Conservation Science News September 7, 2013

Highlight of the WeekClimate Perils of Human Population Growth









NOTE: Please feel free to pass on my weekly news update that has been prepared for
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Highlight of the Week

Climate perils of human population growth


Carolyn Lochhead SF Chronicle September 3, 2013

California has 157 endangered or threatened species, looming water shortages, eight of the 10 most air-polluted cities in the country and 725 metric tons of trash washing up on its coast each year. California also has 38 million people, up 10 percent in the last decade, including 10 million immigrants. They own 32 million registered vehicles and 14 million houses. By 2050, projections show 51 million people living in the state, more than twice as many as in 1980. In the public arena, almost no one connects these plainly visible dots. For various reasons, linking the world’s rapid population growth to its deepening environmental crisis, including climate change, is politically taboo. In the United States, Europe and Japan, there has been public hand-wringing over falling birthrates and government policies to encourage child-bearing. But those declining birthrates mask explosive growth elsewhere in the world. In less than a lifetime, the world population has tripled, to 7.1 billion, and continues to climb by more than 1.5 million people a week. A consensus statement issued in May by scientists at Stanford University and signed by more than 1,000 scientists warned that “Earth is reaching a tipping point.” An array of events under way – including what scientists have identified as the sixth mass extinction in the earth’s 540 million-year history – suggest that human activity already exceeds earth’s capacity. Climate change is but one of many signs of environmental stress. “The big connector is how many people are on earth,” said Anthony Barnosky, a UC Berkeley integrative biologist. The world population is expected to reach 9.6 billion by mid-century. The addition will be greater than the global population of 1950. The United States is expected to grow from 313 million people to 400 million. Economies have expanded many times faster, vastly increasing consumption of goods and services in rich and developing countries. “The combination of climate change and 9 billion people to me is one that is just fraught with potential catastrophes,” said John Harte, a UC Berkeley ecosystem scientist. The evidence that humans are damaging their ecological life-support system is overwhelming,” said the report by the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere at Stanford. “By the time today’s children reach middle age, it is extremely likely that the Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence, will be irretrievably damaged.” California Gov. Jerry Brown had the report translated into Chinese and delivered it to Chinese President Xi Jinping in June.


A new epoch?

So complete is human domination of earth that scientists use the term “Anthropocene” to describe a new geological epoch. The most obvious sign is climate change. People have altered the composition of the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. But other human impacts, widely discussed by scientists, seldom reach the political arena. Residues from 100 million tons of synthetic chemical compounds produced each year are so pervasive that they commonly appear in polar bear tissues, whale blubber and the umbilical cords of babies. Each year, humans appropriate up to 40 percent of the earth’s biomass, the product of photosynthesis, earth’s basic energy conversion necessary to all life. Humans have converted more than 40 percent of the earth’s land to cities or farms. Roads and structures fragment most of the rest. Humans appropriate more than half the world’s fresh water. Ancient aquifers in the world’s bread baskets, including the Ogallala in the Great Plains, are being drained. Only 2 percent of major U.S. rivers run unimpeded. California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has been entirely re-engineered. The last time the Colorado River reached the Sea of Cortez was in 1998. The Nile, Indus and Ganges rivers have been reduced to a trickle. Humans surpass nature as a source of nitrogen emissions, altering the planet’s nitrogen cycle. A quarter of known mammal species, 43 percent of amphibians, 29 percent of reptiles and 14 percent of birds are threatened. African elephants may be extinct within a decade. A third of world fisheries are exhausted or degraded. Forty percent of coral reefs and a third of mangroves have been destroyed or degraded. Most species of predator fish are in decline.


Ocean acidification, a product of fossil fuel burning, is dissolving calcifying plankton at the base of the food chain. A garbage gyre at least twice the size of Texas swirls in the Pacific Ocean.

“We’re changing the ability of the planet to provide food and water,” Harte said. Even scientists who doubt ecological collapse, such as Michele Marvier, chair of environmental studies at Santa Clara University, acknowledge that “humans dominate every flux and cycle of the planet’s ecology and geochemistry.”


Water and food

In December, the Interior Department said by mid-century the Colorado River will not support demand from the seven states it supplies, including California. The main reason is expected population growth from 40 million to as many as 76 million people.


Among the remedies considered: towing icebergs from the Arctic to Southern California. “Phoenix continues to grow at one of the highest rates in the country,” said Jerry Karnas, population and sustainability director of the Center for Biological Diversity, the only national environmental group campaigning to limit population growth. “There is no discussion about what the future Phoenix is going to do when the Colorado River is done.” Ecosystems can endure large stresses. But multiple stresses can act synergistically. Take food. The World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, estimates that by mid-century the world will need 70 percent more food, because as people grow wealthier they eat more meat, requiring more grain to feed livestock. That will require converting more land to crops, even as urbanization destroys prime farmland. Farms are a big source of deforestation and a big emitter of greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Climate change reduces yields by increasing the frequency of droughts and floods. Lower yields will require conversion of more land to farms. Still, nature has shown great resiliency, said Santa Clara University’s Marvier. Peregrine falcons nest in San Francisco skyscrapers. Coyotes roam Chicago. “We can’t just continue dumping nitrogen into the ocean at the same rate and expect everything to be fine,” Marvier said. “The good news, though, is that when we do clean up our act, we tend to see some pretty amazing bounce back.” Barnosky agreed that natural systems are resilient. “But you have to give them a chance to be resilient,” he said. “Falcons can live in cities. But elephants can’t.” People have been predicting disaster for centuries, including 18th century scholar Thomas Malthus and Stanford University ecologist Paul Ehrlich, who in 1968 with his wife Anne predicted famines from runaway population growth in “The Population Bomb.” Ehrlich said he was right because at least 2 billion people are malnourished. “You’ll find plenty of people who will tell you not to worry, technology will take care of it,” Ehrlich said. “We’ll feed, house, clothe and so on 9.5 billion people, give them happy lives with no problem at all. That’s exactly the line that Anne and I got when there were 3.5 billion people on the planet. … The answer is, they haven’t done it.”


Touchy strategy on growth

Reducing population growth was central to the U.S. environmental movement at its birth in 1970, spurred in part by Ehrlich’s book. Most environmental groups now steer clear of the subject. Forced sterilizations in India in the 1970s and China’s coercive one-child policy angered feminists and tainted family planning efforts. Liberals argue that blaming environmental problems on population growth is to “blame the poor.” They say the United States and other capitalist societies consume too much. Conservatives and religious groups who oppose abortion and celebrate reproduction attack family planning at home and abroad. This summer a House Appropriations panel again slashed money for family planning aid. Population and consumption each drive ecological damage. “Even in poorer nations that don’t have the impact that the average American has on the planet, population as it grows squeezes out other species because people need space to live, and the other species need space to live,” said Jeffrey McKee, an anthropologist at Ohio State University. “At some point they come into juxtaposition, and something has to give. So far, it hasn’t been us.”


Population momentum

Plummeting fertility rates, from 4.9 births per woman in the 1960s to the current 2.6, led to the belief that worries about population were overblown. The drop surprised demographers. Half the world – including Japan and Western Europe but also China, Vietnam, Brazil and other emerging economies – is below the 2.1 fertility rate needed for zero growth. The United States, the world’s third-largest country behind China and India, and the only rich country still growing rapidly, recently saw its birth rate fall to 1.9. Press coverage has stressed a “birth dearth” that threatens economic growth and elderly retirements, prompting fears that the human species could contract to 1 billion by 2300 because of a failure to reproduce. But an important exception to falling fertility rates is sub-Saharan Africa, along with such places as Afghanistan and Yemen, where birth rates remain exceptionally high. U.N. demographers sharply raised their population projections last year, adding another billion people by century’s end, to nearly 11 billion, because African fertility rates have peaked at more than five births per woman. From now until 2050, poor countries will add the equivalent of a city of 1 million people every five days, said a report last year by the Royal Society, a British scientific organization. Population momentum ensures that absolute numbers will keep rising for decades despite falling birth rates. That’s because the exponential growth that took just 12 years to add the last billion in 2011 – and will take just 14 more years to add the next billion – means growth is building from a large base of people, many in their child-bearing years. Falling birth rates have lulled people into complacency, said J. Joseph Speidel, a professor at UCSF’s Bixby Center on Global Reproductive Health. “The annual increment is rising quite dramatically,” he said. “We are still adding about 84 million people a year to the planet.” Although rich countries will have problems supporting their elderly, “I’d sure rather have the problems of Spain or Sweden than Nigeria or Niger,” Speidel said.


