Categories
ecology landscape

Learning in Place

Dr Walter Poleman is a Senior Lecturer and Director of the Ecological Planning Programme at the Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. He is coordinator of the Greater Burlington Sustainability Education Network which is a United Nations Regional Centre for Expertise for Education for Sustainable Development.

I love to see how things connect – and place is crucial in that.

People and place are inseparable.

We are all the parts connected together in a whole.

The best educators help students see connections

Relearning an integrated whole

Restorative justice and restorative environments are in the same place – healing can occur, and they are both dependent on the health of the whole.

Sustainability: ecological flourishing plus human flourishing

Walter teaches courses in integrated field science, landscape ecology, and measurements and mapping of natural resources. He also serves as the director of the Place-based Landscape Analysis and Community Engagement (PLACE) Program, a partnership of University of Vermont and Shelburne Farms, which provides local residents with a forum for exploring and understanding the natural and cultural history of their town landscape.

Categories
business community ecology electricity generation

Empowering communities

Dr Paula Roberts is a Senior Lecturer at Bangor University.  Growing up in Llanberis she was “concerned about the natural world” and became a Countryside Manager.   Eventually though, she became an environmental scientist – specialising in soils of polar regions.   Passionate about change making, and the Welsh language and culture she now finds herself running a community power company.   Paula also runs an MSc in environmental management and business management – attempting to close the gaps between environment and business.


Talking points

Doing something rather than complaining.

Success: We have an interesting project about reclaiming coal mines in Indonesia, restoring previously damaged and degraded land into a productive resource.

Superpower: Tenacity, the ability to stick with it and keep going.

Activist: Yes, because you’ve got to push boundaries to get resulting change.

Motivations: I’m a cyclist and a mountaineer so I like to keep moving… I like to see places that haven’t been trashed.

Challenges: Getting another community energy project underway.

Miracle: It would be nice to find yourself in a place where the government and the policies are on your side, where they work with you instead of making yourself hit your head against a wall.

Advice: Life is a bit of a rollercoaster, you really never know where it is going, so you just have to learn to stay on.

 

This conversation was made with help of the Sustainability Lab at the Bangor University.

Categories
ecology education restoration ecology

Planting plants, growing understanding, nurturing passion.

Peter Bowler

Most of these students have never been to a wetland, never been to a river..it’s exciting to awaken these feelings.


Dr Peter Bowler is a Senior Lecturer in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University Calfornia Irvine. His is Director of the UCI Arboretum and Herbarium, is Faculty Manager of the Natural Reserve System’s San Joaquin Marsh and Burns Pinyon Ridge Reserves, and Director of the Interdisciplinary Minor in Global Sustainability.

Extra: Field-trip to the San Joaquin Marsh.

Talking points

I grew up by in Idaho by the Snake River, and I worshipped nature, botany, I loved freshwater biology, It stimulated me. I became very interested in snails.

I managed to get four snail species listed as endangered, I was involved in a lot of dam controversies, even described a new new genus and species in one of them.

When I was a child, it was so remote, my parents were educated luminary people in the area, so every geologist and palaeontologist passing through would stay at our house.

My role has been primarily teaching, I ran an environmental education programme here at UCI

I teach a lot, a lot more than I’m required to teach, but I enjoy teaching.

(Developed a sustainability minor in 1994 only a couple of years after Rio) Before that I was involved in global peace and conflict studies – they’re very similar. One of the things I really about both programmes is the interdisciplinarity that is emphasised – the fact that cooperation, complementarity and hearing what other people have to say…learning about other fields is very important.

One of the most exciting things is the establishment of a formal initiative in sustainability.

Ecological restoration…a massive expansion locally…I was involved in a lot of controversy.

America was a leader in environmental ethics – we need to return to that.

The original idea was conquering the west, trying to be master of nature, fighting nature, trying to control it, bringing it into utilitarian causes. And then there came a time when the American consciousness changed, people thought maybe we’ve gone too far, we need to start setting land aside, we need to start going the other way – preserving things. Modern attitudes about desert are very different from what they used to be – it used to be they were viewed as wastelands, today people treasure them.

There’s a need for cities not to be ecological deserts.

