70 years ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted the right of all to share in scientific advances. How is it working out?
Seventy years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 27 enshrines the universal right to science: Everyone has the right to share in scientific advancement and its benefits*
Many scientists are unaware that UDHR singles out science. But most would agree that sharing science is part of their work. Publishing peer-reviewed articles and contributing to the review process is embedded in our training and is an expectation. But we live in a world of inequalities, on a planet in jeopardy, where unprecedented scientific progress is pitted against political attacks on findings. It’s time for a hard look at science as a human right.
Right and Duty
The right to share in scientific advances and benefits does not stand alone. It demands duty and responsibility.
Science through the UDHR lens
Society has generally viewed science as the pursuit of knowledge by scientists and the use of that knowledge by others. “Others” include governments and the private sector Those roles blur, and not necessarily in the most effective ways.
Climate change is a stark example. In the US, scientific results are now at odds with the Administration’s policy. Last week, the White House summarily dismissed a landmark analysis compiled by 13 federal agencies. The National Climate Assessment report found that that climate change poses a severe threat to the health of Americans as well as to the nation’s infrastructure, economy and natural resources. Recent losses have included $33billion in agricultural and transportation losses in America’s Heartland during the 2012 droughts, and $17billion in electricity infrastructure in Puerto Rico during the 2017 hurricanes. Scientists, fearing for the fate of the planet and its people, are increasingly shouldering the responsibility for sharing findings and for promoting the use of scientific analysis and facts. They are necessarily becoming advocates for science and for action.
But governments face tough decisions. The US federal science program has resulted in tremendous advances through agencies like NASA where satellite technology has saved lives through forecasting and responding to extreme events. The NIH has transformed medical understanding and treatments. How much data should the US freely share and especially with countries that have few resources to allocate to science? How does the US balance the release of knowledge against other interests of its citizens or against considerations of national security?
How do we balance the right to sharing in scientific advances against intellectual property rights and address the tensions between private sector R&D and philanthropically-driven science? The private sector has responsibilities to its shareholders. The doctrine of corporate responsibility seeks to address societal responsibilities but has not gone far enough to provide a coherent or widely adopted approach. It can fall to foundations created by private sector leaders to assume responsibility for the human rights dimension. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports access to and benefits from scientific advances by implementing the studies and programs that reduce diseases in developing nations.
Scientific and governmental bodies have been exploring these issues, and they are a major topic in academia. In 2010, the American Society for the Advancement of Science recognized the human rights dimension as fundamental to its mission and began engaging scientists in defining these rights. In 2005, UNESCO began a process for defining the right to science and in 2018 released a list of 28 questions related to addressing the right to science. But clearly completing these tasks is proving to be challenging.
The UDHR was adopted three years after the atomic bombing of Japan that ended World War II. The use of science in that process is still vigorously debated. The ethical responsibility of scientists in fields such as molecular biology, biodiversity, cloning, and AI is a thorny topic. Science, if acted upon through the UDHR framework, will demand responsibility from all levels and sectors as well as vigilance and action. It is time for a more coherent understanding of what that means, what we can agree upon, and what actions we must all take together.
*UNDHR Article 27: Right to participate in cultural life. “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”
A social and environmental wake up call for corporate America: 3 Actions to take now to avoid a crisis in your company.
How Charlottesville is a larger signal to American Companies
It began with the resignation of Ken Frazier, CEO of Merck, from Trump’s Manufacturing Council over the President’s stunning remarks on the violence at rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia. It cascaded. Other CEOs followed him and within 24 hours seven had left the group.
On Wednesday, the members of the Strategic and Policy Forum, another elite industry group formed to advise the president on economic issues, agreed to self-disband. Before their announcement Trump himself eliminated both business Councils. It was a political case of, if my boyfriend’s coming over to break up with me, I’ll text him that we’re history, and tweet the breakup.
These were CEO’s who had stood by the President, remaining on the Councils even as he enacted policies that they didn’t always like. They stood by him when he pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord. They stayed during the Immigration ban even though many depend on talent from overseas. Charlottesville was a step too far. It affected Americans and on American soil.
