Saturday, November 8, 2008

And, closer to our academic home, colleges and universities dependent on endowment, tuition, and tax dollars are in trouble

 

November 8, 2008
Tough Times Strain Colleges Rich and Poor

NY Times writer Tamar Lamar:

Arizona State University, anticipating at least $25 million in budget cuts this fiscal year — on top of the $30 million already cut — is ending its contracts with as many as 200 adjunct instructors. Boston University, Cornell and Brown have announced selective hiring freezes. And Tufts University, which for the last two years has, proudly, been one of the few colleges in the nation that could afford to be need-blind — that is, to admit the best-qualified applicants and meet their full financial need — may not be able to maintain that generosity for next year’s incoming class. This fall, Tufts suspended new capital projects and budgeted more for financial aid. But with the market downturn, and the likelihood that more applicants will need bigger aid packages, need-blind admissions may go by the wayside. “The target of being need-blind is our highest priority,” said Lawrence S. Bacow, president of Tufts. “But with what’s happening in the larger economy, we expect that the incoming class is going to be needier. That’s the real uncertainty.”

Tough economic times have come to public and private universities alike, and rich or poor, they are figuring out how to respond. Many are announcing hiring freezes, postponing construction projects or putting off planned capital campaigns. With endowment values and charitable gifts likely to decline, the process of setting next year’s tuition low enough to keep students coming, but high enough to support operations, is trickier than ever. Dozens of college presidents, especially at wealthy institutions, have sent letters and e-mail to students and their families describing their financial situation and belt-tightening plans.

At Williams College, for example, President Morton Owen Schapiro wrote that with last year’s negative return on the endowment and the worsening situation since June, some renovation and facilities spending would be reduced and nonessential openings left unfilled. Many students, increasingly conscious of costs, are flocking to their state universities; at Binghamton University, part of the New York State university system, applications were up 50 percent this fall. But with this year’s state budget problems, tuition increases at public universities may be especially steep. Some public universities have already announced midyear tuition increases.

With endowment values shrinking, variable-rate debt costs rising and states cutting their financing, colleges face challenges on multiple fronts, said Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education. “There’s no evidence of a complete meltdown,” Ms. Broad said, “but the problems are serious enough that higher education is going to need help from the government.”And as in other sectors, she said, some financially shaky institutions will most likely be seeking mergers.

Nationwide, retrenchment announcements are coming fast and furious, as state after state reduces education financing. The University of Florida, which eliminated 430 faculty and staff positions this year, was told recently to cut next year’s budget by 10 percent, probably requiring more layoffs. Financing for the University of Massachusetts system was cut $24.6 million for the current fiscal year. On Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California proposed a midyear budget cut of $65.5 million for the University of California system — on top of the $48 million reduction already in the budget.
“Budget cuts mean that campuses won’t be able to fill faculty vacancies, that the student-faculty ratio rises, that students have lecturers instead of tenured professors,” said Mark G. Yudof, president of the California system. “Higher education is very labor intensive. We may be getting to the point where there will have to be some basic change in the model.”

Private colleges, too, are tightening their belts — turning down thermostats, scrapping plans for new gardens or quads, reducing faculty raises. But many are also increasing their pool of financial aid. Vassar College will give out $1 million more in financial aid this year than originally budgeted, even though the endowment, which provides a third of its operating budget, dropped to $765 million at the end of September, down $80 million from late June. President Catharine Bond Hill of Vassar said the college would reduce its operating costs, but remain need-blind.

Many institutions with small endowments, however, will probably become more need-sensitive than usual this year, quietly offering places to fewer students who need large aid packages. At Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, Robert J. Massa, the vice president for enrollment and student life, said that about 200 applicants last year might have been accepted if they had not needed so much financial help, but that that number might rise to 250 this year. Dickinson’s endowment was $280 million in mid-October, Mr. Massa said, down from $350 million in June. And while more than three quarters of the college’s operating budget comes from student fees, some endowment revenue will have to be replaced. “Here’s the rub,” Mr. Massa said. “I really don’t think that colleges can afford to increase their tuition price at higher than inflation this year. I don’t think the public will stand for it. What we’ve done in higher education is let our dreams and aspirations dictate our cost structure.”

Economic uncertainty touches every facet of higher education. “We are planning to begin a capital campaign of $150-185 million,” said Karen R. Lawrence, president of Sarah Lawrence College. “We will still do that. We’re not compromising our ambitions, but the timing will be a little bit deferred.”

At the wealthiest institutions, endowment revenue usually covers about a third of operating costs, and most colleges and universities spend a percentage of their endowment, based on its average value over the previous three years, helping to smooth out economic ups and downs.

