Daily Archives: September 4, 2014

Extinctions during human era one thousand times more than before

Vintage engraving of the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus), a flightless bird endemic to the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. The dodo has been extinct since the mid-to-late 17th century.

Date:
September 2, 2014
Source:
Brown University
Summary:
The gravity of the world’s current extinction rate becomes clearer upon knowing what it was before people came along. A new estimate finds that species die off as much as 1,000 times more frequently nowadays than they used to. That’s 10 times worse than the old estimate of 100 times.

Credit: iStockphoto
The gravity of the world’s current extinction rate becomes clearer upon knowing what it was before people came along. A new estimate finds that species die off as much as 1,000 times more frequently nowadays than they used to. That’s 10 times worse than the old estimate of 100 times.

It’s hard to comprehend how bad the current rate of species extinction around the world has become without knowing what it was before people came along. The newest estimate is that the pre-human rate was 10 times lower than scientists had thought, which means that the current level is 10 times worse.

Extinctions are about 1,000 times more frequent now than in the 60 million years before people came along. The explanation from lead author Jurriaan de Vos, a Brown University postdoctoral researcher, senior author Stuart Pimm, a Duke University professor, and their team appears online in the journal Conservation Biology.

“This reinforces the urgency to conserve what is left and to try to reduce our impacts,” said de Vos, who began the work while at the University of Zurich. “It was very, very different before humans entered the scene.”

In absolute, albeit rough, terms the paper calculates a “normal background rate” of extinction of 0.1 extinctions per million species per year. That revises the figure of 1 extinction per million species per year that Pimm estimated in prior work in the 1990s. By contrast, the current extinction rate is more on the order of 100 extinctions per million species per year.

Orders of magnitude, rather than precise numbers are about the best any method can do for a global extinction rate, de Vos said. “That’s just being honest about the uncertainty there is in these type of analyses.”

From fossils to genetics

The new estimate improves markedly on prior ones mostly because it goes beyond the fossil record. Fossils are helpful sources of information, but their shortcomings include disproportionate representation of hard-bodied sea animals and the problem that they often only allow identification of the animal or plant’s genus, but not its exact species.

….(read more).

see: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cobi.12380/abstract

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Modern population boom traced to pre-industrial roots

Date: September 2, 2014
Source: Emory Health Sciences
Summary:
The foundation of the human population explosion, commonly attributed to a sudden surge in industrialization and public health during the 18th and 19th centuries, was actually laid as far back as 2,000 years ago, suggests an extended model of detailed demographic and archeological data.

The foundation of the human population explosion, commonly attributed to a sudden surge in industrialization and public health during the 18th and 19th centuries, was actually laid as far back as 2,000 years ago, suggests an extended model of detailed demographic and archeological data.

The Public Library of Science One (PLOS ONE) recently published the analytical framework developed by Aaron Stutz, an associate professor of anthropology at Emory’s Oxford College.

“The industrial revolution and public health improvements were proximate reasons that more people lived longer,” Stutz says. “If you dig further in the past, however, the data suggest that a critical threshold of political and economic organization set the stage 1,500 to 2,000 years ago, around the start of the Common Era. The resulting political-economic balance was the tipping point for economies of scale: It created a range of opportunities enabling more people to get resources, form successful families, and generate enough capital to transfer to the next generation.”

Population dynamics have been a hot topic since 1798, when English scholar Thomas Robert Malthus published his controversial essay that population booms in times of plenty will inevitably be checked by famine and disease. “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in Earth to produce subsistence for man,” he wrote. The so-called Malthusian Catastrophe theory was penned just prior to the global census size reaching one billion.

While it took hundreds of thousands of years for humans to reach that one billion milestone, it took only another 120 years for humanity to double to two billion. And during the past 50 years, the human population has surged to near eight billion.

“It’s mind-boggling,” Stutz says. “The human population has not behaved like any other animal population. We haven’t stayed in any kind of equilibrium with what we would consider a typical ecological niche.”

….(read more).

Yale Asks Managers to Weigh Climate Change Risks – Private Equity Beat – WSJ

12:10 pm ET    Sep 4, 2014   Limited partners
Dawn Lim

Reuters/Michaela Rehle

Yale University is asking managers for its roughly $21 billion endowment to account for how climate change and potential regulations on fossil fuels could affect investments, the latest sign that university endowments are increasingly aware of the headline risks associated with coal, oil and gas investments.

The Ivy League school is watched closely in investment circles because of the eponymous “Yale Model” investment philosophy of chief investment officer David Swensen, which puts a heavy emphasis on so-called alternative investments including private equity.

Mr. Swensen is now urging managers to take into account “the effects of climate change on the businesses in which they are or might be investing,” according to a statement from Yale President Peter Salovey. The endowment office is also asking managers to “anticipate possible future regulatory actions in response to the externalities produced by the combustion of fossil fuels.”

Although Yale indicated it would be open to backing shareholder resolutions to make companies disclose greenhouse-gas emissions, it stopped short of taking a definitive stand over fossil fuel-related investments.

“Until alternative energy technologies and infrastructures can be developed and implemented, fossil fuels will remain essential to some degree,” the Yale Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility wrote in a statement. The committee offers

….(read more).