People are realising that deserts have an intrinsic value unrelated to people, and that’s a very different kind of epiphany.

Most of these students have never been to a wetland, never been to a river..it’s exciting to awaken these feelings.

You want to teach the intrinsic value of these sites – my this an area that has 273 bird species, I never knew that. Here is an area of 55 hectares of wetland that Dr Bowler and his colleagues got funding for, designed and constructed – for us and for wildlife..and if he can make a difference, I can too.

Ethical structures…land ethic.

Understanding expressions of culture has adopted. Compare the intrinsic values expressed in the Wildlife Act to a time of shooting buffalo from the train.

One of the wonderful things about sustainability at this point in time is that we can look back – we never should have built all those dams…

Sustainability: we share the planet with other organisms, and as the human population expands, and so do its needs and requirements, we have to do that in a way that does not further degrade – to the extent possible – the natural environment in which we live.

We are cohabiters with nature and life.

In my classes…(even the theory ones)…students go and plant plants.

Our urban landscapes are not restoration sites, but they can play a large role, particularly in softening the impact along the urban/wildland interface… and in providing corridors.

Restoration can’t be pure restoration everywhere, most places have been so severely damaged that you’ll never get the full complement of species, and the true goal of restoration is to do that – to bring back all of the biodiversity that existed at site using a natural model. Then ameliorating the impact of humans along the line. Expanding and connecting natural areas.

There are efforts to scale things up. While I was talking before about pure restoration maybe not being possible, it’s all worth trying. It may not be like it was when native Americans were here, but it can definitely be wild.

To me, to really be meaningful we should focus on expanding our natural areas and connect them…then native plants in urban areas to connect

It’s just about planting plants, it takes landscapes too. Today we’re going back…putting bends in the river…developing ways to hold water on the site rather than getting rid of it.

(Are roof gardens, community gardens, small scale restorations worth the effort?) Absolutely. Placement is important, but they are extremely valuable in educating students, they’re integral in having places for both resident and migratory wildlife, critical for linking habitats.

(Success) Area has had a history of grazing…the cattle had really bashed it…working with agencies I was able to get 12.5 acres preserved. We transplanted…native species…to remove non-natives, replace it with native known genetic stock, now besides the California gnatcatcher which is abundant there, there is the California coastal cactus wren which is almost extinct – and we have several pairs nesting in the cacti we have moved.

(Activist) Yes. I certainly have been in the past. Not so much marching and carrying billboards, as trying to provide sound scientific comment on management approaches, publishing, training. I consider teaching activism. Training students to be able to understand and think critically on their own.

(Motivation) I have a ridiculous number of everything to do. 748 students this past quarter. Every day I go to the marsh, and all the coyotes – we all know each other, they see me coming, we sort of salute each other, I howl at them a little bit – for me personally this has been beautifully fulfilling in my lifetime. I can show you picture of areas that had not a plant on them, and now is healthy coastal sage scrub with gnatcatchers living underneath it – I can’t tell you how rewarding that is.

(Challenges) Follow-up restoration…we have just completed removing 3,100 lineal feet of road,…my ultimate plan is to make the lower part of the marsh an area that salt marsh can migrate into, before flood control channelisation in 1968 you could row from Newport Back Bay and all the way up into the marsh…so I would to open it, so when sea level rises and we lose that 900 acres of salt marsh, we’ll be able to at least have 50, maybe 100 acres for the salt marsh for the highly endangered Ridgway’s rail. Its a salt marsh obligate, unless we do this it will go extinct. It’s very important, I’m going to get that done.

(Miracle) In the marsh it would definitely be developing the whole lower marsh as a salt marsh. I’d like to do a study of the succession that will occur as the relationship shifts between the landscape and the Pacific Ocean. In education it would lower class sizes, more interactive hands-on learning approaches will be more meaningful.

(Advice) We need to be more cautious and think really about our personal…karmas…behaviours. When I came to California in the 1970s there was so much smog, your couldn’t even see across the campus. And thanks to catalytic converters and other improvements, that’s gone. We can be little catalytic converters as well. We can make huge contributions as an individual among a larger group. I think that’s something people forget – they think “gosh, it’s too much, there’s no impact I can have”, but you can have. And it’s not just an impact for the environment, or society, it’s an impact for you. You can be personally empowered. You can be fulfilled. You can have huge reward as you work with others, share with your family – this is probably the most meaningful thing of all – is your own inner light.

