All - I’m honored to share with you the recipients of the 2018 Ian Worley Award. As you might recall, the Ian Worley Award fosters and celebrates creative, integrative, imaginative, and innovative approaches in addressing current and future environmental challenges. Those adjectives certainly apply to this year’s crop of recipients.
Jill Brooks will examine how coral die off affects cultural sense of place and belonging in indigenous populations in Hawaii, in anticipation of ongoing climate change.
Will Corcoran is going to look at whether algal blooms affect mental health of local residents on Lake Champlain here in Vermont. His work is contributing to a larger project on human health and environmental change (e.g., land use change and nutrient run-off) around the lake.
Maya Dizack will kayak down the Mississippi River taking water samples along the way documenting micro plastic pollution. She’s going to compare her data to some historical data to look at changes through time. And she has an ambitious plan to involve residents along the river in the work.
Kate Longfield is working on environmental justice and ecosystem health issues surrounding Act 250 here in Vermont.
Professor Mark Usher is visiting a site in Italy that has been agriculturally productive for ~2500 years (how did they do that!). The site was likely owned by Pompey the Great. Mark is writing a book on sustainability in Ancient Rome.
I can’t wait to hear, see, and read about what each of them discovers. And I can’t wait to share it all with you.
Happy Friday -
Those of you who see me around campus or around town know that I'm a huge fan of Patagonia, the place and the company. I have been since I was in college. There are loads of reasons to like the region - the people, the mountains, the diversity, the hiking. And there may be just as many reasons to like the company (Note: I don't own stock in the company, nor am I being compensated for this message). The company treats its employees well, they support activistswho are working to find solutions to environmental problems, etc., etc.
Kris Tompkinsis the former CEO of Patagonia and is the current president of Tompkins Conservation. If you don't know what Tompkins Conservatoin is doing in South America, you should. Basically, the organization has given tens of millions of acres to the Chilean government to establish a network of National Parks. I think it's the largest gift of land from a private organization to a government ever. This videois worth watching for a one-minute introduction. It's inspiring stuff, at least from my perspective.
My friend and colleague, Mark Usher (Classics Department) shared this piece from the Washington Postwith me. It's written by Kris Tompkins and Tom Butler. It's provocative, in several ways. First, they argue that we should quit talking about 'sustainability.' They write
So let’s quit talking about “sustainable” this or that and face the overarching question about the future: Can we create a durable civilization in which humans become good neighbors in the community of life? Where our society is embedded in a matrix of wild nature that allows all creatures — from microorganisms to blue whales — freedom to pursue happiness and raise their progeny in a secure habitat?
Second, they say that the way to accomplish this is by "rewilding."
The path to that flourishing future for the diversity of life is “rewilding” — helping nature heal by returning missing species and processes to parts of the planet where they’ve been eliminated or diminished by human activity.
Rewilding has many vocal advocates. There are even TED talksabout it. But it's not without its opponents as well. (Note, friends and I have written about it, urging some caution). I won't go in to the various arguments for and against rewilding here. But if you're not familiar with the issue, I predict it's going to be one of the hot button conservation issues in the coming years. So now is the time to familiarize yourself. Watch the TED talk. Read the paper my friends and I wrote (linked above). And let me know what you think.
Happy Friday -
All - I'm looking out the window of my office at home right now. I can see Mt Mansfield and Vista Peak. I can also see the forest that's adjacent to our house and a meadow where I hope to do some research this summer. What I don't see is anything green. Even though the spring semester is almost over, will spring ever come? (The forecast for the next few days suggest not…). This question got me thinking more about phenology - the timing of ecological events.
This past week, I gave a lecture on how an ecologist like me goes about studying the consequences of ongoing climate change, with the hope of predicting future consequences and helping to develop policy or plans to mitigate its impact. Many of you have probably heard about this already, but one consequence of climate change is phenological mismatch, that is, a mismatch in the timing of ecological events. Say, for example, that a pollinator emerges in the spring, only to find that none of its flowers are blooming. My friends Paul CaraDonna and Amy Iler work at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab and are experts on exactly this issue and have shown a wide variety of consequences of phenological shifts.
