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News articles on environmental economics
Mongabay.com news articles on environmental economics in blog format. Updated regularly.
Employing shame for environmental change
(03/03/2015) Anyone who has ever felt the sting of shame, knows it's power. Shame has long been used by societal institutions—families, communities, governments, religions—for making individuals tow the line of the majority. But a new book explores another—arguably more positive—side of shame: it's potential to challenge rule-breaking and ethically-defunct corporations.
Economic models for forests often neglect value of biodiversity
(02/06/2015) Tropical forests provide countless goods and services that help sustain human life. Given the rapid conversion of forests to agricultural lands, scientists say it is critical that we prioritize conservation of forest ecosystems. While economists have attempted to quantify the economic value of tropical forests, these estimates may overlook the intricacies of the landscape. According to a recent study in Biological Conservation, economic analyses of forests tend to neglect areas containing high biodiversity.
Ecosystem services pioneer wins $1M award
(02/05/2015) Forest Trends, a non-profit that is working to develop market-based tools and approaches to value ecosystems for the services they afford, has won a million dollar award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Forest Trends was selected for '[bringing] the value of forests into the modern economy.'
Accounting for natural capital on financial exchanges
(01/26/2015) Last month, Norway's stock exchange, the Oslo Børs, introduced a way for investors to use their money to promote sustainability. A new list by the stock exchange highlights green bonds, financial products issued by companies to raise capital for environmentally friendly projects. Notably, the list requires that issuing companies obtain and publicize outside opinions on the projects' environmental features.
How black rhinos and local communities help each other in Namibia
(01/07/2015) Africa's rhinos are in a state of crisis. Poaching for their horn has resulted in the deaths of thousands of animals and pushed the continent's two species—the white and black rhino—against the wall. Yet, despite the crisis, there are pockets of rhino territory where poaching remains rare and rhinos live comparatively unmolested. Indeed, one of the brightest spots for rhinos is in Namibia.
Green Climate Fund nears $7 billion after U.S. pledges $3 billion
(11/17/2014) The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is suddenly looking very lively after two announcements over the weekend. The U.S. has announced an initial pledge of $3 billion to the fund, while Japan pledged $1.5 billion. This more than doubles the current amount pledged to the key fund, which is now around $6.94 billion from thirteen countries. The new pledges also bring the fund much closer to an initial goal of $10-15 billion.
Is the world moving backwards on protected areas?
(11/06/2014) Protected areas are undoubtedly the world's most important conservation success story. But, despite this, progress on protected areas is stalling and in some cases even falling behind. According to a sobering new paper, only 20-50 percent of the world's land and marine protected areas are meeting their goals, while the rest are hampered by lack of funding, poor management, and government ambivalence.
Can we stop runaway global warming? 'All we need is the will to change'
(11/03/2014) Twenty-six years after the founding of the IPCC, the Nobel Prize-winning group of scientists has released a new synthesis report that warns in its strongest tones yet that climate change must be dealt with. None of the findings are surprising—they have been released in earlier assessments throughout the year—but the terms in which they are written are the starkest yet.
Climate coup: Rockefeller announces they are dropping fossil fuel investments
(09/22/2014) In 1870, John D. Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company. Rapidly becoming the world's largest oil refiner, Standard made Rockefeller a billionaire and one of the world's greatest philanthropists. 144 years later and John D. Rockefeller's descendants have announced they are stripping fossil fuels from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a private charity with around $860 million in assets.
Saving the Atlantic Forest would cost less than 'Titanic'
(08/28/2014) Want to save the world's most imperiled biodiversity hotspot? You just need a down payment of $198 million. While that may sound like a lot, it's actually less than it cost to make the film, Titanic. A new study published today in Science finds that paying private landowners to protect the Atlantic Forest would cost Brazil just 6.5 percent of what it currently spends ever year on agricultural subsidies.
Price of ivory triples in China
(07/07/2014) In the last four years the price of ivory in China has tripled, according to new research from Save the Elephants. The news has worrying implications for governments and conservationists struggling to save elephants in Africa amidst a poaching epidemic, which has seen tens-of-thousands of elephants butchered for their tusks across the continent annually
Next big idea in forest conservation? Playing games to understand what drives deforestation
(06/26/2014) Dr. Claude Garcia plays games, but you won’t find him betting his shirt at the casino. As leader of the Forest Management and Development Research Group at ETH Zürich, Garcia and his team use participatory modeling and role-playing games, merged with more traditional disciplinary sciences such as ecology, economics, and sociology to understand and manage complex landscape change in the tropics.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Learning from innovations to make REDD+ work
(06/12/2014) A scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in Brazil, Dr. Amy Duchelle coordinates research on the effectiveness, efficiency, equity, and co-benefits of REDD+ initiatives at the sub-national level in Latin America as part of CIFOR's Gloal Comparative Study on REDD+.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Making community protection economically viable
(05/29/2014) After years of discovering new species and setting up protected areas, Neil Burgesses' career changed. Currently he is focused on community-driven conservation and on how to improve protected areas in Africa's Eastern Arc mountains region. Neil Burgess has worked in the conservation field for over twenty years, mainly in Tanzania where he also lived for five years.
Stanford kicks coal out of its $18 billion endowment
(05/07/2014) The fossil fuel divestment campaign won a major victory today as Stanford University announced it would drop coal companies from its massive $18.7 billion endowment, the fourth largest of any American university. The action follows a petition by student group Fossil Free Stanford and five months of research by Stanford's Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing.