In recent years, with tuition rising faster than inflation, college affordability has become a significant issue. And with the sharp growth of endowments in recent years — Harvard’s hit $36.9 billion this summer — some politicians, notably Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, have pushed for a requirement that colleges spend 5 percent of their endowments. Many of the wealthiest institutions responded by expanding financial aid last year, with dozens of them replacing loans with grants.

This fall, more universities are taking steps to increase affordability. Benedictine University, a Roman Catholic institution in Illinois, is freezing tuition; Vanderbilt University will replace loans with grants; Boston University has expanded scholarships for students who graduated from Boston public schools; and the University of Toledo announced free tuition for needy, high-performing graduates of Ohio’s six largest public school systems.

Presidents of many expensive private colleges are wondering how much more tuition pressure families can bear. “I wouldn’t deny that a tuition freeze has occurred to me, but we can’t afford heroic gestures,” said Sandy Ungar, president of Goucher College in Baltimore.

Given the current climate, some say, colleges need to re-examine all of their economic assumptions.
“Several years ago, we started thinking about sustainability in environmental terms,” said Dick Celeste, the president of Colorado College. “Now we need to be thinking about sustainability in economic terms."

November 8, 2008 in Economics | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Usually a 2 1/2 month transition is fine....but I wish Obama could take office on Monday

It was a tough day yesterday economically and a tough week for the market combines with Bush's threat to veto a Democratic stimulus package.  The market had another sharp decline with a modest rebound on Friday.  The chart below is a three month snapshot.Interactchartimg

CNN Money: Regulators close down Franklin Bank, a Houston bank with $ 5.1 billion in assets, and Security Pacific Bank of California, with assets of $ 561 million, raising the tally of failed banks this year to 19. Banks belly up

Time.com: The latest wave of bad news came out of Detroit Friday morning as both GM and Ford reported heavy losses for the third quarter of 2008. Ford lost $2.75 billion, pretax, from operations; GM fared even worse, losing $4.2 billion, excluding a one-time gain. Both companies are also burning through cash at an alarming rate — Ford used up $7.7 billion during the third quarter and GM burned through $6.9 billion. Concerns intensified about GM's ability to stay afloat. Automakers losses,  jobs at risk

Peter Goodman wrote today in the NY Times:
In a sign that American workers may face even more difficult times for many months to come, the nation’s unemployment rate last month jumped to the highest level in 14 years as job losses mounted.  Gloomy enough was word from the government on Friday that a fresh 240,000 American jobs disappeared in October, the 10th consecutive month of retrenchment. It brought the toll of lost jobs to 1.2 million for the year — more than half in the last three months alone — while the unemployment rate climbed to 6.5 percent. Worse was the sense that little could be done near term to alter this now-accelerating trajectory. 

President-elect Barack Obama, speaking at his first news conference since winning Tuesday’s election, sounded resigned to inheriting a starkly troubled economy when he moves into the White House next year.  “It’s not going to be quick, and it’s not going to be easy to dig ourselves out of the hole that we’re in,” Mr. Obama said, calling for swift passage of spending measures aimed at stimulating the economy, including another extension of unemployment benefits.  But while experts said this could soften the damage, it was unlikely to change the fundamentals. They said the economy would probably lose several hundred thousand jobs a month well into next year, taking the unemployment rate to near 8 percent — a level last seen a quarter-century ago. “The economy is slipping deeper into a recessionary sinkhole that is getting broader,” said Stuart G. Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh. “The layoffs are getting larger, and coming faster.” The health care industry, mining and public schools were the only sectors that showed more than modest growth last month. Otherwise, losses were deep and broad. Manufacturing jobs shrank by 90,000, construction by 49,000, retail by 38,000 and the financial industry by 24,000.

The outlook is troubling in part because a new atmosphere of tightness in American banking could prevail for years, say analysts, crimping economic growth. Economists tend to think in terms of a natural cycle of commerce, with businesses investing aggressively when money is abundant, pulling back when times are lean, then jumping back in when fresh opportunities emerge. This time the money may be particularly slow to return. The worst of the financial crisis seems to have been tamed, staving off the prospect of a cataclysm, but the underlying reality endures: after two decades in which economic growth has been powered by extraordinary surges of borrowed money — a time of entrepreneurial machismo — a new era of risk-avoidance appears at hand. In Washington, and in capitals on multiple continents, governments are devising new regulatory approaches for banks aimed at reining in the sorts of reckless engineering that made capital abundant before bringing the global financial system to grave peril. Whatever the rules, surviving banks seem likely to operate conservatively. “The economy’s long-term, underlying growth prospects have been reduced, not forever but maybe for five or 10 years,” said Mark M. Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com. “We’re just not going to see the same sort of entrepreneurial spirit needed to generate those strong productivity gains. People have been so chastened, and they’re so fearful, that they are going to take too few risks for quite some time before the psyche is healed.”

