Ariadne's Thread

Environmental Studies at the University of Essex

Tag: BS704

All things bright and beautiful

by ariadnesthread101


The Tree of Life
Gustav Klimt, 1909

Over the last few sessions of Ariadne’s Thread, we’ve been trying to relate all the lectures and disciplinary insights of last term to key overarching global challenges. The aim of these discussions is to get a comprehensive overview of the challenges themselves, and to explore how the different discipline-specific lectures of the last term-and-a-half have illuminated the causes, consequences and solutions to these challenges.

The week before last, we covered climate change. The group put together a presentation, and then we tried to talk back and forth between the natural and social science aspects of the problem and possible solutions. ‘Tried’ was the operative word – it took us a while to get into it, and of course, with a subject so complex, we quickly ran into a number of unknowns and any number of confounding variables.

This week, we are going to use a different approach (we’re trying things on for fit) to explore biodiversity loss and conservation.

I’m posting here 3 papers on various aspects on this topic. We’re going to discuss these on Thursday, and I’ll come back here with a summary of our discussion.

At first glance I was quite tempted to come up with a crisply-edited list of references 20-items long. But that’s not going to happen, and given the scale of the problem, it’s absurd to think that 20 references would cover anything anyway. We might do a ‘further reading’ section later if we drill down to particular themes that are of interest.

So here goes. The following three papers make a good starting point for a broad discussion on the subject.

1. Hooper et al. 2005. Effects of Biodiversity on Ecosystem Functioning: A consensus of current knowledge. Ecological Monographs 75(1): 3-35

(Fulltext available from the University of Essex library)

From the abstract: “Humans are altering the composition of biological communities through a variety of activities that increase rates of species invasions and species extinctions, at all scales, from local to global. These changes in components of the Earth’s biodiversity cause concern for ethical and aesthetic reasons, but they also have a strong potential to alter ecosystem properties and the goods and services they provide to humanity. Ecological experiments, observations, and theoretical developments show that ecosystem properties depend greatly on biodiversity in terms of the functional characteristics of organisms present in the ecosystem and the distribution and abundance of those organisms over space and

time… The scientific community has come to a broad consensus on many aspects of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, including many points relevant to management of ecosystems. Further progress will require integration of knowledge about biotic and abiotic controls on ecosystem properties, how ecological communities are structured, and the forces driving species extinctions and invasions. To strengthen links to policy and management, we also need to integrate our ecological knowledge with understanding of the social and economic constraints of potential management practices. Understanding this complexity, while taking strong steps to minimize current losses of species, is necessary for responsible management of Earth’s ecosystems and the diverse biota they contain.”  

2. Tscharntke et al. 2012. Global food security, biodiversity conservation and the future of agricultural intensification. Biological Conservation 151(1):  53-59.

(Full-text available from the University of Essex library)

From the abstract: “Under the current scenario of rapid human population increase, achieving efficient and productive agricultural land use while conserving biodiversity is a global challenge. There is an ongoing debate whether land for nature and for production should be segregated (land sparing) or integrated on the same land (land sharing, wildlife-friendly farming). While recent studies argue for agricultural intensification in a land sparing approach, we suggest here that it fails to account for real-world complexity. We argue that agriculture practiced under smallholder farmer-dominated landscapes and not large-scale farming, is currently the backbone of global food security in the developing world… A major argument for wildlife friendly farming and agroecological intensification is that crucial ecosystem services are provided by ‘‘planned’’ and ‘‘associated’’ biodiversity, whereas the land sparing concept implies that biodiversity in agroecosystems is functionally negligible. However, loss of biological control can result in dramatic increases of pest densities, pollinator services affect a third of global human food supply, and inappropriate agricultural management can lead to environmental degradation. Hence, the true value of functional biodiversity on the farm is often inadequately acknowledged or understood, while conventional intensification tends to disrupt beneficial functions of biodiversity. In conclusion, linking agricultural intensification with biodiversity conservation and hunger reduction requires well-informed regional and targeted solutions, something which the land sparing vs sharing debate has failed to achieve so far.”

3. Turner et al. 2012. Global Biodiversity Conservation and the Alleviation of Poverty. Bioscience 62(1): 85-92

(Full-text here)

From the abstract: “Poverty and biodiversity loss are two of the world’s dire challenges. Claims of conservation’s contribution to poverty alleviation, however, remain controversial. Here, we assess the flows of ecosystem services provided to people by priority habitats for terrestrial conservation, considering the global distributions of biodiversity, physical factors, and socioeconomic context. We estimate the value of these habitats to the poor, both through direct benefits and through payments for ecosystem services to those stewarding natural habitats. The global potential for biodiversity conservation to support poor communities is high: The top 25% of conservation priority areas could provide 56%–57% of benefits. The aggregate benefits are valued at three times the estimated opportunity costs and exceed $1 per person per day for 331 million of the world’s poorest people. Although trade-offs remain, these results show win–win synergies between conservation and poverty alleviation, indicate that effective financial mechanisms can enhance these synergies, and suggest biodiversity conservation as a fundamental component of sustainable economic development.”

Global Resource Politics: What does US energy independence mean for the rest of the world?

by ariadnesthread101

US reliance on the Gulf for its oil – and its consequent need to maintain a dominant presence in the Middle East to keep the oil flowing – has been one of the constants of the post-1945 status quo. That could be turned on its head…

… The reason is simple. The US is the home to vast shale oil and gas deposits made commercially viable by improvements to a 200-year-old technique called fracking and by the relentlessly high cost of crude.