This Sustainable Lens is from a series of conversations at University California Irvine. Sam’s visit was supported by the Newkirk Center for Science and Society, and coincided with Limits 2015.

Categories
agriculture ecology water

Intensive agriculture: an industrialised town turned upside down

Mike  Joy

My analogy is saying that you’re going to do something about the road toll, that you’re addressing road safety, and shifting the speed limit from 50 km/h to 690 km/h. And conning the country that this is a fresh start for fresh water. That’s wrong in so many ways, but this is the reality for freshwater management.


He wades in rivers so fish (and you) can swim in them. And he isn’t afraid to talk about who is to blame for what he finds there. Dr Mike Joy is a Senior Lecturer in Ecology in Massey University’s Institute of Agriculture and Environment.

Talking points

Our rivers are special – sadly really special now as we have the highest proportion of freshwater fish species of any country in the world.

More and more of our species are threatened species, yet we have this bizarre situation where they are threatened species but we commercially harvest them and we eat them. Most New Zealanders don’t realise that when you eat your whitebait fritter you’re eating threatened species. It kind of doesn’t fit with the New Zealand way. We get all upset with Japanese whalers and people shooting tigers, but for some reason – may be because we don’t know – we harvest and expert them, we sell our threatened species to other countries.

As indicators, fish integrate the health of the whole river, the whole ecosystem.

There are really clear patterns in relation to land use – intensively farmed areas, lowland rivers…really really bad.

The best habitats are the least available.

Because they are mostly migratory, most of the fish species are found closer to the sea, but that is the area where we have done most of the damage. Most of the conservation estate is unavailable to the fish.

We do have invasive species spreading through. In a pristine NZ river these invasive species wouldn’t do well at all, it is because we have changed our lakes and rivers to be much more like the kind of degraded, eutrophic, highly nutrient enriched habitats that these fish came from – we made it like that.

It’s a death by a 1000 cuts.

A combination of multiple impacts that accumulate down river. That’s the thing with rivers, all of the impacts just pile up – everything that happens on the land, eventually gravity takes it down to the river.

I used to have a chemistry lecturer that said “the solution to pollution is dilution”, but that is such an old dinosaur view of the world. Now that we dominate the planet we can see that dilution isn’t a reality – it doesn’t just go away, it accumulates somewhere. What I tell my students is “the solution to pollution is assimilation”. If the ecosystem can’t assimilate it, then you’ve got to stop putting it in.

Massive costs to engineer solutions to do what the river would have done for you if you hadn’t messed with it in the first place. It costs us so much more to do what nature would have done for us for nothing.

I realised that I was publishing well cited papers…but all I would end up doing is cataloguing the decline. I wasn’t just going to do that.

The only way to change is if public are aware of what is going on.

I use disaster (in the title of 2015 article “NZ Freshwater Disaster”) because if you look at the facts, there’s no way you could call it anything other than a disaster. If you look at the statistics then that’s quite moderate language, probably an understatement.

But at the same time as the public awareness is going up, we haven’t seen any improvement in the decisions that they’re making.

It’s getting worse, and we’ve had a big backdown on the protection as well. You can characterise what’s happening in freshwater as more and more money and more and more effort goes into public relations and communications staff – making things sound good. And hidden underneath all that is the reality that things are getting worse and the protections are being weakened.

People claim improvement (in the state of rivers), but that is wrong. There is no net improvement, there’s a couple of rivers that point-source discharges have come out of – pipes from meat works – improvement there but at the same time a net worsening.

Forget drinking water, most of our rivers you can’t drink, but even swimming – 62% of all of our rivers are unsafe to swim in.

The government response to that has been to shift from a Ministry of Health standard called “contact recreation”, that’s to protect you from getting sick if you get some water in your mouth, that’s 260 coliform units per litre of water. Now, it’s 1000, and they call it “wadeable”…you’re safe if you’re in a boat or have got waders on is the new norm.