The CEOs and companies represented on the Councils were under great pressure from their shareholders, employees and the public to take a stance, especially companies that seemed slow to respond. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi was targeted, Advocacy groups marched to the Manhattan headquarters of JP Morgan and Blackstone to deliver a petition signed by 400,000 people urging them to sever ties with the White House. Several companies scrambled to issue statements assuring the public of their corporate values.
The stunning and rapid fall out is a wake up call to Corporate America. A social-environmental accountability movement is underway that will have major consequences. Today’s is a sophisticated, globally-connected, technologically-savvy and quick to mobilize world. Consumers have spent their lives on social media where group consciousness spreads ever more quickly. Corporate ethics on social and environmental issues will be increasingly scrutinized, judged and acted upon.
This places U.S. and multi-national companies firmly in the spotlight. Some are seeing the trend. Jamie Dimon, (CEO of JPMorgan) in a recent letter to shareholders described trust as America’s secret sauce and he worries that the bottle is running dry. Companies need to pay attention. The public and shareholders will increasingly ask: Does a company live up to its own diversity policies? Does its rhetoric on environment and sustainability match its actions? Does it take measures to reduce emissions? How are its workers treated?
Companies can be proactive to reduce their social-environmental risks or they can scramble to manage the fallout. There are three actions that a prudent company can take today:
Don’t wait for the spotlight to fall on your company. If you have exposure you are already in someone’s crosshairs. It’s a matter of time before you read about yourself in the media and find that you have to respond. CEOs, executives and boards constantly tout the value of effective leadership. This is a good opportunity to put it into practice and help the company avoid a crisis.
Several peer companies have been putting social-environmental practices in place for years. For example, Levi Strauss and Unilever, both multi-national in their activities, have enacted strict standards for workplace and environment.
Design or adapt social-environmental standards and corporate policies that are smart, meaningful and strategic for your company. Good environmental and social practices do not mean poor business ones. Levi Strauss and Unilever’s profits are improved, not harmed, by their responsible practices. Take charge to adopt Company policies before less favorable ones may be imposed by the public, judges or legislation.
The current social and political upheaval gives corporations a unique opportunity. Those who embrace the trend and the mood of the public can build recognized and appealing brands that demonstrate sound financial sense while paying attention to environmental-social factors that their consumers want. But that window of opportunity is narrow. Don’t squander the limited time. Act now.
Yesterday, at three o clock, the crescendo of “Will he or won’t he? He can’t, can he? ended with “ He just did.” Surrounded by nature’s greenery and a brass band, Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord. That decision brutally ended the era of complacency, and firmly established the nouveau environmentalism
Our years of environmental complacency came, not from disinterest, but from a sense that we’d found more common ground, that our administrations were paying attention, and that leaders including some in the private sector were taking care of the environment and business. While conflicts certainly persisted, we didn’t feel compelled to rise up. The dramatic protests notable for activists spending years sitting atop ancient trees, spiking trunks slated for logging, sinking fishing boats, and other vandalisms had given way to calmer discourse.
Complacency is over.
The nouveau environmentalism that Trump in essence, if inadvertently, enshrined yesterday shares some traits of the past but has four modern features that will define us into the future.
2. New Activism and Litigation
Already, many of the Trump Administration’s environmental decisions have galvanized a new activism. Scientists, better known for staying put in their labs, are taking to the streets in protest. Environmental groups are mobilizing and litigating. Donors are quick to support them. The Center for Biological Diversity expects to file five times as many lawsuits in 2017 than in the previous year.* A recent study found that 894 climate change cases have now been filed in 24 countries, 654 of them in the United States, and with environmental groups winning most of them**. Governments have been the primary focus of litigation but that is changing. Companies and the financial institutions that support them are being increasingly targeted and this trend will continue.
