LONDON (Reuters) - Conservation zones in the Indian Ocean set up to protect fish stocks are not preventing coral reefs from collapsing due to warmer temperatures or helping to speed their recovery, researchers reported on Wednesday.
The reason is many of these non-fishing areas are located in warmer waters where coral reefs have a harder time surviving when temperatures rise suddenly, said Newcastle University marine biologist Nick Graham, who led the study.
The survey of 66 sites in 7 countries is the largest study of its kind and underscores the need for urgent action to save the important marine ecosystem, the researchers said.
The findings also show fishing limits that keep boats out and people out of fragile areas do not protect coral the way many scientists had thought, the researchers said.
"The Indian Ocean hosts some of the most diverse reefs in the world," Graham said in a telephone interview. "Current marine protected areas don't show any potential for faster recovery than non-protected areas."
Coral reefs, delicate undersea structures resembling rocky gardens made by animals called coral polyps, are important nurseries and shelters for fish and other sea life.
They are also considered valuable protection for coastlines from high seas, a critical source of food, important for tourism and a potential storehouse of medicines for cancer and other diseases.
But overfishing, climate change and human development are threatening reefs worldwide, including in the Indian Ocean where warmer water temperatures due to the El Nino weather system in 1998 devastated the coral population, researchers said.
"The West Indian ocean lost about half of its coral and some areas lost up to 90 percent," Graham said.
The researchers, who reported their findings in the journal PLoS One, looked at the coral population over a 10-year period beginning in 1994 to compare the before and after effects of the 1998 destruction.
They found that nine protected areas varying in size from 1 square kilometer to 14 square kilometers in the Seychelles and off the coasts of Kenya and Northern Tanzania were boosting fish stocks but not doing much for the coral.
Instead, coral was rebounding much faster in areas with cooler waters in Southern Tanzania, Reunion Island and Mauritius -- all areas with very few of the protected zones set up in the 1960s and 1970s.
The findings do not suggest existing protected areas should be scrapped but rather point to a need to focus conservation efforts on faster-recovering areas and manage the system as a whole, Graham said.
"We need to focus on areas that are recovering faster or escaping the impacts of climate change," he said. "This is where your brood stocks of coral areas are that will help seed other areas."
(Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Giles Elgood)
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_________________________________________________________________ Ghana Timber Plan Shows Vision for New Environmental Regime
By Brent Latham
26 August 2008
Ghanaian officials at the U.N. climate change conference in Accra are publicizing a plan to harvest submerged timber from underneath the man-made Lake Volta. Brent Latham reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.
Over 1600 participants attend the UN climate change conference which is held between 21-27 Aug 2008 in Accra, Ghana
Discussions began last week in Ghana on an environmental framework to replace the Kyoto protocol, an international agreement that aims to reduce carbon emissions, but which expires in 2012. As part of the new agreement, some West African countries are lobbying for expanded incentives to preserve existing forests.
Officials from Ghana's Forestry Commission are promoting a plan to harvest submerged timber in Lake Volta in the country's north. They say the plan will help avoid carbon emissions and environmental damage associated with above-ground timber harvesting.
The costs of the operation, involving the use of barges for the cutting equipment and sonar to locate the trees, will be higher than traditional logging. The cost disparity could potentially be recouped through carbon credits, a mechanism designed by the Kyoto protocol that financially rewards projects that avoid emissions.
But the current Kyoto protocol allows for credit only if the timber is used in place of non-renewable energy sources, says Arne Eik, a senior analyst with London-based carbon-market consulting firm Carbon Point. He says the Ghanaian project, which plans to sell the timber on the open market, would not qualify.
"That might very well be a wise strategy from an environmental point of view, and then we can talk about, instead of using it for energy purposes, we can talk about avoided deforestation, because then you can use these trees instead of cutting down other trees, and that is the idea here," he said. "But under the current Kyoto protocol you cannot claim carbon credits for doing such a thing because claiming avoided deforestation is not a part of the Kyoto protocol. "
Countries like Ghana, historic home to a large rain forest, are anxious to change the rules to improve financial incentives for projects which avoid emissions and deforestation, like the one in Lake Volta.
Eik says if they are successful, this sort of initiative will become more common.