They’ve shifted the goalposts to go from a map that’s mostly red to a map that’s mostly green. Shift the baseline…they did the same thing with nitrogen – from a protection of half a milligram of nitrogen per litre, and they’ve shifted it to 6.9mg/l. My analogy is saying that you’re going to do something about the road toll, that you’re addressing road safety, and shifting the speed limit from 50 km/h to 690 km/h. And conning the country that this is a fresh start for fresh water. That’s wrong in so many ways, but this is the reality for freshwater management.

Almost every industry, if it had to cover the true cost of clean up, it would be more than it purports to make. We’ve covered that up for generations, but it’s all coming home now because we are paying the price.

Dairy is the major driver on the health of the waterways.

It is so dependent on external inputs.

Just think about how unsustainable it is to make make milk out fossil fuels.

Planetary Boundaries – at a global level the planetary boundaries are exceeded seven fold when it comes to global nitrogen use.

We’re all part of that sad unfortunate sad reality that we’re feeding this massive population by using energy that was stored over the millennia. We’re living way past what the earth can handle.

Just counting the dairy cows, we’ve got a population of 90 million people equivalents. This puts it into balance, sure there are impacts of cities and so on, but it is tiny compared to just the dairy cows.

It’s like an industrial town turned upside down. Imagine Victorian England – all those chimneys pumping out smoke and the issues that came from that – flip that upside down, it’s the nutrients that leak out of the bottom of our farms through the soil that are the problems, but we don’t see them. If it were smoke coming over us we would all be so aware of it, but because it just goes down and through our waters we don’t see it.

It shocked me, waking up to hear John Key on National Radio saying that swimming in our rivers is aspirational. If someone says something that we take for granted and think part of being a New Zealander is suddenly aspirational , then where will we go next? Breathing without a respirator be aspirational? It’s a slippery slope.

Farms could make more money with half the cows, for a third of the pollution.

From an individual farmer’s profit point of view, they are losing money through overstocking. But they’re being driven by the industry to maximise production, not maximise profit.

You can see the limits of biological system, that production have gone up but profits haven’t.

There is a huge cost being paid here, but it is being paid by someone else.

What we are doing now is not conventional, it is very unconventional industrialised farming. Sustainable farming…backing off from the intensity, thinking about soil health, animal health, pasture health…biological farming, and the profits are much much higher.

Commodity market…the competition globally to make the cheapest product…the competition to have the weakest labour laws, the weakest environmental laws…we don’t want to win that race.

We need to maximise value by ensuring that people pay a premium for high quality food that is sustainably farmed. In the longer term animals have to come out of the human food chain.

A government that wanted to make a change would have to price externalities. We talk about this market economy, we supposedly have a market economy, so if we want a market economy the costs have to be borne by the people and organisations who are making the impacts.

(Success) I’m excited about Landcorp’s Environmental Reference Group. Industry has to lead the way.

(Motivation) A sense of injustice and anger.

(Activist) Yes I am, I give the Alice Walker quote at the end of my talks – that’s the price we all pay for living on the planet is to be active. We can’t sit back any more. If we sit back and think someone else is going to fix it for us, then we’re doomed. We have to all become active to change this. There’s some pretty big powers that are doing very well out of this and its hard work to take them on, so we all have to be active to do that.

As an academic it is part of my job. I have a role under the Education Act to be a “critic and conscience of society”.

(Alan Mark describes lobbying to remove him as an academic). I do know from the Vice Chancellor that Federated Farmers have regularly called for me to be sacked. But I’m still here. It is crucial for society that we have the ability to speak out.

(Challenge) Trying to get change, trying to show the way.

We get portrayed as a Luddite “you want us to go backwards”. But the reality is a sustainable world would be so much more fun, so much more exciting than a dirty world.

(Miracle) A government that actually had legislation for the people not for a few. And that would mean prioritising environmental protection over the profits of a few.

(Advice) The most effect you could have as an individual is to try and take animal agriculture out of your diet. But that is not enough, you have to be active, you have to stand up for your future and your children’s future, which means stopping the destruction.