Next big idea in forest conservation? Quantifying the cost of forest degradation
(03/27/2014) How much is a forest really worth? And what is the cost of forest degradation? These values are difficult to estimate, but according to Dr. Phillip Fearnside, we need to do a better job. For nearly forty years, Fearnside has lived in Amazonia doing ecological research, looking at the value of forests in terms of environmental or ecosystem services such as carbon storage, water cycling, and biodiversity preservation. Fearnside then works to convert these services into a basis for sustainable development for rural populations.
The best of the worst: fossil-fuel extractors pave the way for the low-carbon revolution
(03/26/2014) At the end of last year, the world got some good news on the green business front concerning a very unlikely set of participants. A recent market review revealed that Exxon Mobil, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, Duke Energy, PG&E Corporation, American Electric Power Company, ConAgra Foods and Walmart, among others, are including shadow carbon prices in their forecasts.
Ecotourism pays: study finds lower poverty where nature-based tourism is prevalent
(02/25/2014) A new study has quantified a point long advocated by advocates of setting aside protected areas: ecotourism pays. The research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), finds that communities neighboring conservation areas in Costa Rica had lower rates of poverty relative to other areas.
Tools against climate change: carbon tax and cap-and-trade
(09/04/2013) Climate-conscious folk agree that atmospheric carbon concentration is a key greenhouse gas and a large factor in global climate change. However, there are discrepancies in the methods chosen to address the problem. Some say that carbon emissions should be banned. Some say fossil fuels should be priced. Others say that there are nuances within each. Which tools can we realistically use to mitigate climate change and the drastic effects it will have on our world?
Yasuni could still be spared oil drilling
(08/26/2013) When Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa, announced on August 15th that he was abandoning an innovative program to spare three blocs of Yasuni National Park from oil drilling, it seemed like the world had tossed away its most biodiverse ecosystem. However, environmental groups and activists quickly responded that there may be another way to keep oil companies out of Yasuni's Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) blocs: a national referendum.
Arctic melt to cost trillions
(07/30/2013) Rapid thawing of the Arctic could trigger a catastrophic "economic timebomb" which would cost trillions of dollars and undermine the global financial system, say a group of economists and polar scientists. Governments and industry have expected the widespread warming of the Arctic region in the past 20 years to be an economic boon, allowing the exploitation of new gas and oilfields and enabling shipping to travel faster between Europe and Asia.
In age of climate change, Australia's vast coal fields could become worthless
(07/02/2013) Australia's huge coal industry is a speculative bubble ripe for financial implosion if the world's governments fulfill their agreement to act on climate change, according to a new report. The warning that much of the nation's coal reserves will become worthless as the world hits carbon emission limits comes after banking giant Citi also warned Australian investors that fossil fuel companies could do little to avoid the future loss of value.
Local economy ruined by pesticide pollution in the Caribbean
(05/29/2013) On 15 April more than 100 fishermen demonstrated in the streets of Fort de France, the main town on Martinique, in the French West Indies. In January they barricaded the port until the government in Paris allocated €2m ($2.6m) in aid, which they are still waiting for. The contamination caused by chlordecone, a persistent organochlorine pesticide, means their spiny lobsters are no longer fit for human consumption. The people of neighboring Guadeloupe are increasingly angry for the same reason. After polluting the soil, the chemical is wreaking havoc out at sea, an environmental disaster that now threatens the whole economy.
Conservation without supervision: Peruvian community group creates and patrols its own protected area
(04/30/2013) When we think of conservation areas, many of us think of iconic National Parks overseen by uniformed government employees or wilderness areas purchased and run from afar by big-donor organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Wildlife Conservation Society, WWF, or Conservation International. But what happens to ecosystems and wildlife in areas where there's a total lack of government presence and no money coming in for its protection? This is the story of one rural Peruvian community that took conservation matters into their own hands, with a little help from a dedicated pair of primate researchers, in order to protect a high biodiversity cloud forest.
'Carbon bubble' could cause next global financial crisis
(04/22/2013) The world could be heading for a major economic crisis as stock markets inflate an investment bubble in fossil fuels to the tune of trillions of dollars, according to leading economists. "The financial crisis has shown what happens when risks accumulate unnoticed," said Lord (Nicholas) Stern, a professor at the London School of Economics. He said the risk was "very big indeed" and that almost all investors and regulators were failing to address it.
Conservation policies that boost farm yields may ultimately undermine forest protection, argues study
(04/17/2013) Rising agricultural profitability due to higher prices, improved crop productivity, and forest conservation itself could make it increasingly difficult for conservation programs tied to payments for ecosystem services to succeed, warns a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Proposed coal plant threatens Critically Endangered Philippine cockatoo
(04/02/2013) One kilometer off the Philippine island of Palawan lies the Rasa Island Wildlife Sanctuary; here forest grows unimpeded from a coral island surrounded by mangroves and coral reefs. Although tiny, over a hundred bird species have been recorded on the island along with a major population of large flying foxes, while in the waters below swim at least 130 species of coral fish, three types of marine turtles, and that curious-looking marine mammal, dugongs. Most importantly, perhaps, the island is home to the world's largest population of Philippine cockatoos (Cacatua haematuropygia), currently listed as Critically Endangered. But, although uninhabited by people, Rasa Island may soon be altered irrevocably by human impacts.
