2, 565, 2795

If there are three numbers in climate change you should know, they are 2, 565, and 2 795.

Let’s talk about math, baby.

In July 2012 climate stalwart Bill McKibben wrote an extremly popular article in Rolling Stone called ‘Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math’.

Basically, the international community has set a (slightly arbitrary) target of a 2’C rise in temperature by the end of the century. This is the first numer.

2’C was the limit set as it is seen to be the uppermost limit of warming under which most socities can continue to operate as they currently do. Anything above 2’C is seen as ‘catastrophic climate change’ and there is no gaurantee at all that our current society can survive that.

2
2’C has been agreed upon as the ‘safe’ limit for climate change. Current understanding puts us at about 0.8’C.

 

Why do I sound so cynical about the 2’C?

Because it’s too high.

It was chosen because it’s (in theory) a politically fesiable target, not because it actually means anything. At 2’C you can say goodbye to countries like Tuvaulu and Kirabati. At 2’C you can say goodbye to the Great Barrier Reef. At 2’c the Arctic will look less like a wild and beautifully desolate ice desert and more like a bit of coolish water with some ice cubes sadly floating in it.

The next number is 565 gigatonnes. Basically, to stay under that 2’C limit we can’t emit more than another 565 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. That’s fine, right?

We emit nor more than that 565 and then the inertia of the oceans will catch up (basically we’re not feeling the true impacts of cllimate change at the moment as they store heaps of carbon dioxide, but when they reach saturation point all of that will go into the atmosphere) and it will get crazy for a while but we might be okay.

Well, not really because (and this is where the ‘terrifying’ comes in) there is currently 2 795 gigatonnes on the books.

That is roughly five times the amount we have in our carbon budget, but it’s being traded and included in market anaylsis and market forecasts already.

2795
This slide from Bill McKibben’s ‘Do the Math’ tour says it all really.

It’s written into multi billion dollar deals such as the mining of the Galliee Basin in Australia and the extraction of tar sands in the US.

Doesn’t sound great, does it? 

Lukily, there are thousands of dedicated, talented, optimistic and downright brilliant people working on this, notably through the global Fossil Free divestment campaign being run by 350.org. They are truly fantastic people.

Tomorrow, when the IPCC releases their fifth report on climate change we’ll see how it’s all going.

In the meantime, let’s play with the math. We need to diminish that 2 795 to 565 or, frankly, geography won’t be so awesome anymore and that would be terrible.

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Sequestering Carbon in Native Forests Part IV

Here’s the next instalment of the Sequestering Carbon in Native Forests series. It’s fairly acedemic (I have to be serious sometimes), so get your acedemia on! If you haven’t read any of the previous posts in the series maybe check them out first; they are best read in order.

Pre-existing forests can be managed to sequester carbon through measures such as having a mix of species, managing fire regimes and keeping the forest at an ideal mix of age-classes. A mixture of species in a forest makes the system more resilient and overall better at storing carbon (Böttcher and Linder, 2010).

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This plantation looks really cool but in terms of sequestering carbon it’s not great as it doesn’t have a mix of species or age classes. PHOTO: wood report

 

As outlined above, different species react differently to factors such as water availability so in this way a resilient tree community would be made up of a variety of species so that whatever the rainfall pattern at least one species was still able to actively sequester carbon.

In the Australian bush the constant possibility of fire means that landholders with a large number of trees on their property need to have a fire management plan with efforts such as controlled burning to reduce fuel loads. (Böttcher and Linder, 2010).

Although this releases carbon dioxide, it can greatly reduce the risk of large, uncontrolled fires later and can actually help with the sequestration process if the ash goes back into the soil. For the purposes of sequestration the ideal age-class structure of a forest is fairly mixed (Böttcher, 2007).

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Controlled burns are important in Australian forest management. PHOTO: abc.net.au

If a system cannot self-regulate to achieve this, the forest should be managed; trees that are all relatively young and still growing sequester large amounts of carbon but there will be a lesser extent of the natural process that use dead roots, branches and twigs to lock up carbon in the soil as these processes take decades to fully establish.

However, if the forest comprises only of mature trees that have stopped growing the sequestering potential for that forest will largely have been reached.

Thus, once a forest has been established it should be managed (if it can’t self-regulate) so there is a mixed age-class with a mind to disturbing the ecosystem as little as possible. While it takes around 100 years for this point to be reached (possibly longer in low rainfall areas) the potential of forests to mitigate against climate change, even in those low rainfall areas, is good.

Climate Change Week

Afternoon all!

I have officially and arbitrarily decided that this week on GiA will be Climate Change Week.