Note. This interview was recorded just before the release of the NZ State of the Environment Report. Mike’s comments on that report, along with other leading scientists, can be found here.

Categories
democracy dunedin ecology local government

Environmental strategy

Jinty MacTavish

We need infrastructure and systems to support positive environmental outcomes.


Chair of the Dunedin City Council’s Community and Environment Committee, Councillor Jinty MacTavish on the draft environment strategy Te Ao Tūroa – The Natural World.
Good friend of the show, Councillor Jinty MacTavish is back to talk us though Dunedin’s draft environment strategy Te Ao Tūroa – The Natural World.

The draft strategy has three themes:

  • Theme 1: Treasuring the environment / Kaitiakitaka
  • Theme 2: Healthy natural environment / He ao tūroa, he ao hauora
  • Theme 3: Environment for the future / Mō tātou, ā, mō kā uri, ā muri ake nei
  • Consultation on the strategy is open until the end of August.

    Talking points

    Not having had an environment strategy has been a fraught thing for five years because it means that environmental concerns or issue have, I think, been inadequately considered as part of report development and subsequent Council decision.

    This is a starting point for conversations rather than a final document.

    Staff went back through the last 5 years of submissions, 11,000 submissions and pulled out the key themes people we telling us about the environment.

    (Mayor Dave Cull’s introduction – all part of the Dunedin Ecosystem) Yes, I don’t think we’re entirely there yet, that concept of humans as part of ecosystem isn’t quite reflected right the way through the document, but he intent is there.

    .

    Ecotourism is an activity that leverages environmental strength

    (11% of City protected, cf 33% nationally) Proportionately, we could be protecting more of our land. In terms of a gradation from natural environments to human dominated space, we’ve got a bit of work to do in thinking about projecting land for its natural value alone.

    When we started this strategy, we quickly realised that if we were just doing for Council’s influence in terms of land it owns, it would be pretty limited when we’re talking about the environment.

    I fought hard to get in here human connection with environment… there is challenge for us in helping people understand their role in the ecosystem when they are only seeing a very small part of it.

    The presence of the Otago Regional Council as an environmental regulator doesn’t mean that we ought not have people dedicated to getting outcomes on the ground in terms of this strategy. we’re hoping for feedback from the community on the types of roles that will be needed. The Economic Development Unit, for example, is populated with people who are charged with delivering on specific projects under the Economic Development Strategy.

    Working with different stakeholders, range of mechanisms and incentives…

    Whenever you are writing an environment strategy, it is tempting to think of the environment as something that it “out there, that we can put a fence around and as long as we’re protecting it from possums and not developing it then it’s fine”, but we all know that that’s not going to work, that we are part of this ecosystem and that we need to be adapting and changing the ways that we are operating if we are to ensure that our environment in the broadest sense has a future.

    Clearly our systems are not sustainable. We are too carbon intensive, we are destructive in that how we create our systems at present. We need to be starting to think about how we design our infrastructure and systems that support positive environmental outcomes rather than being just less bad.

    Unless we as a population really understand what it is to be part of an ecosystem, and understand and treasure and feel connected to the ecosystem of which we are a part, we’re simply not going to care about protecting it. You need that motivator, you need that connection, you need that physical connection.

    We should be designing infrastructure that enhances connection, not cutting off connection.

    I would love to hear from people what parts of the environment they don’t feel connected to, and what would facilitate that connection.

    The theme is about community connection, it’s not just about me caring.

    I think there is a growing sense of the collective

    We need infrastructure and systems to support positive environmental outcomes.

    We need to move beyond the minimalist mentality, the mentality that says we can only ever do less bad. Then we can start to think about setting some aspirational targets in terms of giving back to our environment.

    You can clearly have appropriate development, and you can have inappropriate development – and what this document is saying is that we want to set some pretty high standards for the type of development into the future to ensure that environmental concerns and aspirations are wrapped up in that development and taken into account at the front end. So that we don’t see the sort of development that erodes the life supporting capacity of our systems.

    We have to as aspirational with this document as we have been with all of the others.

    We have to be aspirational with our environmental goals, because when we get to conversations about trade-offs or synergy points, the environment strategy needs to be putting just as strong a stake in the ground as any of the other strategies.