"It could very well be that after 2012 the regime will be different and you will then get a regime where you claim such carbon credits," he said. "This is a very, very hot issue in the negotiations on what kind of protocol we will get after 2012. And from an African point of view, this is undoubtedly an important issue. "
Lake Volta was formed in the late 1960s after the construction of the Akosombo Dam. The hardwood beneath the lake is still in good condition, Ghanaian officials say. They estimate more than 14 million cubic meters of hardwood, with a value of around $4 billion, await below the lake's surface.
There are other similar lakes with submerged timber resources across Africa. Under a new plan that rewarded countries for avoiding deforestation, those sources could more easily compete financially with traditional logging.
Un responsable de l’ONU dénonce le manque de financement de projets respectueux de l’environnement en Afrique
APA-Accra (Ghana) Yvo de Boer, secrétaire exécutif de la Convention des Nations unies sur les changements climatiques (CCNUCC), a regretté mardi à Accra que seuls 27 projets aient été financés dans sept pays d’Afrique sur les 3 000 projets en cours dans le monde dans le cadre du mécanisme de développement propre (MDP), a constaté APA.
Il a indiqué, à l’occasion d’un atelier de formation à l’intention des journalistes accrédités à la conférence des Nations Unies sur le changement climatique à Accra, que l’essentiel des projets est financés en Inde et en Chine.
Sur un investissement global de plus 2,4 milliards de dollars, seulement 378 millions de dollars vont à l’Afrique, indique-t-on
Et pourtant l’Afrique, selon Yvo de Boer, l’un des continents les plus touchés par les changements climatiques.
Les négociations sur le changement climatique d’Accra qui s’achèvent mercredi vont aboutir à l’adoption des futurs objectifs de réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre.
Des propositions seront faites pour la rédaction d’un nouveau traité devant remplacer le protocole de Kyoto, qui expire en 2012.
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_________________________________________________________________ Le Monde : Climat: Paris plaide pour une alliance Europe-Afrique
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Le ministre français de l'Ecologie Jean-Louis Borloo à plaidé au nom de la présidence française de l'Union européenne en faveur d'une alliance Europe-Afrique dans les négocations sur le climat, lors d'une réunion mardi du Fonds de l'environnement mondial à Cotonou (Bénin).
"Je suis venu vous demander que nous nous aidions mutuellement à convaincre le reste du monde. Il faut changer le caractère irréversible du changement climatique", a-t-il déclaré devant ses homologues représentant 14 pays d'Afrique équatoriale occidentale.
"Nous devons monter ensemble ce processus pour réussir la réunion de Cophenague", a-t-il déclaré.
La Conférence de Copenhague de décembre 2009 doit aboutir à un accord mondial pour la réduction des émissions de CO2 après 2012 à l'expiration de la première phase du protocole de Kyoto.
M. Borloo a souligné également que les mécanismes de développement propre (MDP), destinés à favoriser l'investissement dans des projets "propres" dans les pays pauvres, "ont relativement peu bénéficié à l'Afrique, quasiment pas, ce qui n'est pas normal".
Il a avancé l'idée que "l'Europe qui a la responsabilité historique du réchauffement climatique" étudie avec les pays africains la façon de transférer des flux financiers issus notamment des MDP pour lutter contre la déforestation et développer leurs propres ressources énergétiques.
Les MDP permettent aux pays développés de compenser une partie de leurs émissions en investissant dans un projet "propre" au sud portant sur l'énergie, les déchets, les industries lourdes particulièrement émettrices de gaz à effet de serre ou, dans une moindre mesure, la reforestation.
Le Fonds de l'environnement mondial a été mis sur pied il y a 17 ans, après le sommet de la Terre de Rio de 1992, pour financer des projets de protection de l'environnement.
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1- Caribbean - Tropical Storm Gustav forms in Caribbean
2- Brazil - Fate of Amazon tribes on trial as Brazil awaits reservation ruling
3- Haiti - Hurricane bears down on Haiti
4- Mexico - Storm weakens over Mexico's Baja California
5- Peru - Peru throws out Amazon land laws
6- St- Kitts & Nevis - Nevis Premier leads delegation to Iceland to study geothermal plants
7- Trinidad & Tobago - Trinidad rains cause millions in damages
1- Caribbean - Tropical Storm Gustav forms in Caribbean 08 – 26 – 08 NEW YORK, USA: The US National Hurricane Center said Monday that Tropical Storm Gustav had formed in the central Caribbean, with strengthening of the storm expected to bring hurricane conditions to parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti within 24 hours.