Threats of investor-lawsuits and pressures on company boards are becoming commonplace. Any company that has environmental vulnerability either in the USA or internationally is probably already in someone’s crosshairs. Financial institutions too. Regulation by litigation and growing risks to institutions are contributing to a new awareness and in some cases new leadership
3. New Environmental Leadership
Leadership and consequential decisions are moving away from the federal domain. States, cities, corporations and communities are eager to show initiative and take action. Within hours of Trump’s announcement yesterday, California, New York, and Washington formed a Climate Alliance; 68 US mayors pledged to uphold the Paris agreement. Across the USA, institutions, companies and CEO's publicly vowed to continue climate change agreements. IBM released a statement showing its commitment and actions taken for the environment. The first tweet of Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs CEO, was to decry Trump’s decision to renege on the Paris agreement. Internationally, China made an agreement with California to work together on climate change, the EU and China made a similar alliance, while Putin declared Russia's support for the Paris accord.
Some companies have been pursuing sustainability for years and without much fanfare. Levi Strauss instituted global water saving initiatives to help sustain people and the planet, and they did it without cost to their bottom line. Expect these kinds of companies to showcase their efforts more and be willing to have them scrutinized.
4. Technology-based and solution oriented interventions
Today’s environmentalism is focused on interventions and solutions. We are far more willing to embrace options that are based on science and technology than ever before. It’s no longer sufficient to study the problem or leave nature alone to solve it. Whether it is renewable energy, emission-reducing technology, seeding artificial reefs, or combining ecosystems with engineering to protect coasts and purify water, we embrace the need for human intervention. Nouveau environmentalism is firmly anchored in protecting nature and the planet in order to manage transition and sustain our health, prosperity and children. This is a big shift from the past approach, and it will continue to catalyze technological innovations and investor choices.
In a brief few minutes, Trump’s announcement crystalized how environmentalism has changed and elevated it into the mainstream.
In 1916, Irish poet and Nobel laureate W.B. Yeats wrote about a small uprising that, through the bad decision of a government leader, became an independence revolution:
“All’s Changed - A Terrible Beauty is Born“
Yesterday, all changed in America and a new era was born. Welcome to the nouveau environmentalism.
* Kieran Suckling Center for Biodiversity quoted in Visalia Times Delta article by Ryan Miller April 2017 http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com/story/news/local/2017/04/20/scientists-marching-just-start/100710810/
** Study released in May 2017 by United National Environment Program, Columbia Law School's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law in New York.
All the I’ve listened as the Trump Administration asserts that rolling back environmental regulations and weakening the EPA will unburden industries and bring prosperity to communities. It won’t. Instead, it will usher in an era of regulation by litigation. We’re not entering an epoch of unregulated industry activities, as many fear. Instead, industries are headed for a period of greater uncertainty and risk, when their ability to operate and make reliable financial forecasts is threatened. Environmental groups feeling compelled to prevent what many see as disastrous actions on pollution, climate change, and energy policy are mobilizing. Communities will be caught in the middle.
Americans by and large don’t like the notion of “regulation” but they do value their environment and the health of their children. Over 70 percent of Americans want the U.S. government to act on climate change. Recent polls found that 70 percent of voters support strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants, 76 percent believe carbon dioxide should be regulated as a pollutant, and 56 percent oppose withdrawing from the Paris Treaty*. I’ve worked with communities and industries that have no time to engage in climate-change rhetoric because they are too busy trying to find solutions to its tragic impacts.
As Americans have demonstrated time and again when their core values are threatened, they act. They take their complaints to the courts.
The U.S. has a robust judicial system. It relies on evidence. That includes scientific evidence. The Daubert Standard, for instance, ensures the quality of science and scientific experts allowed in courtroom evidence. Even if politicians and agency leaders deny scientific evidence, judges cannot. Peer review trumps political ideology. Scientific results demonstrating environmental damage, threats to human health, and climate-change consequences can determine the outcome of legal battles. The fate of natural resources, industries and communities will rest heavily on decisions made in courtrooms around the country. Expect environmental groups to use the court system effectively.