Unintended births

More than 40 percent of the world’s 208 million pregnancies each year are unplanned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a family planning research group. Half of U.S. pregnancies, about 3 million a year, are unintended, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a Washington advocacy group. About half of them end in abortion. Across cultures, from Iran to Thailand to California, voluntary access to contraception has slashed fertility rates, Speidel said. But discussion of population growth remains taboo. “Many young people on university campuses have been taught over the past 15 years that the connection between population growth and the environment is not an acceptable subject for discussion,” said Martha Campbell, director of International Population Dialogue at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, in a recent essay. Campbell argued that voluntary contraception is not coercive, but blocking women from controlling how many children they have is coercive. When given a chance, she said, women across cultures choose to provide a better life for fewer children. The Guttmacher Institute said it would cost an extra $4.1 billion a year, little more than a rounding error in the $3.8 trillion U.S. budget, to provide birth control to all 222 million women in the world who want to limit their pregnancies but lack access to contraception. “What many of us really worry about is that there will be this crash landing, from a planet with 9 billion, rapidly down to 5 or so,” said ecologist Harte. “The landing will result from methods of population reduction that none of us want to see, like famine, disease and war,” he added. “I don’t think anybody has described a workable trajectory that gets us up to 9 and then softly back down to 5.”


Population change and birth rates

Small increases in women’s fertility rates make a big difference in population growth over time.

The difference between fertility rates of 1.75 and 2 births per woman equals:

— 2 billion more people in 2100.

— 5 billion more people in 2200.

— 7 billion more people in 2300.

A fertility rate of 1.5, just below the current average in Europe, would:

— Keep world population at its current level of about 7 billion in 2100.

— Cut world population below 3 billion in 2200.

Sources: United Nations; and Stuart Basten, Wolfgang Lutz, Sergie Scherbov, “Very long range global population scenarios to 2300 and the implications of sustained low fertility” in Demographic Research, Vol. 28, Article 39, May 30.


Carolyn Lochhead is The San Francisco Chronicle’s Washington correspondent. E-mail:






Point Blue in the news:


Marin wildlife advocates have mixed views on Farallon Islands mice eradication plan

By Mark Prado Marin Independent Journal POSTED:   08/30/2013 06:14:34 PM PDT

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal for a strategic strike over the Farallon Islands to rid it of thousands upon thousands of house mice is drawing criticism from Marin animal welfare groups. But other local groups, including Marin Audubon and
Point Blue Conservation Science — the former Point Reyes Bird Observatory — say the plan to drop poison via helicopter is the only way to restore ecological balance on the island, which has been thrown out of whack by the invasive mice. The rodents were likely inadvertently introduced in the 1800s by fur traders who stopped at the islands, situated some 27 miles west of the Golden Gate. “There are times when there are so many mice there it looks as though the ground is moving,” said Gerry McChesney, refuge manager at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who is developing the mouse plan. He spoke on the issue this week during a hearing in the Presidio. “When you stay on the island, they crawl over you when you sleep in your bed,” he said. “We try to keep them out of the buildings, but it’s difficult.” In peak season, 500 mice were once counted on a single acre. The islands are 141 acres. While it would be inaccurate to assign 500 to each acre, McChesney said, they number easily in the thousands. “This is the highest density of these invasive mice on any island in the world,” said Ellie Cohen, who heads Point Blue Conservation Science. The group — which does research on the island — supports the eradication plan. A just released U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service environmental impact statement on the issue calls for no action, or for rodenticide grain pellets to be dropped via helicopter in two to three applications with a stated goal of wiping out the population. “We want to get every single one. It has been done,” McChesney said, noting mice have been removed from other islands in the manner being suggested. “If you leave one pregnant female on the island you have failed because they are such prolific breeders. They come back very, very quickly.”… Allowing the house mice to stay threatens other species, according to researchers. They are predators of Ashy Storm-petrel eggs and chicks, sea birds that are a “species of concern” in the state. There are only 15,000 worldwide, half of which breed and nest on the islands. Every year as much as 12 percent of the eggs and chicks of this species are lost to mice. Meanwhile the native, migratory burrowing owls have become unnatural residents on the islands every winter to munch on mice. As the mouse population declines the owls turn to seabirds for their diet. By spring, hundreds of Ashy Storm-petrels and other seabirds have been killed, according to researchers. By removing the mice, the Ashy Storm-petrel and other seabirds will avoid further population decline and the ecosystem will begin to be restored. That’s why the mice must go, supporters say…..The eradication could occur as soon as the fall of 2014. “We have to do it,” said Barbara Salzman, president of Marin Audubon, who attended the hearing as well. “What are the alternatives? If they let them increase, we will lose all the petrels.”….


www.restorethefarallones. For organizations to sign on to a support letter see: 

Written comments on the Farallon Islands mice plan can be submitted until Sept. 30 at or by mail to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-NWRS-2013: Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, Va. 22203.



Protecting 17 percent of Earth’s land could save two-thirds of plant species
September 5, 2013) —
Protecting key regions that comprise just 17 percent of Earth’s land may help preserve more than two-thirds of its plant species, according to a scientists. … “Our analysis shows that two of the most ambitious goals set forth by the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity — to protect 60 percent of Earth’s plant species and 17 percent of its land surface — can be achieved, with one major caveat,” said Stuart L. Pimm, Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “To achieve these goals, we need to protect more land, on average, than we currently do, and much more in key places such as Madagascar, New Guinea and Ecuador,” Pimm said. “Our study identifies regions of importance. The logical — and very challenging — next step will be to make tactical local decisions within those regions to secure the most critical land for conservation.”….. To identify which of Earth’s regions contain the highest concentrations of endemic species, relative to their geographic size, the researchers analyzed data on more than 100,000 different species of flowering plants, compiled by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England….> full story


L. N. Joppa, P. Visconti, C. N. Jenkins, S. L. Pimm. Achieving the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Goals for Plant Conservation. Science, 2013; 341 (6150): 1100 DOI: 10.1126/science.1241706



Genetic reproductive barriers: Long-held assumption about emergence of new species questioned
(September 2, 2013) — Darwin referred to the origin of species as “that mystery of mysteries,” and even today, more than 150 years later, evolutionary biologists cannot fully explain how new animals and plants arise. For decades, nearly all research in the field has been based on the assumption that the main cause of the emergence of new species, a process called speciation, is the formation of barriers to reproduction between populations. But now researchers are questioning the long-held assumption that genetic reproductive barriers, also known as reproductive isolation, are a driving force behind speciation. … > full story


Scientists encounter holes in tree of life, push for better data storage
(September 3, 2013) — When it comes to public access, the tree of life has holes. A new study shows about 70 percent of published genetic sequence comparisons are not publicly accessible, leaving researchers worldwide unable to get to critical data they may need to tackle a host a problems ranging from climate change to disease control. … > full story



Northeastern US forests transformed by human activity over 400 years
(September 4, 2013) — Forests in the northeastern US have been radically transformed over the last four centuries by human activity, and their relationship with climate factors like rainfall weakened. … > full story



Promiscuity and sperm selection improves genetic quality in birds
(September 3, 2013) — Research shows that females can maximize the genetic quality of their offspring by being promiscuous. Researchers studied red junglefowl and found that mating with different males helps females produce healthier offspring — due to a mechanism in their reproductive tract which favors sperm from the most genetically different males. This is important for animal breeders because it shows that allowing multiple matings produces the most disease resistant and genetically healthy offspring. … > full story


Birds Protect Coffee Crop

Scientific American

 – ‎September 5 2013‎


A study found that insectivorous birds cut infestations by the beetle Hypothenemus hampei by about half, saving a medium-sized coffee farm up to US$9,400 over a year’s harvest – roughly equal to Costa Rica’s average per-capita income.


Birds choose sweet-smelling mates

Published: Sept. 3, 2013 Contact(s): Layne Cameron , Danielle Whittaker

For most animals, scent is the instant messenger of choice for quickly exchanging personal profiles. Scientists, however, have long dismissed birds as odor-eschewing Luddites that don’t take advantage of scent-based communications. In a first-of-its-kind study, however, a Michigan State University researcher has demonstrated that birds do indeed communicate via scents, and that odor reliably predicts their reproductive success. The study appears in the current issue of Animal Behaviour and focuses on volatile compounds in avian preen secretions….