Carbon Markets or Climate Finance - book review
(03/25/2013) Carbon markets or climate finance? This is the question posed by Carbon Markets or Climate Finance, edited by Axel Michaelowa. First of all, let’s define climate finance as the financial resources used to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Head of IMF: climate change is 'the greatest economic challenge of the 21st century'
(02/06/2013) Climate change not debt or austerity is "the greatest economic challenge of the 21st Century," according to Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Lagarde painted a stark picture of the challenges the world faces when up against rising temperatures.
Forests in Kenya worth much more intact says government report
(01/24/2013) Kenya's forests provide greater services and wealth to the nation when they are left standing. A landmark report by The Kenyan Government and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) addresses the importance of forests to the well-being of the nation, putting Kenya among a pioneering group of countries that aim to center development plans around nature-based assets.
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Local and Regional Policy - a book review
(01/21/2013) The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Local and Regional Policy, edited by Heidi Wittmar and Haripriya Gundimeda, provides thoughtful and actionable approaches to integrate nature’s benefits into decision-making frameworks for local and regional policy and public management institutions. Filled with numerous case studies, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity in Local and Regional Policy, delivers a compendium of concepts and ideas.
Paradigm shift needed to avert global environmental collapse, according to author of new book The Blueprint: Averting Global Collapse
(01/10/2013) Global strategist, trained educator, and international lecturer Daniel Rirdan set out to create a plan addressing the future of our planet. His book The Blueprint: Averting Global Collapse, published this year, does just that. "It has been a sixty hour a week routine," Rirdan told mongabay.com in a recent interview. "Basically, I would wake up with the burden of the world on my shoulders and go to sleep with it. It went on like this for eighteen months." It becomes apparent when reading The Blueprint that it was indeed a monumental undertaking.
World has lost half its wetlands
(11/29/2012) Half of the worlds wetlands have been destroyed in just the last 100 years, says a new report. Published by the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), the report found that of the 25 million square kilometers of wetlands that existed in 1900 just 12.8 million square kilometers now remain. The rate of destruction varies geographically with notable loses in East Asia running at 1.6 per cent per year. In places where aquaculture, over-exploitation (e.g. unsustainable harvesting of fish) and storm damage have been severe, the rate of destruction can be as high as 80 percent.
Investors shouldn't ignore financial risk of environmental damage
(11/29/2012) Environmental damage poses a long-ignored risk to sovereign bonds, according to a new report by the UNEP FI (The United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative) and the Global Footprint Network. The report, E-RISC Report, A New Angle on Sovereign Credit Risk, finds that the overuse of natural resources and their degradation has put considerable, and largely unrecognized, risk against national economies.
Unique program to leave oil beneath Amazonian paradise raises $300 million
(11/26/2012) The Yasuni-ITT Initiative has been called many things: controversial, ecological blackmail, revolutionary, pioneering, and the best chance to keep oil companies out of Ecuador's Yasuni National Park. But now, after a number of ups and downs, the program is beginning to make good: the Yasuni-ITT Initiative has raised $300 million, according to the Guardian, or 8 percent of the total amount needed to fully fund the idea.
How to see the forest for the trees: new textbook helps to craft a global understanding of forest economics for all stakeholders
(11/13/2012) Environmental economics is similar to other expanding fields, it turns out. For example, Tauhid Zaman, assistant professor of operations management at the MIT Sloan School of Business, lamented that network analytics far too often focuses on the purely theoretical, and quipped that his colleagues "want to date a model more than they want to model data." William F. Hyde might argue that the same could be said for environmental economists.
Tanzania weighs new soda ash plant in prime flamingo territory
(11/08/2012) In a choice between flamingoes and a soda ash plant, a new report shows that local residents near Lake Natron, Tanzania prefer flamingoes. This is good news for conservationists as the area is the most important breeding site in the world for lesser flamingos (Phoenicopterus minor). While the report shows agreement between residents and conservation groups that the project isn't worth its cost or risk, the Tanzanian government is not giving up yet.
Over 100,000 farmers squatting in Sumatran park to grow coffee
(11/06/2012) Sumatra's Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park—home to the Critically Endangered Sumatran rhinos, tigers, and elephants—has become overrun with coffee farmers, loggers, and opportunists according to a new paper in Conservation and Society. An issue facing the park for decades, the study attempted for the first time to determine the number of squatters either living in or farming off Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the rough census—over 100,000 people—shocked scientists.
Saving the world's species from oblivion will cost around $80 billion a year, but still a good deal
(10/11/2012) If the world is to conserve its wealth of life—species great and small, beautiful and terrible, beloved and unknown—it will cost from $3.41-4.76 billion annually in targeted conservation funds, according to a new study in Science. But that's not all, the cost of protecting and managing the world's conservation areas was estimated at an additional $76.1 billion a year.
First REDD Textbook - Forest and Climate Change: The Social Dimensions of REDD in Latin America – Book Review
(10/08/2012) Thank you Professor Anthony Hall. After many years, we finally have a REDD textbook that can be used in the undergraduate and graduate classroom. Professor Hall has produced an excellent contribution to the growing Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) literature.
Conflict and perseverance: rehabilitating a forgotten park in the Congo
(09/19/2012) Zebra racing across the yellow-green savannah is an iconic image for Africa, but imagine you're seeing this not in Kenya or South Africa, but in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Welcome to Upemba National Park: once a jewel in the African wildlife crown, this protected area has been decimated by civil war. Now, a new bold initiative by the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), dubbed Forgotten Parks, is working to rehabilitate Upemba after not only decades of conflict but also poaching, neglect, and severe poverty.
