference - Updates to Continue

Today and tomorrow, I'll be blogging on a diverse range of topics from the annual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology in San Jose, CA. The meeting is particularly interesting this year (for me at least) because it includes a mixture of biological and social science, with intriguing symposium and workshop titles like "Conservation Psychology", "Environmental Sociology", "New Market-Based Strategies for Conservation", and "Conservation Tools and Tips from Psychology". Of course I'll also be attending the usual slew of conservation biology and management talks, especially those with practical implications, such as "Conservation of Private Land", and "Environmental Politics and Planning", and "Land Use Planning". As usual, I'll be seeking to learn of ways that scientists and management specialists are finding value in emerging conservation solutions.

Stay tuned for short tidbits and longer reports...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Mad Hatter's Ball with Tea Leaf Green to Benefit Conservation Value

Please join Conservation Value this Saturday night, June 24, in support of sustainability by attending what promises to be a very special night of live music and fun (and likely funny) Alice in Wonderland themed costumery. A portion of proceeds will benefit Conservation Value.

I am particularly excited about this event because Tea Leaf Green,with a songwriter (Trevor Garrod) who grew up on a farm and is actually a very good botanist, has a lot of nature in their lyrics. I enjoy their music in large part because the lyrics really talk to me about my life and passions.

Here are the details on the event:

Tea Leaf Green with guests sax legend, Martin Fierro, and Something Different.

When: Saturday, June 24, 2006, Doors: 8pm Show: 9pm - ???
Where: @ Boondock Bay, 2246 Jerrold Ave, San Francisco, CA (a posh new night club with outstanding lights and upstairs balcony surrounding dance floor!)

Directions: http://www.jambase.com/search.asp?eventID=425846
Tickets: 18+ $25adv. $30@door in costume $35@door not in costume (gift bag included)
Buy Tickets Now: http://www.sfmadhattersball.com/

Edge of the World Productions cordially invites you to the Mad Hatter's Ball, an Alice in Wonderland-themed "Mad Tea Party" featuring San Francisco's rising stars, Tea Leaf Green, with special guests including Martin Fierro on Sax and Something Different.

The Ball will take place on Saturday night, June 24 at a posh new nightclub in San Francisco called Boondock Bay, located just 5 minutes from the Mission district. With a mesmerizing lighting system and a balcony surrounding the dance floor ala New Orleans' legendary Tipitinas or the DNA Lounge, it is a perfect place for an all-night Mad Tea Party.

This party is set to be one of the biggest throw downs any Tea Leaf Green fan has ever seen. Alice in Wonderland themed costumes are strongly encouraged if you do not want your head to be chopped off by the Queen...

The Mad Hatter's Ball will be an epic experience to be recorded in the books. Not only will we be providing a top notch atmosphere and entertainment, including comfortable chill spaces, but we will provide hand screen printed poster art, and gift bags for all.

For tickets, please visit: http://www.sfmadhattersball.com

Tickets are also available on the Tea Leaf Green website ( www.tealeafgreen.com) and at @ Cafe Terra Cotta, 201 Octavia Blvd., in San Francisco

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More Frontiers: New Technology Reduces Energy Waste, Increases Energy Independence, Reduces Pollution

In her May, 2006 column in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, CV advisory board member, Katherine Ellison, reports on a new technology in the emerging industry of large-scale energy recycling and cogeneration--a technique in which industrial facilities use waste energy to produce heat or electricity.

Why is making better use of waste energy so important to our environment, economy and public health alike?

"Consider," says Ellison, "the US power industry's rate of efficiency has been frozen at 33% for the last 45 years, meaning that for every three lumps of coal we burn, just one lump's worth of energy actually makes it to the consumer. In fact, according to federal government estimates, power plants and industry together waste so much energy that nearly 20% of all US electricity would be saved by recycling the energy now squandered by 18 different industries."

Energy recycling technologies developed by Tom Casten of Primary Energy Ventures simply capture the heat that would otherwise be emitted as a byproduct.

