Category Archives: student posting

We love you too!

A short and sweet exhortation from Oscar Fernandez (Biol 110, Human Ecology) for all of us!

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What you and I do to each other is fair game because we belong to the same gene pool. But did you ever think at some point that all of our infighting is effecting everything else? CO2 emissions are endangering species such as the Emperor penguin, koalas, arctic foxes, and many other not so well known organisms stowed away in the Arctic and Antarctic. Emperor penguins, like the adorable ones pictured above, have less space to, uhm, procreate because global warming is melting away ice platforms that act as their habitat. Arctic foxes are being out-competed by the warm climate adapted Red foxes. Lets not forget about the Koalas either. Global warming is reducing the availability of the euphoric and very intoxicating Eucalyptus leaf that keeps them dizzy and feeling o.k.! Come on people, we need to become better managers of this planet.

Facing up to tough questions on climate change? Hopefully today on CNN!

I hadn’t caught this either, so I’m glad Shannon Patrick found this just in time – at least to watch and see if someone else has asked a question burning in your mind even if you didn’t get to ask it yourself. Something to look for this evening on CNN.

This is very interesting and I’m sorry that I came across it so late. Youtube and CNN have joined forces to let everybody’s voice be heard, or at least have a chance. People were asked to submit questions for world leaders regarding climate change to a specific Copenhagen Summit YouTube page that is run by CNN. The news organization is going to take the most compelling questions and present them to world leaders at the conference. This conference will be broadcast live on CNN and streamed live on YouTube. If you followed the presedential election last fall you may have seen the YouTube debates done by CNN then. I, for one, enjoyed those debates very much, so I hope this is just as well done. While this may not get immediate action, from my experience watching the YouTube debates, the questions are commonly the tough questions that reporters don’t seem to ask, but that the public wants to know. These questions definitely give a feeling of relief of frustration, in the form of “Finally, somebody asked it!”. It’s live on December 15th at 5 a.m. PST, but I’m sure they will replay it throughout the day, and of course YouTube will have it full length for watching on-demand.

Can China have it both ways?

So asks Shannon Patrick (Biol 110, Human Ecology) as he shares this news report:

This a funny satirical video of China’s attitude toward climate. What makes it funny is that there seems to be almost some truth to it [then again, isn’t all good satire centered around a solid kernel of truth?]. If you look into China’s views on climate from the recent Copenhagen Summit you’ll see that they seem to be agreeing with some steps that will reduce pollution just as long as they don’t take the lead on it. At Kyoto: Signed as a developing country so they were not obliged to cut emissions. It really seems like they want to be viewed two ways: a developing country when it comes to climate, but in any other format of international politics they want to viewed as developed. Their GDP is 4.3 trillion dollars, and they say they should only pay 1% of their GDP to help. There president is quoted on the topic as saying, “Developed countries should support developing countries in tackling climate change”. It really seems they are willing to cut pollution up to the point that it does not affect their respective industries. So the Onion takes the issue and paints China as country proud of their accomplishments, just as they are of their other accomplishments in other areas.

Beaches of garbage and albatrosses around our necks

Katie Mathis (Biol 110, Human Ecology) is saddened by how plastics and garbage have become albatrosses around our necks – quite literally as our trash kills these omens of good luck.

Below is a link about the garbage and devistation caused by human trash and swallowed by infant Albatross birds on the beaches of Hawaii.

Having been to “garbage beach”, off the coast of Kauai with my fiancée’ last year, I related to this video’s portrayal of waste management. My fiancée and I expected to see a beach similar to Kauai’s coral strewn, pebbled and sea shell filled beach and finding anything but that after we traveled to it on a speed boat. “Garbage Beach” is literally a huge island seemingly composed of garbage. We found every kind of discarded floating item possible. There were glass balls and nets from fishing villages in China, toy Tonka trucks, pieces of glass bottles, Styrofoam and various plastics strewn all along the shore and making up dry land when we arrived. Not even able to get off the boat because we were wearing flip flop shoes, we just turned around and went back to Oahu. I was incredibly saddened and shocked that in the middle of paradise, such a horrible and disgusting mass of garbage destroyed all obvious life. I remember feeling very unworthy and saddened to see that and be there. It saddens me that all of our garbage and waste has killed so many chicks and laid waste to their natural habitat.