Unfortunately, we’ve been here before. The bitter forestry wars that raged throughout the west coast subsided only less than a decade ago. Job losses in forestry were first attributed to overzealous environmental regulations, but it soon became clear that they were due to automation and industry changes. Conservation groups felt that agencies were not doing enough to protect natural resources. Alarmed by the rate of forest depletion and its effects on water purity, stream health, and biodiversity, they repeatedly sued agencies and the industry. Often, environmentalists won.
Litigation is expensive. Companies clearly spent many millions of dollars, although amounts were often not disclosed. The Department of Justice spent at least $46.9 million on defending the EPA alone between 1998-2010. The Department of Treasury paid an additional $15.5 million in reimbursement of plaintiffs attorney fees and costs between 2003-2010. Other agencies, such as the Department of Interior, likely had similar or higher costs
During this time, I worked in helping to resolve environmental disputes through science. I saw industries that were unprepared brought to the edge, some even going under. I worked with one landowner who actively sought to balance conservation with forestry. Banks, he explained, were reluctant to lend money that would allow him to shift to more sustainable harvests because the risk of environmental litigation made his forecasts too uncertain. If environmental regulations are impulsively rolled back, and climate-change denied, this will be our new normal. Communities will reap no benefit from having old jobs return; they almost never do. Few may know that jobs in clean energy outnumber those in fossil-fuels by 2.5 to 1 and are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy. Just as traditional forestry jobs did not rebound, neither will fossil fuel ones.
Environmental groups have hired extra lawyers in recent months, declaring that they are ready to go to court. Many are seeing increases in donations to support these efforts. The Sierra Club reported a 700 percent increase between November and February; the National Resources Defense Council received 50,000 donations in November alone. Already one suit has been filed. Last week conservation groups and the Northern Cheyenne Native American tribe of Montana sued the Administration for violating the National Environmental Policy Act when it lifted a moratorium on coal leases on federal land.
Good regulations can build community. Many companies have found that they can achieve more, reduce business costs, and establish mutual trust and cooperation when legislation is clear and incentivizes all parties.
Litigation is a divisive tool for environmental decision-making. Those of us who have been in its trenches know too well the true costs and consequences. Companies need to re-assess their risks in this new world of regulatory uncertainty, and be strategic in defending their bottom line while promoting good corporate citizenship. Several companies have already stepped-up and called on the Administration to continue America’s established leadership in environment and climate-change. Industries have a chance to act now in order to protect established trust, and forge new solutions before the courts impose them. Environmental groups are stepping into the breach, industry and government will be their certain targets.
Original published on Huffington Post as an Impact piece.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/58e40b82e4b09deecf0e1b42
Seagrasses help to protect human and coral reef health by reducing levels of disease causing pathogens
There’s a new reason to value seagrasses, and to include them in coastal restoration and mitigation- human health. Seagrasses reduce the abundance of disease causing pathogens.
Seagrasses are know as vital nurseries for commercial fish, for their abilities to maintain beach sand, and are emerging as valuable assets in the blue carbon economy. In tropical waters, like the Caribbean Islands, they are closely associated with coral reefs and sea turtles and conch. Seagrasses have been in decline globally often associated with coastal development, including marinas and dredging of their habitat for ship channels. In many States and island nations seagrass restoration has been required to mitigate damage or carried out by conservationists and or homeowners seeking to protect their property
A peer-reviewed study just published in Science* a team of scientists found that seagrass may benefits that we had not fully realized- human health.
In a peer review study recently published in Science a team of researchers found that
How can this information make a difference? Seagrass establishment can be incorporated into mitigation and restoration. For instance,
1. Seagrass Restoration in polluted areas - - Seagrass can be successfully restored- there are several methods that that proven to work. For those involved in coastal and salt pond restoration, especially in areas of runoff or that are adjacent to septic issues, adding sea grass restoration could make the difference between healthy and unhealthy waters and beaches.
2. Coral Restoration: All around the tropics communities and governments are working to restore coral reefs and to stem the loss of existing corals. Disease is a major factor in coral decline. Choosing restoration sites that are adjacent to coral reefs, or restoring seagrass adjacent to reefs could vastly increase the potential for coral recovery.