"At a steel mill, for instance," reports Ellison, "Casten collects blast-furnace gas to produce electricity and steam that would otherwise have to be purchased. (This smokestack exhaust is rerouted through a boiler that makes high-pressure steam, which in turn is converted to electricity by means of a steam turbine. It also supplies low-pressure steam, which can be used in the industrial process.) "

Casten is the author of a 1998 book titled "Turning off the heat: why America must double energy efficiency to save mnoney and reduce global warming". Says Ellison, "he calculates that his for-profit company is saving two million tons of CO2 a year in the US alone - equal to planting 1.5 million trees or taking 400,000 cars off the road, while generating a cash flow of more than $80 million."

Frontiers in Ecology: Species Conservation Helps Reduce Poverty. Even Bugs Provide $$Billions...

One of the key things that I aim to accomplish with this blog is to serve as a bridge between the best knowledge of the ecological and conservation sciences, and our non-scientific readers.

While perusing through the latest two issues of the Ecological Society of America's Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment last night, I found a couple of intriguing pieces of Conservation Value-type news that I wanted to share here:

1. Species Conservation Helps Reduce Poverty. A recent report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), "Species and People: Linked Futures", challenges the common perception that conservation is harmful to economic interests. The report, says WWF's Amanda Nickson, demonstrates that:
"in many cases, the dynamics which threaten species are also those which contribute to poverty, such as habitat loss and the lack of appropriate governance and resource management mechanisms. This report shows how imodern species conservation programs can and do reduce poverty, increase food security, improve governance structures, and increase women's participation in society."
One example is the benefits that the townpeople of Tortuguero, Costa Rica, have realized from switching from hunting sea turtles and taking their eggs, to turtle tourism. "In 2005, over 36,000 tourists came to watch the turtles nest", says Sebastian Troeng, of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation. "Over 35 years, we've seen a 400% increase in green turtle nesting". Tortugero's human development indicators, the article notes, "outshine those of similar towns where turtle eggs are still harvested or simply ignored."

2. Billion Dollar Bugs reports on the findings of researchers that insects provide ecosystem services worth more than $57 billion in the U.S. each year. "The study, published in BioScience (2006; 56:311-323) found that native insects are the food for wildlife that support a $50 billion recreation industry, provide more than $4.5 billion in pest control, pollinate $3 billion in crops, clean up grazing lands, and carry out $380 million worth of dung burial for the cattle industry."

Co-author, Mace Vaughan, of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, says that their results are "conservative estimates" of only a few services.

Frontiers notes that "Conservationists are increasingly trying to tie the merits of conservation to human well-being; the ecosystem service example makes that connection while resonating with important stakeholders, such as the business community." The article quotes The Nature Conservancy's Science Director, Peter Karieva:
"Services not normally part of a conservation discussion get put on the table once a dollar value is attached. Conservation will fail unless it better connects to people, and ecosystem services is the best way to do that."

Monday, June 12, 2006

Is Dust From Cows, ORVs and Development Causing the Rocky Mountain Snowpack to Melt Earlier?

In yet another fascinating article illustrating the pervasiveness of human impacts on the environment (and in the case of water supplies, on human livelihoods), High Country News is reporting that high levels of dust settling in the Rocky Mountains are resulting in earlier snow melt.

Tom Painter, a researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., has found that dust changes the reflectivity — or albedo — of the snow surface:

White snow reflects a lot of light, so it absorbs less energy and melts relatively slowly. Dirty snow reflects less light and melts more quickly. The faster snow melts, the sooner it exposes deeper dust layers, creating a feedback loop that further accelerates the melt.
The implications for the American West's water supplies, resources that have been the subject of legendary battles, are startling. Painter, along with hydrologist, Andrew Barret:

found that a single dust event could cause snow to melt away 18 days earlier than it would if there were no dust at all.
In the Western mountains, which act as the region’s water towers, the implications of these rough estimates are stark. If dust deposits in the mountains increase for any reason, the researchers surmise that snowmelt will both happen faster and finish sooner, leading to bigger and earlier peak flows in streams and rivers. That would cause headaches for water managers, who would need to store the rush of water, and it would perhaps result in more frequent or serious summer water shortages.
So what are the causes of this dust?