    (Is it possible to tell the percentage of Council spend that will come under this strategy?) No, everything the Council does will be influenced by this strategy.

    Categories
    ecology education restoration ecology urban

    Interdisciplinary ecological restoration

    Bruce Clarkson

    The problems of degradation are not just the sole domain of biophysical scientists.


    Professor Bruce Clarkson is Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Waikato, and is the Interim Director of the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge. He is recognised as one of New Zealand’s foremost authorities on ecological restoration. We talk about his background, what we learnt from island and mainland sanctuaries, and the opportunities and challenges of restoring ecosystems in urban environments.

    Talking points

    Most people don’t experience nature in a way we did in previous generations

    How might you restore indigenous nature in an environment where people can access them more easily?

    New Zealand has extremely high levels of endemism…if we don’t look after these native plants and animals, no one else is going to do it…this is our responsibility.

    This is our biological heritage, this is what makes NZ special and different, it’s our responsibility as stewards of the land to maintain our natural heritage.

    What you are really trying to do is manage the whole system, but a focus on birds will have positive spinoffs for the rest of the ecosystem

    So what you are trying to achieve in the longer term is a recovery of the whole system, not just the bird populations.

    It has to be a mix and match of approaches and a portfolio of places.

    We’re working for the very long term so we have to build resilience into the system.

    If we don’t do it, we will be responsible for the extinctions because we brought in the agents of change.

    If we protect species, we protect their house.

    We can treat our native birds as the umbrella species for the whole system that we’re trying to maintain, protect and restore.

    Cities have some advantages over wildlands in terms of protecting native plants and animals…just think of the example of grazing animals.. you don’t have to confront the problems of goats and grazing cattle.

    Looking after your own backyard and being a steward of something you cherish.

    Start at a scale you can manage, have a plan and progressively recover what you are trying to achieve.

    You can make big mistakes, the classic mistake people make in gully restoration is that they bite off more than they can handle.

    I tend to be an optimist. Yes, there’s a lot of negative out there, and there’s a lot of degradation of the environment still going on. It would be an interesting research question, what would be the threshold point at which recovery tipped the balance back to the point where there was more improvement going on than degradation? I think in some points in our region we are very close to that threshold. Overall it is still a fact that New Zealand is still losing things. Forests are being cleared, wetlands are being drained, nowhere near the rates they were previously when we were in the land development phase, but some of that is still going on. There are large parts of the Department of Conservation estate where there little active management is occurring, and those areas are also going backwards. But the point is that there are significant areas where we are making a difference. So I see it in a more optimistic way. Know also, that we do have the technologies to do more and more of this restoration, it’s really a question of how much time, effort and funding is New Zealand as a nation prepared to put into it to get us to the threshold of recovery at regional and national scale.

    We’re trying to bridge the interdisciplinary gaps.

    The point is how we deal with interdisciplinary problems.

    The problems of degradation are not just the sole domain of biophysical scientists. To get the results that you want you need expertise in a wide range of areas. This is another advantage of working in urban areas, there are a lot of professions, all with interests in how we might restore urban environments.

    We want engineers who not only know about engineering, but know about the environment as well.

    I think the solutions to most (environmental) problems are actually about how we build bridges between the different disciplines…to come together and work collaboratively.

    Increasingly, graduates from university are expected not just to know about their discipline, they are expected to work in multidisciplinary teams, on projects where people are trying to achieve solutions to particular problems.

    It’s not just about a technical fix, it’s about understanding how you can do things in different ways, often the ways things use to be.

    Restoration ecology is difficult, reconstructing an ecosystem takes time, but if you go into it knowing that and how the system works, you can make a long term plan for restoration, a plan for a process that might be inter-generational.

    A 500 year plan, with milestones along the way

    Once you’ve started a project, once you see process, people take pride in the process. It’s quite inspirational what a change you can make on the landscape in such a short time.

    (Activist?) People who work in universities in many respects are people who love ideas, and love the debate around ideas – and if that is what an activist is, then essentially that’s what you are. You’re looking at systems, you’re understanding the system, and you’re trying to pass on your knowledge of how best to manage that system in an effective way. If that is what an activist is, then that’s what you are.