The number of unemployed Americans leapt in October to 10.1 million — the largest number since 1983. More than 22 percent of all unemployed people have been out of work for six months or longer — another level not reached in a quarter-century. Only 32 percent of all unemployed people were drawing state benefit checks in October because of restrictions on eligibility. More than half of all unemployed people drew benefits in the 1950s, and about 45 percent received state checks during the last recession in 2001. “It’s a national shame,” said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project in New York, which has been advocating an extension of unemployment benefits. “We need to be helping these families avert financial disaster, and help make up for the loss of consumer demand, and the best way we can do that is to get people unemployment checks.”

Democratic leaders in the House said this week they might seek swift adoption of $60 billion to $100 billion worth of measures that would extend unemployment benefits and food stamps, while aiding states whose tax revenue has plummeted. They would then pursue a broader package of spending measures that could reach $200 billion once Mr. Obama takes office.  The Bush administration has criticized Democratic proposals for immediate aid, raising the specter of a veto. On Friday, in a written statement, President Bush said that “aggressive and decisive measures to address this situation” had already been unleashed by the government. “It will take time for these measures to have their full impact on an economy in which many Americans are struggling,” Mr. Bush said.

The jobs report reinforced how a potent assemblage of troubles — plunging housing prices, tight credit and shrinking paychecks — was combining to drag the economy down, depriving consumers of cash. All through the year, companies have hired tepidly and begun to lay off workers as their sales sagged, while cutting working hours for those on the payroll. That trend continued in October: the so-called underemployment rate — which includes those who have lost jobs, people working part time for lack of full-time positions and those who have given up looking for work — rose to 11.8 percent from 8.4 percent a year earlier. The pace of layoffs has accelerated in recent months. From January to August, the economy lost about 75,000 jobs a month. In September alone, 284,000 jobs vanished, the Labor Department now says, revising its initial estimate of 159,000. “What you see now is this cascading of unemployment moving from hours cut to hiring freezes to layoffs,” said Jared Bernstein, senior economist at the labor-oriented Economic Policy Institute in Washington. “There’s almost no economic activity out there that’s going to generate jobs right now. This is the front edge of the deeper trough of the recession. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.” Wages have effectively shrunk for most workers, as rising costs for food and fuel have more than absorbed meager increases in pay, further crimping Americans’ spending proclivities.

November 8, 2008 in Economics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Special Guest Contribution: Will we leave the Great Barrier Reef for our children? -- Dr. Chris McGrath

Dr Chris McGrath is an Australian lawyer and researcher on laws protecting the GBR from climate change. This article is based on a previously published research paper, McGrath (2008).  Submitted 30 October 2008.

 

Amidst the current policy debate in Australia and internationally on climate change is a surreal argument that policies that will destroy the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBR) and other coral reefs around the globe are acceptable and economically rational.

Nicolas Stern (2007: 330) concluded that “coral reef ecosystems [will be] extensively and eventually irreversibly damaged” by temperature change relative to pre-industrial levels of 0.5-2°C. He found that at 2°C warming “coral reefs are expected to bleach annually in many areas, with most never recovering, affecting tens of millions of people that rely on coral reefs for their livelihood or food supply” (Stern 2007: 94).

Yet for what were clearly reasons of pragmatism and feasibility he recommended the global stabilisation goal should lie within the range of 450-550 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalents (ppm CO2-eq), thereby implicitly accepting a likely warming of 2-3°C and loss of coral reefs, including the GBR.

Ross Garnaut, the Australian Government’s handpicked economic advisor on responding to climate change, followed Stern’s approach and was alive to the damage to the GBR. He recommended that Australia should initially aim for a global consensus next year at COP-15 in Copenhagen to stabilise greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at 550 ppm CO2-eq and hope that global consensus can be reached later for lower stabilisation.

Garnaut (2008a: 38) was brutally frank in his supplementary draft report: “The 550 strategy would be expected to lead to the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs.” His final report does not shy away from this conclusion (Garnaut 2008b). 

The new Australian Government has silently avoided the issue of the expected impacts to the GBR when explaining the costs and benefits of its climate policies. It does not yet have a stabilisation target for the rise in global temperatures or greenhouse gases but recent modelling of economic impacts of mitigating climate change considered only three stabilisation targets.