Exploitation of fields in Appalachian states such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and further west in North Dakota, have transformed the US’s energy outlook pretty much overnight. Professor Dieter Helm, an energy expert at Oxford University, said: “In the US, shale gas didn’t exist in 2004. Now it represents 30% of the market.

If all the known shale gas resources were developed to their commercial potential in North America and other new fields, production could more than quadruple over the next two decades, and account for more than half of US natural gas production by the early 2030s, according to recent study by the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Centre.”

Read the full article on the website of the Guardian here.

What do you think this means for the environment? For world affairs?

And on a related note, if you’re interested in learning more about Fracking: See here.

[Image here]


by ariadnesthread101

… said nobody, ever. 

So why do we BUY so much? And if we agree that we need to consume less, how do we go about changing our behaviour (and that of others, if we are feeling God-like today)?

Here’s a report by Tim Jackson of the University of Surrey on motivating sustainable consumption. This focuses on the psychological drivers and dynamics of consumption and how we can motivate more sustainable behavior. But it also recognizes that individuals don’t live in a psychological bubble:

” Changing behaviours – and in particular motivating more sustainable behaviours – is far from straightforward. Individual behaviours are deeply embedded in social and institutional contexts. We are guided as much by what others around us say and do, and by the ‘rules of the game’ as we are by personal choice. We often find ourselves ‘locked in’ to unsustainable behaviours in spite of our own best intentions.” 

In the UK, the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester explores the drivers and dynamics of consumption at the scale of the individual and beyond. Their website has a number of publications and updates on their work, and if this is a topic that interests you, you should keep your eye on them.

An open question, and a really important one, is how consumption patterns are developing in the ’emerging economies’ (India, China, Brazil and the so-called ‘CIVETS‘). How does this affect local, regional and global resources and resource management? Are the psychological and social dynamics the same across the world or are there important differences? (In short, is the study of ‘Sustainable Consumption’ currently too ‘Northcentric’? Is this is a problem considering that the emerging economies are really where consumer lifestyles are growing fast?)

To link this back and forward within the MEG: Can you see how this field relates to: (For example): World systems theory and Ecological Modernisation?

[Image: Eric Lewis]

Ariadne’s Thread: Week 4 Summary

by ariadnesthread101

Wow. Is it Week 4 already?! We’ve been here a month!

Today’s study session was our giggliest yet – lots of laughing! Here’s a summary of the points which we covered.  I’ll soon post the others from previous weeks. Starting today I’m also going to use categories on the blog. I’ll categorize the weekly summaries quite distinctly so you can, hopefully, flick through them all easily at the end of term if you want.

This post is the first one I am writing with help from Sabrina, who has volunteered to help out! Hi Sabrina 🙂 I hope you don’t mind me giving you a big internet wave of thanks 🙂 Sabrina and I will be working together on what we hope is a fun, interesting and useful set of posts each week. We hope this helps you connect the dots between the courses and helps you if you find yourself lost in any sort of maze 😛

On that note: In this week’s study session, we reviewed key points from the following modules:

This week, we divided into three groups to present stakeholder perspectives on whether to fly during an angry-volcano-spewing-ash situation. The three stakeholder groups were: The government, the Civil Aviation Authority and the Airlines. (Review notes for making presentations are uploaded in a previous post). Groups worked out what their stakeholder position would be and presented to a ‘jury’. When we reviewed this exercise, we discussed the influence of having pre-determined stakeholder groups. Who picks stakeholders? We discussed, for example, whether members of the public or pilots should have been groups. The range and term of the debate would then have been widened. It is possible to imagine that if you control the process of grouping stakeholders, you can also have some control over the outcome.

In Ecology and Natural Resources, the class encountered a bunch of new terms and concepts giving a background to the science of ecology and its applications to natural resource management. Two which we particularly discussed were habitats (the physical environment in which species live) and niches (the distinct conditions exploited by particular species). The distinction is important for resource management. If you were making conservation plans for a single species, for example, you would do well to start with a good understanding of its niche. This brought us to the cross-cutting idea of scale. Habitats are ‘one level up’ from niches.

 Which scale you choose to focus on depends on what your management goals are. 

And finally, in Politics and Society, though we were meant to touch on Consumption this week, the class discussion was still very much focused on previous material, including issues of ecological modernisation, Ecological Marxism, the contradictions of capitalism and World-Systems theory. We talked about why it is important to learn about this piece of theory within a masters in Environmental Governance. How does it contribute to our field of interest? Our answer lay in the insight that human activities, like economic flows in a globalised world, influence the environment, and we need to understand these processes in order to manage global environmental change or the local effects of global processes. Which relates back to the issue of scale and scale effects – another important, cross-cutting idea:

Events or phenomena at one scale can be caused by social, economic or ecological events at other scales. That is why it is important to understand multiple scales (global / regional / local) and identify how one scale influences the others above and below it. 

During the rest of the session we spent time in pairs looking at an example of a good Politics and Society essay. The key points we covered here are in the next post.

Good work this week everyone! I hope this overview was useful!

And now, TGIF, & goodnight!

World Systems theory

by ariadnesthread101


Here’s the start of a series of short posts on the key concepts we’re picking up on the ‘social side’ of the Masters. Especially in BS704, Politics and Society. These posts are designed to  point you towards introductions towards each concept so that you have at least a background before you encounter the recommended reading.  

Here is a super quick overview of World Systems theory, in 5 pages.  

And here is another.