Gustav, packing winds near 60 mph as of 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, could strengthen into a hurricane prior to moving over land, the NHC said. Hurricanes pack winds in excess of 73 mph.
The storm was located about 225 miles south-southeast of Port au Prince, Haiti, moving northwest near 14 mph.
"On the forecast track the center of Gustav will be moving near or over southwestern Haiti on Tuesday," the NHC said in an advisory.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the south coast of the Dominican Republic, from Santo Domingo westward to the southern border of Haiti.
The NHC forecast the storm would move toward Cuba over the next five days. Two of seven forecast tracks show the storm heading toward the Gulf of Mexico, while four show it heading toward Guatemala, Belize or the Yucatan Peninsula.
New York-based forecaster Weather 2000 Inc said that passing or crossing north of Cuba does not always "provide a conclusion."
"Several storms have formed above the Tropic of Cancer and still found their way into the Gulf of Mexico," the forecaster said, adding all interests in the Gulf, Florida, Bahamas and Greater Antilles should monitor and prepare for Gustav.
Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist for Planalytics, added, "based on the extremely high ocean heat content that lay in wait to the west of this storm system, it remains possible that rapid intensification could occur, bringing the potential of Gustav to major hurricane status during the later half of this week."
2- Brazil - Fate of Amazon tribes on trial as Brazil awaits reservation ruling 08 – 26 – 08 Supreme Court to decide if non-aborigines can stay. Opening up reserve would 'devastate' native peoples.
Brazil is bracing for an imminent ruling on the future of one of its largest indigenous reservations - a decision that campaigners claim could spell disaster for indigenous communities across the country.
The Supreme Court is expected to announce its verdict tomorrow in a case brought by a group of farmers, businessmen and politicians who claim the 2005 creation of the Raposa Serra do Sol reservation was "unconstitutional" and are demanding the right to remain.
Located in the isolated Amazonian state of Roraima, the sprawling 1.7m-hectare (4.2m-acre) reserve was ordered by Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio da Silva, and is home to more than 18,000 aborigines from five different ethnic groups. Campaigners hailed the establishment of Raposa Serra do Sol as a historic move to protect the country's indigenous peoples from contact with the outside world.
Nearly all non-aborigines require legal permission to enter indigenous lands. But several rice farmers have continued to operate inside the reserve. They describe the demarcation of Raposa Serra do Sol as an obstacle to economic development and point to the fact that there are numerous aborigines among their employees.
Violence erupted earlier this year after government attempts to remove all non-indigenous people from the reserve. Bridges were burned and one group of aborigines was shot at, allegedly by gunmen hired by local farmers.
Paulo Cesar Quartiero, a rice farmer who was arrested earlier this year for resisting eviction, has blamed a foreign conspiracy for the creation of the reserve. "History will show who is selling Brazil and who is defending the nation," he said last week.
Many senior members of the military see the reserve - located along the borders with Venezuela and Guyana - as a threat to national security. Last year, the Brazilian military told the Guardian it believed drug traffickers may be taking advantage of the state's absence and using aborigines to smuggle cocaine into Brazil.
But campaigners say a Supreme Court ruling that reduced the size of the reserve or allowed non-aborigines to remain would encourage further invasions by miners, loggers and ranchers that could devastate the region's indigenous communities.
Fiona Watson, a campaigner from Survival International, a NGO, said a decision tomorrow in favour of the farmers could destroy the indigenous "way of life and set a catastrophic precedent for Indians all over the country".
During a visit to one village in the isolated reserve last year Pierlangela Nascimento da Cunha, a prominent indigenous campaigner, said the conflict over Raposa Serra do Sol was part of a wider offensive against indigenous rights. That offensive included a government bill that proposed opening up such reserves to mining companies in search of gold and diamonds.
"Brazil wants to be a big power. But this does not give it the right to steamroll over the rights of the Indians," said Cunha, who travelled to London in June to discuss the situation in Raposa Serra do Sol with British MPs and members of the Foreign Office.
"The development of our country cannot be achieved through the extinction of its indigenous people and by disrespecting their rights. The big economic interests see [aborigines] as an obstacle."
4- Mexico - Storm weakens over Mexico's Baja California 08 - 05 – 08 CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico -- Tropical Storm Julio lashed the southern half of Mexico's Baja California peninsula with rain early Monday, but was expected to weaken to a tropical depression and move out over the Gulf of California later in the day.
The storm drenched the resort-studded southern Baja California with heavy rains Sunday as authorities evacuated more than 2,500 families living along riverbeds near the coast.