But not only are plants flowering at different times (usually earlier), but they're also moving up in elevation. In an amazing study from 302 summitsin Europe, led by another friend - Sonja Wipf - researchers have documented that the number of plant species on the tops of mountains are increasing, and dramatically. From 1957-1966, the number of species on mountain tops increased by about 1 species. But, from 2007-2016, the number has increased by about 5.5 species. What are the consequences of these new, additional species for how these mountain top communities work? That's an open question that an ENVS student might pursue for her capstone thesis some day (hint, hint).
So, plants are flowering earlier, and some are moving up mountains (and of course, others are declining dramatically in abundance). But climate change is also leading to whole-sale shifts in broad-scale patterns of vegetation. If you've ever driven on I-40 or I-70 from the eastern US to the western US, you'll remember (perhaps not fondly) that about when you hit central Oklahoma or Central Kansas, things get pretty dry. It turns out that John Wesley Powell was the first to describe this hard boundary, running north and south along the 100th meridian. But, over the past 150 years or so since Powell wrote about it, that boundary has actually shifted to the east by about 140 miles. This will have considerable effects on how agriculture is practiced (or not) in the coming decades in America's breadbasket.
An ecologist like me can document these kinds of patterns, make graphs, do statistics, and write papers for journals that few people ever read. But there are cascading consequences of these changes, not just for the rest of biodiversity, but for people as well. So how do we understand what those effects are? How do we engage policy makers to effect change? Someone with my training struggles to do that. But, someone who engages in systems thinking, who knows about policy and activism and journalism and engages humanity from diverse perspectives, who has some ecological know-how and can sit down at the table and engage with stakeholders and speak up for the disenfranchised and the forgotten, those are the people who can move us forward on this ever-changing planet. The people who can do that are interdisciplinary thinkers; I'm of course speaking of students in and from our Environmental Program. The more I think about what our students do, the more hopeful I am, both about those plants that are flowering too soon or moving up mountainsides, and about all of us.
Happy Friday -
Hi all -
I sometimes feel like I repeat myself in some of these Friday emails. But some things are worth repeating. For instance, the breadth of scholarship that our faculty continue to turn out continues to impress me.
Here's a smattering of papers, just in the past couple of weeks, from faculty in Our Environmental Program. I'm sure I'm missing some stuff. If I am, please let me know!
Cecilia Danks and colleagues published a paper in Forest Products Journal on relationships among pellet mills, home-owner satisfaction, and all of the moving pieces that come between the mills and homeowners in New England.
Abstract. Our study examined relationships among pellet mills, bulk delivery companies, and high-efficiency pellet boiler equipment firms in northern New England as they relate to homeowner satisfaction, using social network analysis and the concept of supply chain management. The continual growth of supply and demand for automated pellet heating requires a careful match between innovative technologies and homeowner needs; these involve multiple factors and require collaboration among firms. Using interview data with managers from pellet mills, bulk delivery companies, and equipment firms in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, we found fifteen firms that are connected through both a transaction network and an informal business interaction network. The networks were characterized by short paths and no obvious sign of centralization. Network statistics reported for each network included density, clustering coefficient, and degree-, closeness- and betweenness- centrality. Most firms in the supply networks shared customer satisfaction information (average number of information sending ties = 3) and considered collaboration in customer services important (mean = 4.4, on a five-point scale). However, equipment firms initiated more information sharing than other types, and bulk delivery companies were in the best position in the supply network to promote collaborative customer services. Opportunities exist to improve communication between pellet mills and equipment firms, leading to a robust automated pellet heating supply chain, strong demand, and subsequent homeowner satisfaction.
Brendan Fisher, his PhD student Hilary, and a veritable who's who of conservation scientists have an interesting paper on the intersections among environmental challenges, economics, psychology, and decision making. The paper is published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, and maybe you can see it here. It's called Nudging pro‐environmental behavior: evidence and opportunities.