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“Stop melting my home!” PHOTO: National Geographic

 

I’m assuming that everyone has a pretty good understanding of the science, so I’ll skim over that before delving into the depths of international climate change talks, where it gets seriously complicated.

The science is easy; it’s the politics of it that’s nuts.

First off though, we’ll start with this, a counter that shows you the atmosphere’s current and past carbon dioxide concentration in parts per million (ppm).

It’s a crazy graph and as you can see, we cracked 400ppm earlier this year. The international community has agreed that we need to stay below 2’C of warming above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid a climate that most societies won’t be able to function in.  To stay below this 2’C, we’d need to get carbon dioxide levels down to or below 350ppm.

The 2’C is in itself a bit arbitrary (I’ll explain that in a bit), but it provides a good indicator of how we’re going.

I realise this is pretty sad, so to cheer you up, here’s a video of a baby panda sneezing.

Morality and the Triage System

This post first appeared on a biodiversity blog that we set up for a course last semester. That blog can be found here: http://biodiversityconservationblog.wordpress.com/. It is really great and you should check it out!

Animals
She’s so cute!!! PHOTO: Atlas of Living Australia.

Look at this photo of a baby koala. Sqqquueee!!! She’s so cute! Look at her fluffy ears and big nose and button eyes!

We know that koalas are on the decline in all States and Territories except Victoria; we all know that these insanely cute marsupials are facing habitat loss and degradation due to agriculture, new roads, expanding urban areas and forestry. We know they took a hard hit when they were hunted for their soft, thick pelts in the early part of last century.

Enter the triage system. ‘Triage’ is a term mostly used in medical circles and it means prioritising patients based on the severity of their injuries.

In conservation it means using a decision support system to decide which species or system to preserve: What are the chances of this species doing well if we support it? How much will it cost? What’s the cultural significance of the species? It is rare or taxonomically distinct (i.e. has few living relatives)?

For something like the koala, it will do pretty well in these questions; it’s a big draw for tourism, it’s important in Australian culture, it’s the last of its family (Phascolarctidae) and it’s cute and fluffy so when policy makers and groups want to protect it people say ‘Ahh, how nice.’

The darker side of the triage system is that not all animals are cute and fluffy, not all of them have a high social standing and so the funding just won’t be allocated to them because they don’t meet the criteria.

Think of the Grassland Earless Dragon. These lizards are tiny, about 1.5cm long and they live in the grasslands of NSW, the ACT and Victoria. The little dragons have been facing habitat degradation from farming (mostly grazing) for decades and are now threatened by the spread of wind farms as well, farms set up along the ridge in the grasslands they call home.

I haven’t heard of earless dragons before, I hear you say, are they cute? Yes, they are, they’re gorgeous!

That shouldn’t matter though, we should protect all species, regardless of their cuteness or social utility. We created the problems they are facing – habitat destruction and fragmentation, pollution, invasive plants and animals, climate change – so we should fix it.

Morally, it’s not okay to push another species (never forget that we are merely clothed apes; Homo sapiens, the cousins of chimps and gorillas) to the point of being endangered then say ‘Oh, but you don’t meet the cut/fluffy/social utility/inexpensive criteria so you’re just going to have to make do.’

Funding is always limited and resources always scare but the bottom line is that humans don’t have the right to decide the fate of other species* because we have decided other things are more worth our money; everything should be protected.

We need to change our values so that the triage system becomes obsolete because there is always enough funding to conserve everything.

Look at this little dragon. Can you look him in the eye and tell him he’s not precious enough to protect?

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This little guy is about 1.5cm long and lives in the Australian grasslands. He’s beautiful! PHOTO: Museum of Victoria.

*The debate around humans messing with evolution through making some species extinct while preserving others comes in here. It’s a really interesting line of thought and I recommend you follow it.

Interested in finding out more?

Earless dragons in Victoria:

http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/103407/Earless_dragon.pdf

Koalas in Queensland:

http://www.ehp.qld.gov.au/wildlife/koalas/legislation/pdf/conservation-plan-06-16.pdf

Koalas in Victoria:

http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/106852/Koala.pdf

Conservation Triage:

http://conservationbytes.com/2009/03/27/classics-ecological-triage/

Weekly Writing Challenge: Dialogue. About goats.

Hello everyone! I’m taking part in a weekly writing challenge to shake it up. Check it out:

It is night, and raining. A YOUNG WOMAN sits at a computer, headphones in, typing with one hand. Her chin is resting in the other. The audience can hear the tinny sound of electro-house music and the clattering of keys. Enter THE BOYFRIEND. She doesn’t notice. He taps her gently on the shoulder.