Mangrove deforestation 3x worse for climate than rainforest loss
(09/07/2012) Degradation and destruction of the world's seagrasses, tidal marshes, and mangroves may generate up to a billion tons in carbon dioxide emissions annually, reports a new study.
Human society surpasses 'nature's budget' today
(08/22/2012) As of today, August 22nd, humanity has overshot the world's annual ecological budget, according to the Global Footprint Network, which tracks global consumption related to resource availability and sustainability. The organization looks at a variety of data including the world's fisheries, forests, agriculture, water, mining, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Guyana rainforests secure trust fund
(07/30/2012) The nation of Guyana sports some of South America's most intact and least-imperiled rainforests, and a new $8.5 million trust fund hopes to keep it that way. The Guyanese government has teamed up with Germany and Conservation International (CI) to create a long-term trust fund to manage the country's protected areas system (PAS).
Making reforestation work in abandoned pasturelands
(07/09/2012) Tropical reforestation is not easy, especially in abandoned pasturelands. But a new study in mongabay.com's open access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that removing grasses prior to and after planting native tree seeds significantly improves the chances of forests to take root. The study site, located in Mexico's Lacandon rainforest, was covered in an invasive African grass (Cynodon plectostachyus).
Ten African nations pledge to transform their economies to take nature into account
(06/11/2012) Last month ten African nations, led by Botswana, pledged to incorporate "natural capital" into their economies. Natural capital, which seeks to measure the economic worth of the services provided by ecosystems and biodiversity—for example pollination, clean water, and carbon—is a nascent, but growing, method to curtail environmental damage and ensure more sustainable development. Dubbed the Gaborone Declaration, the pledge was signed by Botswana, Liberia, Namibia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania following a two day summit.
Scientists: if we don't act now we're screwed
(06/07/2012) Scientists warn that the Earth may be reaching a planetary tipping point due to a unsustainable human pressures, while the UN releases a new report that finds global society has made significant progress on only four environmental issues out of ninety in the last twenty years. Climate change, overpopulation, overconsumption, and ecosystem destruction could lead to a tipping point that causes planetary collapse, according to a new paper in Nature by 22 scientists. The collapse may lead to a new planetary state that scientists say will be far harsher for human well-being, let alone survival.
Want to stop climate change: buy fossil fuel deposits
(06/07/2012) Governments, NGOs, and others fighting climate change should consider buying coal and oil deposits—not to exploit them, but to keep them from being exploited, according to a bold new policy paper in the Journal of Political Economy. Economist Bard Harstad with the Kellogg School of Management argues that climate coalitions could quickly slash carbon emissions by purchasing and conserving marginal fossil fuel deposits, a strategy that would solve the current problem of carbon leakage, i.e. when cutting emissions in one place pushes others to burn more elsewhere. Given that carbon emissions rose to a new record last year—31.6 gigatons—and carbon has hit 400 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere for the first time in at least 800,000 years, Harstad's analysis comes at a time when scientists are warning that urgent and bold action is needed to mitigate global climate change before it becomes irreversible.
Consumption, population, and declining Earth: wake-up call for Rio+20
(05/15/2012) Currently, human society is consuming natural resources as if there were one-and-a-half Earths, and not just a single blue planet, according to the most recent Living Planet Report released today. If governments and societies continue with 'business-as-usual' practices, we could be consuming three years of natural resources in 12 months by 2050. Already, this ecological debt is decimating wildlife populations worldwide, disproportionately hurting the world's poor and most vulnerable, threatening imperative resources like food and water, heating up the atmosphere, and risking global well-being.
For Earth Day, 17 celebrated scientists on how to make a better world
(04/22/2012) Seventeen top scientists and four acclaimed conservation organizations have called for radical action to create a better world for this and future generations. Compiled by 21 past winners of the prestigious Blue Planet Prize, a new paper recommends solutions for some of the world's most pressing problems including climate change, poverty, and mass extinction. The paper, entitled Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act, was recently presented at the UN Environment Program governing council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.
Smoking gun for bee collapse? popular pesticides
(03/29/2012) Commonly used pesticides may be a primary driver of the collapsing bee populations, finds two new studies in Science. The studies, one focused on honeybees and the other on bumblebees, found that even small doses of these pesticides, which target insect's central nervous system, impact bee behavior and, ultimately, their survival. The studies may have far-reaching repercussions for the regulation of agricultural chemicals, known as neonicotinoid insecticides, that have been in use since the 1990s.
As world bodies dally, private sector, local governments forge ahead on valuing nature
(03/28/2012) Despite slow progress via the U.N. process and other intergovernmental bodies, national governments, municipalities, and the private sector are moving ahead with initiatives to measure and compensate the value of services afforded by ecosystems, said a leading forestry expert speaking on the sidelines of the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship meeting this week in Oxford.
Innovative program seeks to safeguard Peruvian Amazon from impacts of Inter-Oceanic Highway
(03/06/2012) Arbio was begun by Michel Saini and Tatiana Espinosa Q. in the Peruvian Amazon region of Madre de Dios. The project focuses on a protective response to the increased encroachment and destructive land use driven by development. The recent construction of the Inter-Oceanic Highway in the Madre de Dios area presents an enormous threat to forest biodiversity. Arbio provides opportunities to help establish a buffer zone near the road to limit intrusive agricultural and deforestation activities.