Wise old birds teach migration route to young whooping cranes

A study of captive-bred whooping cranes found that young birds learn their migration routes over many years, and migrating alongside older birds improves the migratory efficiency of younger birds.

Monday 2 September 2013 11.31 EDT

This young whooping crane is on its first autumnal migration, guided by an Operation Migration ultralight. The tan markings will fade by its next migration in spring.Image: Joseph Duff/Operation Migration USA Inc.

Ever since people first realised that birds migrate long distances on a seasonal basis, they’ve wondered how they do it: how can birds reliably find their way year after year, between their summer breeding areas and their wintering grounds? Is this “instinct” or learning? And if it is learning, how did the first birds learn to migrate and where to go? Birds are intelligent and highly social animals, and we now know that many of their behaviours result from a combination of both genetically inherited innate programs — “instinct” — and learning. But how can we as scientists untangle the contributions from innate genetic programs versus social learning and experience? To examine this “nature versus nurture” puzzle, an international team of scientists was assembled by ecologist Thomas Müller, who studies animal migration at the University of Maryland in College Park, and at the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) in Frankfurt, Germany. According to their findings, which were just published in the journal, Science, young captive-bred whooping cranes perform better when migrating in the presence of older, more experienced birds, indicating that “instinct” is not enough for efficient and accurate migration. Further, the researchers also found that these birds refine their knowledge of their migration routes over many years. The whooping crane, Grus americana, is a large and long-lived migratory bird in North America. Due to hunting and habitat loss, this formerly widespread species declined until just 16 individuals remained in the wild in 1941. Currently, this species is slowly recovering: the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that as of 2011, there were 437 birds in the wild and more than 165 in captivity.


Generosity leads to evolutionary success, biologists show
(September 2, 2013) — With new insights into the classical game theory match-up known as the “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” biologists offer a mathematically based explanation for why cooperation and generosity have evolved in nature. … > full story


Frogs that hear with their mouth: X-rays reveal a new hearing mechanism for animals without an ear
(September 2, 2013) — Gardiner’s frogs from the Seychelles islands, one of the smallest frogs in the world, do not possess a middle ear with an eardrum yet can croak themselves, and hear other frogs. An international team of scientists using X-rays has now solved this mystery and established that these frogs are using their mouth cavity and tissue to transmit sound to their inner ears. … > full story


Female tiger sharks migrate from Northwestern to Main Hawaiian Islands during fall pupping season
(September 5, 2013) — A quarter of the mature female tiger sharks plying the waters around the remote coral atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands decamp for the populated Main Hawaiian Islands in the late summer and fall, swimming as far as 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) according to new research. … > full story


To avoid sunburn, whales get a tan

A humpback whale jumps out of the waters off Hawaii. / AP file photo

by John Johnson, Newser August 31, 2013 Researchers have found an unusual way in which whales and humans are similar: we both get suntans. Blue whales, especially, tend to tan to protect themselves from the sun’s UV rays, reports the Canadian Press. Essentially, they tan during their summer migrations to ward off dangerous sunburns, as a Newcastle University researcher explains to the BBC: “When blue whales go on their holidays to the Gulf of California they get a tan the same way we do. And that tan protects blue whales from sunburnt DNA.” The big blues have lighter skins than the other two types studied-sperm whales and fin whales-and that makes the tanning necessary.


Scientists discover new bat species in West Africa
(September 3, 2013) — Biologists have discovered five new species of bats in West Africa. … > full story


Soot suspect in mid-1800s Alps glacier retreat
(September 2, 2013) — Scientists have uncovered strong evidence that soot, or black carbon, sent into the air by a rapidly industrializing Europe, likely caused the abrupt retreat of mountain glaciers in the European Alps. … > full story


I’ll Tell You Why I Love Birds

And Their Fate Is Our Fate tells you why we should listen to them.

By Nicholas Lund|Posted Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, at 10:00 AM

I love birds because they provide the perfect point of entry to the natural world. They’re ambassadors to places and concepts that I would otherwise be too daunted to tackle or too busy to get into. Since I’ve started following birds, I’ve been to just about every type of habitat this country offers: from Southern bayous to the California desert; from the Illinois prairie into the rolling waves of the Atlantic, Pacific, and the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve learned that “nature” doesn’t begin and end at national park boundaries—the rarest bird I’ve ever discovered came into my view after I took a wrong turn in a housing development—but rather it’s a much more integral part of our lives. Instead of trying to block time to enjoy the natural world, birders learn to tune in to the natural world that’s always around them. I’m birding whenever I am outside or, failing that, wherever there’s a window. ..






Novel method to identify suitable new homes for animals under threat from climate change
(September 5, 2013) — Scientists have devised a novel method to identify suitable new
homes for animals under threat from climate change. Almost half of all bird and amphibian species are believed to be highly vulnerable to extinction from climate change. …
“Our work shows that assisted colonisation may be the only way to guarantee the survival of this unique species under climate change,” Dr Chauvenet added. Translocations will continue to be an important part of conservation as climate changes. ZSL’s novel method shows how these interventions can be planned to be successful even under the influence of a changing environment. The method can be applied to any species threatened by climate change, and is likely to contribute to the success of future translocations….full story


The Bureau of Land Management Silver State hotshot crew fights the southern flank of the Rim Fire. Containment increased to 35 percent, but the 2-week-old blaze grew rapidly. Photo: Mike McMillan, Associated Press

Fire in Yosemite offers forest management lessons

Peter Fimrite SF Chronicle Updated 12:14 am, Sunday, September 1, 2013

Stanislaus National Forest, Tuolumne County — The danger of catastrophic fire was already clear to Scott Stephens when flames erupted almost on cue and chased his team of UC Berkeley researchers out of the Stanislaus National Forest. The enormous Rim Fire, which started on Aug. 17 and has now blackened 343 square miles of forest in and around Yosemite National Park, was almost licking at his heels.

“I was thinking before the fire that if we ever get a fire in here, most of the old trees will be killed,” said Stephens, the university’s chief fire science expert. “I think that has happened.”

The Rim Fire, now the largest fire in recorded Sierra Nevada history, is a treasure trove of information for scientists studying the effects of forest management techniques. That’s because it burned through a variety of different landscapes, including chaparral-covered canyons, newly planted tree plots, previously burned areas and dense forests.

The key question is what happened on Aug. 22 and 23, when a 200-foot wall of flames burned almost 90,000 acres. “Almost half of this very, very large fire happened in just two days,” said Max Moritz, a fire scientist at the UC Berkeley Cooperative Extension. “If you are a scientist, that is very interesting.”

Big increase in tree density

A large part of the answer may be found in Stephens’ interrupted expedition. His four-person research team was in the process of measuring tree diameters and densities on 15,000 acres that had been studied by the U.S. Forest Service in 1911. The group found as many as 400 trees per acre on the land. That’s compared with between 60 and 90 trees per acre in 1911. There was also between 30 and 40 tons of woody debris per acre on the forest floor, compared with 6 to 8 tons 92 years ago, Stephens said. Besides the dramatic increase in tree density, the researchers found more undergrowth species and, although there were still many old growth trees, the average size of the trees was smaller than in 1911, he said. “We know the last fire in that area was in about 1905. That’s 100 years without fire,” Stephens said. “If you don’t clear trees and brush and do some prescribed burning, you are eventually going to get a very closed forest that is very dense.” Fires have historically been common in California, where burning actually prompts many native plants and trees to release more seeds. American Indians used to purposely set fires in an effort to clear out excess brush and prompt new growth, but the large trees normally survived. Experts say many areas of California, where fires used to burn every 10 or 15 years, are now more vulnerable to catastrophic fire because the forests are overgrown.