High Country News asks U.S. Geological Survey researcher, Jayne Belnap, who explains that:

On desert grasslands that have never seen grazing, "there’s barely any dust production, no matter what"; the dust traps she posts in those areas collect perhaps a tablespoon every six months. Most years, traps in formerly grazed grasslands collect about twice as much, and currently grazed lands collect even more, about nine times as much. But the most dramatic differences, says Belnap, emerge during severe drought years. While the ungrazed grasslands stay more or less the same, formerly grazed ground produces as much as 20 times the amount of dust as in wetter years. Currently grazed lands "just go bonkers," with the dust traps sometimes filling faster than Belnap and her coworkers can empty them.
Grazing, development, off-road vehicle use, and military training activity form what Belnap calls a "background signal" of dust in the Southwestern deserts. That signal seems to be strengthening.
What might the ultimate result be?

The researchers hypothesize that if dust events do continue to increase, mountain snow will melt earlier in the spring, and the summer droughts that may ensue could lead to — you guessed it — more dust, further eroding the mountains’ ability to store water. "I hate to use the word catastrophe, but that’s probably the right word," says Belnap.

Could Climate Change make matters still worse? You guessed it:

"Throw climate change into the mix, and the forecast gets even more grimly interesting. So far, the effects of global warming on the higher, colder Rockies are not as marked as those in lower coastal ranges, where even a small rise in winter temperatures can turn snow into rain. But if dust keeps crowding into the mountains, says Painter, it could amplify the effects of warmer temperatures, boding ill for high-elevation snow in the Rockies and elsewhere. "If you put dust and warming together — watch out," says Painter.

This is yet another striking example of how human land uses may be combining with climate change to cause potentially catastrophic impacts to people and ecosystems alike. And when it involves threats to water supplies in the American West, we have another important practical reason to stop not just global warming, but also destructive land management practices that leave us more vulnerable to its effects.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Wall St. Journal: Global Warming Likely to Induce Earthquakes and Volcanoes

The Wall St. Journal is reporting that global warming is likely to spur seismic activity - the occurrence of earthquakes and volcanoes!

Get this, regarding the work of geoscientist Allen Glazner of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill:
When he analyzed 800,000 years of activity from about 50 volcanoes in eastern California (the age of rocks formed from volcanic ash can be determined by radioactive dating), Prof. Glazner found that "the peaks of volcanic activity occurred when ice was retreating globally. At first I thought it was crazy, but other scientists also found evidence that climate affects volcanism." The likely mechanism: glacial retreat lifts pressure that had kept the magma conduit closed.
When it comes to global warming and earthquakes, geoscientist Patrick Wu of the University of Calgary warns that:
"The pressure of the ice sheet suppresses earthquakes, so removing that load triggers them."


Insurance companies were worried enough about global warming causing an increase in severe weather, such as hurricanes and tornados. But earthquakes and volcanoes...

This is something that I've never heard mentioned among predictions of the consequences of global warming, and yet it makes sense. We seem to have another powerful example of the safety, security, economic, health and overall quality of life risks posed by global warming.

I'll be on the lookout for more information on this mind-boggling subject.

Hopefully all of you in earthquake country have your earthquake kits ready.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

America's Premier Music Festivals Going Green

Five years ago, who would have thought that the nation's premier music festivals, including the upcoming Bonnaroo megafest in Tennessee and Wakarusa in Kansas (yes--the same Kansas that has attracted attention for teaching Creation as a viable alternative to evolution for explaining the earth's diversity of life) would be going green.

I mean, High Sierra Music Festival in northern California--sure. They just continue to get greener, including by converting used vegetable oil from their food vendors to biodiesel and using it to power their stages. And the new Green Apple Music Festival? Well of course--it's in their name!

But festivals in the middle of red states like Kansas and Tennessee?

Bonnaroo, taking place next weekend in Manchester Tennessee, is boasting a highly admirable and creative list of green initiatives, including:

  • Over 25,000 gallons of biodiesel fuel (B100) to replace diesel for non-music stage generators

  • WastAway refuse handling process to recycle over 250 tons of garbage

  • Concession food served with biodegradable wraps, plates, cups and cutlery manufactured from a renewable resource

  • Festival wide recycling and composting program

  • Cool Tags wind credits purchasing (and facilitation of purchases for patrons)

  • Solar stage and sound system

  • Organic cotton and hemp t-shirts

  • Tree free posters

  • Post-consumer recycled toilet paper for portolets

  • Post-consumer recycled paper for all administrative needs

  • Aggressively seeking ways to make Bonnaroo 2007 even greener

  • They have also invited the World Resources Institute, Rock the Earth, and Natural Resources Defense Council to raise awareness among fans about simple steps they can take to help stop global warming. Given that the festival organizers, Superfly Presents, hail from New Orleans, it is fair to say that they now take global warming very seriously and want to make sure their fans do as well.