Tourism for biodiversity in Tambopata
(02/27/2012) Research and exploration in the Neotropics are extraordinary, life-changing experiences. In the past two decades, a new generation of collaborative projects has emerged throughout Central and South America to provide access to tropical biodiversity. Scientists, local naturalists, guides, students and travelers now have the chance to mingle and share knowledge. Fusion programs offering immersion in tropical biology, travel, ecological field work, and adventure often support local wilderness preservation, inspire and educate visitors.
Innovative conservation: wild silk, endangered species, and poverty in Madagascar
(02/20/2012) For anyone who works in conservation in Madagascar, confronting the complex difficulties of widespread poverty is a part of the job. But with the wealth of Madagascar's wildlife rapidly diminishing— such as lemurs, miniature chameleons, and hedgehog-looking tenrecs found no-where else in the world—the island-nation has become a testing ground for innovative conservation programs that focus on tackling entrenched poverty to save dwindling species and degraded places. The local NGO, the Madagascar Organization of Silk Workers or SEPALI, along with its U.S. partner Conservation through Poverty Alleviation (CPALI), is one such innovative program. In order to alleviate local pressure on the newly-established Makira Protected Area, SEPALI is aiding local farmers in artisanal silk production from endemic moths. The program uses Madagascar's famed wildlife to help create more economically stable communities.
California cap-and-trade law spurs U.S. forest carbon projects
(02/15/2012) Now that California's carbon market has arrived, an Australian-based company that specializes in forest carbon offsets has jump started two forest projects with private landowners in the western U.S. The new company, Forest Carbon Partners, will make the projects available as carbon offsets for California polluters.
Tropical ecologist: Australia must follow U.S. and EU in banning illegally logged wood
(02/09/2012) Australia should join the widening effort to stamp out illegal logging, according to testimony given this week by tropical ecologist William Laurance with James Cook University. Presenting before the Australian Senate's rural affairs committee, Laurance argued that the massive environmental and economic costs of illegal logging worldwide should press Australia to tighten regulations against importing illegally logged timber at home.
Black Swans and bottom-up environmental action
(02/08/2012) The defining events shaping the modern world - economic, social, environmental, progressive and disruptive - are frequently characterized as "Black Swans."The Black Swan term and theory were characterized by author and analyst Nassim Nicholas Taleb who explains, "What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable." Taleb identifies the emergence of the internet, the attacks of September 11, 2001, the popularity of Facebook, stock market crashes, the success of Harry Potter, and World War I as among Black Swan events.
Wall Street Journal under attack for climate op-ed
(01/31/2012) The Wall Street Journal is under attack for publishing an op-ed attacking climate science last Friday, while turning down another op-ed explaining climate change and signed by 255 researchers with the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which was eventually published in the journal Science. The op-ed last Friday first garnered attention because it was signed by 16 scientists, however other journalists have shown that most of these signatories are not climatologists (the list includes an astronaut, a physician, and an airplane engineer), many are well-known deniers, and at least six have been tied to the fossil fuels industry.
Brazilian mining company connected to Belo Monte dam voted worst corporation
(01/31/2012) The world's second largest mining company, Vale, has been given the dubious honor of being voted the world's most awful corporation in terms of human rights abuses and environmental destruction by the Public Eye Awards. Vale received over 25,000 votes online, likely prompted in part by its stake in the hugely controversial Brazilian mega-dam, Belo Monte, which is being constructed on the Xingu River. An expert panel gave a second award to British bank Barclay's for speculation on food prices, which the experts stated was worsening hunger worldwide.
Economic slowdown leads to the pulping of Latvia's forests
(01/23/2012) The economic crisis has pushed many nations to scramble for revenue and jobs in tight times, and the small Eastern European nation of Latvia is no different. Facing tough circumstances, the country turned to its most important and abundant natural resource: forests. The Latvian government accepted a new plan for the nation's forests, which has resulted in logging at rates many scientists say are clearly unsustainable. In addition, researchers contend that the on-the-ground practices of state-owned timber giant, Latvijas Valsts meži (LVM), are hurting wildlife and destroying rare ecosystems.
Recognizing value of nature could boost income for the world's poor
(01/20/2012) The rural poor would substantially boost their income if the ecological services of the ecosystems they steward were valued and compensated by the rest of the world, claims a new study published in the journal Bioscience.
One company behind U.S.'s top three biggest greenhouse gas emitters
(01/16/2012) The Atlanta-based Southern company owns the top three biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. according to recent data released by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Three of Southern's coal-fired plants—two in Georgia and one in Alabama—account for around 64.74 million metric tons of total greenhouse gas emissions, higher than all of Finland's carbon emission in 2008.
How much is the life of a whale worth?
(01/16/2012) How do you end a decades-long conflict between culture and conservation? How do you stop a conflict where both sides are dug in? A new paper in Nature proposes a way to end the long and bitter battle over whaling: environmentalists could pay whalers not to whale.
Indonesia could earn billions from well-designed deforestation-reduction program, finds study
(01/12/2012) Indonesia could have earned $5 billion in revenue and avoided 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions between 2000 and 2005 had a reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+) program been in place, reports an assessment published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
Eco-toilets help save hippos and birds in Kenya
(01/04/2012) It may appear unintuitive that special toilets could benefit hippos and other wetland species, but the Center for Rural Empowerment and the Environment (CREE) has proven the unique benefits of new toilets in the Dunga Wetlands on Lake Victoria's Kenyan side. By building ecologically-sanitary (eco-san) toilets, CREE has managed to alleviate some of the conflict that has cropped up between hippos and humans for space.