Tropical storm warnings for the southern tip of Baja California were discontinued but remained in effect farther north on the peninsula's west coast from Punta Abreojos to El Pocito and along the east coast from Mulege to San Juan Bautista.
By early Monday, the storm was centered about 45 miles (70 kilometers) west-northwest of Loreto, moving north-northwest near 15 mph (24 kph).
The storm had top winds near 40 mph (65 kph), but was expected to weaken as it moved out over the Gulf of California.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, said Julio could dump 3 to 6 inches (7.5 to 15 centimeters) of rain on the normally parched Mexican peninsula, raising fears of flash flooding.
Most vacationers rode out the bad weather inside their hotel rooms, but some ventured out on shopping trips and excursions.
At the hillside Hotel Finiterra, the 224 guests were warned to stay away from the ocean, but none made plans to leave early, said front desk manager Jorge Castro. "They can see it's not a huge problem. Some have even gone out on activities, on tours or sand biking."
More than a dozen shelters were filled with people riding out the wind and rain. Those who fled their homes included Miriam Pineda, 20, who is nine months' pregnant and wanted to take advantage of the shelter's access to a doctor.
5- Peru - Peru throws out Amazon land laws 08 – 25- 08 Peru's Congress has voted to repeal two land laws aimed at opening up Amazonian tribal areas to development, which led to protests by indigenous groups. Correspondents say the repeal of the laws is a blow to President Alan Garcia, who had approved the legislation by decree.
Mr. Garcia had described the initiative as pivotal to the improvement of life in Peru's poorest regions.
A leading indigenous rights campaigner welcomed the repeal of the laws.
Alberto Pizango called it a new dawn for the country's indigenous peoples.
During the protests, which lasted more than 10 days, indigenous groups took several police officers hostage, and took control of both a major natural gas field in southern Peru and an oil pipeline.
Congress repealed the laws by 66 votes to 29.
Speaking before the vote, Roger Naja, president of the National Commission for Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian Peoples, had urged Congress to vote to rescind the laws.
History, he said, would remember Friday as "the day that the disappearance of the indigenous communities in the jungles and mountains was avoided".
Mr Pizango, leader of the Inter-Ethnic Association of the Peruvian Forest (Aidesep), hailed the repeal as "a moment of true democracy and true inclusion".
"This is a new dawn for the people of this country, and for all Peruvians who wish to develop in freedom, not in oppression," he said.
On Wednesday, President Garcia had warned the repeal would be "a very serious, historic mistake".
"If that were to happen out of fear of protesters, fear of unrest, Peru would some day remember it as the moment when change came to a halt and hundreds of thousands of people were condemned to poverty, exclusion and marginalisation," he told reporters.
The laws would have allowed the sale of tribal lands by a simple majority vote in a community assembly, which the protesters say would make it easier for big energy companies to grab their land.
Around 70% of Peru's Amazon is leased for oil and gas exploration and many of its tribal people say they do not want the companies on their land, the BBC's Dan Collyns reports from the Peruvian capital Lima.
Source:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7578040.stm 6- St- Kitts & Nevis - Nevis Premier leads delegation to Iceland to study geothermal plants 08 – 25 – 08 CHARLESTOWN, Nevis: The Premier of Nevis, Joseph Parry led a delegation to Iceland from August 17- 20, 2008. The mission was aimed at acquiring first hand experience of geothermal plants at work, holding discussions with geothermal plant operators, while at the same time meeting officials, including the Prime Minister and members of the government and the Icelandic International Development Agency(ICEIDA).
Iceland has had experience with the natural resource for over half a century.
At the invitation of the Prime Minister of Iceland, Geir Haarde, Parry and his team attended a luncheon meeting at the Culture House in Reykjavik, where discussions included a team of senior government officials, as well as a member of the ICEIDA, who all congratulated Parry on his bold step of advancing geothermal explorations and development on Nevis.
During the two day mission, the Premier and his delegation met with a number of other agencies including: The National Energy Authority, the Icelandic International Development Agency and the Iceland GeoSurvey. The Nevis delegation also met with officials of educational institutions, such as the United Nations University which specializes in Geothermal Training, and the Reykjavik Energy Graduate School of Sustainable Systems. Premier Parry also held talks with private owned companies such as ENEX and Geysir Green Energy, both of which have a keen interest in geothermal.
