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Half Earth: How do we get there?

http://natureneedshalf.org/

http://natureneedshalf.org/

In his 2016 book Half Earth, Dr. E. O. Wilson presents the global community with a challenge: set aside half of the Earth for nature. He articulates why this must be done – the ever-growing human population and its consumption have degraded natural ecosystems and created a crisis for Earth’s biodiversity. By working toward a goal of 50% protection, he argues, the conservation community can focus on a tangible number that can be tracked and communicated clearly. The Half Earth book presents protected areas – state-designated lands and waters – as the key to achieving this goal. It also briefly notes the important role of other area-based conservation strategies, including conservation easements and efforts by private individuals.

But many questions arise: Which half of the Earth? Which level of biodiversity do we prioritize to protect (genetic, species, ecosystem, or functional)? How do we include the high seas in this equation, which are outside of national jurisdictions? Do we focus first on biodiversity hotspots to save the most species? Mustn’t we also represent all of earth’s ecoregions, ensuring that the diversity of life forms are secure – including species-poor deserts and ice fields? And once protected areas are established, is that the end of the story? Are protected areas sustainable indefinitely? Does protection itself assure the persistence of biodiversity? And is it possible to achieve the Half Earth goal equitably for people?

An ecoregion-based approach to tracking progress toward Half Earth. From Resolve. http://ecoregions2017.appspot.com/

An ecoregion-based approach to tracking progress toward Half Earth. From Resolve. http://ecoregions2017.appspot.com/

To address these questions and hope to achieve the Half Earth goal, we need an interdisciplinary approach. We can start with biological sciences to map the distribution of species and ecosystems, for instance. Although we do not have nearly close to a census of all species on earth, nor a full understanding of genetic or functional diversity, published maps of species and ecosystems are likely sufficient to guide conservation efforts given the urgency of the biodiversity crisis. Next, we should consider the spatial distribution and status of protected areas – and other area-based conservation interventions – to track conservation progress. Accounting for the spatial and regulatory histories of protected areas and other conservation interventions is critical. By tracking past boundary changes, regulatory roll-backs, and upgrades to protected areas, we can more adequately understand the influence of political history, contextualize the economic demands and pressures on the area, and make more informed and sustainable decisions. The body of literature on protected area downgrading (regulatory weakening), downsizing, (reductions), and degazettement (elimination) or PADDD can help.

PADDDtracker.org

Learn more about past and proposed legal changes to protected areas: PADDDtracker.org

Notably, protected areas are not the only way forward. We must track and evaluate other conservation interventions, like indigenous lands, payments for ecosystem services, and market-based mechanisms. Syntheses of the effectiveness of all conservation interventions (via evidence maps, for instance) will be helpful to understand how far we have come and allow us to set future priorities.

World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas. http://www.keybiodiversityareas.org/site/mapsearch

World Database of Key Biodiversity Areas. http://www.keybiodiversityareas.org/site/mapsearch

Setting priority regions for conservation can be done in a variety of ways – based on biodiversity hotspots, gaps in protection (of species or ecoregions), or connecting existing protected areas by restoring corridors. Prioritization can be global, regional, national, or local; work at one level can also inform the others. An example of a spatial prioritization effort is the advent of Key Biodiversity Areas – regions representing a high diversity of species. The KBA framework also accounts for species endemism and vulnerability, as well as the “manageability” of territorial units, hence considering the current boundaries of protected areas. Notably, this does not consider the history of boundary changes nor loss of protected areas via downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD), so it may ignore important lands that were previously protected but dropped from the estate due to industrial or local-scale pressures. Although KBAs represent a useful and science-based framework to guide conservation directions, national and local governments – as well as private individuals – will likely draw on a variety of approaches to determine priorities for protection. These will include convenience (determining which lands and waters, if protected, will lead to the least conflict with local people or industry) and self-interest (considering financial incentives from eco-certification or REDD+ and carbon markets).