Ecuador makes $116 million to not drill for oil in Amazon
(01/02/2012) A possibly ground-breaking idea has been kept on life support after Ecuador revealed its Yasuni-ITT Initiative had raked in $116 million before the end of the year, breaking the $100 million mark that Ecuador said it needed to keep the program alive. Ecuador is proposing to not drill for an estimated 850 million barrels of oil in the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin (ITT) blocs of Yasuni National Park if the international community pledges $3.6 billion to a United Nations Development Fund (UNDF), or about half of what the oil is currently worth. The Yasuni-ITT Initiative would preserve arguably the most biodiverse region on Earth from oil exploitation, safeguard indigenous populations, and keep an estimated 410 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere. However, the initiative is not without its detractors, some arguing the program is little more than blackmail; meanwhile proponents say it could prove an effective way to combat climate change, deforestation, and mass extinction.
Earth systems disruption: Does 2011 indicate the "new normal" of climate chaos and conflict?
(12/21/2011) The year 2011 has presented the world with a shocking increase in irregular weather and disasters linked to climate change. Just as the 2007 "big melt" of summer arctic sea ice sent scientists and environmentalists scrambling to re-evaluate the severity of climate change, so have recent events forced major revisions and updates in climate science.
Issues of the Day: 100 Commentaries on Climate, Energy, the Environment, Transportation, and Public Health Policy: Book Review
(12/14/2011) Issues of the Day: 100 Commentaries on Climate, Energy, the Environment, Transportation, and Public Health Policy is a wonderful overview of 100 different issues presented in two-page briefs by teams of expert individuals.
Carbon Coalitions: Business, Climate Politics, and the Rise of Emissions Trading: Book Review
(12/13/2011) Jonas Meckling, PhD., writes the first critical analysis demonstrating how various types of not-for-profit, governmental and for-profit coalitions over the past couple of decades have led to the development of the global carbon market, valued in 2010 at US$ 142 billion.
Paper commitments for the Indonesian industry
(12/13/2011) The Indonesian group Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) has been the target of many NGOs for years due to its alleged negative impacts on tropical forests. This culminated in a spectacular campaign launched by Greenpeace in 2011 based on Ken "dumping" Barbie. The rationale was that toy brand Mattel was accused of using APP paper products linked to the clear-cutting of natural forests in the Indonesian archipelago. APP organized a counter-attack in the media with the daily publication of advertisements promoting its sustainable development practices. Journalists from all over the world were also invited to attend guided tours of APP concessions to demonstrate their conservation efforts, and a number of articles were subsequently written.
Mixed reactions to the Durban agreement
(12/12/2011) Early Sunday morning over 190 of the world's countries signed on to a new climate agreement at the 17th UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban, South Africa. The summit was supposed to end on Friday, but marathon negotiations pushed government officials to burn the midnight oil for about 36 extra hours. The final agreement was better than many expected out of the two week summit, but still very far from what science says is necessary to ensure the world does not suffer catastrophic climate change.
Yasuni ITT: the virtues and vices of environmental innovation
(12/07/2011) As the 17th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is taking place in Durban, Ecuador has embarked on the development of a project presented as highly innovative. This project targets Yasuni National Park, which has been protected since 1979. Yasuni is home to several indigenous peoples and is a biodiversity hotspot. But it so happens that the park also sits atop a vast oil field of 846 million barrels, representing about 20 percent of the country’s oil reserves. The acronym Yasuni ITT stands for Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputinin, which are the names of three potential zones for oil extraction.
Civilization shifting: a new leaderless era
(11/15/2011) For well over a decade global change scientists have ushered calls for urgent alteration in what they refer to as the “Business-as-Usual (BAU) paradigm” to cope with the interlinking social, economic, and environmental issues of the 21st Century. In 2001, one of the world’s largest Earth Science collaborative organizations, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP), published their "A Planet Under Pressure" summary report for policy makers.
Featured video: could a forest be worth more than a gold mine?
(10/31/2011) Jason A. Sohigian, the Deputy Director of the Armenia Tree Project (ATP), presents at TEDx on the often-unacknowledged economic value of forests, including wildlife habitat, safeguarding watersheds, soil health, and tourism. In Amerina, Sohigian estimates the economic value of forests to be between $7 million to $1.1 billion annually, if not more.
11 challenges facing 7 billion super-consumers
(10/31/2011) Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Halloween this year is not the ghouls and goblins taking to the streets, but a baby born somewhere in the world. It's not the baby's or the parent's fault, of course, but this child will become a part of an artificial, but still important, milestone: according to the UN, the Earth's seventh billionth person will be born today. That's seven billion people who require, in the very least, freshwater, food, shelter, medicine, and education. In some parts of the world, they will also have a car, an iPod, a suburban house and yard, pets, computers, a lawn-mower, a microwave, and perhaps a swimming pool. Though rarely addressed directly in policy (and more often than not avoided in polite conversations), the issue of overpopulation is central to environmentally sustainability and human welfare.