    Wakarusa, occurring this weekend just outside of Lawrence, Kansas, has announced more modest initiatives, focused on the purchase of enough Green Tags, or renewable energy credits, from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) to offset the environmental impact of powering the four-day festival. The festival organizers state that by purchasing Green Tags, which represent the real savings in carbon dioxide and other pollutants that occur when green, renewable energy replaces electricity produced by burning fossil fuel, they will offset more than 63,000 lbs. of greenhouse gasses (primarily measured as carbon dioxide).

    For individual concertgoers, the festvial offers the option of "greening" their travel to and from Lawrence. Attendees can purchase Green Tags to offset the energy used to travel to the show. BEF established three levels at which people may green their travel to the event, those traveling from "near" (310 miles or less), those traveling "far" (between 310 and 960- miles), and a third option for those traveling by air. Each purchase will offset the corresponding amount of carbon dioxide that is put into the atmosphere per person during a vehicle or plane trip.

    While society's current rise toward sustainability still has a long long way to go, the growing influence of the music industry as a supporter, promoter and enabler of sustainable living and business holds tremendous potential for affecting massive positive change. To realize this potential, festival organizers should make certain to incorporate an empowering and effective educational component into their greening initiatives. One that presents fresh and positive perspectives of sustainability's benefits that really hit home for a wide range of people, well beyond "The Choir". That is, help the masses of music fans understand how each green practice benefits not just the environment, but also the economy, public health and safety, national security, and quality of life.

    Wednesday, June 07, 2006

    Stepping it Up on Sudden Oak Death, Part II - Some Answers From An Expert

    So I passed my previous post, in which I bemoaned the lack of action being taken to prevent and control the spread of Sudden Oak Death (SOD) (especially the lack of public education that I have observed), on to eminent UC Davis expert, Dave Rizzo. Since I am an expert in the spread of invasive (rapidly spreading) non-native weeds, but SOD is an invasive pathogen (as was the infamous Chestnut blight, which decimated the magnificent American Chestnut, the Redwoods of the east), I was curious to hear his thoughts about how my concerns as an expert in invasive plants translated to this rapidly spreading pathogen.

    My comments were inspired by a rather dire article that I had read on the subject, combined with my observations that little is being done to prevent hikers and vehicles from spreading SOD (something that they've been shown to do - particularly in the spring rainy months), even in highly visited areas that are highly infested with the disease, like Muir Woods National Monument. This has frustrated me since I first learned that symptom levels are greater with increasing human activity, such as hiking, in an area.

    Dr. Rizzo has been both a pioneer and a leader of efforts to solve the mystery of not just how the disease spreads and what to do about it, but also exactly what it is (the pathogen wasn't even identified until around 2000!).

    Here are his comments on the current status of efforts to control the disease and educate the public about how we can all help avoid spreading it (special thanks to Dr. Rizzo for granting permission to share them with you).

    Hi Jon,

    Thanks for the message and pointing toward your blog.

    I agree with you about the importance of public education - I've written about it in a number of review articles and in most of my talks. And I agree about the small signs at Muir Woods. I have been somewhat disappointed about the response of the Muir Woods folks and (other) parks about posting information. (One exception is Hendy Woods State Park in Mendocino County). We (California Oak Mortality Task Force - COMTF) have mentioned this many times and have had discussions on foot washes and even made up posters, but with little success. However....

    I have found it is very easy to talk about public education, but much, much harder to implement it. You can put up large posters - getting people to actually read them is a different story. The COMTF has made a huge effort in public education. I have given dozens of talks to local groups, others have given even more talks, thousands of brochures have been sent, dozens of training sessions have been held for professionals and the general public. I have participated in making several documentaries including at least 2 that have been shown on PBS in the Bay Area. I have given hundreds (I lost count at 500) of print, radio and TV interviews. There are six million people in the Bay Area- not counting, as you mentioned, all of the tourists. How do we reach them? Any suggestions? (I mean that sincerely)

    Management of this disease occurs at three non-exclusive levels - individual trees, the landscape and regional to international. For the individual tree, there is now a preventative fungicide (phosphates) that has extremely low toxicity. This is considered a green product, but I'm not sure if it is "officially" certified organic.