J. Lamb et al, Seagrass ecosystems reduce exposure to bacterial pathogens of humans, fishes, and invertebrates Science 17 Feb 2017: Vol. 355, Issue 6326, pp. 731-733 DOI: 10.1126/science.aal1956
A little known Act could upend environmental protection in favor of border wall construction and trigger a cascade of consequences in the US.
As a US delegation arrives in Mexico City, the 1,900-mile border wall is on everyone’s mind. Issues focus on cost -a recent report estimated it could be as high as $21.6billion- construction and who will ultimately pay. The border environment, mostly overlooked in the furor, is the wild card. It could be the most important one.
The US-Mexico border region is straddled by rich ecosystems like the Sonoran Desert and the Rio Grande Valley and is home to species that, unaware of national boundaries, move freely throughout their ranges. The US Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that building the wall will further threaten 111 endangered species and 108 migratory bird species. It will divide four wildlife reserves on the US side and several others on the Mexican side. Jaguars, bighorn sheep, ocelots, and bears are among the cross-border species at high risk.
Scientists are concerned because splitting habitats and isolating populations promote a decrease in genetic diversity associated with higher risk of diseases and epidemics. Isolation raises extinction risks due to small population size. It also creates conditions for genetic divergence between isolated populations.
There is much at stake for the border environment. Here is where I’d normally cite the Endangered Species Act, (ESA), Environmental Impact Assessments (under NEPA) and other regulations as ways to balance the needs of environment, natural resources and construction. But not so.
In 2005 the little known REAL ID Act was signed into law. Designed to govern the kinds of official IDs accepted by US government to combat terrorism, it contains a provision allowing waivers of any and all laws that interfere with construction of physical barriers at the borders, and that are necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads. Waivers are at the discretion of the Secretary for Homeland Security. ESA, NEPA, and at least 35 other environment-based statutes can be and have been waived for previous border infrastructure.
In 2007 waivers were used to speed up construction of a 35-mile wall adjacent to a Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, where multiple agencies have worked cooperatively to recover Sonoran Pronghorn, causing concern that the achievements could be undermined. In April 2008, more than 30 laws were waived to complete 450 miles of border infrastructure along Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Even if the environment is disregarded, the resulting environmental effects of a massive border wall are likely to ensnarl existing and future projects in the US, and blindside interested parties.
Decisions under laws like ESA often take account of the abundance of and threats to species and habitats in nations adjacent to the USA. A wall dramatically alters the situation, putting greater burdens on federal and state agencies to account for the resulting isolation in managing cross-border species affected by barriers. In 2014, the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a petition to delist the threatened California Gnatcatcher, arguing that the bird is not a true subspecies. The filing was based on DNA evidence indicating that gnatcatchers, which are scarce in California, are not genetically distinct from the abundant populations of gnatcatchers south of the border in Mexico. The plaintiffs argued that this warranted removing ESA protection. The bird has been a thorn in the side of developers and others in Southern California since it was listed in 1993. (It remains listed). A similarly based petition has been filed to delist the SW willow flycatcher which breeds in several border states and in Northern Mexico
Genetic similarity within populations of a species is based on an ability to move and breed freely with other individuals in the absence of a barrier. A wall can change that. In other words, a barrier will create exactly the kinds of risks that warrant listing and protections of species that become isolated. The Mexican genetic argument used goes out the window with a wall.
The REAL ID Act has been used to erect barriers along sections of the US-Mexico border without environmental review. It was never intended for such a huge project like Trump’s Wall. Environmental groups and others anticipating disastrous and undocumented environmental harm under the REAL ID Act, and fearful of greater ecological damage under the current administration are already galvanizing.
As an independent consulting scientist, I facilitated solutions to environmental wars that waged in the USA on endangered species, forestry and land use. Battles, often bitter and costly, had until now diminished from peaks reached in the early 2000s. The REAL ID Act gives almost absolute power over the fate of species and natural resources to a political appointee and that raises deep concern. The border wall may triggers a new cascade of legal and other environmental actions. Scientists and environmental lawyers need to be strategic and ready.