The Australian Treasury (2008) considers only stabilisation at 450, 510 and 550 ppm CO2-eq, aiming to stabilise mean global temperature rises between 2-3°C. The only reference to impacts on the GBR is to a “very high risk [of] loss of complete ecosystems, such as the Great Barrier Reef [if] the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rises to over 1,500 ppm CO2-eq by 2100 [giving an] increase in global average temperature of 5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100” (Australian Treasury 2008: 35).

In fact, as Stern recognised, the current science indicates that the GBR will be devastated long before such levels are reached and within the lower stabilisation range the Australian Government appears to be aiming for.

Stern and Garnaut’s frank admissions of the expected impacts to the GBR reflect research findings since mass coral bleaching occurred globally in 1998 and 2002. Rising sea temperatures and increasing acidity of the oceans due to our use of fossil fuels are now well-recognized as major threats to coral reefs and the marine ecosystem generally in coming decades.   

In relation to coral bleaching the IPCC (2007b: 12) found that:

“Corals are vulnerable to thermal stress and have low adaptive capacity. Increases in sea surface temperature of about 1 to 3°C are projected to result in more frequent coral bleaching events and widespread mortality, unless there is thermal adaptation or acclimatisation by corals.”

The findings of the IPCC suggest that a rise of 1°C in mean global temperatures and, correspondingly, sea surface temperatures above pre-industrial levels is the maximum that should be aimed for if the global community wishes to protect coral reefs. The range of 1-3°C is the danger zone and 2°C is not safe. Supporting this conclusion Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and his colleagues concluded in a review of the likely impacts of climate change to the GBR edited by Johnson and Marshall (2007: 295):

“Successive studies of the potential impacts of thermal stress on coral reefs have supported the notion that coral dominated reefs are likely to largely disappear with a 2°C rise in sea temperature over the next 100 years. This, coupled with the additional vulnerability of coral reefs to high levels of acidification once the atmosphere reaches 500 parts per million [CO2], suggests that coral dominated reefs will be rare or non-existent in the near future.”

The IPCC’s (2007a: 826) best estimate of climate sensitivity found that stabilising greenhouse gases and aerosols at 350 ppm CO2-eq would be expected to lead to a rise in mean global temperatures of 1°C, stabilising at 450 ppm CO2-eq will lead to a rise of 2°C, and stabilising at 550 ppm CO2-eq will lead to a rise of 3°C.

Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols have already passed 350 ppm CO2-eq making stabilisation at that level extremely difficult if not impossible in practice, particularly in the context of current global growth and energy use patterns. Atmospheric CO2 reached 379 ppm in 2005 and was increasing by around 2 ppm per year (IPCC 2007c: 102). Including the effect of other greenhouse gases such as methane, the total concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases was around 455 ppm CO2-eq in 2005 (IPCC 2007c: 102). However, the cooling effects of aerosols and landuse changes reduce radiative forcing so that the net forcing of human activities was about 375 ppm CO2‑eq for 2005 (IPCC 2007c: 102).

Global emissions of carbon dioxide, the major anthropogenic greenhouse gas, are growing at approximately 3% per annum, which exceeds even the “worst case” IPCC projections (Raupach et al 2007). This places global greenhouse gas emissions on a trajectory to rise by 150% between 2000 and 2050 on “business as usual”.

When the conclusions of the IPCC are synthesised, it is clear that reductions of greenhouse emissions of 60% by 2050, such as proposed by the Australian Government (2008), even if they can be achieved, are not likely to prevent serious damage to the GBR and other coral reefs. A 60% reduction in global emissions by 2050 is likely to lead to a mean global temperature rise around 2.4°C (IPCC 2007d: 67), which is likely to severely degrade coral reefs globally. Stabilising greenhouse gases and aerosols around 350 ppm CO2-eq and allowing a rise in mean global temperature of 1°C appear to be the highest targets that should be set if coral reefs are to be protected from serious degradation.

This brings us back to the current policy debate – Stern and Garnaut’s frankness in recognizing the likely damage to the GBR and coral reefs from the targets they recommend is welcome but their conclusions leave us to wonder: is this the best we can do? Should we be prepared to write-off the GBR and other coral reefs and their economic, social environmental values?

As a young boy growing up in Australia’s Whitsundays Islands in the 1970s I did not dream that the GBR that I swam and fished on would be severely damaged by human activity within my own lifetime. Much less would I have dreamt that we would choose to allow these impacts to occur, as we are currently doing.

Stern and Garnaut’s targets are not ambitious enough and we should not accept them.

We should judge our climate change policies by this simple test: will we leave the GBR and other coral reefs around the world for our children? At present the answer we are giving to this question is “no”. We are all responsible for changing the answer to “yes”.