YOUNG WOMAN: (startled) Gah! Dude, you scared me.

THE BOYFRIEND: You’re still here how I left you this morning! What have you been up to all day?

She takes out her earphones and turns to face him, excited.

YOUNG WOMAN: Soils! Soils are amazing. Well, goats and soils. See, they had too many woody weeds, then they put goats on it to make it better, but the goats messed it up, so now the soil is unhappy because there isn’t any clay and so there’s a film and basically it’s all just terrible.

THE BOYFRIEND removes his jacket, sits down in the armchair next to the desk and looks at her intently. He likes hearing about what she’s learning.

THE BOYFRIEND: (patiently) … Right. And what are woody weeds?

YOUNG WOMAN: (impatiently) They’re woody shrubs that grow in the Australian rangelands and are unpalatable to stock. The rangelands are, like, 80% of Australia, but this case study is from the semi-arid region between Broken Hill and Cobar, in the south-west corner of New South Wales.

grassland
What Australian grasslands of that area are meant to look like. There’s a overstory of trees and an understory of grasses and forbes and nothing else.
woody weeds
An area over run with woody weeds; the middle story. Note the absence of an understory.

THE BOYFRIEND: So where do the goats come in?

 YOUNG WOMAN: Well, removing woody weeds mechanically or chemically is really expensive, and they tried burning it but it doesn’t always work. That’s one of the main maxims in Australian geography; if there’s a problem, set fire to it and ask questions later.

THE BOYFRIEND: (laughing) So they put goats in? Where did they get the goats from?

YOUNG WOMAN: That’s the beauty of it, see. You just fence off a whole lot of feral goats that are out there anyway, and the expense of the fence is offset by the profit made from the goats. There’s a growing market for goat in Australia, especially goat that’s Halal. The goats start off eating all the yummy things, like the forbes and perennial grasses, but then they go on and eat the woody weeds. Unpalatable doesn’t worry goats!

THE BOYFRIEND: Forbes? Isn’t that a town in central New South Wales? And how does this relate to soils being unhappy?

YOUNG WOMAN: Yeah, it is a town too, but forbes is another name for ‘herb’, something that’s not a grass or a shrub but is still a little plant. So they put in heaps of goats. Like, heaps. Out there the stocking rate is 0.3 DSE per hectare, which means that for every hectare you should only have 0.3 of a dry sheep equivalent. This is the amount of resources needed to support a ewe that doesn’t have a lamb. A cow is equal to about 15 DSE, a pony or light horse has a DSE of 10, and so on. So this place is at 0.3/ha, and they go and put in 4 goats on every hectare! This is so they can really eat the weeds down, put that many goats puts pressure on the soil. See, the soil is usually alumino-silicate aggregates coated by clay, yeah? But the goats grind it all together and the clay comes off. You following?

clay runoff
Soil particles are covered in clay (happy soil), but then goats come in and rub it off. The clay forms a film on the surface when it rains, and water can’t get in (sad soil).

THE BOYFRIEND: Yep. The area has a DSE of 0.3/ha, but you run it at about 4/ha and the clay gets rubbed off the soil particles. What happens then?

YOUNG WOMAN: Well, usually the water would just infiltrate into the soil and there’s basically no run-off at all. No erosion or anything, just lots of water for the plants, but because the clay has come off the soil it forms a film on the surface and the water can’t infiltrate into the soil. There’s lots of run-off which causes erosion, and the plants can’t access the water.

THE BOYFRIEND taps his nose thoughtfully. 

THE BOYFRIEND: Hmm, doesn’t sound too good. Anything else?

YOUNG WOMAN: Yeah, dust. Because the soil is made so unstable by the goats they lose massive amounts of topsoil via wind erosion. This is a serious problem in Australia and is very costly, both environmentally and economically.

apocalypse
Sydney Harbour in the 2009 Australian dust storm. I was 16 at the time and it felt like the apocalypse had come.

THE BOYFRIEND: So … goats solve one problem but create a few more?

YOUNG WOMAN: (sadly) Pretty much. If you can figure out how to solve the woody weeds problem they’ll basically make you Australian of the Year and you’ll be a gazillionaire.

THE BOYFRIEND: That’s a shame, goats are otherwise so cool.

YOUNG WOMAN: (excited, looking to a future of solving problems with goats) Yeah, geography is awesome!

So that was my night last night. More or less a true story.

goats3
Goats are awesome.
goat1
What a cutie!