Is hitting them with rocks outta the question?

Even as the world’s leaders clash heads negotiate in Copenhagen this week over what to do about carbon emissions to reduce anthropogenic forcing of climate change, my Human Ecology (Biol 110) student Nicole Walger ponders one option to wake up the world (esp. its leaders) to the challenge:

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I thought this was a cute way of showing the major dilemma with climate change: changing people’s minds.

I think as long as there are scientific professionals that can show conflicting evidence of global warming some citizens will continue to be hesitant to accept the possibility of human responsibility for global warming.

Maybe the economy is a better angle to change people’s behaviors? Hybrid cars are cheaper to fill up, and Astroturf lawns will cut down on water bills and landscaping, you can get PG&E to cut you a check every month if you get solar panels. If these “green” alternatives are marketed as “thrifty” alternatives maybe there will be a greater change. People seem more concerned with their personal financial situation then global warming these days, so why not capitalize on that?

The “green” movement should stop speaking to people’s sense of planetary responsibility or polluter’s guilt and try to appeal to their penny-pinching ways.  

(And thank you, Nicole, for pointing me to this ecologically minded comic strip too!)

A Christian student reflects on Eugenie Scott’s talk about Evolution/Creationism

At the podium-3 copyWhat an overwhelming response we had at Eugenie Scott’s wonderful lecture last week on “Why the fuss about Darwin and Evolution?“! Thank you, Genie, for such a great talk, for inspiring and recharging those of us in the think of the evolution/creationism culture war in the Central Valley, for showing us how to address these issues in a graceful, polite, and inclusive manner. And thank you, all of you who came to campus that evening and overflowed the Satellite Student Union. For those that couldn’t come that evening, you can still enjoy the talk, in parts via videos posted on Scott Hatfield’s blog, and also a full-length podcast of the slides with audio that I’m working on (as soon as classes are out of the way this week!). More on that soon.

For now I want to share an essay written by one of my students who attended the talk, identifies himself as a Christian, and has, starting from a religious background that made him suspicious of the E-word, come around to accept the evidence for evolution, while retaining his faith. I thank Eric York for allowing me to share his synopsis of and reflections on Genie’s talk here. Having a standing-room audience is one thing – and a great thing for sure – but a personal testimony from a student who has made some real progress in their thinking because of what we teach, that is the best kind of response we teachers can hope for. Note that I am posting his essay as is, although I have (and you can guess where) some quibbles with a couple of the things he says in his synopsis. You should also read Scott’s summary of the talk, which has a bit more on the core-fringe model of knowledge. If you attended the talk, feel free to share your reaction in the comments section below. Here’s Eric (continued below the fold):

“Why all the fuss about Evolution?” –Eugenie C. Scott

Eugenie Scott provided a lecture outlining the basics of evolution, followed by a detailed synopsis of the evolution vs. creationism debate. She started off the debate by outlining the different facets of evolution, and the various sciences it is deeply entangled with. These included astronomy, biology, geology, and anthropology, which are each considered evolutionary sciences. The main distinction is that evolution doesn’t necessarily address the origins of life; rather it attempts to explain how organisms have gotten to their present state, via descent with modification.

One of the complaints about evolution is that humans don’t like the idea of us being “descended” from monkeys. However, Scott cleared this up by stating that we aren’t descended from monkeys or apes. She compared this to a family tree. I descended from my dad, and my dad descended from my grandpa. My grandpa also had another son, who in turn had a son, who is consequently my cousin. I am not descended from my cousin, but we do share a recent common ancestor. This parallels the concept of descent with modification.

Scott brought up a book called, “A Consumer’s Guide to Pseudoscience.” This claims that the core ideas of science that are well tested, such as gravity and orbit, are at the center. Around the core ideas are the frontier portions, which include the current experiments and hypotheses that sciences are actively testing. Finally, surrounding the frontier is the fringe. This discusses the why and philosophical aspects of science, and includes ideas such as natural selection and perpetual motion.

