Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Devolution of the Suburbs : Sustainablog

Devolution of the Suburbs : Sustainablog

It is so unfortunate that some of the political leadership in Prince George's County is fixed on the sole idea that only development of open space provides prosperity and the future. While much of the rest of the world recognizes the importance of the irreplaceable natural assets (ecosystems), this county continues to "mall" the environment and pave its way towards short term gain for a very select few.

Devolution of the Suburbs : Sustainablog

Devolution of the Suburbs : Sustainablog

It is so unfortunate that some of the political leadership in Prince George's County is fixed on the sole idea that only development of open space provides prosperity and the future. While much of the rest of the world recognizes the importance of the irreplaceable natural assets (ecosystems), this county continues to "mall" the environment and pave its way towards short term gain for a very select few.

Devolution of the Suburbs : Sustainablog

Devolution of the Suburbs : Sustainablog

It is so unfortunate that some of the political leadership in Prince George's County is fixed on the sole idea that only development of open space provides prosperity and the future. While much of the rest of the world recognizes the importance of the irreplaceable natural assets (ecosystems), this county continues to "mall" the environment and pave its way towards short term gain for a very select few.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Invasive Species & Collision of Desires

A collision of desires occurs whenever two or more groups with interests in a wicked problem support great ideas and outstanding goals that give rise to competing outcomes that are mutually exclusive. Invasive species wickedly and inconveniently provide many examples of collisions of desires. A dispute between a neighborhood association and a city council member over a small flower garden describes the fuzzy world of competing interests and a collision of desires wrapped in a question of taste.

The spot called Poet’s Corner has, one infers, a native look about it, and raises questions about native plants that might be called weeds. At one level we are dealing with questions of taste that derail any convergence of opinion. In the war on invasive species between traditional gardeners and naturalists, beauty is a battlefield front line and any arguments quickly escalate. The “look” of nature is one of chaotic landscape out of control of man. Our memories of the Garden of Eden wherein was found serenity and safety call us to prune and weed and chop and mow and order species into predictable rows organized by color and overlaid with hues of artistic references.
The back to nature gardener turns the landscape design matrix on its head reveling on the ecological interactions so disturbing to the traditionalists. Instead of pest free environs found in gardens of the past, all the denizens of nature are welcomed back into the garden; instead of a few reliably identifiable species that provide a common reference for understanding, a chaos of variety is a fundamental part of this new garden grammar requiring an education in order to “read” the landscape. Music offers an analogy with classical easily understood melodies composed in chromatic scales as opposed to difficult patterns found in music composed in 12 tone rows.

Eco-system syntax and grammar which are part of landscape literacy must be learned in order to see the beauty in patterns found in eco-systems and the services that they provide. Natural landscapes and gardens enhance the combinations of life and surprise. For the uninitiated the vagaries and unpredictable nature of a “natural” landscape is disconcerting. The uncontrolled and untended look “reads” as unkempt and dangerous to the current accepted gardening practices and expected principles of design.

The very garden wall that long “framed” the garden and kept nature at arms length is now symbolically (or even in deed) torn down so that nature can come in. For millennia the garden space defined the other we call nature. Now it is nature which defines the garden, a revolution in perspective. Where once we found grounding in the garden, we see definition in the wild areas and wilderness which encourage our aspirations…at least for some. The traditional garden walled out the complexities of nature reducing choices to a manageable few.

And the collision of desires comes when we try to provide an easy to understand garden with a limited palette and nothing to much moving about that cannot be easily identified while at the same time trying to support and enhance the needs of our ecosystem by planting host plants for insects and inviting other species to dine on the garden we plant. One hand wants plants that are inedible to insects; the other wants butterflies. We want an insect free zone and we want song birds. We want predictability and we want nature. We want it all. We want inexpensive food, but we also want pesticide free…yesterday. We want higher yields, but we do not want hybrids. We want security with out risk, and we want freedom without responsibility. We want restrictions of chemical controls of invasive species, so we get biological controls that bring in more exotics…exactly what we set out to diminish.

The collision of expectations gives way to unexpected outcomes motivated by well meaning desires. This then is the Collision of Desires. All stakeholders want to do the right thing. No one group sets out to do the wrong thing. But the complexities surrounding invasive species sometimes lead to solutions at odds with one another.