Reproduced with permission from Huff Post
Image: US-Mexico Border, threatened California Gnatcatcher, Sonoran Desert, Pronghorn (courtesy USGS, USFWS, R Pierwotny- desert (wikipedia).
Like many, I feel like a small item in the washing machine of change being churned around in a fast and vigorous cycle, uncertain whether I will make it through or end up as the lost sock. Anchors are hard to find. Friday’s presidential inauguration makes unprecedented uncertainty official. But the event is only part of a disorientating journey that communities have been on for decades.
As humans we need anchors. As change accelerates, familiarity disappears. Not long ago a cloud was a fluffy heart-shape in the sky. Today it is the unseen source of all data and knowledge that is everywhere and nowhere at once.
Science is one of our strongest and most steadfast anchors. Unique among all sources of information, its knowledge and facts are available and the same to everyone regardless of political beliefs or values.
Science is one of humanity’s highest achievements because it is based on the acknowledgement that humans have biases and values. Its methodologies are designed to remove these biases in order to provide the most objective and independent knowledge. Scientists constantly evaluate each others’ work, questioning the rigor of the methods, the strength of evidence in conclusions, and looking for articulation of uncertainty. They do so to ensure the standard of knowledge. We have relied and trusted this process for decades and rarely has it let us down.
When some American rivers were so polluted that they caught fire, science provided the answers for clean up that helped their communities. Rigorous scientific review prevented thalidomide from entering the US market as a treatment for pregnant women suffering from morning-sickness. Millions of babies were saved from the horrific defects suffered by European children where the drug was permitted. Thalidomide-era babies are now the age of many representatives in congress. Science does not make moral choices but it gives each of us, and our institutions, the information on which to base and evaluate moral dilemmas. Paradoxically, denying science takes away the foundation for individual and societal values.
Today we see efforts to fray away the ropes of science. Yet, what parent wants to take an ill child to the emergency room and be treated by a person in a white coat who professes to be skeptical of science-based medicine, not trained in the profession, but completely confident that they can save the child?
But if science is an anchor, it is largely invisible and misunderstood. I have been fortunate to apply my science around the world, among the highly educated and in places where high-school education is still a rarity given to few. I am always humbled by the privilege afforded me, aware of the thirst for information that people seek in times of distress, and cognizant of the responsibility I bear.
The reality is that most people aren’t scientists and haven’t spent years immersed in science’s nuances and methods. And no one makes a decision on science alone. We balance our needs and beliefs and we do the best we can. Today as our world feels upended, we are more uncertain about the actions that match our values or whether we are doing the “best we can”. As it has done in many areas from environment and human health to national security, scientific knowledge can help us navigate these times and evaluate whether our choices align with our values and our desire to do the best for our children and communities.
We are entering unchartered and turbulent waters. Science will continue to be challenged. Good scientists are needed as compassionate conduits for evidence-based knowledge – the antidote to the fear and divisions that are the dark shadow of change. Without science, societies’ morality and future are threatened. Friday is the inauguration of a new era including for scientists who must be part of America’s and the world’s guidance system.
Reproduced kindly from Huffington Post Opinion
I recently cruised through French Polynesia and the Cook Islands as an invited speaker on ocean science. Sailing into turquoise lagoons, diving on vibrant reefs, and watching whales and dolphins play—here was Paradise Found. These islands are not immune to climate change effects but I found many fewer vulnerabilities.
Like most ecological scientists, I work in distressed habitats and with communities facing tough choices about their natural and economic resources. I am used to loss being the messenger for action. But here in French Polynesia, the messenger took a new and unfamiliar form—an absence of flagrant problems. Beauty and bounty in Paradise are teaching us three lessons that we must heed today.
1. Natural luck matters.
On Bora Bora, I spent time with a guide who was leading a drift snorkel through the reef channel. As we hiked across the landscape to our entry point he described his reasons for living in the islands. Economically, including by developed-world standards, he made a good income from coral reef and nature-based tourism. His personal downtime to rejuvenate was spent surfing or offshore fishing with friends. Family time involved teaching his son to line-fish in the lagoon. This trinity of values—economics, personal well-being, and family—the very attributes that we promote as the basis of healthy individuals, communities and nations, are amply supplied here by ecosystems. There are of course other sources of social or economic benefits in the region but for many, nature is the underlying provider.