Intense fires kill big trees

High-intensity fires generally kill the big trees, which Stephens said is why forest thinning, prescribed burns, chipping of excess wood and other forest management techniques are necessary. “All those things would reduce tree mortality in wildfires,” he said. “It is something that could probably reduce mortality in fires by 50 percent.” The problem is that thinning is difficult in places where there are towns, utility corridors, highways and timber interests blocking the way, and tree thinning and brush-clearing operations are expensive. “We end up in court a lot on these projects because, lets face it, people don’t like chainsaws,” said Hugh Safford, a forest service vegetation and fire ecologist. As it is, Stephens fears the 350- to 500-year-old Douglas fir, sugar and ponderosa pine trees he documented in the research area were incinerated. Logging, fire suppression and a lack of management over the years all played a role in the Rim Fire, experts say, but there are several other factors that contributed to the disaster, including strong winds and extremely dry conditions. Forest service officials said the fire started under windy conditions in a chaparral-covered canyon near Groveland, burned over steep terrain into the area where Stephens was conducting his research and then went wild, climbing up the tree canopy and tripling in size. The fire scorched tens of thousands of acres in the Stanislaus forest that had previously burned in 1987. That area was replanted with ponderosa pines, Safford said, but most of the plots had not been thinned.”The Forest Service was slowly trying to reduce the density, but when you drove through that area you could see that had not happened in a large area, probably less than 10 percent,” Safford said. “It’s sad to have so many trees regenerate and then have them killed in another fire.”

Slowed at Yosemite line

The speed and intensity of the fire slowed dramatically when it crossed the Yosemite boundary on Aug. 23 because, experts believe, the National Park Service has a policy of allowing lightning-caused fires to burn out. Fuel densities in the Yosemite area are much lower than in the Stanislaus, officials said, because several fires have burned through the area, including 1996’s 47,000-acre Ackerson fire, near Hetch Hetchy. “The whole west side of Yosemite National Park is a mosaic of managed fire,” Safford said. In that way, “Yosemite is the world’s best experimental landscape.”

Climate change

Scientists have long predicted an increase in fire intensity and frequency in California as a result of climate change. The Rim Fire is one of a higher-than-average number of wildfires in the past two years. The worst year on record was in 2008, when 6,255 fires burned nearly 1.6 million acres in California. Fire behavior analysts say the conditions this year are eerily similar to the way they were then. “It is hard to point to any two or three years in a row and say, gosh, this is due to climate change, but the conditions now have a lot of characteristics of what we would expect from climate change,” Moritz said. “We are seeing some record-breaking fire years.” There will undoubtedly be a lot of debate over causes and solutions as scientists study the Rim Fire, but fire will always be a part of California’s future and, Stephens said, lessons must be learned. “We do really expect more fire in California because of climate change,” Stephens said. “The question is, can we do treatments today that will basically set the system up so that when fires do burn, their impact will be reduced? The answer to that is, yes we can.”


Rim Fire becomes third largest in California history

 – ‎September 7, 2013‎


According to a report from the AFP, the Rim Fire has become the third largest wildfire in California history. The fire has grown to 385 square miles, but firefighters now have it 80 percent contained….


Yosemite blaze blamed on hunter’s illegal fire – USA Today

USA Today September 5, 2013- The 19-day-old fire is 80% contained but won’t be fully under control until Sept. 20.


Yosemite fire displaces grazing ranch animals – San Francisco Chronicle

September 2, 2013 Vivian Ho SF Chronicle

For decades, the crisp air, natural water sources and abundant vegetation of Stanislaus National Forest have served as idyllic grazing land for grass-fed cattle in the summer months. About 4,000 cows were ranging there when the Rim Fire ignited Aug. 17. Now, as the fire continues to spread over more than 200,000 acres, ranch hands are scrambling to find what’s left of their herds – dead, wounded or unscathed. With large numbers believed to be dead, and the near future of grazing in the forest up in the air, the cattle industry is another victim of the massive blaze on the west edge of Yosemite. “They go out every day, gathering the cows they can find, the ones that have made it into the green areas,” said Susan Forbes, a national forest staffer. “They’re finding pockets of livestock and concentrating on removing them as fast as they can.” When the fire struck, many ranches located nearby were able to evacuate, often with the help of volunteers offering trucks, trailers and temporary land for displaced animals. But for those with permits to bring cattle into the national forest, moving them is laborious and time-consuming. The cattle are scattered over thousands of acres. Few ranchers had enough warning – or resources – to get up to the mountains and move livestock. Forbes said 12 of 36 grazing areas in the park were affected…..


Green Column

Wildfires and Climate Change

By KATE GALBRAITH NY Times September 4, 2013

Incursions by humans into forests, coupled with climate change, will make fires bigger and more destructive, with implications for air quality as well as homes and infrastructure. … Humans are often responsible for starting the fires, accidentally or intentionally; some spin out of control. The suppression of smaller fires can lead to buildups of burnable brush that can feed a huge, destructive blaze when it is sparked. That is true of the California blaze and many others in the American West; it is also what has happened in significant recent blazes in Turkey…. And climate change, to which humans contribute, is heating up and drying out some — though not all — areas. Global studies of wildfire patterns are rare. But a paper published last year in the journal Ecosphere predicted that climate change would have an effect on wildfires that varies widely, especially in accordance with a given region’s precipitation patterns. The paper — which focused on climate change but not other variables, like changing land management — projected that dry parts of the middle latitudes and Australia are likely to see more fires over the long term. The American West, already a tinderbox, will become more fire-prone. So, too, will high-latitude areas, the study found, partly because the carbon-rich peat soil there will burn under extreme weather conditions. The pattern of increased wildfires by the end of this century appears “clear for temperate and northern regions of the world, and it is most striking for the boreal forests/taiga and tundra biomes,” the paper stated. ….


Yosemite fire lesson: Cut risk with biomass energy

Julia Levin SF Chronicle Opinion Published 5:04 pm, Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Rim Fire is a sad reminder that wildfires are a growing threat to public health, safety and the water and power supplies for large parts of California. California can significantly reduce those risks by investing in small, sustainable forest biomass facilities that would use green waste to create renewable energy. …..Seven of the 10 worst fires on record in California have occurred since 2000, and the Rim Fire is one of the worst yet. In recent years, wildfires in California have affected an average of more than 900,000 acres per year and cost taxpayers $1.2 billion annually in fire suppression and forest restoration efforts. The effects of these wildfires are devastating. They threaten lives, homes and businesses. They also have enormous impacts on public health from the smoke, soot and other emissions. The Rim Fire has emitted approximately 30 million tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the annual emissions from 5 million cars. A severe fire season can emit as much carbon as the annual emissions from the state’s entire transportation or energy sector.
Rather than letting California’s forests go up in smoke, we can dramatically reduce the risk of wildfire and produce clean, renewable energy in its place.
… The CPUC must work with the California Department of Forests and Fire to ensure that the program is environmentally sustainable. The Rim Fire makes very clear that doing nothing will cost ratepayers and the public far more than taking steps now to reduce the costs and impacts of catastrophic wildfires. Accelerating the development of small-scale forest biomass facilities is one of the most important steps California can take….




Research Cites Role of Warming in Extremes

By KENNETH CHANG NY Times September 6, 2013

In examining a dozen extreme weather events last year, scientists found evidence that human activity was a partial culprit in about half….The articles’ editors likened climate change to someone habitually driving a bit over the speed limit. Even if the speeding itself is unlikely to directly cause an accident, it increases the likelihood that something else — a wet road or a distracting text message — will do so and that the accident, when it occurs, will be more calamitous. Even when global warming contributes to extreme weather, “natural variability can still be the primary factor in any individual extreme event,” the editors wrote. To examine causes of the Midwest drought last year, the most severe since the 1950s, researchers ran computer models comparing two situations: one with present-day concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, the other with the much lower greenhouse gas concentrations before the Industrial Revolution. They found little difference in the frequency of Midwest droughts. But scientists performing a similar comparison for the heat wave that blanketed much of the United States in July last year estimated that such heat waves now occur four times as frequently because of the influence of greenhouse gas emissions.


Assessing the Role of Global Warming in Extreme Weather of 2012

By ANDREW C. REVKIN Dot Earth NY Times September 6, 2013

Scientists find strong evidence of a greenhouse role in extreme heat and shifted odds of storm surges, but say most extreme weather is driven mainly by natural variability.



