In Ecology News: Heartland leak, hydrofracking law, and conservation in pictures

By Liza Lester, ESA communications officer A dead pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) on a back road of the Thunder Basin National Grassland in northeastern Wyoming. Coal, oil and gas development in the basin have brought more vehicles, and more conflicts with wildlife. Rob Mutch, 2004. FRESH water scientist (and MacArthur Fellow and member of the National Academy of Sciences) Peter Gleick was all over conservation news last week with the shocking revelation that he impersonated a board member of the libertarian Heartland Institute in a ruse to extract private documents concerning climate change strategy. The documents had been in the news for several days after arriving anonymously in the inboxes of environmental reporters and bloggers, with Heartland stating that the documents were fake and obtained fraudulently, and threatening bloggers with legal action for publicly posting them in connection with Heartland. The documents revealed the identities of anonymous Heartland supporters and included a memo outlining plans to develop materials for teaching climate change skepticism in schools. Gleick confessed in his Huffington Post column on Monday night, writing that he sought to confirm the provenance of documents that he had received anonymously. He asserted that he had not altered any of the documents that he got from Heartland. But Megan McArdle of The Atlantic has echoed bloggers’ suspicions about the credibility of the memo. Gleick has taken a leave of absence from the presidency of the Pacific Institute, which he co-founded in 1987, and resigned from the American Geophysical Union’s task force on science ethics. Institutions are hurrying to dissociate themselves from him, and the damage is widespread. Gleick has been a major figure in science policy. Public trust in scientists and scientific institutions requires unblemished reputations, conservation columnist Andy Revkin pointed out, in grief and in anger, in his New York Times Dot Earth blog last week. Talk show hosts and anonymous hackers can pull shenanigans without damage to their message, but scientists cannot, as was amply demonstrated by the 2009 theft of private emails and files from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Joyce, Christopher. “Climate Scientist Admits To Lying, Leaking Documents.” All Things Considered from NPR, 22 February 2012. McArdle, Megan. “The Most Surprising Heartland Fact: Not the Leaks, but the Leaker.” The Atlantic. 22 Feb 2012, 11:58 AM ET Revkin, Andrew. “More on Peter Gleick and the Heartland Files”. NYTimes Dot Earth blog, 22 February 2012, 12:42 pm. Gleick, Peter. “The Origin of the Heartland Documents.” The Huffington Post. Posted: 02/20/2012 7:45 pm. Justice Phillip R. Rumsey of the New York State Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that state municipalities may ban oil and gas...

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Imagining a smarter water future in World’s Water 7

This post contributed by Liza Lester, ESA Communications Officer Unequal wealth. Worldmapper.org contorts the shapes of world territories to reflect the relative proportions of the world’s freshwater resources found within their bounds. © Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan).   How much water do humans use? And how much water do ecosystems need? At the heart of water management research are simple questions that we can’t answer, said Peter Gleick, McArthur fellow and president and founder of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, in Washington to talk about his latest biennial report on water, world-wide, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “Congress is very concerned with the budget. I actually think Congress and everybody in the world should be concerned with the five letter word spelled w-a-t-e-r,” said Wilson Center president Jane Harman, introducing Gleick on October 18th. Harmon left her own congressional seat to take up leadership of the Wilson Center  in February 2011. Released this October by Island Press, The World’s Water Volume 7 dips into fossil fuels and water quality, the boom in Chinese dam development, Australia’s efforts to cope with severe drought, corporate social responsibility, and US water policy reform. It tackles the basic questions of use, supply, and demand, bringing to bear new tools, like satellite observations of groundwater depletion measured through slight changes in gravity. It projects future trans-border water conflicts as the world’s climate changes. Water has a long history as prize, weapon, and victim of war. Gleick and colleagues chronicle water’s violent history with an emphasis on the interdependencies of our essential resources. They also discuss success stories, “case studies that might help us to move from where we are to where we want to be,” said Gleick, pointing to a 2008 Canada-U.S. compact on Great Lakes water use as an imperfect but encouraging example. When we don’t take connected resources into account in policy decisions, he said, we get bad regulations and bad consequences. Water does not conform to territorial boundaries. It can’t be separated from our demands for food and fuel. The dynamic between energy systems and water systems is a particular interest of the Pacific Institute. Heating, moving and purifying water demands energy, and producing energy demands water. Hydraulic fracking, an increasingly popular method of natural gas extraction, uses large volumes of water to crack rock and release gas. Extraction of oil from tar sands is also exceptionally water-intensive compared to more traditional fossil fuel exploitation. Alternative fuels use water too. Encouraging corn ethanol production to cut oil imports, exacerbated high food prices worldwide and put new demands on limited...

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Nutrient enrichment linked to diseases in humans and wildlife

Scientists have provided a rather grim prognosis for global health: the recent increase in nutrient enrichment due to human activities, such as nitrogen pollution through fossil fuel combustion, is likely contributing to several varieties of infectious diseases in humans and wildlife.

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Biofuel’s indirect environmental effects

Biofuels hold promise for reducing the world’s consumption of unsustainable fossil fuels.  But like any new technology, they come with their own host of issues and problems.  One such problem is the so-called “indirect” effect of biofuels on the landscape and the atmosphere. For example, when farmlands are converted to biofuel crops, the food formerly grown on those lands needs to be grown somewhere else.  This could mean clearing of more forests to make room for more agricultural land, releasing carbon into the atmosphere.   A paper out in the Dec. 4 issue of Science investigates just these indirect effects.   Jerry Melillo of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole and his coauthors devised an economic and biogeochemical model to estimate the indirect costs of potential global cellulosic biofuel production on the environment and how they compare to the new technology’s direct effects. Unsurprisingly, the authors found that indirect effects are large. Surprisingly, however, they found that indirect environmental effects of biofuel production account for up to twice the amount of terrestrial carbon loss as the direct environmental effects. In addition, use of larger net amounts of fertilizer across farm and biofuel lands will contribute to the release of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere; nitrous oxide is about 300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The authors acknowledge that the methods to assess indirect effects of biofuel production on the environment are controversial. Some analyses include only part of the picture, while others ignore indirect effects completely. Even if the measurements are crude, they assert, their study shows their paramount importance. As they write: There are a variety of concerns about the practicality of including land-use change emissions in a system designed to reduce emissions from fossil fuels, and that may explain why there are no concrete proposals in major countries to do so. In this situation, fossil energy control programs (LCFS or carbon taxes) must determine how to treat the direct and indirect GHG emissions associated with the carbon intensity of biofuels. Read more at Science in this short Science news piece or in the paper itself  (subscription required for full text). Melillo, J., Reilly, J., Kicklighter, D., Gurgel, A., Cronin, T., Paltsev, S., Felzer, B., Wang, X., Sokolov, A., & Schlosser, C. (2009). Indirect Emissions from Biofuels: How Important? Science, 326 (5958), 1397-1399 DOI:...

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