Environment and Ecology

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Curitiba – Designing a sustainable city

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CuritibaCredit cards give us goods quickly, the fax machine gives us the message quickly – the only thing left in our Stone Age is central governments. -- Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba

Citizens, the ancient Athenians realized, are the best people to identify priorities for action in their own cities. If cities are to become more sustainable, people must take action in the neighborhoods where they live. Most of the urban environmental success stories came about when citizens identified various problems and the links between them in order to pin down cause and effect. A charismatic mayor in Curitiba, for instance, saw that chaotic development and poor public transportation conspired to worsen air pollution: car use increased as buildings sprouted far from bus stops. By winning popular backing for a new bus system, he demonstrated that when citizens understand such connections, they often support or even demand change. -- Molly O’Meara

Most urban residents support strong environmental policies, but wealthy interest groups and corrupt officials often skew local political decisions. -- Molly O’Meara

When citizens have insufficient understanding of the causes of local problems, the political process suffers. -- Molly O’Meara

From every single window in Curitiba, I could see as much green as I could concrete. And green begets green; land values around the new parks have risen sharply, and with them tax revenues. --- Bill McKibben

Farnborough town centre on a busy Saturday afternoonIt is not often we can praise the way our towns and cities are run. They are usually run by people lacking in vision, out for their own self-aggrandizement, mired to their necks in sleaze and corruption.

 It is all too easy to find the bad examples. Farnborough, a small town south west of London, the town centre lying derelict thanks to the council pushing through highly unpopular plans to demolish the entire northern half of the town centre for a superstore. The store will face out of the town with its own car park, social housing of 28 maisonettes to be destroyed for the car park. Upton Park in the East End of London, home to West Ham's football ground, where the mayor wishes to destroy the century-old Queen's Market, an undercover street market. 12,000 people who have signed a petition opposing the destruction of Queen's Market, have been dismissed as second class citizens. The mayor is practicing a form of cultural apartheid, ethnic cleansing, wishing to see the poor driven out of the borough and replaced by yuppies occupying expensive apartments.

Neither of these examples could be classed as sustainable development. Many more examples could be added to the list.

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Rachel Carson

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Rachel Carson

Rachel Louise Carson (May 27, 1907 – April 14, 1964) was an American marine biologist and nature writer whose writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.

Carson started her career as a biologist in the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, and became a full-time nature writer in the 1950s. Her widely praised 1951 bestseller The Sea Around Us won her financial security and recognition as a gifted writer. Her next book, The Edge of the Sea, and the republished version of her first book, Under the Sea Wind, were also bestsellers. Together, her sea trilogy explores the whole of ocean life, from the shores to the surface to the deep sea.

In the late 1950s, Carson turned her attention to conservation and the environmental problems caused by synthetic pesticides. The result was Silent Spring (1962), which brought environmental concerns to an unprecedented portion of the American public. Silent Spring spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy—leading to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides—and the grassroots environmental movement the book inspired led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Jimmy Carter.

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New Computer Model Advances Climate Change Research

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Community Earth System Model to be used in next IPCC assessment

Simulation of Earth's climate.

This simulation, produced by the CCSM, provides new knowledge about Earth's climate.

August 18, 2010

Scientists can now study climate change in far more detail with powerful new computer software released by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo.

The Community Earth System Model will be one of the primary climate models used for the next assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The CESM is the latest in a series of NCAR-based global models developed over the last 30 years. The models are jointly supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is NCAR's sponsor.

Scientists and engineers at NCAR, DOE laboratories, and several universities developed the CESM.

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Dead planet, living planet: Biodiversity and ecosystem restoration for sustainable development

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Dead planet, living planet: Biodiversity and ecosystem restoration for sustainable developmentBiodiversity and ecosystems deliver crucial services to humankind - from food security to keeping our waters clean, buffering against extreme weather, providing medicines to recreation and adding to the foundation of human culture. Together these services have been estimated to be worth over 21-72 trillion USD every year - comparable to the World Gross National Income of 58 trillion USD in 2008.

 

Download Dead planet, living planet: Biodiversity and ecosystem restoration for sustainable development PDF English

 

Green Economy - Developing Countries Success Stories

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Green Economy - Developing Countries Success StoriesThe economic analysis in the Green Economy Report builds in part on the encouraging signs and results of many initiatives around the world. A number of these come from developing countries, including emerging economies, and illustrate a positive benefit stream from specific green investments and policies, that if scaled up and integrated into a comprehensive strategy, could offer an alternative development pathway, one that is pro-growth, projobs and pro-poor.

Download Green Economy - Developing Countries Success Stories PDF English

 

Biodiverse Systems are More Productive

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Biodiversity, Food Forests, Food Plants - Annual, Food Plants - Perennial, Plant Systems 
by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho September 23, 2008

Sustainable farming across the world relies on cultivating a diversity of crops and livestock to maximise internal input, and this is in marked contrast to the high external input monoculture of industrial farming, which is proving unsustainable in many respects. Indirect support for the sustainability of agricultural diversity is coming from an unexpected quarter. Academic ecologists are discovering that biodiverse systems are more productive.

by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho: Geneticist, Biophysicist and Director of the not-for-profit Institute of Science in Society.