    The regional to international level is where the regulations come in to play. Right now all plants leaving CA, OR and WA must be inspected regardless if they are known hosts for P. ramorum (Editor's note: the genus and species of SOD is Phytopthera ramorum - the same genus as the Irish Potato Famine!). Inspection and detection is easier said than done. If if we had billions to spend it would still be a difficult task with such a cryptic organism. The best bet would be simply not to move plants further than locally. We could make regulations to that end, but in my mind this is as much a cultural issue as a political one. Unfortunately, people like planting non-native exotic plants in their yards. All the regulations in the world may not change that. This is not to say we should just give up, only that it is a difficult task. (Editor's note: perhaps a little environmental psychology might help...)

    The landscape, I think, is the most difficult scale for management. While cleaning shoes, etc. is important, it is still a very low probability pathway for pathogen movement (although certainly not zero). Unfortunately, this pathogen spreads quite nicely on its own. The other way the pathogen is probably most often spread is through ornamental plants planted in the urban-wildland interface (see above).

    It would have been great to stop this pathogen at an early stage. Unfortunately by the time we figured out the cause, the pathogen already covered large areas of California. Based on our work, Oregon was able to detect the pathogen. But they are finding it very difficult to eradicate.

    There are several reasons for the relative lack of landscape management. First, we had (and still have) very little information on the pathogen. What approaches could be taken? Obviously, chemical controls at very large scales are impractical at best, dangerous at worst. This leaves tree removals and fire as the remaining major management tools. How do you use these tools with little or no information and avoid making the problem worse? We now have more information and are moving in these landscape directions in Humboldt, Sonoma, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties (Big Sur). We have developed grass roots management efforts by working with local landowners (public, NGO, individual landowners).

    But SOD cannot be taken out of context. The first thing I ask landowners is what would be their management goals in the absence of SOD. This is not an easy question - it is very surprising how little ecological information (fire history, successional patterns, etc.) is available for many of the these forest types. In particular, the mixed-evergreen forest has been very little studied (we have a number of collaborative projects trying to get this information). Developing large scale land management plans is not easy.

    For example, in Humboldt county we are attempting an early intervention to slow the spread of the pathogen. But to implement that, the farm advisor needed to work with many different groups and in context of regulations designed to protect other species; i.e. spotted owl and marbled murrelet. In Big Sur, much of the impacted area is designated Wilderness, which requires lots of paperwork to be able to do treatments. By the time the exceptions could be granted often it will be too late for some canyons.

    While I believe that it will be impossible to eradicate P. ramorum and probably to prevent its spread, I do think we can slow its spread and develop management tools to lower its impact on our forests. We are making substantial efforts to coordinate landscape management with other management needs (e.g., fire issues, other invasive plant and animal species). These projects involve many dedicated people who are working very hard to make them a success. But unfortunately these things don't happen over night.


    For those of you who'd like more information, Dr. Rizzo advised that:

    The best website for info on SOD is www.suddenoakdeath.org. The website is run by the California Oak Mortality Task Force (COMTF). The site includes lots of current info on outreach and research. We will be running another training session on SOD for the public in Sonoma County on July 20. There should be info and an agenda posted on the website soon.

    In case you are not aware, the COMTF is a consensus group that has tried to bring together many different agencies to help recommended research, policy and outreach directions to various state and federal agencies. Most of its efforts have been toward public education. At various times, I believe something like 65 government agencies and NGOs have been involved. We have an executive board that meets a few times of year to discuss issues surrounding SOD. We also have several subcommittees (management, regulations, monitoring, etc.). On the board, currently we have representatives from the US Forest Service, CDF, CDFA, APHIS, UC, and the nursery industry. I serve as the science advisor for the group.

    Sounds to me like it is a complicated issue, the kind that a "consensus group" that represents many different interests (though no conservation organization taking a lead role...) might have a difficult time agreeing on strong, decisive measures to implement (just as the diverse interests who hammered out the Kyoto Protocol ended up producing a watered down treaty that will hardly approach solving the problem of global warming).