Map of protected areas (green), indigenous territories (orange), and deforestation (yellow and purple) in Amazonia. Source: RAISG. https://www.amazoniasocioambiental.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Amazonia2015_ingles.pdf

Map of protected areas (green), indigenous territories (orange), and deforestation (yellow and purple) in Amazonia. Source: RAISG. https://www.amazoniasocioambiental.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Amazonia2015_ingles.pdf

As human pressures on the planet continue to accelerate and less arable land is available, for instance, the pressure for natural resources on the last wild places will continue to increase. The future of the siting of conservation interventions will likely be subject to negotiations and political bargaining. Striking a balance between the goal of half earth with the needs of local communities – for water, food, land, and energy – will take constant effort at all levels, from local management to international policy. Local communities can and should be empowered as stewards of the land to ensure that work toward half earth does not unjustly exclude or marginalize them. Without this critical piece, efforts to protect lands upon which people depend directly may backfire and become a source of resentment. Insights from anthropology can inform this dynamic. In the terrestrial sphere, in certain places, we may be reaching a point of saturation for strictly protected areas which exclude all human activities. In these cases, only by engaging with local communities – including indigenous and non-indigenous groups – can we hope to achieve large-scale conservation that is fostered and sustained for generations. Management of protected areas must also be prioritized to the utmost. In the marine realm, for instance, recent work shows that the most important determining factors of success in marine protected areas are adequate staff and capacity for management.

It is clear that “people power” to manage, monitor, evaluate, and steward protected lands and waters is now and will continue to be fundamental to achieving the goal of Half Earth. Continued investment in the social sciences in conservation and collaborations between natural and social scientists – economists, geographers, anthropologists, and even ethics scholars – can ensure that this goal is supported by a strong evidence base and can therefore be sustained.

Happy #HalfEarth Day! October 22nd, 2017 marks six months since the first-ever Earth Optimism event on Earth Day 2017. Earth Optimism emphasizes the importance of positivity in messaging and a focus on conservation solutions; only with this approach can the conservation community hope to engage and excite decision makers and the public to support and value conservation efforts. 

EO Wilson

On Half Earth Day, I was honored to share the stage with Dr. E. O. Wilson at an event at the Smithsonian Castle, discussing protected areas and the way forward for Half Earth.

Grad students: share your science!

SCIENCE, OK!? From https://www.ratbotcomics.com/comics/pgrc_2014/1/1.html

SCIENCE, OK!? From https://www.ratbotcomics.com/comics/pgrc_2014/1/1.html

In the current political climate, it can sometimes be disheartening to be a scientist or a scientist in training. The process of science and scientifically derived facts are too often devalued or denied, despite decades of painstaking, objective work produced by a community of scholars. Countering this “climate of denial” will take steady work by scientists and all those who value truth, reason, and societal progress. How can we get started to address this when the challenge seems so daunting? One productive approach: beginning early in one’s scientific career, scientists in training should get very comfortable with communicating their research! And not just in the traditional sense – as in peer-reviewed papers or conference presentations. We have to communicate our work In engaging ways for diverse audiences. Reaching outside of this echo chamber will be key to demonstrating the value of our science to society. This is especially true in fields like conservation, but also applies to nearly every area of research (e.g. health, engineering, political science, and more!).

Don't be like this guy. From https://www.nature.com/scitable/ebooks/english-communication-for-scientists-14053993/communicating-as-a-scientist-14238273

Don’t be like this guy. From https://www.nature.com/scitable/ebooks/english-communication-for-scientists-14053993/communicating-as-a-scientist-14238273

Here are a few  non-traditional outlets that graduate students can use to communicate their research and make their science matter. And remember to explain so that your grandmother can understand.

SciComm 101: What can you do yourself? 

Share science on social media

Starting a twitter account is a great place to start to share your science (and the work of others), access the latest research, and exchange ideas. In my experience, social media brings everyone – from undergraduates to emeritus professors – to the same level because the currency of exchange is clear ideas.

Why scholars use Twitter. From Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/online-collaboration-scientists-and-the-social-network-1.15711

Why scholars use Twitter. From Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/online-collaboration-scientists-and-the-social-network-1.15711

Translate your research for non-specialist audiences

The combination of paywalls,and researchers’ hyperspecialization means that the vast majority of scientific papers are only read by a few specialists in the field. To make sure that your science is accessed by literally anyone else, you have to translate it! Translation in this case means making your research – especially the findings, conclusions, and societal implications – very easy to understand. The challenge with translation is balancing accuracy with clarity. You don’t need all of that jargon and those acronyms to explain your work clearly. Translation of research findings can take many forms, including blog posts, videos, an outreach event with a local school or senior center, or even a children’s book. Your outlet will depend on your goals – are you interested in educating the public? Targeting decision makers? Starting a conversation across disciplinary lines? The translation approach can be tailored accordingly.

Yes, robots. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/244953667201990101/

Yes, robots. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/244953667201990101/

Next level SciComm: what can you do with the help of others?