Scott spent a significant portion of the time discussing the debate between creationism and evolution. She suggested that instead of looking at both as a dichotomy in which you have to choose one over the other, look at them as a continuum. This continuum starts with conservative Christians that take the Bible literally. This includes those people who, as Scott stated, base their belief on the written Word that simultaneously makes the statement that the earth is flat. This argument is based on Scripture that pictures the earth as circular. Arguments against this claim are that the old Hebrew language didn’t have an adequate term for the word spherical, or that by saying the earth was circular was merely describing its general properties and not its absolute shape. This is only one of the many arguments between evolutionists and the conservative Christians who take the Bible literally.

From the literal interpretations of the Bible comes a transition into young earth creationists, who believe the Earth is only 10,000 years old. They believe that the Earth has only recently been created, and accept that if evolution does occur, it must act much more rapidly than currently accepted. Next are the old earth creationists that believe in creationism, but accept an older earth with the possibility of evolution. This is based on the interpretation of Genesis that the seven days of creation aren’t actually 24 hour days. This is based on the Scripture that says, “To the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.” By this reasoning, the seven days of creation could in fact imply thousands, millions, or even billions of years. Under this claim, evolution could be a feasible method that a creator used to derive the extant organisms that are alive today. This is followed by materialists, who don’t believe in creationism, and are skeptical of evolution. They are basically an in between category and don’t go one way or the other. Finally are the fundamental evolutionists. They are the ones that explicitly believe in evolution and the direct descent with modification.

Altogether I felt this was a very interesting and enlightening discussion. I personally am a Christian and take the Bible as inspired by God, which leaves several aspects up to interpretation. However, I am also taking evolution with Dr. Crosbie, and through this have learned the mechanisms, consequences, and impacts of evolution. Consequently I have come to believe that evolution via natural selection and descent with modification is in fact responsible for how organisms have changed over time to get to their present state. Although my belief is in contradiction to most views held by Christians, I personally think that science and creationism can in fact go hand in hand, and don’t have to be mutually exclusive of one another. As mentioned, I have slowly reached this conclusion by taking my evolution class, along with analyzing past and present research. I felt that it was appropriate to include as part of my analysis for this seminar the influence that Scott had on confirming my ideals, and expounding upon the inclusiveness in my own thinking of creationism and evolution.

Ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, and how to pay for them

Brad Schleder shares this summary of class discussion of two very interesting papers that Brett Moore brought to the table.

ResearchBlogging.orgModeling multiple ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, commodity production, and tradeoffs at landscape scales

Erik Nelson, Guillermo Mendoza, James Regetz, Stephen Polasky, Heather Tallis, D. Richard Cameron, Kai MA Chan, Gretchen C. Daily, Joshua Goldstein, Peter M. Kareiva, Eric Lonsdorf, Robin Naidoo, Taylor H. Ricketts, and M. Rebecca Shaw.

The discussion began with a brief overview of the relationship of economic and ecological models. With that in mind the class explored the first paper, which examined three future development scenarios of the Willamette Valley in Oregon. The intent of the paper is to quantify the range of goods and services ecosystems generate with the goal of using this information to improve land-use and management decisions. The three models are plan trend (current policies), development plan (a loosening of current development policies), and conservation (emphasis on slow development and restoration). The modeling tool used was the Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST). Being more familiar with papers that discussed their data analysis in more detail the class was unclear on how this tool worked. However, after some searching, a 49 page appendix detailing the mathematics used in the model was found, which is based on a mechanistic spatial model using ecological production functions and economic valuation methods. Models were run on water pollution, storm peak mitigation, soil conservation, carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation and commodity production value.

The conservation scenario produced the largest gains, or smallest losses, in ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation with the plan trend and development plan outperforming in regards to the aggregate market value of commodities produced on the landscape. An interesting outcome of this analysis was that there was little difference between the provision of ecosystem services and biodiversity conservation. This was attributed to the conservative use of the model based on Oregon’s history of resource protection, social behaviors and land-ownership practices.