New study: price carbon at the point of fossil fuel extraction
(10/17/2011) Global carbon emissions are a complicated matter. Currently, officials estimate national fossil fuel-related emissions by what is burned (known as production) within a nation, but this approach underestimates the emissions contributions from countries that extract oil and oil for export. Is there a better way to account for a country's total climate change footprint?
Putting people to work: restoring our ecosystems, sequestering carbon
(10/02/2011) President Obama's sole focus of his September 8th speech to the United States Congress was job creation. He closed his speech by summoning an earlier time of promise: "President Kennedy once said, ' Our problems are man-made—therefore they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants.' These are difficult years for our country. But we are Americans. We are tougher than the times we live in, and we are bigger than our politics have been. So let's meet the moment. Let's get to work..." Inspiration is surely needed because in addition to the United States, where unemployment remains at about 9 percent, severe unemployment is found throughout the world, with Greece, Spain, and South Africa, for example, having 2011 summer unemployment rates at over 16, 20, and 25 percent, respectively.
Forest carbon projects rake in $178 million in 2010
(09/29/2011) Investors funneled $178 million into forest carbon projects intended to mitigate global climate change last year, according to a new report by Forest Trends' Ecosystem Marketplace. By trading a record 30.1 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtC02e), the market saw a 48 percent rise over 2009—including a rise in private investors over non-profits as well as greater support for the global program Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD)—shows that the burgeoning market may be beginning to make good on its promise to provide funds to save forests for their ecosystem services with an initial focus on carbon.
Panama canal drives forest conservation, offers insight on value of ecosystems
(09/26/2011) As demonstrated by growing enthusiasm for conserving forests and the rise of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program, the public is increasingly aware of the role forests play in delivering ecosystems services — like clean air and water — that benefit mankind. Yet, science still lags conventional wisdom — researchers have yet to fully quantify much of what healthy forests provide. Bridging this gap is key to unlocking the full value of protecting and restoring tropical forests. The ambitious Agua Salud Project in Panama is attempting to do just that.
Conservationists renew push for 'rainforest bonds'
(09/19/2011) Conservationists are renewing a push for a special class of 'rainforest bonds' to fund efforts to conserve tropical forests.
UN: private sector engagement needed to save forests
(09/14/2011) Reversing global forest decline will require private sector engagement and finance, argues a new report published by the United Nations and a coalition of more than 200 financial institutions.
Conserving and Valuing Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity: Economic, Institutional and Social Challenges
(09/11/2011) Conserving and Valuing Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity: Economic, Institutional and Social Challenges provides a much needed survey reflecting upon recent institutional experience yielding analysis that concludes that there exists financially rigorous rationale to justify conservation of biodiversity for economic reasons, above and beyond the usual rationale of conservation only for biodiversity, spiritual or ethical reasons.
Children on the frontlines: the e-waste epidemic in Africa
(09/09/2011) In Agbogbloshie, a slum outside the capital city of Accra, Ghana, tons of electronic waste lies smoldering in toxic piles. Children make their way through this dangerous environment, desperate to strip even a few ounces of copper, aluminum, brass, and zinc from worn-out electronics originating from the United States and Europe. "The smell alone will drive all but the most desperate away, but many are so desperate they persevere despite the obvious dangers. It is a very tough thing to witness," explains Dr. Kwei Quartey, a Ghanaian author and physician, in a recent mongabay.com interview.
Sowing the seeds to save the Patagonian Sea
(09/07/2011) With wild waters and shores, the Patagonia Sea is home to a great menagerie of marine animals: from penguins to elephants seals, albatrosses to squid, and sea lions to southern right whales. The sea lies at crossroads between more northern latitudes and the cold bitter water of the Southern Ocean, which surround Antarctica. However the region is also a heavy fishing ground, putting pressure on a number of species and imperiling the very ecosystem that supplies the industry. Conservation efforts, spearheaded by marine conservationist Claudio Campagna and colleagues with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), are in the early stages. Campagna, who often writes about the importance of language in the fight for preservation, has pushed to rename the area to focus on its stunning wildlife.
Organic farming can be more profitable in the long-term than conventional agriculture
(09/01/2011) Organic farming is more profitable and economically secure than conventional farming even over the long-term, according to a new study in Agronomy Journal. Using experimental farm plots, researchers with the University of Minnesota found that organic beat conventional even if organic price premiums (i.e. customers willing to pay more for organic) were to drop as much as 50 percent.
Controversial study finds intensive farming partnered with strict protected areas is best for biodiversity
(09/01/2011) Given that we have very likely entered an age of mass extinction—and human population continues to rise (not unrelated)—researchers are scrambling to determine the best methods to save the world's suffering species. In the midst of this debate, a new study in Science, which is bound to have detractors, has found that setting aside land for strict protection coupled with intensive farming is the best way to both preserve species and feed a growing human world. However, other researchers say the study is missing the point, both on global hunger and biodiversity.
World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse
(08/30/2011) World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse clearly describes in terms of national and social security how the looming current threat to our collective global future is not from catastrophic war as many describe in hindsight the 20th Century, rather from cataclysmic climate change, biodiversity loss, and water degradation.
National parks do not contribute to poverty, finds decade-long study
(08/24/2011) A new study of Uganda's Kibale National Park refutes the conventional wisdom that parks cause poverty along their borders. 'Apparently the park provides a source of insurance; [locals] can hunt, or sell firewood or thatch from the park' explains Jennifer Alix-Garcia, co-author of the study, with the University of Wisconsin, Madison. 'It's misleading. If you look, you see more poor people living near the park. But when you look at the change in assets, you see that the poor people who live next to the park have lost less than poor people who live further away.'