The Nevis delegation gleaned a wealth of additional information when they toured a number of geothermal plants where senior officials made presentations on the history, development and operation of the said industries.
It is expected that over the next few months, the Icelandic Government, through the National Energy Agency and the ICEIDA will provide technical assistance, consultancy and advice to the Nevis Island Administration (NIA). This will include a number of visits to Nevis, from experts in geothermal operations in Iceland.
Furthermore, the NIA will continue to have discussions with the various educational institutions in Iceland in order to have higher learning and training in geothermal for residents of Nevis.
“We were able to meet the important players in the geothermal industry and outline our interest and obtain technical assistance to guide us with West Indies Power Ltd.(the company presently on Nevis drilling for geothermal energy). We were also informed that geothermal energy is inexpensive, costing about 10 cents per kilowatt in Iceland. All in all I must say the trip was a success and we look forward to a continued relationship with Iceland,” said Parry.
The Premier and his delegation returned to Nevis last Thursday.
Source:http://www.caribbeannetnews.com/news-10044--35-35--.html 7- Trinidad & Tobago - Trinidad rains cause millions in damages
08 – 28 – 08
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad: Torrential rains in East and West Trinidad over the weekend will cost residents millions of dollars.
Chairman of the Tunapuna/Piarco Regional Corporation, Patricia Mejlas, said it was the worst flooding she had seen and believed that the country was not prepared for a hurricane.
She told the Trinidad Express, “This was just a mild thing, what if we get a hurricane? We have to be prepared and I don't think we are ready for a disaster in the country."
Mejlas said that 15,000 people in the eastern part of the country were affected by flooding "because all rivers in the Eastern Corridor broke their banks, breaking bridges and causing areas that were never flooded before to come under water."
Some people have lost practically everything, she added. One woman in St Clair Gardens has mud all on her bed, another woman lost her car and a young man in Bon Air Gardens also lost his car, she added.
Diane Hadad of Apple Blossom Avenue said that it was the worst flood ever and she has lost all her belongings.
Los Angeles Times Utility fees sought for environmental research center
Globe and Mail: Renewable energy technology stores the wind underground
San Francisco Chronicle:New Arguments for Offshore Drilling
UN or UNEP in the news
E Magazine Think Before You Eat By Brian Colleran
August 26, 2008
One of the most stalwart defenders of factory farming in America is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and it’s none too happy that the United Nations has concluded that the environment pays a heavy price for our addiction to meat (see main story).
Tamara McCann Thies, chief of environmental affairs at the association, admits that there may be room for improvement, but that the system is working. “If we want to grow food on this planet, there are going to be environmental effects,” she says. “We do believe we’re doing a good job environmentally, and there are lots of conservation measures we have put in place through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Our greenhouse gas emissions are decreasing as well.”
But Janet Larsen, director of research at the Earth Policy Institute, says the UN report focuses our attention on the abundant resources expended in the interests of our carnivorous diet. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has linked the existence of “dead zones,” such as those in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay, to excessive nitrogen and phosphorous in agricultural runoff. These dead zones have resulted in the decimation of local fisheries and associated livelihoods. One source of nitrogen pollution is waste manure, often stored in large lagoons for treatment.
Thies points out that large cattle operations with more than 1,000 head are not allowed to discharge manure, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supports the possibility of using manure lagoons to generate electricity.
But the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Six Arguments for a Greener Diet argues that manure still escapes into streams and groundwater, sometimes leading to dramatic fish kills such as the 2005 spill into New York’s Black River and the 1995 spill into North Carolina’s New River Basin. Lester R. Brown’s book Plan B 3.0 (W.W. Norton) reports that we currently feed livestock 37 percent of the grain produced on the planet. Of the pesticides used to help grow these crops, the USDA estimates that five percent will wash off farmland and enter the water supply. These practices ensure that our water supply will remain at risk of contamination from a number of sources.
Large-scale production of livestock also causes environmental damage that is more difficult to see and quantify. Partly because of how animals are raised in the factory system, antibiotics, pesticides and artificial hormones are becoming more prevalent in our food and water supply. A recent report commissioned by the Breast Cancer Fund, “The Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls: What We Know, What We Need to Know” by Sandra Steingraber, considers early puberty to be at least in part an ecological disorder (see “Before They’re Ready,” Your Health, March/April 2008).