We should demand targets based on what we as a society want to achieve. We should not accept targets that will produce unacceptable outcomes.

The current science indicates our aim should be stabilising atmospheric greenhouse gases at 350 ppm if we want to protect the GBR and other coral reefs, but this is rarely even mentioned as a potential target.

We do not yet know if we can stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gases as 350, 450 or 550 ppm CO2-eq but think of it this way: if we want to build a bridge across a river that is 1 kilometre wide we would not ask our engineers to build us a bridge that is 500 metres long. We should apply the same logic to climate change policy and set targets for our engineers and scientists to achieve that produce results that we want to achieve.

We need vision, ambition, and hard work to solve the climate crisis. Stern and Garnaut’s approaches lacks the vision and ambition that is needed. We need to add these ingredients to the global community’s many hard workers to solve the climate crisis.

References

Australian Government (2008), Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Green Paper (Department of Climate Change), http://www.climatechange.gov.au/greenpaper/index.html.

Australian Treasury (2008), Australia’s Low Pollution Future: The Economics of Climate Change Mitigation (Australian Government Treasury), http://www.treasury.gov.au/lowpollutionfuture/.

Garnaut R (2008a), Garnaut Review Supplementary Draft Report: Targets and trajectories (Garnaut Review, Canberra, 5 September 2008), p 38, available at http://www.garnautreport.org.au/.

Garnaut R (2008b), Garnaut Climate Change Review Final Report (Cambridge University Press), http://www.garnautreview.org.au/index.htm.

Hoegh-Guldberg et al, “Vulnerability of reef-building corals on the Great Barrier Reef to climate change”, Ch 10 in Johnson JE and Marshall PA (eds), Climate Change and the GBR: A Vulnerability Assessment (GBRMPA, 2007), p 295, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/22598/chapter10-reef-building-corals.pdf

IPCC (2007a), Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of WGI to the AR4 (Cambridge University Press), http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg1.htm.

IPCC (2007b), Climate Change 2007: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. WGII Contribution to the IPCC AR4 (Cambridge University Press), http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg2.htm.

IPCC (2007c), Climate change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of WGIII to the AR4 (Cambridge University Press), http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg3.htm.

IPCC (2007d), Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report (IPCC), http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-syr.htm

McGrath C (2008) “Will we leave the Great Barrier Reef for our children?” (IUCN), http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/cel_op_mcgrath.pdf.

Raupach MR, Marland G, Ciais P, Le Quéré C, Canadell JG, Klepper G, and Field CB, (2007) “Global and regional drivers of accelerating CO2 emissions” 104(24) PNAS 10288-10293, http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/104/24/10288.

Stern N (2007), The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, http://www.occ.gov.uk/activities/stern.htm.

 

November 7, 2008 in Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, Physical Science, Sustainability, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cabinet Speculation

 Here are some predictions/picks on the Cabinet positions of most significance to environmental matters according to Politico's semi-official leaks.  My picks and comments are in green.

Attorney general: Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine; Eric Holder, who was deputy AG under Clinton and is now with Covington & Burling and led Obama’s vice presidential search; Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. Odds on favorite is Holder

Supreme Court nominee: Washington superlawyer Robert Barnett; legal scholar Cass Sunstein; Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor of New York; Elena Kagan, dean of Harvard Law School. Consensus is it would most likely be a woman. First nominee has got to be a woman - Kagan is smart and has credibility, but this is a much shorter list than Obama will look at.

Secretary of State: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.); Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind)  State is too important to give to a Republican, Kerry's too valuable in the Senate, and Richardson was UN Ambassador so he knows  international diplomacy

Environmental Protection Agency administrator: Former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.); Kathleen McGinty, former head of the Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Agency Again, McGinty is an odds on favorite who knows her stuff

Commerce secretary: Penny Pritzker, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)  Need some Republicans and Olympia Snowe is a liberal one; although she's more valuable in the Senate.  So maybe one of the non-environmental positions will go to a Republican and Obama will stick with a Democrat.  I'd take Sebelius -- she's articulate and mid-Western.

Secretary of the Interior: Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), Robert F. Kennedy Jr.  This is the position most likely to go to someone who hasn't been in the running.

Secretary of Energy: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.); My pick would be Lincoln Chafee, a liberal Republican who understands environmental issues as well as energy issues.  Again, Bingaman's too valuable in the Senate. 

Secretary of Agriculture: Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.)  Vilsack is odds on favorite.