The Anti-Ecology of Money | Energy Bulletin

The Anti-Ecology of Money Energy Bulletin

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bioeconomics of Invasive Species - A Reference for Stakeholders

July 19th (Bioeconomics_review), 2009 {Book provided to me without charge by UOP}
Invasive species issues have captured my attention for more than 15 years. I still remember wondering about the science behind the claim that Lythrum, purple loosestrife, was invasive; I still recall the confusion as to what exactly what an invasive species was. In a broader sense I have spent my time in invasive species problems trying to connect the various disciplines of current knowledge to each other. I wonder how cost is measured, and what is risk; how definitions are reached and who is responsible for developing them; where are the models that coordinate problem of scale both in time and space. Bridging the chasm between business opportunities and the costs of preserving or protecting the commonly held environmental infrastructure, as well as sorting through the semantic clutter of market preferences and public values, has been almost a fool’s errand at times.

Now a new book, ‘Bioeconomics of Invasive Species Integrating Ecology, Economics, Policy, and Management’, edited by Reuben P. Keller, David M. Lodge, Mark A. Lewis and Jason F. Shogren, has been released by Oxford University Press. Aimed at professional managers and policy makers, as well as researchers in the many related fields of invasive species, the book is invaluable for anyone involved in the on going debates and conversations. Contributors, numbering over 20, to the collection of academic papers include: Reuben P. Keller, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame; David M. Lodge, Director of Center for Aquatic Conservation and Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame; Mark A. Lewis, Canada Research Chair in Mathematical Biology in the Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at the University of Alberta; and, Jason F. Shogren, Stroock Professor of Natural Resource Conservation and Management in the Department of Economics and Finance at the University of Wyoming.

The book provides an in depth look at ecological and economic modeling theory and practice that can serve as a reference for the fields of risk assessment, early detection and rapid response, and control and management of invasive species. A convenient definition from the website, Bioeconomics: Mansour Mohammadian , lays out the scope of the book: “Bioeconomics is the discipline originating from the synthesis of biology and economics. It is an attempt to bridge, through the concept of holism and interdisciplinary methodology, the empirical culture of biology and the literary culture of economics and thus finish with what C.P. Snow has called " the two cultures. The paradigm shift is really an endeavour to make the invisible visible: in the case of bioeconomics the aim is to make visible all the weaknesses of the socioeconomic activity based on the neoclassical theory and the competitive capitalist ideology.” (© 2009 Mansour Mohammadian. All Rights Reserved. )

I have stood in the middle of more than I can count stakeholder arguments that are not about invasive species but rather ecology versus economy. The property rights conversation collides with the tragedy of the commons more often than not; the larger philosophic implications are hidden by the moment of the topic. Peter A. Corning, at the Institute for the Study of Complex Systems argues “… that an economy is at heart a "survival enterprise," the basic purpose of which is "earning a living" (whatever may be our perceptions -- and the exceptions) and that both "competition" and "co-operation" represent subsidiary, contingent "survival strategies." From this perspective, bioeconomic evolution may be characterized as a consequential change in a society's (or a species') mode of adaptation -- ie., in the means of production of the requisites for biological survival and reproduction. It entails the differential selection of alternative adaptive modalities (instrumentalities of needs satisfaction). (Peter A. Corning, Ph.D. Institute for the Study of Complex Systems Copyright © 2007 ISCS. All rights reserved.) In a nutshell, or, as the authors put it, in a clamshell, Bioeconomics of Invasive Species Integrating Ecology, Economics, Policy, and Management makes “...better informed outcomes possible.”

Organized into 13 chapters the book moves from descriptions of current fields of knowledge and perspectives of invasion biology to discussions of economic and ecologic integration. From there the authors investigate trait-based risk assessments and habitat niche modeling providing details in one resource and reference for the many lines of research currently underway today. Bioeconomics continues with in depth explorations of invasive species propagule pressure and dispersal models. Make no mistake; this is not an introductory work. I had to reconnect with distant memories of avoided classes featuring differential equations and statistics, but the mental exercise was worth it, and the authors give detailed explanations of each step towards their mathematical models.