These islands are volcanic mountains surrounded by wide lagoons and fringing coral reefs. The reef-lagoon system is similar to a castle’s moat and wall, and plays a similar role defending the land from the full onslaught of the Southern Ocean. Large swells sweeping up from Antarctica continuously crash in mountains of white water on the outer fringing reefs. .
Without these fringing reefs, lagoons would vanish and shorelines erode rapidly. Corals provide a stability that has allowed communities to build houses, schools and businesses at the waters edge, and has given them easy access to the rich waters. Fertile volcanic soils, a source of high productivity, are stabilized by lush forests. The sense of abundance that permeates the islands springs from their natural legacy.
2. Don’t squander your ecological inheritance
Some places are lucky. They have the kinds of natural systems that make them less vulnerable to climate change and hazards. Others are not. The twenty-nine atolls of the Marshall Islands are tragically disappearing. Barely six-feet above sea level and most less than a mile wide, they are already feeling the sharp bite of climate change. Sea level has risen by a foot over the past 30 years, driven partly by changing trade wind patterns. The islands’ pleas for help at Paris CoP21 and since still ring in our ears. The eastern seaboard of the USA is already experiencing coastal inundations and flooding from the dual challenges of land subsidence and rising sea level.
The natural luck of places like French Polynesia can be destroyed in an instant. Around the world, poor environmental planning is rampant. There are too many ill-conceived projects, such as the ones that destroy reefs and fail to account for their roles in beach and shoreline protection. Infrastructure that lacks absorption capacity but is built on flood plains can vastly worsen the effects of rain, even causing devastating floods.
3. Understand your own environmental reality, then take action.
For three weeks, I shared the ocean’s beauty and magic with travelers who often expressed concerns for the future of our seas. At the end of the voyage, guests returned to the realities of home where they faced challenges of urbanization, environmental destruction, economic worries, socio-political upheaval; all sorts of stresses and fears, of which climate change is one more. And as stresses go, climate change is big and global, so overwhelming that people can feel compelled to ignore it, even if they’d rather not. But along with the souvenirs, selfies, and memories, the islands gave us a vital message to carry with us. By knowing our own environment we have the power to make changes that will matter. How?
Global challenges like climate change are overwhelming. We can’t solve the world’s problems alone, but we can make an important difference where we live. A trip to paradise teaches us why we should.
*I was fortunate to explore the Islands as invited expert on board MS Paul Gauguin. Views expressed are my own.
Reproduced kindly from Huffington Post
This week the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a game-changing ruling strengthening the link between climate change projections and the listing of endangered species. The decision will affect management of public and private lands. It will also transform future species’ listings, what constitutes best available science, and levels of scientific uncertainty acceptable in courtrooms.
On Monday, the justices upheld the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) to list the Beringia Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus nauticus) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The underlying basis was not an immediate threat to the seal or even declining numbers. It rested on changes to sea ice (their habitat) that are projected to occur off Alaska as far out as 2095, and based on the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) models.
The Beringia Bearded Seal lives on patches of ice floes over shallow waters in the Bering and Chuckchi Sea. They use these habitats for feeding, breeding, nursing, molting and protection against predators. In 2008 the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned NMFS to list the seals under ESA citing global warming as the primary threat.
NMFS first set out to establish the importance of ice floes as essential to the survival of the seal, and which it did using observational studies and peer review. NMFS then turned to IPCC climate change models. These project that by 2050 between 80% and 100% of summer ice floes will have disappeared during the seals’ critical life phases. NMFS examined the projections from 2050 to 2095 which show all summer ice will be gone over most of the seals’ range. Models from 2050 forward are more volatile because they can’t account for unforeseen factors (e.g. technology or policy breakthroughs). Taking all these data into account and involving two round of peer-review, NMFS determined to list the seal as a threatened Distinct Population Segment under ESA.