 

 


 

 

 

November 4, 2008 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Mining, North America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Microcosm of Biodiversity Loss from Global Warming

Stanford's article by Dan Stober in the Stanford Report reported on a study made available on the  PNAS website this week.  The study by Stanford graduate student Sarah McMenamin and Professor Elizabeth Hadly concluded that Yellowstone National Park frogs and salamanders are being killed by global warming at a devastating rate.

Lauren Palumbi frog

A Columbia spotted frog is one of several species of amphibians found in Yellowstone National Park.

Sarah McMenamin frogs lamar

Lamar Valley, in northern Yellowstone, holds dozens of small fishless ponds where the habitat has been ideal for the breeding and larval development of blotched tiger salamanders, boreal chorus frogs and other amphibians. Researchers say the creatures' numbers are shrinking as global warming causes the ponds to dry up.

Yu-Jun Lee frogs mcmenamin

Sarah McMenamin, a graduate student in biology, has spent three summers in a remote area of Yellowstone Park searching for frogs and salamanders in ponds that were surveyed 15 years ago.

Frogs and salamanders, those amphibious bellwethers of environmental danger, are being killed in Yellowstone National Park. The predator, Stanford researchers say, is global warming.

Biology graduate student Sarah McMenamin spent three summers in a remote area of the park searching for frogs and salamanders in ponds that had been surveyed 15 years ago. Almost everywhere she looked, she found a catastrophic decrease in the population.

The amphibians need the ponds for their young to hatch, but high temperatures and drought are drying up the water. The frogs and salamanders lay eggs that have a gelatinous outer layer—basically "jelly eggs," McMenamin says—that leaves them completely unsuitable for gestation on land. If the ponds dry up, so do the eggs. "If there isn't any water, then the animals simply don't breed," she said.

Biology Associate Professor Elizabeth Hadly, McMenamin's graduate adviser and co-author of a research paper published this week on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has worked in Yellowstone since 1981 and has witnessed the ponds going dry. "They're just blinking off," she said. "It's depressing."

"Precipitous declines of purportedly unthreatened amphibians in the world's oldest nature reserve indicate that the ecological effects of global warming are even more profound and are happening more rapidly than previously anticipated," the researchers wrote.

The disappearing ponds lie in picturesque northern Yellowstone, specifically the lower Lamar Valley, which holds dozens of small fishless ponds where the habitat has been ideal for the breeding and larval development of blotched tiger salamanders, boreal chorus frogs and Colombia spotted frogs. As the world's first national park, it is one of the most environmentally protected areas in the world.

The researchers studied climate and water records going back a century, ranging from handwritten logs of water flow in the Lamar River to satellite imagery, and could find no cause for the drying ponds other than a persistent change in temperature and precipitation. "It's the cumulative effects of climate," Hadly said.

During the summers of 2006 through 2008, McMenamin, wearing hip waders and carrying a dip net, cataloged the amphibian life—or lack thereof—in and around 42 ponds that had been surveyed in 1992-1993. In that earlier survey, involving 46 ponds, 43 supported amphibian populations for at least one of the two years. But in the recent inspection, only 38 of those same ponds even contained water in summer.

In their fieldwork, the researchers were able to visit 31 of the 38 wet ponds (the remainder were off limits, to protect nesting trumpeter swans). Only 21 of them supported amphibian populations for even one of the three years they were checked, 2006-2008. In 15 years the number of ponds with frogs and salamanders had dropped drastically.

"That's when we really got alarmed, because the data just showed such a huge difference," Hadly said.

Historically, the ponds—as small as backyard fish ponds, as large as small lakes—have been recharged during the summer by the groundwater in the soil. But the water table is dropping, the researchers say, as human-induced climate change produces a deadly combination of higher temperatures and less rain and snow. Moreover, the seasonal wetlands near the ponds, usually ideal amphibian habitat, are evaporating earlier in the spring, the result of an earlier snowmelt.

During the course of their study, the researchers witnessed the loss of four amphibian communities because of pond drying. Each event left hundreds of dried tiger salamander corpses behind. The ponds had dried rapidly, over just a few days, too fast for larvae to metamorphose and adults to migrate.

"Everybody can identify with the loss of glaciers, but in Yellowstone the decrease in lakes and ponds and wetlands has been astounding," John Varley, the former chief scientist for Yellowstone, told New West. "What were considered permanent bodies of water, meaning reference was given to them in the 1850s, '60s and '70s, and bestowed with a name as a lake, are now gone. Some wetlands that were considered permanent ponds are no longer there. Some lakes have become ephemeral."

The problem is not going to go away, McMenamin said. "It's extremely depressing and there aren't any evident solutions that come to mind. It's a symptom of a much, much larger problem."