But this sobering scenario has its detractors. Alex Avery, the director of research for the Center for Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, says, “The current agricultural system is the most sustainable and safe in human history.” He calls concerns about pesticides “overblown,” saying, “Pesticides have greatly reduced the amount of fungal toxin contamination resulting from insect damage to crops, and the miniscule pesticide residues we’re exposed to amount to no more than 1/10,000th of a daily non-toxic dose. You can’t show any evidence that those tiny levels of pesticides cause sickness, but fungal toxins in bacteria do. That’s the real food safety issue.”
But consequences may result from the liberal use of antibiotics on livestock. The Union of Concerned Scientists reports that antibiotics used for non-therapeutic purposes in livestock are roughly eight times the amount administered to people to fight disease. Diseases are often able to cross the species barrier, including Bird Flu and West Nile Virus.
Developing Meat Consciousness
Americans consume an average of 200 pounds of meat every year, according to the USDA, a number which has steadily risen since the 1970s. The Worldwatch Institute reports that Americans lead the world in meat consumption.
Most pay little attention to how those animals were raised. But Catherine Friend, author of The Compassionate Carnivore (Da Capo Press) (see review in Tools for Green Living, page 60), argues that people can reform the unsustainable meat production system, both for their health and that of the animals. “I can’t tell people what to eat,” she says, “but I can suggest that they start paying attention to the fact that they’re eating animals, and that the animals’ lives are worthy of our consideration.”
But eating little or no meat is also an option. According to Paul Shapiro, senior director for the Humane Society’s Factory Farming Campaign, “The silver lining is that this is one of the easiest ways for individuals to reduce their environmental footprint. Whereas switching to a hybrid car or worrying about coal stacks may be beyond our daily means, choosing more plant-based meals is something where we can stand up for animals and the environment every time we sit down to eat.”
TimesTranscript New Science Shows Big Picture By David Suduzki
If we want to protect an animal such as the woodland caribou, we have to do more than just study it in isolation. We must understand how it interacts with its total environment, including its habitat, other animals, and humans. We must then try to determine the best possible conditions for it to live in healthy numbers and study the potential threats. It's no different with humans, except that the problems we have created for ourselves -- on a global scale -- are even more complex.
Sometimes it seems that science is inadequate to address the myriad problems of pollution, global warming, population growth, biodiversity loss, and changing oceans. Scientists don't always take a big-picture approach.
Applied science, for example, is often focused on knowledge for a specific need or to solve a practical problem. The science may delve into the mechanics of a technology with little regard for its social implications. Basic or "pure" science is aimed at gaining an understanding of a phenomenon or process, sometimes without considering its practical application.
While both areas are valuable to society, neither alone attempts to tackle that greatest of human experiments in its entirety: our own survival!
A new branch of science is attempting to encompass both fundamental understanding and practical applications with the goal of learning the degree to which humans are living in harmony with their environment and how they can continue to do so long term. Unlike many specialized scientific fields that might interest only a few people, this one ought to interest everyone!
Industrial society has had an enormous impact on natural ecosystems, to the point that very little of nature remains untrammelled by humans. Sustainability science helps identify potential "planetary boundaries" such as the world's available "biocapacity" compared with humanity's collective "ecological footprint". It helps us better understand our complex challenges.
"Sustainability" and "sustainable development" get tossed around a lot, and it's often difficult to know exactly what they mean. The most common definition is from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development, which defines sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Part of the difficulty is that some environmental problems are so complex and much of the science to date has addressed only fragments -- one problem at a time. But the problems and their solutions are interrelated and must be seen from a larger perspective. This is the realm of sustainability science.
We must first look at the scientific conditions necessary for sustainability and then look "back" to the present day, studying options for getting there. In some ways, this is opposite to the kind of forecasting that is often used in science. The U.S. National Research Council characterizes the study as a way to improve our capacity to live on the Earth in a way that will "meet the needs of a much larger but stabilizing human population, . . . sustain the life support systems of the planet, and . . . substantially reduce hunger and poverty."
That's a pretty tall order. Some issues include improving access to clean water, cleaner energy and manufacturing, reducing pollution, enhancing agricultural production and food security, creating more livable urban environments, and reducing poverty.
This branch of science is gaining respect worldwide, but it's so important it should be part of science programs in all schools. In a world that is expected to reach a population of 10 billion, it's important for science to consider how we are to survive and live in harmony with natural systems that we are a part of and depend upon. It's a huge task. As more people begin to understand the science and complexity of the problems, and to design lasting solutions, we will start to see a brighter future.