In the middle of Bioeconomics of Invasive Species I found a classic, useful presentation about fuzzy definitions, semantic vagaries and linguistic and scientific uncertainty which are central to my presentations and to my work bringing diverse and opposing constituencies together. To say the least I am excited that the authors included an entire chapter about the role and implications of uncertainty in a world that wants science to rule “ex cathedra” and never ever recant a position. Further more, Bioeconomics of Invasive Species explains in both clear economic terminology why replacement cost valuation offers erroneous answers when used to account for invasive species costs. The authors offer a descriptive metaphor for why replacement costs do not give correct answers: “Metaphorically speaking, measuring economic value by multiplying visible price times quantity would be like measuring biological phenotype by using only visible molecules and structure coded by the genetic materials.” (Bioeconomics 2009 p. 156) Understanding the insider’s problem with existing statements of invasive species costs is laid out in clear prose complete with easy to follow graphics and charts. Policies surrounding invasive species will inevitably need to consider that replacement cost and market value as currently used can lead to both understatements and overstatements of the actual or true invasive species’ costs.

Chapter 9 brings all the differing strands together presenting a goal “…to design management and policy that accounts for invader population dynamics, control and eradication measure, cost benefit analysis, and methods for optimal decision making.” (Bioeconomics 2009 p. 180) A detailed elucidation of integrated decision making modeling is capped with the observation that “[s]trong human preferences for the present period coupled to a constant discount rate explain how reduced control of invasive species may emerge as a rational decision from a bioeconomic perspective.” The authors note the intergenerational challenge to economists and ecologists of valuing the complex needs of the environment going forward. “If we wish to preserve ecosystem for future generations through rational economic behavior, we must necessarily consider new economic incentives or revised methods for valuing ecosystems that cab be used to achieve this goal.” (Bioeconomics 2009 p. 201)

Daniel Simberloff writes that Bioeconomics of Invasive Species “…is a remarkable and profound synthesis [of] successes and failures in managing invasions [and] is a must-read for invasion biologists.” I would extend that to all those who are interested in or concerned about the impacts of invasive species and the considerations to be used in setting regulatory and response policies. This is a must-have reference tool for anyone actively working in invasive species fields and a guide to future research needs to help build better tools for decisions makers and ecosystem managers.

I hope to begin a series on this web log devoted to each of the chapters, and to produce a talk and presentation grounded in this important interface between ecology and economics.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

American Food Security - Dr. Roger Lawson

Posted by permission of the author, Dr. Roger Lawson

"At the recent G8 summit world leaders again recognized the plight of farmers in the developing world and their inability to produce enough food to satisfy the needs of the more than one billion people who face starvation. Leaders of these rich countries pledged an additional $ 5 billion in aid over the next three years to supply the seeds, fertilizers, tools and other aid to small farmers in developing countries. The U.S is expected to commit an additional $ 3 billion.

What is missing from this food security equation is the answer to the future productivity of U.S agriculture in the rapidly changing global environment. Increased global warming with changing weather patterns are resulting in more severe droughts and floods and increased concentrations of carbon dioxide associated with burning fossil fuels. These changes are already having a profound effect on crop production and food security here at home.

The Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (ARS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Maryland has been solving agricultural production problems for nearly 100 years. Once regarded as the flagship of ARS, the scientific staff today numbers 253 compared to more than 400 in the 1960’s. Maintaining a stable and productive U.S. food supply will require a new emphasis on research. Seeds and fertilizer, as will be supplied to the developing countries, will not solve the problems of providing a plentiful and nutritious food supply to U.S consumers.

Beltsville has developed a Center of Excellence on Climate Change where a diverse range of research that includes effects of climate change on crop yield and the development of new more climate-tolerant crops; development of more sustainable practices with reduced use of polluting nitrogen and other synthetic fertilizers; discovering the effects of climate change on reduced levels of vitamin E and other essential components in food and developing new technologies using satellite imaging to predict crop yields in a changing environment.

The challenge of food security must be addressed by Congress without further delay. If the U.S is to prepare for the current climate changes and the predicted increase in population of 130 million by 2042 that will require 30-40% more food, we must act now.
I urge all Marylanders to contact their State and U.S Senators and Representatives and Delegates and urge increased funding for the Center of Excellence."