    If implementing larger-scale measures poses complex challenges and happens much slower than the disease is spreading, perhaps getting some smaller-scale measures in place, such as better public education at parks designed to minimize the risk that hikers and vehicles spread the disease, are all the more important. In the end, a lot of little steps can add up to good things. These should, ideally, be accompanied by monitoring (excellent graduate project) to determine how to maximize their effectiveness in stimulating action (perhaps the type of environmental communication research that has generated reports like this). There really is no gratifying excuse for all that can be done to not be getting done. As scientists and economists have shown, early preventative steps may be more expensive to start, but they tend to make dealing with a destructive invasive species like SOD both more effective and much cheaper in the long run.

    Wednesday, May 24, 2006

    Sudden Oak Death - Lack of Education and Control Poses Huge Environmental, Economic Risks

    I just read a sad article about sudden oak death (SOD), a disease that is killing coast live oaks and other black oak species in forests along the California coast. In the article, experts basically concede there is nothing they can do to prevent its spread. What I find sad about this is that I don't think land managers have ever really made a serious effort (one expert on the disease who I once discussed this with said the politics were too difficult). While biologists studying the disease will bag and spray their shoes after working in SOD-infested habitat, there have been not been nearly enough substantial efforts to control it or, especially, to educate the public about how they can avoid spreading the disease.

    In Muir Woods National Monument just north of San Francisco, for example, which is highly infested with SOD, they have maybe a few small signs about the disease that few people ever see. In fact, when hiking in the area, I sometimes conduct informal surveys of other hikers and have found maybe 1 in 100 people to know about SOD and to have seen the signs. Pretty much every time I ask, "do you know about Sudden Oak Death", the hikers say "no". But they are always glad to learn about the disease and what they can do to avoid spreading it to their neighborhoods.

    The problem with this lack of education and control in a place like Muir Woods, which is highly and internationally visited, is that the neighborhoods that hikers might spread the disease to include forests all over the U.S. and world. I find the lack of effort (surely land managers can do better than a few small signs!) to reflect a frustrating level of inaction in fighting the spread of the disease.

    What might the consequences be? Here in the western U.S., oaks aren't a major timber species of economic importance, though they are a very important wildlife species, providing food and shelter for animals and plants alike. Back east, however, vulnerable species such as northern red oak (Quercus rubra), and eastern black oak (Quercus velutina) are of substantial importance to the region's timber industry. The introduction of SOD would therefore have a much more significant economic impact that it has had out here in California. Unless more stringent control and education measures are taken immediately in highly infested areas of California, I predict it is just a matter of time before the disease turns up back east. And then people will REALLY wish they had done more early on to control the disease out here in California.

    I hope that I am wrong, but this is a huge example of where a lack of funds and time invested in preventing the spread of an invasive species like SOD early allows the problem to balloon into something out of control, both ecologically and economically. As they say, an ounce of prevention... We've got to get these things early. In SOD's case, we really need to step up public education and control efforts here in California now, before the disease is spread to the east coast--especially at highly visited sites that are also highly infested, such as Muir Woods and many other trails in northern California.

    Tuesday, May 23, 2006

    Anti-Gore Movie Crowd Pushes Myth That Stopping Global Warming Will Destroy The Economy

    I guess it had to be expected, but with momentum building behind Al Gore's new movie, An Inconvenient Truth, people who are against progress (are regressive) when it comes to curbing global warming are resorting to the old "its gonna destroy our economy" myth.

    This is where as a scientist and solution-focused sustainability specialist familiar with the many benefits of climate change solutions, I become extremely disappointed in mass media organizations like Fox News for being very irresponsible (see photo above). For example, when it comes to the importance of fighting global warming, does Fox News know better than:

    1. The joint statement of the National Academies of Sciences of 11 leading world nations about the importance of fighting climate change?

    2. The authors and publishers of the following articles reporting on and proposing ways that solutions to climate change will in fact (a) improve our economy, public health, economic and national security, and quality of life, and (b) help us avoid grave economic, health and security threats:
    Just asking.

    Society really needs the major TV news networks, who hold so much power over the public discourse, to step up a whole lot more than they have to properly inform the (voting) public about the opportunities offered by and threats to be averted by reversing climate change.