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Archive for July, 2011

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan – breaking up a debt ceiling weekend with some lawn angst/humor.

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Congratulations, George!

Jot D. Carpenter Teaching Medal: George Curry, FASLA
George Curry, FASLA, will receive the Jot D. Carpenter Teaching Medal. The award recognizes significant and sustained excellence in landscape architecture education. Curry’s academic career spans more than four decades at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. A pioneer in the field of cultural landscapes, his dedication to his students and profession earned him numerous recognitions, including the 2008 New York Professor of the Year designation from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

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Just too much depressing news (on many fronts) to keep up the optimism (see here and here for therapist reference). I try hard to not focus on the bad news too much, but I can’t ignore it either. The latest in a post by Richard Black of BBC News, discussing the woeful inadequacies of our network of conservation areas (i.e., protected lands and waters) for protecting biodiversity with this quote from Peter Sale of the Canadian Institute for Water, Health, and the Environment:

“We’re talking about losing 50% of species in the next half century – that’s faster than any previous mass extinction event – and anybody who thinks we can go through a mass extinction and be perfectly fine is just deluding themselves.”

The article, published this month, that prompted the post by Black is this one:

Mora, C. and P.F. Sale. 2011. Ongoing global biodiversity loss and the need to move beyond protected areas: A review of the technical and practical shortcomings of protected areas on land and sea. Marine Ecology Progress Series 434: 251-266.

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Susan Riya, Director of the New York State Water Resources Institute, shared the following map with the State of Upstate conference attendees in June. I have been thinking of this map ever since. The map was derived from the hydrologic landscape regions of the United States dataset published by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2003. It depicts the ratio of potential evapotranspiration (PET) to precipitation (PPT).

Hydrologic Landscape Regions of the U.S.

What is striking to me is the blue swath that runs from the tip of Maine to Louisiana as well as the lighter blue area along the Eastern Seaboard. I have called many communities in these two regions home; I know the landscape well. The map depicts current conditions, and I am eager to see similar maps that depict projected change. I know that New York State is expected to remain water-rich, and I suspect that much of the darker blue region will as well. But the area along the seaboard, especially the Southeast (portions of Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia), has already been experiencing droughts, and I fear that the region might be much drier in the future. Personally, I think it would be heartbreaking to see the steamy lushness replaced by crunchy dryness! The other effect is that the cool, water-rich places will be very attractive to people escaping the heat and dry conditions. New York State – get ready for a resurgence in population!

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Climatewire (subscription service), from E&E Publishing, reports the surprising conclusion of a study just published in Environmental Research Letters. Some cities, like Dallas, TX, may not be cooled by deployment of white or light-colored roofs and pavements while other cities, like Los Angeles, are. Regional variation is apparent. The study also looked at the effect of desert photovoltaics, with their low albedo (reflectivity), on temperature and found that they can increase an area’s temperature by approximately 0.5° Celsius. White or light-colored roofs and pavements deflect heat, bouncing it back into the atmosphere and creating the cooling effect we desire. But, the study conducted by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests that there is a feedback effect whereby the bouncing sunlight can disrupt wind and cloud patterns, leading to changes in a region’s hot and cold spots. In humid Dallas, for example, clouds have a cooling effect on a hot day, and deflected heat from white roofs (if deployed widely) could limit cloud formation and therefore raise temperatures according to the study’s model. The researchers conclude that cool roofs are still useful tools, but that the effects might not be as uniform as we may have thought. Regional weather patterns should also be taken into consideration.

The study is available here.  Milstein, D. and S. Menon. 2011. Regional climate consequences of large-scale cool roof and photovoltaic array deployment. Environmental Research Letters 6(3).

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Focus on innovations in energy, reduction of air and water pollution, and community resilience to extreme weather – instead of “climate policy” – and you’ll have a winning strategy (or, hedging, a policy that has a chance of success). That is the argument made by a new report titled Climate Pragmatism: Innovation, Resilience and No Regrets, released yesterday by the Hartwell group (available here), that has found its way into the popular press with an article in Time magazine. Writing for Time, Bryan Walsh summarized this line of thinking with the title, Fighting Climate Change by Not Focusing on Climate Change. Walsh says:

What’s needed in this long hot season is an oblique approach to climate change, one that sidesteps the roadblocks by taking advantage of popular, no-regrets actions that are worth doing even if global warming wasn’t real. It’s not as simple or as elegant as one global deal — but it might actually work.

I tend to like the idea of a strategy that might have a chance of garnering support, if for no other reason than the fact that constant ideological battles are draining. Pragmatism is where global climate policy is brought down to the community scale and to the sphere in which planners and designers work (see previous post), but it is also fragmented and incremental – and an anathema to many who have fought long and hard for international climate policy.  Joe Romm, of Think Progress, has written a scathing, almost hysterical, rebuttal of the pragmatism report that you can find here. David Roberts of Grist has a more generous review here.

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So the tractor-trailer is parked out in the woodland (or other natural area), and you have to decide which species you will bring on board for a ride to their new habitat. A trip north or to a higher elevation perhaps? You cannot save them all, and you are not even sure that you are saving them because of all the uncertainties involved with the move. What a dilemma! But this is essentially the situation we are faced with as species are threatened by altered habitats due to climate change. The idea of a new Noah’s Ark is called assisted migration, assisted colonization, or managed relocation, (mentioned in an earlier post) and it is very controversial. A new paper in the journal Nature Climate Change acknowledges the controversy, but says that managed relocation is happening anyway. Given the desire to relocate species in the hope of saving them, researchers at CSIRO, the University of Queensland, and the U.S. Geological Survey present a decision-making framework. Dr. Eve McDonald-Madden of CSIRO is quoted as saying:

The decision-making framework we have developed shows that the best timing for moving species depends on many factors such as: the size of the population, the expected losses in the population through relocation, and the expected numbers that the new location could be expected to support. It would also rely on good predictions about the impact of climate shifts on a particular species and the suitability of areas to which they can move –  an often difficult issue in the case of rare species because we just don’t have this sort of detailed information.

Another CSIRO researcher, Dr. Tara Martin, discusses which species are likely to make it into the ark:

Managed relocation is not a quick fix. It will be used in some specific circumstances for species that we really care about, but it will not be a saviour for all biodiversity in the face of climate change.

Western Larch (U.S. Forest Service image)

Yes, controversial or not, people are beginning to actively intervene in species relocation. The June issue of Discover magazine has an article titled The Transplanted Forest: A Bold Experiment in Preemptive Climate Adaptation about ongoing efforts in British Columbia to relocate the western larch (Larix occidentalis), an important timber species. A related effort (and a less controversial one) – linked by the idea of active adaptive management – involves altering the habitat itself if possible. A recent New York Times article, titled Seeing Trends, Coalition Works to Help a River Adapt, highlights efforts to aid chinook salmon, another economically important species, in the Nisqually River (Washington State) through stream and watershed enhancements.

The coalition is reserving land farther in from wetlands so that when the sea rises, the marsh will have room to move as well; it is promoting hundreds of rain gardens to absorb artificially warmed runoff from paved spaces and keep it away from the river; and it is installing logjams intended to cause the river to hollow out its own bottom and create cooler pools for fish.

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