    (Motivation?) Students, seeing the progress my students make, and where they end up. Being able to contribute to knowledge and process. The process of protecting and restoring plant communities and the animals that go with them – for some reason as a child that gelled with me, and I’m still passionate about achieving the same thing. Making a difference.

    (Challenges?) Staying fit and healthy and keeping going.

    (Miracle?) A silver bullet for pest control. Some new way that is socially acceptable for controlling mammalian predators that prey on our native birds. That would very rapidly and radically alter our landscape.

    (Advice?) Look around your own neighbourhood, find out who are the people doing this sort of work and go along and give them a hand because they need all the help they can get.

    Categories
    botany ecology

    Ecology: Connected science

    Kath Dickinson

    The essence of ecology is that it is all around us.


    Prof Kath Dickinson is a plant ecologist at the University of Otago. She has broad interests particularly in plant-animal interactions. We talk with her about the science of ecology, and the role of people in ecological systems.

    Talking points

    It’s always a good idea to be very grounded in getting your feet wet.

    I’m very glad I started with geography – the breadth can lead you in multiple directions.

    Ecology is the study of interactions.

    Ecology is a complex science, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t try to understand it. For me, ecology is inclusive of people.

    It is easy to think in the linear way, but complexity means thinking in a non-linear.

    We can think of a community as a spider web, hugely complex and very strong in some directions, but easily disrupted in others – by fast and slow disruptions.

    If we look at ecosystems, there aren’t boundaries, but considering scale helps, we can say whether we are talking at scale of tree, or forest, or country level, or ocean level.

    Ecologists as a field tends to attract people who are attracted to complex thinking, who are able to multitask – thinking about things across scales and in a non-linear fashion.

    The term ecology is being taken widely…as a sense of understanding interactions, with respect to can we discern some patterns, some sense out of it. And if we can’t…what is the role of chaos?

    That in New Zealand and Australia people are considered separate to the system, even in Australasian ecological science, probably represents the colonisation history…despite the integrated worldview of the indigenous peoples. But now we are increasing working with a message of integration – from mountains to the sea.

    Social ecology is a recognition of the role of people in the system.

    I talk with students about a play on words: a part from the system – two words – and apart from the system, one word. The writings stemming from the colonial, Christian ethic uses one word: apart from the system. The writings of sustainability, resilience, adaption, the ecosystem services approach all show a move to a part of the system.

    (Can we describe the essence of a functioning ecosystem in terms that can be reduced to money?) In some situations, its a tightrope we walk, what economic value does one put on beauty? what economic value does one put on spiritual enrichment? what economic value does one put on a Cromwell chafer beetle?

    We are starting to recognise the value of ecosystems…wetlands for example.

    (But does this reinforce idea that nature is there for us to exploit?) If we look at the whole planet as a system, Gaia and the moon landings…ecologists might want to talk about integrating ecology with economics

    Scale…whether timescale or spatial scale, getting understanding…means understanding scale. Be very aware of what question I’m asking, match the question to the scale. Not one scale fits every problem?

    (Does ecology have an inherent ethics?) As a science yes. But it doesn’t necessarily require a care ethic.

    Ecology is a continuum to sustainability. A broad philosophical debate.

    As humanity becomes increasingly urbanised, the connection to nature becomes more distant. So we need an appreciation of natural history, a positive relationship with nature, rather than a fear or a distance.

    Climate change is the biggy, but there are very rapid changes in land cover and oceans.

    The rapidity of change is of immediate concern, this is not to dismiss the important and complexity of climate change, but the very rapid phase shift with systems around the world, much like the spider’s web analogy – it easy to destroy a spiders web, but try building it back up again – it takes time, even if it is possible.

    There are several elephants in the room: history (decades, centuries, evolutionary) and often we don’t know that, what we see is what we can measure – usually 20 years if we are lucky…the other elephants: market forces; how particular decisions are affected by literal downstream effects – we need integrated land policy.