The class wrestled with a few methodologies of this model. First, the use of phosphorous as the sole indicator for water pollution was questioned. Second, using 24 vertebrate species as the only biodiversity measurement might not have been adequate. However, it was agreed that the attempt to quantify different types of development scenarios and the use of an economic framework to assess costs and benefits of ecological resources is a useful model for studying the dynamics of future development.

ResearchBlogging.orgPaying for environmental services from agricultural lands: an example from the northern Everglades

Patrick J. Bohlen, Sarah Lynch, Leonard Shabman, Mark Clark, Sanjay Shukla, and Hillary Swain

The second paper, in keeping with the economic theme, explores one implementation of a market-like program that would pay farmers and ranchers for producing environmental services. The government does provide programs such as subsidies for implementing best management practices, which are designed to increase provision of environmental services from agricultural lands. However, one disadvantage of these policies is the inability of determining their effectiveness. One proposed alternative is to create a market-like program that will encourage producers and sellers to develop innovative programs with environmental results that can be economically valued.

In the northern Everglades lands were drained for the development of both agriculture and human settlement. These land-use changes are having adverse effects on the Lake Okeechobe watershed. In addition to fragmenting wildlife habitat it has accelerated the rate of the flow of water and nutrients into regional bodies of water. This increase in nutrients has drastically affected water quality. These environmental problems prompted the Florida state legislature to create programs to decrease the water flow and increase water retention on public and private lands. In lieu of a large scale construction of above and below ground reservoirs the State began a pilot program, which is working with cattle ranchers in the affected watershed to provide water recharge and storage on their ranches. In addition to the government agencies, the program also involved the National Audubon Society, The World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy. Instead of paying for massive building projects for water storage the State would pay cattle ranchers for creating water retention areas on their properties. This project involved many agencies, much red tape and considerable negotiations from all parties. One of the most difficult parts was in determining a value for the ranchers’ environmental service. Designing this program was as much of a socioeconomic challenge as it was a technical or scientific one. The pilot program appears to be promising and there are plans to increase its size. Imperative to its continued success is the sustained involvement and good will of the parties involved.

I wondered if there was more information on other environmental services that were paid for and found several examples. On a global scale, one project investigates the potential for compensating farmers of the Peruvian Amazon to provide carbon sequestering by maintaining or increasing forest habitat on their lands. Their compensation would be obtained from carbon emitters in developed countries. In Costa Rica, private landowners are being compensated for providing water resources for their communities.

After more thought on this subject I feel that placing an economic value on the environment and the resources it provides is not only a step in the right direction, but perhaps the most effective strategy for conservation. Without placing a value on the many services that the environment provides invites the exploitation of lands for the benefit of a few and the cost to many. In essence, this is the “Tragedy of the Commons” Garrett Hardin wrote of in 1968; a parable describing the destruction of one resource shared by many, but owned by none. For example, placing a value on the hydrology of the northern Everglades takes this system out of the “commons” framework and provides incentive for its conservation for the benefit of the stakeholders affected by the harmful outcomes of individuals’ land-use decisions. This type of policy, while challenging to implement and manage, has the potential to substantially benefit both humans and the environment.

References:

Nelson, E., Mendoza, G., Regetz, J., Polasky, S., Tallis, H., Cameron, D., Chan, K., Daily, G., Goldstein, J., Kareiva, P., Lonsdorf, E., Naidoo, R., Ricketts, T., & Shaw, M. (2009). Modeling multiple ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation, commodity production, and tradeoffs at landscape scales Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7 (1), 4-11 DOI: 10.1890/080023

Bohlen, P., Lynch, S., Shabman, L., Clark, M., Shukla, S., & Swain, H. (2009). Paying for environmental services from agricultural lands: an example from the northern Everglades Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7 (1), 46-55 DOI: 10.1890/080107

Why we should care about disappearing bees

– a student essay by Maridel Santos

Organisms have developed close relationships with each other in order to evolve and survive into following generations. The human species are not excluded in this equation. In fact, it can be observed that we have taken the most advantage in our relationships with other organisms. But what happens when there is a major population collapse within a species that we most rely on for our nutritional needs?