Innovative program saves wildlife, protects forests, and fights poverty in Africa
(08/23/2011) Luangwa Valley in Zambia is home to stunning scenes of Africa wildlife: elephants, antelopes, zebra, buffalo, leopards, hyena, and lions all thrive in Luangwa's protected areas, while the Luangwa River is known for multitude of snapping crocodiles and its superabundant herds of hippos. In fact, the area's hippos were filmed for the BBC's program Life, including a dramatic battle between two males (see below). Yet as in many such places in Africa, abundant plains and forest wildlife bump up against the needs of impoverished local people. The resulting conflict usually ends in large-scale wildlife declines; the same trend was documented in the Luangwa Valley until a unique initiative began to make a difference not only in the life of animals, but of people as well.
The importance of recognizing viewpoints in a rapidly changing world
(08/16/2011) Is oil palm bad? Is protecting tropical forests more important than converting them for economic development? Should we spike trees to make sure no one cuts them down? Answers to these questions depend on which side of the argument you're on. But often people on either side of debates hardly know what their opponents are thinking.
Adaptation, justice and morality in a warming world
(07/28/2011) If last year was the first in which climate change impacts became apparent worldwide—unprecedented drought and fires in Russia, megaflood in Pakistan, record drought in the Amazon, deadly floods in South America, plus record highs all over the place—this may be the year in which the American public sees climate change as no longer distant and abstract, but happening at home. With burning across the southwest, record drought in Texas, majors flooding in the Midwest, heatwaves everywhere, its becoming harder and harder to ignore the obvious. Climate change consultant and blogger, Brian Thomas, says these patterns are pushing 'prominent scientists' to state 'more explicitly that the pattern we're seeing today shows a definite climate change link,' but that it may not yet change the public perception in the US.
REDD calculator and mapping tool for Indonesia launched
(07/13/2011) Researchers have launched a new tool to help policy-makers, NGOs, and landowners evaluate the potential benefits and costs of Indonesia's reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+) program at provincial and district levels.
Australia launches limited carbon tax
(07/11/2011) Australia's 500 largest polluters will pay AU$23 ($24.60) per ton of carbon dioxide emitted beginning July 2012 under a plan announced by Australian prime minister Julia Gilliard.
South Sudan's choice: resource curse or wild wonder?
(07/11/2011) After the people of South Sudan have voted overwhelmingly for independence, the work of building a nation begins. Set to become the world's newest country on July 9th of this year, one of many tasks facing the nation's nascent leaders is the conservation of its stunning wildlife. In 2007, following two decades of brutal civil war, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) surveyed South Sudan. What they found surprised everyone: 1.3 million white-eared kob, tiang (or topi) antelope and Mongalla gazelle still roamed the plains, making up the world's second largest migration after the Serengeti. The civil war had not, as expected, largely diminished the Sudan's great wildernesses, which are also inhabited by buffalo, giraffe, lion, bongo, chimpanzee, and some 8,000 elephants. However, with new nationhood comes tough decisions and new pressures. Multi-national companies seeking to exploit the nation's vast natural resources are expected to arrive in South Sudan, tempting them with promises of development and economic growth, promises that have proven uneven at best across Africa.
Germany backs out of Yasuni deal
(06/13/2011) Germany has backed out of a pledge to commit $50 million a year to Ecuador's Yasuni ITT Initiative, reports Science Insider. The move by Germany potentially upsets an innovative program hailed by environmentalists and scientists alike. This one-of-a-kind initiative would protect a 200,000 hectare bloc in Yasuni National Park from oil drilling in return for a trust fund of $3.6 billion, or about half the market value of the nearly billion barrels of oil lying underneath the area. The plan is meant to mitigate climate change, protect biodiversity, and safeguard the rights of indigenous people.
Environment versus economy: local communities find economic benefits from living next to conservation areas
(06/12/2011) While few would question that conserving a certain percentage of land or water is good for society overall, it has long been believed that protected areas economically impoverish, rather than enrich, communities living adjacent to them. Many communities worldwide have protested against the establishment of conservation areas near them, fearing that less access and increased regulations would imperil their livelihoods. However, a surprising study overturns the common wisdom: showing that, at least in Thailand and Costa Rica, protected areas actually boost local economies and decrease poverty.
Despite setbacks, voluntary carbon markets booming
(06/06/2011) The voluntary carbon market posted a 34 percent gain in 2010, trading a record 131 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtC02e). While the US accounted for the majority of trading activity, worth $424 million in total, market growth was strongest in developing countries.
Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet
(05/23/2011) Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet challenges us to imaging a world where growth and unmitigated consumption do not equal development. In fact, as clearly described throughout, countries with unmitigated consumption are the underdeveloped countries of the 21st Century expanding our global ecological debt at the expense of countries who are more sophisticated in their development practices with similar prosperity levels while incurring less "national" ecological debt.
Nobel laureates: 'we are transgressing planetary boundaries that have kept civilization safe for the past 10,000 years'
(05/23/2011) Last week the 3rd Nobel Laureates Symposium on Global Sustainability concluded with participants—including 17 past Nobel Prize winners and 40 other experts—crafting and signing the Stockholm Memorandum. The document calls for emergency actions to tackle human pressures on the Earth's environment while ensuring a more equitable and just world.
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