    (Activist?) Out there waving a board saying no to nuclear power? No, but there people who are proactive in the sense of caring about whether it is a hydroelectric dam, or dirty rivers, or the quality of our soils. But as a scientist its a tightrope over maintaining credibility as a scientist and being out there wanting to make a difference. So endeavoring to make a difference.

    (Motivation?) Endeavouring to make a difference. If you gather a group of people together to solve a complex problem, and you want to make a difference, it’s not the collective IQ you have in the room, it is the diversity that you have in the room. So there’s a motivation in listening to different perspectives, and valuing perspectives, which isn’t to walk away from fact that decisions can be difficult to make, and not everybody might agree, but the chances are that the diversity will lead to a more robust outcome.

    (Challenges?) New courses starting. Interesting challenges of funding.

    (Advice?) As individuals we can pull together to make a difference.

    Categories
    climate change ecology economics health politics

    Wise Response (Part 2)

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    Previously on Sustainable Lens Emeritus Professor Sir Alan Mark (pod) described work towards the Wise Response campaign.   This call to face up to New Zealand’s critical risks was launched in Dunedin recently with a series of speeches. Sustainable Lens highlights these messages (Part 1 last week).

    • Russell Tregonning: (OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council). Climate change is the #1 threat to health.   NZ a global free loader.
    • Neville Peat : Each generation defines “natural” without realising baseline has shifted – unwittingly we are accepting less and less.  These baseline shift results in community amnesia.  We need a baseline assessment of true relationship of economy & ecology.   Danger of DOC’s dual role of conservation & tourism.  Community fatigue while government dodges responsibility
    • Professor Tim Hazeldine:  Economics is our friend. Problem is not enough market (why are we subsidising polluters?)
    • Louis Chambers:  Generation Zero is not doing this because we’ve nothing better to do, we’re doing it because we must.   It needs an all systems, all society transformation.   We must find allies; change culture; strategic microcosms; clarify vision; pick strategic battles; repeat until we win.
    Categories
    climate change conservation biology ecology economics maori politics science

    Wise Response (Part 1)

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    Previously on Sustainable Lens Emeritus Professor Sir Alan Mark (pod) described work towards the Wise Response campaign.  This call to face up to New Zealand’s critical risks, was launched in Dunedin recently with a series of speeches.  This week and next on Sustainable Lens we highlight those messages:

    • Hoani Langsbury What sustains life essence?
    • Professor Peter Barrett We’re creating an event of geological magnitude (greenhouse but with remnant ice sheets – so energy transfer)
    • Associate Professor Susan Krumdieck Beyond myths of market: we have no choice but to reduce demand, only whether this is graceful or not. Every professional needs to make changes to provide products and services in new reality.
    • Dr Mike Joy Impacts of massive increase of industrialised dairy farming.  Intensified cows have footprint of 84 million humans need to cost impacts.  25¢ Phosphate fertilizer cost $100 to remove.  Ecological debt $20 for 1kg milk fat.

     

    Categories
    botany conservation biology ecology

    Prof Sir Alan Mark

    AlanMark


    Emeritus Professor Sir Alan Mark is New Zealand’s first Knight honoured for services to conservation. We explore the relationship between science and championing change. So long as you have the science behind you, Sir Alan has no problem with taking an activist role – indeed, he says, it is an obligation of the privileged position of the academic. We talk about Sir Alan’s love for New Zealand’s alpine ecosystems – a passion and deep knowledge that he shares in his new book Above the treeline: A nature guide to alpine New Zealand.

    Sir Alan is currently involved in the Wise Response (wiseresponse.org.nz) campaign, a call for a national risk assessment of the “unprecedented threats to our collective security” facing the country as a result of climate change, fossil fuel extraction, and economic and ecological uncertainty.

    Shane’s number of the week: 1.2 is the percentage of material used in the production of goods left usable after six weeks. In other words, we’re wasting 98.2% of what we consume.

    Categories
    climate change ecology

    Climate change impacts ecosystems

    Lesley Hughes


    Professor Lesley Hughes is an ecologist in the Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University who researches the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems. She is a lead author on the IPCC fourth and fifth assessment reports, a member of the Australian Government’s Land Sector Carbon & Biodiversity Board and commissioner on the federal Climate Commission.