Presently, there is such an event occurring within the agricultural industry in the United States. Throughout the country, bee colonies have lost all their worker bees. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has resulted in a loss of 50-90% of colonies in beekeeping operations across the U.S. and as of April 2007 has become a global phenomenon spreading throughout European countries. In the United States, the deaths of European honeybees have been linked to immunosupression caused by Varroa mite infestation of the hives. This immunosupression has opened doors for viruses and bacteria to invade the colonies and cause the population collapse of the bees.

Honey bee worker carrying a parasitic Varroa mite.

(Credit: Image courtesy of ARS/USDA Scott Bauer)

Other factors that may contribute to CCD includes unexpected negative effects of pesticides on bees, an emergent parasite or pathogen that may be attacking honey bees, the gut microbe called Nosema in particular in conjunction with the mites that feed on bee blood and transmit bee viruses who have become resistant to compounds used to control them.

A CCD Steering Committee found in September 2007 the only pathogen seen in almost all samples from honey bee colonies with CCD but not in non-CCD colonies. The Israeli acute paralysis virus (IAPV) is a dicistrovirus that can be transmitted by the Varroa mite. This particular virus was found in 96.1% of the CCD-bee samples. The findings do not directly implicate IAPV as the primary cause of CCD but brings about a strong correlation of the appearance of IAPV and CCD together.

Why is this population collapse relevant to human societies and especially in the Central Valley? Bees play an integral role in the world food supply and are essential for the pollination of over 90 fruit and vegetable crops worldwide. In the U.S. alone, the economic value for these crop products is placed at more than $14.6 billion. Economically, the loss of such a great percentage of bee population can be devastating to the agricultural business. As agriculture based economy, the Central Valley faces a vast increase financial expenditure in importing hives from other non-infected colonies from other countries. These increase expenses is not monetary alone. Ecologically speaking, it will also increase carbon footprints due to a rise in transportation costs and fossil fuel usage. In addition to agricultural crops, honey bees also pollinate many native plant species. This disorder will not only affect our society economically, it will also have a significant ecological effect on different species of plants and animals that depend on bee pollination to procure their nutritional needs, including us.

Sources links:

www.ars.usda.gov

www.sciencedaily.com

Guns, Germs, and Steel

– a student essay by Matthew Dodd

In this book Jared Diamond explains how people evolved at the rate that we did, and how different places in the world evolved at different times than one another. Most people wonder why Europe was the first continent that not only powered over the whole world but also had advance technology compared to most of the world. To most religious people they would assume that god created Europe that way. But Jared Diamond’s answer is so simple most people over looked it thinking it could not be the reason. What do people do when they have a lot of free time on their hands? They tend to create things and try to make life easier for themselves.

Back when most people where hunter and gatherers there was very little free time to be had because most of the village/tribe was spending all of their time trying to find food, in order to survive. The one thing that the Europeans had over the rest of the world is the geography of their location. The reason is not because the people are superior but because they where able to domesticate wheat. This also led to the domestication of sheep, goat and cows. This may seem like nothing to most people today because that is normal to today, but to the people of that time it meant a steady food source. Because of the steady food source life spans became longer and the people of Europe where able to support more people than was needed in order to produce food. This free time allowed people to invent, and create technology as we know it today.

At the same time across the world other people where not as fortunate enough to have found a crop like wheat that was easy to grow and reliable, so they kept on being hunter gatherers, out of no choice of their own. Other areas developed also for example, China and Japan. But Europe was the only region who went out and made colonies around the world.

Granted they did have to fight some people but for the most part their success was due to their superior technology, guns, and the fact that from being around animals for so long they had become immune to diseases, germs, that they had mostly forgot or did not think about. As Europeans went through new places they spread small pox to all of the people they conquered making the people of the new land even weaker and easier to conquer. The only continent that the Europeans had trouble with was Africa, because Africa was a host to a disease that the Europeans had never been introduced to before and that is Malaria. As the Europeans moved farther north into Africa they just could not seem to stay alive for very long because of Malaria. But why would the Europeans try to go out and conquer these knew places. Was it for power? Was it for more resources? Or was it and opportunity to make money by selling and trading new items? These are things not discussed in his book but I feel they are fascinating questions.