Global warming has increased risk of record heat
(September 5, 2013) — Researchers calculate that intense heat like that in the summer of 2012 is up to four times more likely to occur now than in pre-industrial America, when there was much less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. … > full story


Predicting Fish Habitats Months In Advance With New Ocean Forecast

August 31, 2013

Image Credit:

As meteorological science advances, we have all become used to long-term weather forecasts, such as predicting what the coming winter might bring. A new study from the University of Washington and federal scientists, however, has developed the first long-term forecast of conditions that matter for Pacific Northwest fisheries. “Being able to predict future phytoplankton blooms, ocean temperatures and low-oxygen events could help fisheries managers,” said Samantha Siedlecki, a research scientist at the UW-based Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. “This is an experiment to produce the first seasonal prediction system for the ocean ecosystem. We are excited about the initial results, but there is more to learn and explore about this tool – not only in terms of the science, but also in terms of its application,” she said. The prototype was launched in January of this year. When it immediately predicted low oxygen this summer off the Olympic coast, people scoffed. However, some skeptics began to take the new tool more seriously when an unusual low-oxygen patch developed off the Washington coast in July. The prototype has predicted the low-oxygen trend will continue, becoming worse in the coming months. “We’re taking the global climate model simulations and applying them to our coastal waters,” said Nick Bond, a UW research meteorologist and Washington’s state climatologist. “What’s cutting edge is how the tool connects the ocean chemistry and biology.”


The oceans are acidifying at the fastest rate in 300 million years. How worried should we be?

By Brad Plumer, Published: August 31 at 10:30

The world’s oceans are turning acidic at what’s likely the fastest pace in 300 million years. Scientists tend to think this is a troubling development. But just how worried should we be, exactly?


It’s a question marine experts have been racing to get a handle on in recent years. Here’s what they do know: As humans keep burning fossil fuels, the oceans are absorbing more and more carbon-dioxide. That staves off (some) global warming, but it also makes the seas more acidic — acidity levels have risen 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution. There’s reason for alarm here: Studies have found that acidifying seawater can chew away at coral reefs and kill oysters by making it harder to form protective shells. The process can also interfere with the food supply for key species like Alaska’s salmon. But it’s not fully clear what this all adds up to. What happens if the oceans keep acidifying and water temperatures keep rising as a result of global warming? Are those stresses going to wipe out coral reefs and fisheries around the globe, costing us trillions (as one paper suggested)? Or is there a chance that some ecosystems might remain surprisingly resilient?….


Climate Change Threatens Caribbean’s Water Supply

ABC News

 – ‎ September 5, 2013‎


Experts are sounding a new alarm about the effects of climate change for parts of the Caribbean – the depletion of already strained drinking water throughout much of the region.


Climate Change Doubles Likelihood of Sandy-Level Floods in NYC


September 6, 2013


Climate Central — As the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy approaches, a new study points to the rapidly escalating risk of Sandy-magnitude flooding events in the New York City…

NOAA: Warming-Driven Sea Level Rise To Make Sandy-Type Storm Surges The Norm On East Coast

Posted: 05 Sep 2013 02:56 PM PDT

A new study by NOAA researchers finds future Hurricane Sandy level inundation will become commonplace in the future under business-as-usual sea level rise projections. NOAA’s news release for the report “Explaining Extreme Events of 2012 from a Climate Perspective” summarizes the key finding:

The record-setting impacts of Sandy were largely attributable to the massive storm surge and resulting inundation from the onshore-directed storm path coincident with high tide. However, climate-change related increases in sea level have nearly doubled today’s annual probability of a Sandy-level flood recurrence as compared to 1950. Ongoing natural and human-induced forcing of sea level ensures that Sandy-level inundation events will occur more frequently in the future from storms with less intensity and lower storm surge than Sandy



Climate change likely to steer away Sandy-like superstorms, study says

Scientists predict stronger storms but say changing air patterns will prevent them from hitting US east coast

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Monday 2 September 2013 15.00 EDT

Satellite image of Superstorm Sandy hitting the US east coast last year. In future, warming temperatures will push such storms further offshore, but scientists warn ‘US remains at risk and shouldn’t drop guard.’ Photograph: Nasa/Getty Images

A recurrence of Superstorm Sandy – which barrelled head-on into the Atlantic coast, swamping New York City and large parts of New Jersey – is less likely under climate change, new research suggests. Scientists expect stronger hurricanes under climate change, and possibly even more frequent storms – especially those at category 3 and higher. But New York City and much of the seaboard will be at lower risk of taking a direct hit, the study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said. Instead, climate change will make it even less likely future storms will follow Sandy’s devastating track. The killer storm made a sharp left turn to slam straight into the Atlantic coast. The odds of a storm like Sandy were already extremely remote – a once in 700 year event – when it hit in October 2012. But it was that trajectory that made Sandy so devastating.

“What made Sandy so different was that it was steered into the coast rather than away from it,” said Elizabeth Barnes, a climate scientist at Colorado State University and an author of the study.

The researchers used climate models, based on a tripling of greenhouse gas emissions by 2100, to study whether future atmospheric conditions be more or less likely to blow a storm like Sandy westwards into the Atlantic coast. They found future air patterns under climate change make a repeat of such a rare event even less likely. Wind and atmospheric conditions, including changes in the jet stream, would be more likely to push major storms further offshore, away from the big population centres along the Atlantic coast, the researchers found. But, the researchers warned, the findings do not mean Americans can afford to be blasé about the risks to coastal areas from hurricanes and tropical storms. “You can’t let your guard down,” said Barnes. New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, earlier this year outlined a $19.5bn (£12.5bn) plan to protect the city from future Sandy-like catastrophes. Such precautions are still necessary say the scientists who caution that their study only looked at the tracking patterns of hurricanes – and not their frequency and intensity which are expected to increase.

There is abundant evidence from that hurricanes are growing more powerful – and inflicting more damage because of climate change. Warmer temperatures generate bigger storms, with stronger winds and heavier rainfall, and over a greater swathe of territory. Sea-level rise leaves coastal cities more at risk from storm surges. A study last July by a scientist listed as an editor on Barnes’s paper – the MIT researcher Kerry Emanuel – also found there would be an increase in those major hurricanes under climate change, with up to 20 additional hurricanes and tropical storms every year by the end of the century. But it is less clear where those storms would hit…..


Increased greenhouse gases and aerosols have similar effects on rainfall
(September 1, 2013) — Although greenhouse gases and aerosols have very distinct properties, their effects on spatial patterns of rainfall change are surprisingly similar, according to new research. … > full story


Air pollution worsened by climate change set to be more potent killer in the 21st century
(September 4, 2013) — This century, climate change is expected to induce changes in air pollution, exposure to which could increase annual premature deaths by more than 100,000 adults worldwide. Scientists urge, in the face of future climate change, stronger emission controls to avoid worsening air pollution and the associated exacerbation of health problems, especially in more populated regions of the world. … > full story


Spread of crop pests threatens global food security as Earth warms
(September 1, 2013) — A new study has revealed that global warming is resulting in the spread of crop pests towards the North and South Poles at a rate of nearly 3 kilometers a year. The study shows a strong relationship between increased global temperatures over the past 50 years and expansion in the range of crop pests. … > full story

Daniel P. Bebber, Mark A. T. Ramotowski, Sarah J. Gurr. Crop pests and pathogens move polewards in a warming world. Nature Climate Change, 2013; DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1990

Crop Pests Moving North Fast

Sep 1, 2013 01:00 PM ET // by Larry O’Hanlon Discovery

Pests that attack the plants humanity relies on for food have been creeping poleward at an average rate of almost 2 kilometers (3 miles) each year for the last 50 years, according to a new study of hundreds of harmful organisms in the journal Nature Climate Change. The primary cause of the spread of the insects, fungi and viruses is humans transporting them with crops and farming equipment, but the broad swath of species moving poleward also appears to be riding on the back of global warming, which is making it possible for those pests to take root in places that were just too cold in bygone times, say the researchers. In all, 612 crop pests and pathogens were investigated by the University of Exeter’s Daniel Bebber, Sarah Gurr and Mark Ramotowski of University of Oxford. This is the first study of so many pests — including fungi, bacteria, viruses, viroids, water molds, insects and nematodes — to look for a climate-related trend. What they found was that the average poleward shift was 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles) per year since 1960, with significant differences among the pests. There were a few nematodes and viruses that were moving the other way, but they were in the minority. The danger the pests pose is alarming because most of the largest crops grown in the world today are not really up for a fight against new pathogens, explained Gurr, who is a fungi researcher. “In the process of boosting food production we have also created vast monocultures of, for instance, wheat,” said Gurr. “These genetically limited plants are very vulnerable.”..