BiodiversityFor over three decades, academic ecologists have debated whether complex, species-rich ecosystems are more stable than ones with fewer species. Unfortunately, there are many definitions of complexity, and even more of stability; and so the debate continues.

The question most relevant to agriculture, and also most easily answered, is whether biodiverse systems are more productive. There is growing evidence that biodiverse systems are indeed more productive, although ecologists still disagree as to how that could be explained, and on the number of species needed to sustain an ecosystem, which has large implications also for conservation. 

One hypothesis is that there is “niche complementarity” among particular combinations of species, in other words, they have mutually complementary relationships so the more species there are, the greater the chance occurrence of such complementarity. This would be due to both differences in resource requirements over space and time, and positive, symbiotic interactions between the species.

BiodiversityAlternatively, the greater productivity associated with diversity may be due to short-lived or transient effects, caused solely by the presence of some species with high growth rate. Or the effects could simply be experimental artefacts. The species compared may happen to include some with very low-viability, or else with very high, competitive growth rates. These ‘sampling effects’ result from the greater chance of such species being present at higher diversity, and from dynamics that cause a single species to dominate and determine how the ecosystem evolves.

Fortunately, David Tilman and his colleagues in the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, and University of Nebraska, Lincoln, can now address these questions from the results of an experiment they started in May, 1994 and continued to this day [1].

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Biodiplomacy Initiative

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Policy Research on Biodiversity Governance

Biodiversity - BiopolicyIn the last few decades, international biodiversity diplomacy (bio-diplomacy) has undergone deep changes in both its nature and scope. These changes have been characterized by an intensification and diversification of relevant constituents and actors, the increased complexity of relevant subject matter, and a broadening of the diplomatic agenda to include areas with a strong connection to science and technology policy, business, standard setting, and rule making.

Global challenges facing the international community today include the creation of safe and equitable mechanisms and institutions capable of providing effective guidance for the development and use of biotechnology, the links between climate change and biodiversity, traditional knowlege and adaptation to climate change and indigenous peoples.

A greater level of awareness among relevant actors is needed within this complicated environment regarding the scientific, governance, and ethical issues that now take up so much space across diplomatic agendas. 

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Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms

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What are Genetically Modified (GM) Foods?

Genetically Modified Foods and Organisms Although "biotechnology" and "genetic modification" commonly are used interchangeably, GM is a special set of technologies that alter the genetic makeup of organisms such as animals, plants, or bacteria. Biotechnology, a more general term, refers to using organisms or their components, such as enzymes, to make products that include wine, cheese, beer, and yogurt.

Combining genes from different organisms is known as recombinant DNA technology, and the resulting organism is said to be "genetically modified," "genetically engineered," or "transgenic." GM products (current or those in development) include medicines and vaccines, foods and food ingredients, feeds, and fibers.

Locating genes for important traits—such as those conferring insect resistance or desired nutrients—is one of the most limiting steps in the process. However, genome sequencing and discovery programs for hundreds of organisms are generating detailed maps along with data-analyzing technologies to understand and use them.

In 2006, 252 million acres of transgenic crops were planted in 22 countries by 10.3 million farmers. The majority of these crops were herbicide- and insect-resistant soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, and alfalfa. Other crops grown commercially or field-tested are a sweet potato resistant to a virus that could decimate most of the African harvest, rice with increased iron and vitamins that may alleviate chronic malnutrition in Asian countries, and a variety of plants able to survive weather extremes.

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Climate Change and Food Security

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Food SecurityFood security is not only an explicit concern under climate change; successful adaptation and mitigation responses in the agricultural sector can only be achieved within the environmental and economic sustainability goals set forth in both the UNFCCC and the Millennium Development Goals. Use the links on the left to read more on emissions of greenhouse gases; the potential impacts of climate change; and solutions including mitigation, adaptation and the policy framework.

Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries are among the most climate-sensitive sectors. Therefore their production processes – whether for food, feed, fibre, beverage, energy or industrial crops, or for livestock, poultry, fish or forest products – will be heavily impacted by climate change. In the next decades, impacts in temperate regions are expected to be positive, and those in tropical regions negative, although there is still considerable uncertainty about how projected changes will play out locally, and projected impacts could also be altered by adoption of risk management measures and adaptation strategies that strengthen preparedness and resilience. 

Climate change will particularly affect vulnerable people and food systems

More frequent and more intense, extreme weather will have adverse immediate impacts on food production, food distribution infrastructure, on livelihood assets and opportunities in both rural and urban areas. Changes in mean temperatures and rainfall, increasing weather variability and rising sea levels will affect the suitability of land for different types of crops and pasture, the health and productivity of forests, the incidence of pests and diseases, biodiversity and ecosystems. Loss of arable land is likely due to increased aridity, groundwater depletion and the rise in sea level. 