The State of Alaska, Oil and Gas Interests, and Native Tribes challenged NMFS decision. The 9th circuit court in San Francisco affirmed NMFS listing on the basis that the Service had used the best science available and reasonably. ESA, the justices noted, only requires best available science, not iron clad science nor at a too high a standard. Despite the volatility of climate projections from 2050-2095 the court concluded that this doesn’t deprive them of use in rule making.
The justices made a comment that may freeze many in their tracks. “Although Plaintiffs framed their arguments as challenging the long-term climate projections they seek to undermine NMFS use of climate change projections as the basis for ESA listings.” The court was having none of this. Climate-change models and projections even with uncertainties, they find, constitute the best available science.
At the end of the day this case turned on one critical question- “When NMFS determines that a species that is not presently endangered will lose its habitat due to climate change by the end of the century, may NMFS list that species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act?”
The 9th circuit court has answered with a definitive “yes”.
Reproduced with kind permission from Huffington Post. For a more indepth analysis of the science and ruling download this analysis or read it here in linkedin
Bearded Seal Image courtesy of NOAA
Preparing for Hurricane Matthew: Add environmental risks now to safeguard communities through hurricane season
wiAs Category 4 Hurricane Matthew strikes Jamaica and takes direct aim at Cuba and Haiti, extensive efforts are being made to safeguard lives and property. With winds over 130 mph (209km/hr.) the storm is expected to bring 40 inches (1,016 mm) of rain and severe coastal surge. As vital as these actions are, it is also important to understand that the state of a region’s environment can render it safer or at greater risk of harm when disaster strikes. Action taken now and in the aftermath can save lives, protect property, and keep the economy afloat.
Ecosystem health can ameliorate or exacerbate the effects of hurricanes, during the event itself and several days or weeks after the event has passed. Through ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction we’ve learned a great deal about when and how ecosystems affect risks. Here are some lessons learned for communities and responders to keep in mind to help safeguard communities and identify places that may have different or additional risks.
Ecosystem health can ameliorate or exacerbate the effects of hurricanes during the event itself, and for several days or weeks after the storm has passed. The consequences for life and property have often been devastating. Through ecosystem based disaster risk reduction we’ve learned a great deal about when and how ecosystems affect risks, but these factors are not yet mainstreamed into disaster management. Here are some lessons learned for entities and responders to use now in order to help safeguard communities and identify places that may have additional risks.
Deforestation increases the risk of flash floods and mudslides. Mudslides can occur days or even weeks after a hurricane. In Haiti severe deforestation has left large areas vulnerable. Downstream communities, even those less affected by wind and storm surge, may be exposed. Be aware of these risks and know that they can continue for some time after the immediate danger has passed. In some communities stabilizing the soil and safeguarding villages or settlements from mudslides will be a higher post-storm priority.
The confluence of rivers and sea is a dangerous zone in a hurricane. This is where storm surge meets raging river floodwaters. Risks are exacerbated if there has been upstream slope deforestation or developments that reduce absorption capacity. The tragic loss of Petite Savanne in Dominica during tropical storm Erika in 2015 reminds us to pay close attention to these areas and to those who live there. Located on the coast at the mouth of the river, a combination of flooding and surge destroyed the historic town with loss of live. The remaining residents were permanently relocated to other places.
Towns villages and critical infrastructures located on low-lying coastal zones or on flood plains are exposed to surge and flooding. Risks and impacts can be higher than expected if the ecosystems around them have been degraded and they cannot function as they once did.
For communities, businesses, and emergency responders an awareness of the ecological role in hazards and disasters is a valuable tool in their emergency response toolbox. It can reduce immediate and short-term damage and help to prioritize recovery actions to benefit those affected. Incorporating ecosystems into disaster management will be even more critical as sea levels rise and climate change become more pronounced. Lives, businesses, and communities are at stake. During this hurricane and throughout the season we hope that all will stay safe and secure.
PUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION FROM MY HUFFINGTON POST ARTICLE
Published on New York Times Opinion Dotearth with acknowledgement to Andrew Revkin