Jared Diamond took all known knowledge and pieced it together to come up with a completely original idea on how the world came to be what it is today. He did some thing that no one has ever done before when creating this book is that he thought out side the box, and by doing so he put his knowledge to work for himself in order to be able to create this book (and accompanying PBS documentary) that makes perfect sense to why people and the world are the way that we are today.

For More information on Jared Diamond and Guns, Germs, and Steel visit
http://www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/

Apathy in America: A Culture in Peril

– student essay by Aidée Karina Lara

(http://www.inklinepress.com/beast/do-nothing.html)

It is one thing to speak of environmental apathy in an abstract sense, to make sweeping generalizations about an oil-addicted America that thrives on excessive consumerism, and quite another to confront it in the mirror every morning after a long 20-minute shower or while driving to a grocery store that is only five blocks away. Few would argue that the current rates of resource consumption in the U.S. are sustainable. According to a new TIME magazine/ABC News/Stanford University poll, the majority of Americans (85%) now acknowledge that global warming is not just a wild fabrication of an alarmist scientific community. Most Americans even support government intervention to restrict auto emissions and are in favor of increased government spending on the development of more sustainable environmental technologies. Why then has apathy become instinct in this country? Why is there a disconnect between the numbers reported in polls and the number of Americans willing to act to create a more balanced relationship between humans and the environment?

Apathy is often explained away as mere ignorance, and ignorance is certainly alive and well. As a student, I am all too familiar with the deathly silence that sweeps through a classroom when a professor asks that students comment on international events (Darfur? Bangla…huh? I have a seven-page essay due in 12 hours. Who has the time to worry about that?). As a future elementary school teacher, I also am familiar with the lack of time dedicated to environmental issues in the classroom. Our elementary school children—the ones who will be most affected by changes in the environment—are indeed being left behind. We are teaching them their multiplication tables and the parts of a sentence but often leaving out how important it is to recycle waste and conserve energy. Our children are our greatest resource, and like most other resources, we are giving little thought to their future. Our current consumption rates certainly seem to suggest that we are bent on having the next generation rely on state-issued respirators by the age of 50 and being sold their daily water by private companies. An end to apathy begins by realizing the importance of encouraging children to internalize good environmental habits from a young age so that they can later fix the problems we are so thoughtlessly leaving behind.

Not to say that the whole of the educational system neglects environmental issues. There are some proactive teachers and students out there that are coming up with inventive ways to promote environmental awareness (here are some examples). But achieving the level of awareness needed to rid the masses of apathy requires more than the concern of a select number of schools. There is little doubt that the environmental apathy of the federal government is contributing to the indifferent eco-attitude of Corporate America and the average citizen. In order to effect long-lasting and widespread change, a cohesive national government system that makes environmental issues a priority by funding research on alternative energy resources and using subsidies to reinforce eco-friendly practices/destabilize corporations that carelessly pollute is needed. Does our current government meet these requirements? The majority of American people would argue that it does not. (It did once. In Florida, I think.) Still, some local government officials are taking a more proactive role in creating “greener” cities. The fact that most people are reacting positively to these citywide changes is a testament to how deeply government attitudes influence the attitudes of the general population.

So, if apathy is born of ignorance and perpetuated by the poor prioritizing desicions of government officials, then what can individuals do to overcome apathy in a culture that encourages this indifference? The first step to any successful detox is to acknowledge the problem (Hello, my name is America. I am a hyperconsumer of resources). Step 2: Use the uniquely human gift of self-reflection to make conscious decisions that reduce the human impact on the environment. Step 3: Encourage others (government officials, neighbors, meat-eaters, the family pet) to do the same. Taking these (oversimplified) steps is far more difficult than it sounds. But the alternative is to let good ol’ American apathy drag us away. And we must not be dragged down, America, or we will drown in our destruction.