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Low Energy House - Code for Sustainable Homes

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In 1987, the Bruntland Report, on economic development and the environment, defined sustainable development as - ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’

Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZed) - Image Provided by ARUPCode for Sustainable Homes

In December 2006, the UK government launched the Code for Sustainable Homes. The Code is a development guide for home designers and builders, and the national standard for the building of sustainable homes.

Code for Sustainable Homes - Lower Energy Use

It is anticipated that the Code for Sustainable Homes will reduce the environmental impact of the construction sector as whole and will form the basis for future Building Regulations. The Government wants to see homes built in a way that minimises the use of energy and reduces harmful carbon dioxide emissions but, more importantly, it adds -

‘We also need to build and use our homes in a way that minimises their other environmental impacts, such as the water use, the waste they generate, and the materials they are built from’

Sustainable Homes Assessment and Rating System

It comprises an assessment and rating system aimed at improving the environmental impact of new homes by introducing minimum standards in nine areas, including the use of energy, carbon dioxide and water.

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The Rafflesia House by Zoka Zola - Competition Winning Zero Energy Design in Malaysia

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In 2007, eight designers were asked to submit two designs for an international competition for Zero Energy Housing, on six sites in the middle of Sentul Park in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. From sixteen designs six designs were chosen to be constructed.

The project is envisaged as one of the the first showcases of Sustainable Zero Energy Housing in the world. The competition brief called for houses that work in harmony with the environment, are made from renewable materials, create their own energy, and recycle water.

Beside requirements that the houses are zero energy, the competition called for innovative and extraordinary designs that contribute to the legacy of contemporary architecture.

The South China Morning Post said: “This project will become as important of a permanent exhibition for sustainable contemporary architecture as the Weissenhofsiedlung Exhibition of 1927 was for the modern movement in architecture last century.” (Nov 16, 2007)

The Rafflesia House by Zoka Zola - Competition Winning Zero Energy Design in Malaysia

Competition Winning Zero Energy Design: The Rafflesia House by Zoka Zola

Chicago-based Zoka Zola Architecture + Urban Design is one of the winning design teams whose proposal “Rafflesia House” was selected for construction.

This is how Zoka Zola describe their project:

image

Our wining design (unintentionally) looks like the Rafflesia, the largest flower in the world and a native to the rainforests of Malaysia. (Rafflesia used to be Malaysian national symbol, but it is now replaced by Petronas Towers.) The Rafflesia develops from the bud into a flower over a period of nine months. The blossom is pollinated by flies attracted by its scent, which resembles that of the carcass. The flower lasts for only a few days. Rafflesia challenges traditional definitions of what a plant is because it lacks chlorophyll and is therefore incapable of photosynthesis. Rafflesia is a parasite. It did not begin its life as a parasite, but evolved this lifestyle. Biologists do not know what the Rafflesia’s function is in its ecosystem.

Site PlanThis mystery incites one of the most elementary questions: What is the function of the humans in the world’s ecosystem?

Rafflesia House is a study of the human habitat that is an integrated part of its tropical, urban, and site-specific ecosystem.

We searched and re-examined the ideas of the right balance between the connection of the building to the outside and the shelter the building provides from the outside elements: plants, creatures, rain, sun, wind, or heat. We designed this house with an interest to understand real human needs relieved from burdens of pre-assumptions, but with an intent to house the whole human complexity.

The building sits on 12 columns to allow other species to develop around it.

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Kyoto Protocol

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Climate ChangeThe Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions .These amount to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.

The major distinction between the Protocol and the Convention is that while the Convention encouraged industrialised countries to stabilize GHG emissions, the Protocol commits them to do so.

Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh in 2001, and are called the “Marrakesh Accords”.

The Kyoto mechanisms

Under the Treaty, countries must meet their targets primarily through national measures. However, the Kyoto Protocol offers them an additional means of meeting their targets by way of three market-based mechanisms.

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Unresolved questions about Earth's climate

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Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) image of a huge, handle-shaped prominence. Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) image of the sun with a huge, handle-shaped prominence, taken in 1999. While there is no evidence of a change trend in solar output over the past half century, long-term changes in solar output are not well-understood.

This website presents a data-rich view of climate and a discussion of how that data fits together into the scientists' current picture of our changing climate. But there's a great deal that we don't know about the future of Earth's climate and how climate change will affect humans.

For convenience and clarity, climate scientists separate things that affect climate change into two categories: forcings and feedbacks.

Also, climate scientists often discuss "abrupt climate change," which includes the possibility of "tipping points" in the Earth's climate. Climate appears to have several states in which it is relatively stable over long periods of time. But when climate moves between those states, it can do so quickly (geologically speaking), in hundreds of years and even, in a handful of cases, in only a few decades. These rapid 'state changes' are what scientists mean by abrupt climate change. They are much more common at regional scales than at the global scale, but can be global. State changes have triggers, or "tipping points," that are related to feedback processes. In what's probably the single largest uncertainty in climate science, scientists don't have much confidence that they know what those triggers are.

Below is an explanation of just a few other important uncertainties about climate change, organized according to the categories forcing and feedback. This list isn't exhaustive. It is intended to illustrate the kinds of questions that scientists still ask about climate.

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