Bringing coral reefs back from the brink
(September 3, 2013) — Shocks caused by climate and seasonal change could be used to aid recovery of some of the world’s badly-degraded coral reefs, scientists have proposed. Marine scientists suggest that it may be possible to restore living coral cover to a badly-degraded reef system — though not easy. … > full story


Global warming in one unmistakably compelling chart

By Jason Samenow, Published: September 4 at 10:40 amE-mail the writer

If you have any doubt the balance of the globe has warmed over the last century, view this chart:


Produced by NASA, the chart illustrates how temperatures have compared to “normal” (or the 1951-1980 average) from 1880 to present, from pole to pole (-90 latitude to 90 latitude). From the 1880 to the 1920s, blue and green shades dominate the chart, signaling cooler than normal temperatures in that era.  Then, from the 1930s to the 1970s, warmer yellow, oranges, and reds shades ooze in, balancing the cooler shades. But since the 1970s, the blue and green shades rapidly erode and oranges and reds take over, dramatically.

The rapid warming at the northern high latitudes especially jumps out in recent decades, reflecting “Arctic amplification” or more intense warming in the Arctic.  Although the warming is most pronounced up north, it is apparent at almost every latitude. (And yes, you can even sense the much discussed slow-down in the rate of warming over the last 10-20 years as the coverage of oranges and reds has remained pretty static) Of course, it is widely accepted the Earth has warmed in the last century.  Or, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put it in 2007, the warming of the climate system is “unequivocal.” But even as the debate has moved on from whether warming has occurred to the effects, there remain some doubters.  Show them this this chart – it packs an incredible amount of data into one tidy, irrefutable visual.



Pacific flights create most amount of ozone
(September 4, 2013) — The amount of ozone created from aircraft pollution is highest from flights leaving and entering Australia and New Zealand, a new study has shown. The findings could have wide-reaching implications for aviation policy as ozone is a potent greenhouse gas with comparable short-term effects to those of carbon dioxide. … > full story


Wheat research indicates rise in mean temperature would cut yields
(September 4, 2013) — Wheat producers know that growing a healthy, high-yielding wheat crop takes skill and hard work. Quality drought-tolerant varieties that are resistant to pests and disease are important. And cooperation from Mother Nature in terms of temperature and precipitation doesn’t hurt, either. To quantify the impact of genetic improvement in wheat, disease and climate change over a 26-year period, researchers examined wheat variety yield data from Kansas performance tests, along with location-specific weather and disease data. … > full story


For The Climate, It Matters When And Where You Fly

Posted: 05 Sep 2013 01:38 PM PDT

As fall begins its descent, and people start pulling sweaters out from the backs of closets, the sun-seekers among us are already online browsing flights to warmer climes. For the climate conscious, flying has always been a guilty pleasure, but now research from MIT may help those bitten by the travel bug avoid the most climate polluting flights.

Out of 83,000 flight routes studied by the researchers from MIT’s aeronautics department, flights to and from Australia and New Zealand in October were guilty of creating the highest amounts of a potent global warming pollutant – tropospheric ozone. Tropospheric ozone is created when nitrogen oxides, released during the burning of jet fuel, react with carbon monoxide and other chemicals in the presence of sunlight. The area around the Solomon Islands in the Pacific was found to be the most sensitive to airplane emissions. Here, just 1 kilogram of nitrogen oxide emissions can cause an additional 15 kilograms of tropospheric ozone annually.
A flight from Sydney to Mumbai results in an extra 25,000 kilograms of tropospheric ozone. This isn’t the first research to recommend rerouting certain flight paths. Last December, researchers from Stanford published data showing how flying around, rather than over the Arctic could help preserve precious climate stabilizing polar ice for a bit longer, buying the world more time. While skirting the Arctic would increase the total amount of fuel burned, the researchers argued that it would mean that aviation emissions would be dumped in a less stable part of the atmosphere where precipitation would quickly wash climate-damaging black carbon out of the air…..







Obama’s Stealth War on Global Warming

National Journal

September 4, 2013


Written by

Coral Davenport


As President Obama tries to fight global warming without any backing from a gridlocked Congress, he’s using every weapon in his executive arsenal….


UN Chief Scientist Urges Action On Climate Change: ‘We Have Five Minutes Before Midnight’

Posted: 03 Sep 2013 05:59 AM PDT

Rajendra Pachuari, head of the United Nation’s group of climate scientists, said on Monday that humanity can no longer be content kicking the can down the road when it comes to climate change. “We have five minutes before midnight,” he emphasized. “We may utilize the gifts of nature just as we choose, but in our books the debits are always equal to the credits. May I submit that humanity has completely ignored, disregarded and been totally indifferent to the debits? Today we have the knowledge to be able to map out the debits and to understand what we have done to the condition of this planet.” The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which Pachuari heads, is slated to release its long-awaited Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) later this month. Drafts of the report seen by Reuters point to an even greater certainty that humans are the primary drivers of global warming, “It is at least 95 percent likely that human activities — chiefly the burning of fossil fuels — are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.” This is up from 90 percent in the 2007 report, 66 percent in 2001 and just over 50 percent in 1995, “steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame.”…


USDA Seeks Input on Greenhouse Gas/Carbon Sequestration Report
The Climate Change Program Office of the USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist has released a draft report outlining scientific methods for measuring greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) – and carbon storage – on entities such as farms and ranches. The report, titled “Science-Based Methods for Entity-Scale Quantification of Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks from Agriculture and Forestry Practices,” is available online and open for public comment. The objective of the report is to create a standard set of GHG estimation methods for use by USDA, landowners, and other stakeholders to assist them in evaluating the GHG impacts of their management decisions. To read the full report click here.


Weather and Violence


Researchers are quantifying the causal relationship between extreme climate and human conflict.



Al Gore’s Incredible Shrinking Climate Change Footprint

The former vice president set out to create the Apple Computer of climate change. From a sweeping, expensive “blitz” to a “niche” effort in digital media.

September 3, 2013 at 10:54pm EDT

Evan McMorris-Santoro, Ruby Cramer , BuzzFeed Staff

Illustration by John Gara / BuzzFeed; Joe Raedle / Getty Images; Saul Loeb / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Last January, Al Gore took a boatload of scientists, donors, and celebrities to Antarctica to talk about climate change. Richard Branson, James Cameron, Ted Turner, Tom Brokaw, and Tommy Lee Jones joined more than 100 other paying guests — Gore’s handpicked best and brightest — on the National Geographic Explorer, an ice-class 367-foot cruise ship, to see “up close and personal” the effects of a warming planet, courtesy of the former vice president’s environmental nonprofit, the Climate Reality Project. Singer Jason Mraz, another passenger aboard Gore’s Antarctic voyage, would later describe the trip on his blog as “a kind of floating symposium, much like the TED Talks series.” Back in the more populated areas of the world, climate change activists snickered. The trip, and the Climate Reality Project, drew headlines but did little, they said privately, to affect the movement Gore hoped to revolutionize when he founded the group in 2006. In the years since the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth and the Nobel Peace Prize that followed made Gore the number-one climate change advocate in the world, the activist group he created with his fame has been steadily shrinking, as has its once-lofty mandate: to create a new nonpartisan global movement around climate change. The numbers, according to a review of the nonprofit’s tax filings, show the change has been severe. In 2009, at its peak, Gore’s group had more than 300 employees, with 40 field offices across 28 states, and a serious war chest: It poured $28 million into advertising and promotion, and paid about $200,000 in lobbying fees at the height of the “cap and trade” energy bill fight on Capitol Hill. ….