Stanford Report, October 29, 2008

November 3, 2008 in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Physical Science, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

If Bretton Woods is Dead, Now what?

Here's Kevin Gallagher's answer:


Bretton Woods is dead

World leaders must commit to forming new international organisations better suited to solving the economic crisis


Kevin Gallagher
guardian.co.uk,

Monday November 03 2008 12.00 GMT


President Bush has taken a welcome step by inviting the G-20 to Washington

on November 15 to discuss the global financial crisis. This meeting should put in place a stability package that includes the developing countries and lays the groundwork for the creation of a new multilateral financial architecture.


Over the past five years, GDP per capita in the world's developing economies has been rising faster than in rich countries for the first time in history. According to statistics released by the World Bank last week, the developing world has pulled 232 million people over the global poverty line of $2.50 per day since 1999.

These gains in economic growth and poverty alleviation are the result of an economic model that significantly deviates from the Washington Consensus. Nations like China, India, South Africa and  Brazil all have recognised that markets and trade are important for development, but they have also shown the world that markets must be guided by appropriate governmental policy. In the World Trade Organisation, where each nation has an equal vote, the developing world has worked hard to preserve the ability to deploy the mix of state and market policies that have been working for them.

Until a week ago it was thought that poorer nations were "de-coupled" from the current economic crisis because they had piled up reserves and their banks weren't heavily involved in mortgage markets. Now it is clear that the crisis, which was not of their making, is at their doorstep.

Much of the economic boom in the developing world was fueled by commodities exports. Demand for exports has declined as prospects of a recession increase, causing a sharp decline in the prices of those exports. Global credit, which is crucial to exporters, has all but frozen. Banks in developing countries weren't heavily involved in the mortgage business, but they did swap with and borrow money from banks in developed countries, creating a credit squeeze for the local economy as well. If that wasn't enough, rising interest rates and credit tightening has strengthened the dollar, and currencies across the developing world are losing value.


World leaders should swiftly coordinate interest rate cuts and provide massive liquidity to markets in developing countries. New capital should also come from the larger developing countries, like , and from the IMF's new short-term liquidity facility.

Developing countries can't do this on their own. Many of these nations simply don't have the capital. Some have reserves from the commodity boom but are draining them to save their currencies. What's more, when developing nations unilaterally mimic a rich country's methods of dealing with this crisis by nationalising private assets, such actions can instill even less confidence in a developing country's markets and provoke more capital flight.


New capital can be used in the short term to fend off runs on their currencies. Just as important, new credit and capital can be coupled with coordinating governmental policies to build the productive capacities of promising and strategic domestic enterprises and toward domestic consumers to stimulate demand. With jobs becoming scarce and food prices still high, small farmers are also among the strategic sectors worthy of government attention.


Non-OECD countries are now half the global economy and more than half the destination of OECD exports. Maintaining the growth in developing countries not only saves them from meltdown but can also help rich countries dig themselves out of a downturn with new demand.


Under no circumstances should a developing country's capital infusion have IMF-like conditionalities. Historically, the IMF often gave loans only if recipients deregulated markets, privatised industries, slashed government budgets and devalued currencies. A new book, “Development Redefined: How the Market Met Its Match” by Robin Broad and John Cavanagh, documents how IMF conditionality often caused irreversible social and environmental costs on recipient countries and created a global backlash against the IMF and other international institutions. There is simply no legitimate reason for these conditionalities today. Indeed, it was the deregulation in rich countries that helped get us into this economic mess in the first place.


Finally, the global summit should be the first step toward a "Bretton Woods II" that supports multilateralism and policy diversity as core principles. This summit must be dedicated to setting counter-cyclical capital standards, regulating all parts of financial markets (including the rating agencies) and creating a credible lender of last resort.  Under the current system, Luxembourg, the  Netherlands and Belgium have more votes in the IMF than China, India and Brazil.  A truly multilateral organisation must have a one country-one vote system. Without a new infusion of capital and a multilateral approach to reform, the November meetings will be one step forward, two steps backward.

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November 3, 2008 in Africa, Asia, Australia, Economics, EU, Governance/Management, International, Law, North America, South America, US | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Food for Thought

The book "THE FUTURE CONTROL OF FOOD:  A Guide to International Negotiations and Rules on Intellectual Property, Biodiversity and Food Security," edited by Geoff Tansey and Tasmin Rajotte, has become available for free download at http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-118094-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html.

It addresses key issues of intellectual property and ownership, genetics, biodiversity, and food security. In addition to an introduction and overview of the issues, the book’s chapters cover negotiations and instruments in the World Trade Organization, Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, and various other international bodies. The final part discusses civil society responses to relevant changes and developments in these issues, how they affect the direction of research and development, the nature of global negotiation processes and various alternative futures.