Abstract. Human behavior is responsible for many of our greatest environmental challenges. The accumulated effects of many individual and household decisions have major negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem health. Human behavioral science blends psychology and economics to understand how people respond to the context in which they make decisions (eg who presents the information and how it is framed). Behavioral insights have informed new strategies to improve personal health and financial choices. However, less is known about whether and how these insights can encourage choices that are better for the environment. We review 160 experimental interventions that attempt to alter behavior in six domains in which decisions have major environmental impacts: family planning, land management, meat consumption, transportation choices, waste production, and water use. The evidence suggests that social influence and simple adjustments to decision settings can influence pro‐environmental decisions. We identify four important gaps in the evidence that provide opportunities for future research. To address these gaps, we encourage collaborations between researchers and practitioners that look at the effects of embedding tests of behavior‐change interventions within environmental programs.
Brendan has another paper in Frontiers entitled Stranded capital: environmental stewardship is part of the economy, too. I personally think that last comma is superfluous, but grammar scholars can agree to disagree.
Abstract. The many values that humans place on biodiversity are widely acknowledged but difficult to measure in practice. We address this problem by quantifying the contribution of marine‐related environmental stewardship, in the form of donations and volunteer hours, to the economy of coastal Massachusetts. Our conservative evaluation suggests that marine stewardship activities contributed at least $179 million to the state economy in 2014, a figure that exceeded revenues derived in that same year from commercial finfish operations ($105 million) and whale watching ($111 million), two acknowledged cornerstones of the regional economy. Almost imperceptibly, the coastal economy has been transformed from one dependent on commercial exchange to a diverse economy that includes, to a large measure, marine stewardship. Donations and volunteer efforts are useful indicators of environmental values that can be hard to quantify,and represent one measure of human determination to protect the planet.
Jon Erickson has a paper in the journal Global Environmental Change about the accumulation of Phosphorus in Vermont from 1925 to 2012. The paper is entitled Phosphorus flows and legacy accumulation in an animal-dominated agricultural region from 1925 to 2012, and it's here.
Abstract. Phosphorus (P) is a scarce but critical input for agriculture, yet its overuse can lead to water quality degradation. Most P applied as fertilizer and manure binds to soils, accumulating over time, constituting a legacy source with implications for mitigating nutrient pollution. To investigate how the flows and balance of P evolved over a period of rapidly changing technology, agricultural practices, and land cover, we modeled P flows in Vermont’s dairy-dominated agricultural system at county- and state-levels from 1925 to 2012. An important dairy exporter, Vermont faces water quality challenges complicated by a mismatch between the scale of the market and that of policymaking, a common occurrence in export-oriented agricultural regions. Over the period analyzed, agricultural soils accumulated at >1000 tonnes of P annually, accruing a legacy stock >230,000 tonnes. The peak surplus of 4439 tonnes occurred in 1950, declining to 1493 tonnes per annum in 2012. Legacy P accumulation at the state-level ranged from <1 to> 16 kg ha−1, depending on year and measurement method. The decline in total P surplus reflects an 82% decline in fertilizer use that was partly offset by an increase in animal feed imports, the largest source of P entering Vermont since 1982. Despite declining inputs, milk output doubled, evidence of increased P use efficiency. Simultaneously, animal unit density increased by >250%, enabled by rising feed imports. While feed is imported and milk exported, manure remains in Vermont; hence, Vermont soils continue to accrue legacy P at rates > 5 kg ha−1, undermining efforts to reduce P runoff and achieve water quality targets. We discuss the governance, management, and policy implications, outlining opportunities to improve input accountability to address the persistent P imbalance. We highlight constraints facing regional policymakers due to increased embeddedness in commodity trade networks.
Jon has another important paper in Ecological Economics entitled Genuine Economic Progress in the United States: A Fifty State Study and Comparative Assessment. It's here.
The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) was designed to reveal the economic, social, and environmental trade-offs associated with conventional economic growth as traditionally measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Although originally designed for use at the national scale, an interest has developed in the United States in a state-level uptake of the GPI to inform and guide policy. This study presents the first fifty-state estimate for U.S. GPI in order to address questions over its design, implementation, and ultimate potential as a tool to guide state level economic policy. Following a review of the current state of analysis and critique of GPI, we provide an overview of methodology and database development. Results are then presented, including discussion of lessons learned through a fifty-state application. The paper concludes with suggestions for further research and next steps to consolidating a consistent methodology.
If you would like to work with Nate
Please email him a summary of your research experience and research goals, along with a CV.