….Chapter 3.” From the embers of the lobbying effort came a smaller, less ambitious Alliance. The group that had planned to bring revolution to climate change advocacy instead sought out a smaller part of the existing movement. “We saw as our niche to bring together leaders in the advertising and social media and marketing worlds from some of the world’s most innovative companies,” Stiles said. The former top official said it was an end to the broad ambitions. “Everyone hunkered down and stopped going for the moonshots,” the former official said. Gore himself took a step back, as his involvement was seen as politicizing in a way that it hadn’t at the outset, when his documentary was an international hit. The smaller operation has drawn less interest from the national media — and even from some of the group’s own early backers. Susie Tompkins Buell, a California-based Democratic donor and one of Hillary Clinton’s closest friends, seeded $5 million in 2007 to the organization, but now says she hasn’t “followed it very much” or contributed since. Buell cited her admiration for Gore — for “sticking with it,” she said in an interview by phone — but acknowledged her frustration at the lack of progress from the group, and the climate movement on the whole. (Last year, she notably declined to contribute to Obama’s reelection campaign because, she said, he had not been “vocal enough” on environmental issues.) “I don’t regret doing it,” Buell said of her initial donation. “I think, honestly, we were all very naïve. We thought this would catch on. I really felt with the right media, with everything in place, we could really bring this problem to the forefront and really solve it.” The Gore group’s current era, Stiles said, is focused on a “lean, mean machine” — but practically, that means an organization that is spending less, raising less, and employing fewer people. ….



GGNRA managers unleash dog-walking rules

Peter Fimrite SF Chronicle Updated 11:15 pm, Friday, September 6, 2013

The decades-old imbroglio over dog walking on Bay Area parkland cropped up again Friday when the National Park Service loosened some proposed restrictions and tightened others for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, prompting a new round of grumbling and growling.

The preferred alternative in the latest revision of the federal dog management plan would add more leashed areas to the GGNRA and let dogs run free in new areas of Fort Funston and Fort Mason. But it maintains most provisions of the original plan, which outraged canine advocates. ….Recreation area officials said the changes are needed because of a dramatic increase in the number of visitors and, as a result, conflicts over the past two decades. Some naturalists and bird-watchers have also complained about dogs trampling vegetation, frightening birds and harassing wildlife.







The Leadership Summit is organized annually by the U.S. Water Alliance’s Urban Water Sustainability Council.  Through this Leadership Summit the Council seeks to connect the dots among water, land use, parks, forests, transportation, energy, and other sectors around a goal of revitalizing cities with multi-benefit projects that produce triple bottom-line results.




The San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve  is excited to announce this upcoming workshop! 
Project Design and Evaluation
September 23-24, 2013  9:00am – 5:00pm both days

The Project Design and Evaluation course provides coastal resource management extension and education professionals with the knowledge, skills, and tools to design and implement projects that have measurable impacts on the audience they want to reach. This interactive curriculum can help you increase the effectiveness of your projects by applying valid instructional design theory to their design. For more information or to register, click here.  Course Instructed by NOAA Coastal Services Center 



Building Business Resilience to Climate Change: Entergy

Join us for a Webinar on September 11 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT Space is limited.

Reserve your Webinar seat now at:

This webinar will take a detailed look at resilience planning in the electric power sector.  Jeff Williams will discuss strategies and opportunities for building a more resilient business at Entergy and among communities along the Gulf Coast.


Building Business Resilience to Climate Change: Weyerhaeuser

Join us for a Webinar on September 25.  Time: 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT Reserve your Webinar seat now at:

This webinar will take a detailed look at resilience planning at one of the world’s leading forestry companies.   Sara Kendall will discuss Weyerhaeuser’s strategic initiatives, opportunities, and challenges for building resilience to the impacts of a changing climate on forestry and land use.



Analytical Frameworks for Wetland and Riparian Buffers in Agricultural Settings

October 4, 2013 8:30 – 5:00

Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve  Including field site training at ALBA’s Triple M Ranch, Las Lomas;  Carlie Henneman- POINT BLUE CONSERVATION SCIENCE, Dale Huss, Marc Los Huertos, and Paul Robins, Instructors

This one-day workshop trains participants in how to improve their analyses in consideration of the use of buffers for wetland and riparian areas in agricultural settings.  During an in-depth field training session , participants will also have opportunities to discuss farming operations and buffers with Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA) affiliated Francisco Serrano (Serrano Organic Farm), Hector Mora (Hector’s Organic Farm), and Guilebaldo Nuñez (Nuñez Farms) as well as Kaley Grimland- ALBA’s Triple M Ranch Wetland Restoration Project Manager.  To register and for more information:



Quivira Conference 2013– Inspiring Adaptation
Wednesday, November 13 – Friday, November 15, 2013 Registration Deadlines: November 5, 2013
“The Westerner is less a person than a continuing adaptation. The West is less a place than a process.” – Wallace Stegner

From prehistoric times to the present, human societies have successfully adapted to the challenges of a changing West, including periods of severe drought, limitations created by scarce resources and shifting cultural and economic pressures. Now, the American West is entering an era of unprecedented change brought on by new climate realities, which will test our capacity for adaptation as well as challenge the resilience of the region’s native flora and fauna. It is therefore paramount that we find and share inspiring ideas and practical strategies that help all of the region’s inhabitants adapt to a rapidly changing world.  We will hear from scientists, ranchers, farmers, conservationists, urban planners and others who have bright ideas and important tools to share from their adaptation toolbox.



Date CHANGED! : Rangeland Coalition Summit 2014 January 21-22, 2014 Oakdale, CA
Please note that the dates have been changed for the 9th Annual California Rangeland Conservation Coalition Summit to be hosted at the Oakdale Community Center. Mark your calendar for January 21-22, 2014, more details will be coming soon! The planning committee will have a conference call on September 11 at 9:00 AM to start planning for the event. If you are interested in serving on the planning committee or being a sponsor please contact Pelayo Alvarez:



The Ecological Society of America, American Geophysical Union, and US Geological Survey are co-sponsors of the upcoming

Soil Science Society of America ecosystems services conference–abstracts are now being invited and are due by 12/1/2013.

March 6-9, 2014 Sheraton Grand Hotel, Sacramento, CA

Purpose of Conference:  Soils provide provisioning and regulating ecosystem services relevant to grand challenge areas of 1) climate change adaptation and mitigation, 2) food and energy security, 3) water protection, 4) biotechnology for human health, 5) ecological sustainability, and 6) slowing of desertification. The purposes of this conference will be to evaluate knowledge strengths and gaps, encourage cross-disciplinary synergies to accelerate new learning, and prioritize research needs.

More info is available here:



99th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America
Sacramento, California  August 10-15, 2014

Call for Proposals– Symposia, Organized Oral Sessions, and Organized Poster Sessions

Deadline for Submission: September 26, 2013





NOAA Climate Program Office Releases FY14 –Federal Funding Opportunity

NOAA is accepting individual applications for nine competitions organized around the Climate Program Office’s Climate Observations and Monitoring; Earth System Science; Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections; and Climate and Societal Interactions (CSI) programs. Letters of intent are due by September 10, 2013; final applications are due by November 14, 2013. For the CSI programs, watch here for an FAQ and information about an informational teleconference on August 29 at 3pm eastern time to specifically discuss the letters of intent.



National Science Foundation Solicits Proposals for Water Sustainability and Climate Program

This solicitation from the seeks proposals to determine how our built water systems and our governance systems can be made more reliable, resilient, and sustainable to meet diverse needs. Successful proposals are expected to study water systems in their entirety and to enable a new interdisciplinary paradigm in water research. Projects supported under this solicitation may establish new observational sites or utilize existing observational sites and facilities already supported by NSF or other federal and state agencies. The application deadline is September 10, 2013. 
For more information, click here



NOAA Announces Solicitation for the U.S. Marine Biodiversity Observation Network
This funding opportunity invites proposals for projects that demonstrate how an operational Marine Biodiversity Observation Network could be developed for the nation by establishing one or more prototype networks in U.S. coastal waters, the Great Lakes, and the EEZ. Applications are due on December 2, 2013.

For more information, click here.