Involve non-traditional stakeholders in your research

As you develop your research questions and methods, partner with practitioners or knowledge users like non-governmental or governmental organizations. This relationship can be mutually beneficial; the partner can help provide a research direction while your analyses can provide information that the partner can use directly. In addition, such a partner may also help to share research findings within their community of practice.

Write and disseminate a press release

When you have a publication in the final stages of review and revision, work with your university public relations office to develop a press release. Their expertise will help you to hone the language and also pitch it to their journalist contacts. They may also help you to prepare for an interview.

Talk to journalists

If journalists contact you for an interview – great! Respond as soon as possible and respect their deadlines. You may ask for the questions beforehand, which they may or may not have time to provide. Prepare by writing down a few talking points, considering these questions about your research: What is new? Why do the findings matter? What should be done about it? Note that these are very applied questions; journalists will almost never ask about your methods or p-values but instead will focus on what the results mean and why people should care. During the interview, answer questions clearly and accurately. If the journalist asks a misleading question or tries to put words in your mouth (“Would you say that….the planet is dying and we are doomed?”), refocus the conversation by starting with a fresh sentence relevant to your work (“Our research shows that the application of [whatever] can be very harmful to [your target species]. By reducing our use of [whatever], we can ensure that [your target species] remains abundant and continues to provide important [food sources/recreation opportunities/tourism value/genetic diversity/etc]”).

Sometimes your ideas can be twisted. State your ideas as accurately and clearly as possible. http://phdcomics.com/comics/archive_print.php?comicid=1174

Sometimes your ideas can be twisted. State your ideas as accurately and clearly as possible. http://phdcomics.com/comics/archive_print.php?comicid=1174

Make #SciComm the norm

In the traditional graduate school curriculum, students do not receive training in any of these outreach and communication approaches. My advice is to try these approaches one at a time and remember that practice makes perfect. Although this may take you out of your comfort zone, it is so critical to share your science and demonstrate its value to society.

Happy Earth Month!

#EveryDayisEarthDay

Republican vs. Democratic Platforms on the Environment

Here is a point by point comparison of the Republican and Democratic parties’ platforms on environmental issues for 2016.* Read the rest of the platforms here: Republican Democratic

Republicans

 

Democrats

Cornerstone of platform: “we remain committed to expanding trade opportunities and opening new markets for agriculture.”

“…ranching on public lands must be fostered, developed, and encouraged.”

Agriculture

“we believe that in order to be effective in keeping our air and water clean and combating climate change, we must enlist farmers as partners in promoting conservation and stewardship.”
“Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue.”

Climate change

Cornerstone of platform: “Climate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time.”

“The best science tells us that without ambitious, immediate action across our economy to cut carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases, all of these impacts will be far worse in the future.”

“We oppose any carbon tax.”

Carbon tax

“Democrats believe that carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases should be priced to reflect their negative externalities, and to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy and help meet our climate goals.”
“We will do away with it altogether.”

Clean Power Plan

“Democrats are committed to defending, implementing, and extending smart pollution and efficiency standards, including the Clean Power Plan, fuel 28 economy standards for automobiles and heavy-duty vehicles, building codes and appliance standards.”
No explicit mention

Corporate Accountability

“All corporations owe it to their shareholders to fully analyze and disclose the risks they face, including climate risk. Democrats also respectfully request the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies accused of misleading shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change.”
“The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a political mechanism, not an unbiased scientific institution. Its unreliability is reflected in its intolerance toward scientists and others who dissent from its orthodoxy.”

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

No explicit mention
“We demand an immediate halt to U.S. funding for the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in accordance with the 1994 Foreign Relations Authorization Act.”

United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

No explicit mention
“We reject the agendas of both the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, which represent only the personal commitments of their signatories; no such agreement can be binding upon the United States until it is submitted to and ratified by the Senate.”

Paris agreement

“Democrats share a deep commitment to … meeting the pledge President Obama put forward in the landmark Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperature increases to “well below” two degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
“We propose to shift responsibility for environmental regulation from the federal bureaucracy to the states and to transform the EPA into an independent bipartisan commission, similar to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with structural safeguards against politicized science.”

The EPA

No explicit mention
all-of-the-above energy strategy”

“We support the enactment of policies to increase domestic energy production, including production on public lands, to counter market manipulation by OPEC and other nationally owned oil companies.”