November 3, 2008 in Agriculture, Biodiversity, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Sustainability | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Linking the Global Financial Crisis and the Environment: Respite for Resources or Increased Pressure?

Admittedly, it is guesswork, but last week in Geneva, I raised the global financial crisis as a challenge and an opportunity for those of us committed to bringing clean drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene education to everyone.  It is a challenge, of course, to find funding in such times.  But it is an opportunity because finally the mesmerizing power of the myths about unfettered free enterprise has been broken.


Although I was not in Barcelona for the IUCN World Congress, apparently everyone there was considering the same question.  Here is one of the reports that came out of Barcelona:


ENVIRONMENT:
Global Financial Crisis a Bad Sign for Andean Biodiversity

by Julio Godoy* - Tierramérica

BARCELONA, Oct 16 (IPS) - The crisis affecting the financial sector and stock markets around the world could fuel the expansion of extractive industries in South America's Andean region, warn experts.

Investors from the industrialised world may feel pressure to seek alternative means for financial liquidity, forced by divestment from stocks in recent weeks, Stewart Maginnis, director of forest conservation for the World Conservation Union (IUCN), told Tierramérica.

Debate on the environmental repercussions of the financial crisis overtook much of the World Conservation Congress held by the IUCN Oct. 5-14 in Barcelona, Spain, which drew some 8,000 experts.


But the uncertainty is such that others predict reduced pressure on natural resources as a result of the economic crisis.

Maginnis pointed to the current high prices of fuels, noting that investment in the expansion of mining and oil company activities now is attractive -- and constitutes a threat to protection efforts in areas like the Amazon jungle region in Bolivia, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

The phenomenon could be intensified by the existing policies of the Andean Community trade bloc, made up of Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, that favour extractive industries and clash with the interests and development ideas of local indigenous communities. That contradiction was evident in Barcelona during a debate among environmental experts, government delegates and representatives of indigenous groups from the four Andean Community nations.

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November 3, 2008 in Biodiversity, Economics, Energy, Governance/Management, International, Mining, South America, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Virtual Climate Change Conference - This Week Only

Today, the online climate conference "Climate 2008 / Klima 2008" opened its virtual doors. Join us at www.climate2008.net - from 3-7 November 2008, you can find scientific papers from all over the world, we showcase selected climate projects, there''s a climate change studies library and you can participate in live chats with experts or watch video podcasts from our patrons, partners and colleagues.

November 3, 2008 in Climate Change | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

The Stock Market Faces Another Day of Bad News

Monday AM: The Bad News

  • With a headline, FACTORIES ROCKED IN OCTOBER: ISM MANUFACTURING GAUGE YIELDS MOST ABYSMAL READINGS IN DECADES, MarketWatch reported that the nation's manufacturers continued to cut back production sharply in October for the second straight month.  The Institute for Supply Management reported Monday that its index fell to 38.9% in October from 43.5% in September -- the lowest level since September 1982. The size of the decline was far greater than expected: the consensus forecast was a decline from 43.5% to 41.5%.  Instead the decline was more than twice as much -- over 12%.  Scores below 50% on the ISM index suggest economic contraction. All regions reported a decline and nationally both new orders and production fell to their lowest level since the early 1980s. The October decline of 4.6 points follows a September plunge of 6.4 points.  Overall, the ISM index has dropped 11 points from a stagnant economy in August at 49.9% to a serious recession in October. Full story

  • Circuit City Stores Inc., the second largest consumer electronics chain in the United States said it will immediately close and liquidate 155 stores and lay off thousands of employees as it struggles to survive an increasingly dreary holiday shopping season. Citing a deteriorating economy, tightening credit limits by its suppliers, and an updated assessment that found its inventory was worth less than it expected, Circuit City plans to reduce its domestic work force by 17%.
  • More retail losses are expected since October consumer confidence hit an all-time low and consumer spending during the 3d quarter declined at the fastest rate in 28 years.  Claims for unemployment exceed 500,000 and almost 42% of consumers expect fewer jobs in coming months. When unemployment rates are reported this Friday, another 200,000 additional jobs are expected to be lost, which would increase the unemployment rate from 6.1% to 6.3%, the highest since June 2003. In September, the United States economy lost 159,000 jobs, bringing the losses in the first nine months of the year to 760,000.

We are certainly not out of the woods yet -- indeed, before January 20th, we are apt to wander far deeper into the darkness.  Good luck to all of us, especially Barack Obama.




 

November 3, 2008 in Economics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)