Rangeland Watershed Initiative (RWI) Coordinator – Point Blue

The RWI Coordinator assists the RWI Director by facilitating RWI operations including managing Partner Biologist hiring efforts, assisting in the development and implementation of training curricula and workshops, and managing program reporting, budgeting, scheduling, logistics and communications, among other responsibilities.  The RWI Coordinator will be based out of the Chico office.  This is a unique opportunity for the qualified candidate to play a key role in a significant conservation effort that will be a model for other rangeland management efforts nationally and globally. To apply please email resume with cover letter to by September 16th, 2013.  Please put “Rangeland Watershed Initiative Coordinator” in the subject line. For additional information about Point Blue and highlights of current programs, see



San Joaquin Valley Regional Director for Sustainable Conservation

Sustainable Conservation is seeking an experienced and entrepreneurial Regional Director to oversee our Modesto office and our initiatives in the San Joaquin Valley that seek environmental solutions that make economic sense.  The Regional Director will lead Sustainable Conservation’s new effort to find a regional solution to address the environmental impact of dairies while providing profitable revenue streams and/or avoiding costs for the industry.  In addition, the Regional Director will partner with our team on promoting on-farm practices to reduce dairies’ groundwater contamination and contribution to air pollution and on expanding our groundwater recharge initiative in the San Joaquin Valley.  This is an excellent opportunity for a strategic and collaborative professional committed to healthy environment and healthy economy in the San Joaquin Valley.  The full job description is attached and can be found at


Sierra Wildlife Ecologist (pdf)
Sierra Forest Legacy is seeking a Wildlife Ecologist to provide technical support to our forest conservation and restoration program.  Sierra Forest Legacy engages citizens, communities, and coalition members in the healthy management of Sierra Nevada forest ecosystems to protect and restore the region’s natural values and unparalleled beauty.  We apply the best practices of science, advocacy and grassroots organizing to safeguard national forest lands throughout the Sierra Nevada. The Wildlife Ecologist joins a team of science and policy experts to develop and promote science-based conservation strategies on national forests in the Sierra Nevada. The position is responsible for providing professional wildlife expertise in the protection, management, and improvement of wildlife and wildlife habitat. The position is open until filled. Review of applications begins September 23, 2013. Sierra Forest Legacy, a project of the Tides Center, Thoreau Center for Sustainability, San Francisco, California, is an equal opportunity employer. The full job announcement is available at





Solar energy: A richer harvest on the horizon
August 31, 2013) — Theoretical simulations reveal that layered semiconductors with magnetic interfaces are potent catalysts for solar energy capture and conversion. … > full story

New connection between stacked solar cells can handle energy of 70,000 suns
(September 6, 2013) — Researchers have come up with a new technique for improving the connections between stacked solar cells, which should improve the overall efficiency of solar energy devices and reduce the cost of solar energy production. The new connections can allow these cells to operate at solar concentrations of 70,000 suns’ worth of energy without losing much voltage as ‘wasted energy’ or heat. … > full story


How Bumps In The Road Can Help Replace Stops At The Gas Station

Posted: 06 Sep 2013 06:53 AM PDT

Cars are not very efficient. Lots of energy is lost as heat, noise, and friction as gears turn, brakes heat up, engines roar, and wind drags. But a new technology could transfer the bounces of a bumpy road into energy for the engine. ZF Friedrichshafen AG and Levant Power Corp. have joined together to produce the first fully-active advanced suspension system that recovers energy and directs it to charge the battery while the car is moving. The bumpier the road, the more power generated. Normal suspension systems encounter a trade-off between a smooth ride and precision handling — ZF and Levant’s design claims to achieve both. Active dampers change the pressure inside of the shock, smoothing out the ride — when there’s a lot motion from bumps, braking, and accelerating, fluid gets pushed through the pump, which drives a motor and creates electricity.







Look at all these birds that have been accused of espionage

By Andrea Peterson, Washington Post Published: September 3 at 5:18 pmE-mail the writer

Run! (Universal Pictures)

So, Egyptian authorities detained a stork on suspicions that its wildlife tracking anklet was a surveillance device. But that poor stork wasn’t the only bird to run afoul of suspicions of avian spying in recent years.

Just in July, a kestral was detained by Turkish authorities because a metal ring on its foot had the words “24311 Tel Avivunia Israel” engraved on it — prompting the residents who found the bird to turn it over to the local governor as a possible avian agent of the state of Israel. The kestral was freed after an X-ray showed that the bird was not embedded with surveillance equipment, according to local reports.

Similarly, in May of 2012 a dead common European bee-eater was suspected of engaging in espionage by Turkish locals because of an Israel stamped anklet — the locals reportedly called the local police after deciding the bird’s nostrils were unusually large and might carry microchip for Israeli surveillance. An official at the Turkish agricultural ministry reportedly told the BBC, “it took some effort to persuade local police that the little bee-eater posed no threat to national security.”

In December 2012, Sudanese officials reportedly said they had discovered an Israeli secret agent that was a vulture. They claimed the bird was fitted with GPS and solar-powered equipment capable of broadcasting images via satellite. Israeli officials acknowledged the bird had been tagged with Israeli equipment but insisted it was being used to study migration patterns, not spy on Sudan. Feathers were also ruffled in Saudi Arabia in 2011 by an endangered griffon vulture because its wildlife tracking GPS transmitter bore the name of Tel Aviv University.

And not to be left out, Iranian authorities claimed to have detained not one, but two, spy pigeons near the country’s nuclear processing plants in 2008.

Here’s a pigeon from World War I wearing a camera. (German Federal Archive) While it seems unlikely that any of these specific birds were engaged in surveillance, the Iranian case seems the most plausible because pigeons have actually been deployed in surveillance capacities before — most notably through the use of pigeon cameras to spy on military bases in the First and Second World Wars.



Gravity variations over Earth much bigger than previously thought
(September 4, 2013) — Scientists have created the highest-resolution maps of Earth’s gravity field to date — showing gravitational variations up to 40 percent larger than previously assumed. New gravity maps revealed the variations of free-fall gravity over Earth were much bigger than previously thought. … > full story



My Life as a Cellphone Holdout

Roughly 21 million adult Americans don’t own a cellphone—and they’re getting by just fine, thank you.

Gary Serovitz August 9, 2013, 5:43 p.m. ET

THIS YEAR MARKS the 40th anniversary of the first official call by a hand-held cellphone, made by Motorola, in front of reporters on the streets of New York. This week marks my 40th birthday. A few weeks after that milestone I will be buying my first cellphone. I am not doing this because of a fascination with amazing inventions from 1973, like the Bic lighter or the Iditarod. I am buying one because my wife accepted a fellowship in California, and I will need to work remotely from there when I visit her.





Why having “too little” can focus the mind

Interview by Kai Ryssdal
Marketplace for Tuesday, September 3, 2013

At first blush, there is little in common between a Harvard economics professor who’s very busy and a poor person from India, struggling to simply put food on the table. But according to Sendhil Mullainathan, the Harvard economist, what they have in common is an idea: Of scarcity. “Both of us are touching on the exact same psychology,” Mullainathan says. “There is actually something primitive that happens to the human brain when experiencing very little.” In a book he’s written, with Eldar Shafir, about this topic, called “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much,” Mullainathan says that scarcity can focus the mind. ….



Lessons from the worm: How the elderly can live an active life
(September 3, 2013) — When the tiny roundworm C. elegans reaches middle age —- at about 2 weeks old -— it can’t quite move like it did in the bloom of youth. But rather than imposing an exercise regimen to rebuild the worm’s body-wall muscles, researchers can bring the wriggle back by stimulating the animal’s neurons. And, they say, pharmaceuticals might have a similar effect in mammals. … > full story

Aging really is ‘in your head:’ Scientists answer hotly debated questions about how calorie restriction delays aging process
(September 3, 2013) — Among scientists, the role of proteins called sirtuins in enhancing longevity has been hotly debated, driven by contradictory results from many different scientists. But new research may settle the dispute. Researchers have identified the mechanism by which a specific sirtuin protein called Sirt1 operates in the brain to bring about a significant delay in aging and an increase in longevity. Both have been associated with a low-calorie diet. … > full story


Mediterranean diet is good for the mind, research confirms
(September 3, 2013) — Many pieces of research have identified a link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of age-related disease such as dementia. Scientists have carried out the first systematic review and their findings.
A Mediterranean diet typically consists of higher levels of olive oil, vegetables, fruit and fish. A higher adherence to the diet means higher daily intakes of fruit and vegetables and fish, and reduced intakes of meat and dairy products. … “Mediterranean food is both delicious and nutritious, and our systematic review shows it may help to protect the ageing brain by reducing the risk of dementia. While the link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and dementia risk is not new, ours is the first study to systematically analyse all existing evidence.”….full story


Sleep ‘regenerates brain support cells’

Medical News Today

 – ‎September 4, 2013‎


It goes without saying that we all need a good night’s sleep to feel re-energized for the day ahead. But now, researchers have found that sleep also helps to boost reproduction of the cells involved in brain repair….








Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin at odds over Syria, gays and more



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