Energy

“We believe America must be running entirely on clean energy by mid-century. We will take bold steps to slash carbon pollution and protect clean air at home, lead the fight against climate change around the world, ensure no Americans are left out or left behind as we accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy”
“We encourage the cost-effective development of renewable energy sources — wind, solar, biomass, biofuel, geothermal, and tidal energy — by private capital.”

Renewable Energy

“We will streamline federal permitting to accelerate the construction of new transmission lines to get low-cost renewable energy to market, and incentivize wind, solar, and other renewable energy over the development of new natural gas power plants.”
“we will end the Administration’s disregard of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act with respect to the long-term storage of nuclear waste”

“We support lifting restrictions to allow responsible development of nuclear energy, including research into alternative processes like thorium nuclear energy”

Nuclear energy

No explicit mention
“We respect the states’ proven ability to regulate the use of hydraulic fracturing, methane emissions, and horizontal drilling..”

Fracking

“Democrats are committed to closing the Halliburton loophole that stripped the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its ability to regulate hydraulic fracturing, and ensuring tough safeguards are in place, including Safe Drinking Water Act provisions, to protect local water supplies. We believe hydraulic fracturing should not take place where states and local communities oppose it.”
“We support expediting the permitting process for mineral production on public lands.”

Mining

“We will also oppose threats to the public health of these communities from harmful and dangerous extraction practices, like mountaintop removal mining operations.”
“coal is an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource”

Coal

No explicit mention
“We intend to finish that pipeline and others as part of our commitment to North American energy security.”

Keystone XL

“We support President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.”
No explicit mention

Pebble Mine

“we support efforts by the EPA under the Clean Water Act to establish proactively science-based restrictions on discharges of dredged or fill material associated with a potential Pebble mine and urge that such restrictions must apply to potential mines at other metallic sulfide deposits in those drainages.”
“support the opening of public lands and the outer continental shelf to exploration and responsible production”

Arctic and Atlantic offshore drilling

“We oppose drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast”
“That is why we support the opening of public lands and the outer continental shelf to exploration and responsible production, even if these resources will not be immediately developed. ”

“We support the enactment of policies to increase domestic energy production, including production on public lands”

Fossil fuel production on public lands

“We will phase down extraction of fossil fuels from our public lands, 30 starting with the most polluting sources, while making our public lands and waters engines of the clean energy economy and creating jobs across the country. Democrats will work to expand the amount of renewable energy production on federal lands and waters, from wind in Wyoming to solar in Nevada.”
“Congress shall immediately pass universal legislation providing for a timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to states.”

Public Lands

“we need policies and investments that will keep America’s public lands public
“We believe in promoting active, sustainable management of our forests and that states can best manage our forests to improve forest health and keep communities safe.”

Forest Service Lands

No explicit mention
“We support amending the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish Congress’ right to approve the designation of national monuments and to further require the approval of the state where a national monument is designated or a national park is proposed.”

Antiquities Act

No explicit mention
“…the ESA has stunted economic development, halted the construction of projects, burdened landowners, and has been used to pursue policy goals inconsistent with the ESA — all with little to no success in the actual recovery of species. For example, we oppose the listing of the lesser prairie chicken and the potential listing of the sage grouse.”

Endangered Species Act

“Democrats oppose efforts to undermine the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act to protect threatened and endangered species.”
“We will enforce the original intent of the Clean Water Act, not it’s distortion by EPA regulations.”

Clean Water Act

No explicit mention
“We will…modernize the permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act so it can no longer invite frivolous lawsuits, thwart sorely needed projects, kill jobs, and strangle growth.”

NEPA

No explicit mention
“We will likewise forbid the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide, something never envisioned when Congress passed the Clean Air Act. We will restore to Congress the authority to set the National Ambient Air Quality Standards…”

Clean Air Act

No explicit mention
No explicit mention

Lead poisoning

“Democrats believe we must make it a national priority to eradicate lead poisoning, which disproportionately impacts low-income children and children of color and can lead to lifelong health and educational challenges.”
No explicit mention

Environmental Justice

“…as we saw in Flint, Michigan, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately home to environmental justice “hot spots,” where air pollution, water pollution, and toxic hazards like lead increase health and economic hardship. The impacts of climate change will also disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities, tribal nations, and Alaska 29 Native villages—all of which suffer the worst losses during extreme weather and have the fewest resources to prepare. Simply put, this is environmental racism.”

*This post does not constitute an endorsement of either party.