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The Infrastructure the Next Generation of Cities Will Need

It will be technology that will enable “Cities 3.0” — the transformation of metropolitan centers into hubs of innovation and entrepreneurship.

by Bob Graves | July 28, 2014

Are we truly entering an era of “Cities 3.0”? Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is an advocate of that notion, and few elected officials are in a better position to look at cities from a broad, historical perspective than is Johnson, the new president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

He laid out that perspective in his inaugural speech as the conference’s president, describing how the first generation of cities was built around ports, rivers and transportation routes. Then came the Industrial Revolution and Cities 2.0. In addition to factory smokestacks, they had electricity, transportation systems and other modern services. In the new era of Cities 3.0, Johnson said, “the city is a hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology. It’s paperless, wireless and cashless.”

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Plenty of municipal leaders, of course, are working to make that vision a reality. This strategy, however, presents tremendous challenges from an infrastructure perspective because Cities 3.0 will be operating in the older centers of most metropolitan regions.

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L.A. to Hire Chief Resilience Officer

LA-Infra

Infrastructure & Environment

By Rosanna Xia

When Los Angeles officials begin an ambitious effort to comb the city and check which buildings might be at risk in a major earthquake, they will also examine how efficiently the structures use water and electricity, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Monday.

The comment came as Garcetti pledged to appoint a “chief resilience officer” who would search for ways to improve the city’s ability to recover from man-made or natural disasters such as earthquakes. At a conference on what it takes to make a city bounce back from disaster, the Rockefeller Foundation also committed to paying the first two years of salary for whoever Los Angeles hires for the job.

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“When disaster strikes, we must be prepared now to keep our water, communications and other key infrastructure operational,” said Garcetti, who emphasized that preparing for earthquakes goes hand in hand with preparing for long-term problems such as drought for a city like Los Angeles. “Why should we be going and looking at buildings on their seismic safety if we don’t also look at the energy that they’re consuming and the water that they consume?”

Last fall, The Times reported that by the most conservative estimate, as many as 50 of the more than 1,000 concrete buildings in the city built before 1976 would collapse in a major earthquake, exposing thousands to injury or death. In January, Garcetti appointed Lucy Jones, a prominent U.S. Geological Survey seismologist, to spend a year talking with community leaders, scientists, building owners and tenants and coming up with recommendations on how to tackle retrofitting and preserving the city’s water and telecommunications systems during a major quake.

Once Jones’ work is done, the resilience officer would take it from there.

L.A. was chosen as one of 100 cities that will get money and other help from the Rockefeller Foundation to develop ways to minimize damage and recover economically from disasters. Out of 372 cities around the world that have applied to become one of the Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities, 32 have been selected so far.

The program has already kicked off in New Orleans, Berkeley and San Francisco, which recently expanded the duties of its earthquake czar to include chief of resilience.

Michael Berkowitz, president of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, said L.A. has many complex challenges, and he was “really impressed by the innovative and visionary leadership that the mayor was providing on these issues.”

…(read more).

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Facing Climate Change, Cities Embrace Resiliency

http://www.governing.com/topics/transportation-infrastructure/gov-climate-change-cities-resiliency.html

Infrastructure & Environment

Lacking substantial state or federal support, local governments throughout the country are using natural disasters as a way to get their infrastructure, personnel and budgets better prepared for the next.

by Daniel C. Vock | September 2014

Anton Oparin/Shutterstock

The flash floods that have long plagued Dubuque, Iowa, seem to be getting worse. Although the city lies on the Mississippi River, the biggest threat of a deluge is from the sky. Summer storms are being stoked by increasingly warmer air. As a result, they carry more moisture and soak the low-lying areas and hills that ring the city. The water speeds downhill toward the Bee Branch Creek, a partially buried waterway that flows beneath several neighborhoods before emptying into the Mississippi. Often, the storms dump so much rain that the creek’s concrete channels cannot contain the runoff. Water spills over streets, across backyards and into basements. It can push open manhole covers, spray out from fire hydrants and carry away parked cars.

As is happening elsewhere in the Midwest, the storms are coming through Dubuque with greater frequency and ferocity than in the past. Six times since 1999, Dubuque has been declared a presidential disaster area. One storm in 2011 dumped nearly 11 inches of rain on the city in less than 24 hours. That July set the record for the rainiest single month in Dubuque history. The city estimates that, since 1999, floods in the Bee Branch Creek watershed have caused $70 million in damage to homes and businesses.

When storm sirens sound, the neighborhood’s residents — many of them elderly people or families with small children — have few safe options, says Mayor Roy Buol. “You’ve got a heck of a choice,” he says. “You can go into your basement that’s flooding with water and risk electrocution. Or you can stay upstairs and risk the effects of a tornado or straight-line winds that can do damage to your home or rip it off its foundation.”

…(read more).

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Do Cities Need Chief Resilience Officers to Combat Climate Change?

It is a wonderful idea, and if picked, a winning city will receive financial support for creating resilience plans and appointing chief resilience officers (CRO) to oversee all aspects of city resilience and sustainability. But the challenge does raise a couple of questions.

First, what exactly is urban resilience? The term began to crop up a few years ago as a more encompassing term than “sustainability,” which has been used to define the way communities can grow economically without so much environmental degradation. Resilient cities aren’t just sustainable, they are also less vulnerable by reducing the risk they face when it comes to natural disasters. If a disaster strikes, a city with a resilience strategy would be able to respond, withstand and bounce back far more quickly.

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A quick return to normalcy is especially important for poor people in urban areas. They are likely to suffer the most in a disaster, so a strategy that can help them get back on their feet faster reduces the misery and suffering that occurs in the wake of storms, conflicts and other large-scale problems.

…(read more).

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