Roger Lawson Ph 410 531-0075
10613 Steamboat Landing
Columbia, MD 21044

Thursday, July 09, 2009

An either/or of Invasive species

As with many difficult problems in life, the issues invasive species are usually framed in a yes/no - either/or framework. War or peace, life or death, feast or famine, farms or forests, sustainable ecosystems or economic development highlight and delimit the choices which we debate and discuss. The suspension of a restoration plan in favor of farming crops, prompted by increasing concerns over feeding world's largest population is presented as an either/or choice. (China suspends reforestation project over food shortage fears. Guardian, June 23, 2009) “The sacrifice of a key environmental restoration project for crop production highlights the growing problem of feeding the world's biggest population as cities expand into farmland and urban residents consume more meat and vegetables.” Most urban centers for historic reasons developed and grew on the best farm land compounding the problem.

Invasive species’ issues are framed similarly. The casually involved stakeholder finds the options that may be applied to invasive species policies described in terms of two diametrically opposed choices. Save the earth by planting non natives or contribute to the destruction of the universe by gardening with alien exotics. In actuality, a continuum of possibilities exists. From complete eradication through partial control, to slowing the invasion’s spread, to even doing nothing. The fuzzy rainbow of possible solutions is rendered even more complex by the problems of scale that are associated both with the ecological considerations as well as economic calculations. A new book investigates this dual partnership between economics and ecology in depth. (Bioeconomics of Invasive Species; Integrating Ecology, Economics, Policy, and Management Edited by Reuben P. Keller, David M. Lodge, Mark A. Lewis and Jason F. Shogren. 2009. Oxford University Press)

Invasive species’ partisans operate in related but different arenas of interest. Aesthetic discussions on matters of taste arouse considerable emotions. Questions of beauty and personal subjective interest spill over into political considerations. Property rights and ownership color the conversations about species restriction and market regulations surrounding gardening options and pet choices. Many have heard the claim that there is no authority that can dictate what animal may be kept as a companion or what flower may be proscribed from a landscape. The beauty aesthetic drives a market in new species introductions.

Another arena of disagreement is the use of natural resources. For some, there is a deeply held belief that resources are for all practical reasons, infinite. Ludwig von Mises explains in Liberalism: The Classical Tradition that “[h]uman labor by itself is not capable of increasing our well-being. In order to be fruitful, it must be applied to the materials and resources of the earth that Nature has placed at our disposal.” This sometimes religious imperative coupled with the foundational concept of resources beyond measurement makes possible technological advances that in turn deplete the available resources at an ever faster rate. The entire system is dependent upon technology accessing more difficult to reach resources ever faster. On the other side are the naturalists supported by many ecologists who warn of a spiraling increase in the decline of ecosystem services, or at the very least an accelerated change that is outpacing humanities ability to adapt.

Assessments of harm either to one’s personal subjective senses or to the resources supplied by ecosystems and the environment are stumbling blocks to finding consensus. Dr. Milton Friedman sums up the concerns of same constituencies by saying that “there's nothing that does so much harm as good intentions.” Aphorisms explain in part the reluctance to action on the part of those who would be financially or aesthetically restrained.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Unintended invasive consequences

In the wicked inconvenience of invasive species challenges grows the rule of unintended consequences and the pressures of colliding mandated outcomes. A property owner was ordered “…to clean his property of tires and other unauthorized debris, while the state Department of Environmental Protection is investigating whether illegally dumped material encroached on the 100-foot river buffer zone.” (Donna Boynton TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF; July 7th 2009) Most natural are enthusiast would claim a small victory at this point; most property-rights advocates would already be grinding their teeth.

But this story is part of a wicked problem, and the one-time solution comes complete with the requisite unintended consequences of doing the right thing. The accused had been “… called before the board earlier that month to answer to a complaint that unauthorized — and possibly contaminated — fill was dumped on his property and that trees were removed in the area over which the Conservation Commission has jurisdiction.” There cvould be no doubt that a force for good was lumbering into action. What could be better than the mandatory clean-up of a polluter and destroyer of the environment?

Claiming to have brought in only sand that turned out to be mixed with debris, the original problem, the owner was further informed that “… that past clearing of the land has allowed invasive species such as Japanese knotweed and garlic mustard to grow in the disturbed areas. The commission asked that he deal with that as well.” One interpretation could be that the gentleman should never have touched his property in the first place, a second that he should have spend the time and effort in the beginning to certify the sustainability of his landscape plan, and a third, more probable outcome, that he now feels doubly condemned by finding that once he “cleans” his property as required, he is face with a new problem arising out of his compliance. The complexities of invasive species disturbs those who feel that too much knowledge corrupts and good deeds cost too much.