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/writing-challenge-dialogue/

 

You Are A Closet Geographer

Yes, you are.

Don’t try to deny it.

You’ve looked at the sunset and wondered how much is natural or just smog, you’ve eaten an apple while wondering where it was grown, you’ve muttered about how the inadequate public transport in your city is ruining your life.

These are all serious issues in geography, so congratulations on your status as a geographer!

The_Geographer
You right now: Oh my goodness, I’m a geographer! PAINTING: Johannes Vermeer

 

Geography is what we call a mild superpower. You’ll never fly or lift a building or punch around corners, but you can use your geography skillz to help make our world a little better.

If you deduce that your sunset is to smoggy you can buy a bit of renewable energy to reduce pollution. Climate change: solved.

If you don’t know where your apples are coming from, buy them directly from a local farmer next time and they’ll be able to answer all of your questions.  Food sovereignty: achieved.

If the public transport in your city isn’t great, vote for people who will make it more effective, sustainable and equitable. Democracy: in action.

Look at you go, you mild superhero!

You have gotten over your denial about your status as a geographer and have started helping this little planet of ours be a bit nicer.

happy earth
Look how happy she is now that you’ve gotten over your denial and are helping! PICTURE: meme-chan3

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/daily-prompt-denial/

Sacred Places

sacred adjective 5. regarded with reverence.*

What is a sacred place? How do they relate to geography?

If we go with the above definition, a scared place is a place regarded with reverence. As we’re talking geography, let’s make it a natural or natural/human interface where people feel reverence.

It is important to have such places, and to hold them dear and protect them, otherwise geography sort of falls on it’s sword. What’s the point in sustainable agriculture if we don’t care about rivers and soil health? What’s the point of National Parks if we don’t respect and interact with biodiversity and wild places? What’s the point of stopping logging if rainforests are meaningless for us?

amazon
Logging in the Amazon: it’s probably not a great idea. PHOTO: Stephen Ferry/Getty

In short, why interact meaningfully with the Earth’s natural systems if we have no reverence for them?

It may be a big ask for every part of the natural system to be a sacred space, but everyone should have one. A place to connect to and recharge in. Where you feel the wind in your hair and the water on your skin, where you squint in the sun, and hear leaves rustling and watch birds and sunsets and small kids playing with dogs.

Though I haven’t seen much of it, I love Australia’s environment. Salt bush plains, Tasmania’s alpine areas, rainforests, open woodlands, agricultural areas, the aridity of the Flinders, marshes replete with water-birds, the wilderness of the NSW South Coast, it’s all amazing and you should see it. I love it all, but my sacred place is a few beaches along the NSW Mid-North Coast where I grew up. It’s the border of land and sea and sky, where Norfolk pines and beech trees and rainforests and banksias all rub shoulders. It’s where I learnt about the threat of climate change to the ocean, to agriculture, to human health.

sapph
North Sapphire Beach, near where I grew up. The Island is Split Solitary and is in the Solitary Islands Marina Park, where warm tropical and cold Southern Ocean currents mix, creating unique and intense biodiversity.
IMG_9836 - Copy
Underwater in the Solitary Islands Marine Park.
IMG_9779
Grey Nurse Sharks hanging out in the Solitary Islands Marine Park. They are gentle, beautiful creatures but sadly are critically endangered.

I study ecological decline for (theoretically) about 60 hours a week.

It’s highly stressful, learning about it all the time, hearing about boundaries and tipping points and dead canaries  that have all been ignored, so when I go to that part of the world it’s like a tonic, and I remember why it’s so important for us to study geography. I go back to study refreshed and ready to solve some wicked problems.

P1120055
Storms at Jetty Beach.
P1080140
Sunset at Secret Beach.
P1070981
Sunset at Secret Beach.
P1070993
Evenfall, Hills Beach.

Up until about 1908 no-one really admitted to seeing beauty in the Australian landscape, and then Dorothea Mackellar penned My Country.

Now we’re allowed to love it and be reverent, and it is because I share those feelings that I study geography.

l_037579d0455c43b485e284e130a06b65
A clear day at Sawtell Beach.
P1120349
Sunset at Jetty Beach.
shack
A shack and friend and I built one summer.
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Me at Hills Beach.
P1070944
Banksia silhouettes, Hills Beach.
Dads Camera#1 018
Spilt Solitary (the further island) and South Solitary. Growing up my sister and I just called them Lighthouse and First Island respectively. This is the view from the verandah of the house I lived in in high school.
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Sunset at Hills Beach.

*Definition from the Macquarie Dictionary, Federation Edition. 

All of the photos in this post are my own.