Sunday, July 2, 2006
On July 16, 2006, 9-11 pm ET/PT, Discovery Channel, BBC News and NBC News present a two hour special on global warming hosted by Tom Brokaw.
On Friday, I previewed the Discovery Channel special and saw An Inconvenient Truth. Below I review both from a teaching perspective.
The bottom line of both Global Warming and An Inconvenient Truth are the same -- global warming is threatening to massively change our planet with severe impacts on our lives and the rest of creation; we have the knowledge and technology to reduce those changes; the real question is whether we have the collective will to do what we need to do before it is too late.
Both Global Warming and An Inconvenient Truth seek to acquaint the audience with the fundamentals about global warming: the causes of global warming, the evidence that convinces scientists why this is not simply part of a natural cycle of warming and cooling, the magnitudes of impacts that we can expect, the technical solutions that can slow global warming, the outrageously large contribution of the U.S. to the problem, and the loomingly enormous potential of China and India if they pursue our development path.
Neither program makes the mistake of trying to be "balanced" in presenting the "skeptics" point of view. Brokaw notes the change in scientific opinion over the last two decades and the agreement of 99.9% of scientists that global warming is real. Gore uses the results of the sample of scientific literature on climate -- where the score is roughly 978 to 0 -- every study assumed that global warming is occurring.
Global Warming is a powerful statement in three respects. First, it is presented by a respected journalist rather than a respected, but partisan, politician. Second, it has an absolutely amazing, all star cast of scientists to help narrate the story. Third, it has some great footage of glacial rivers, rainforests, pacific islands doomed to disappear, and most of all, cute, little polar bear cubs who, along with the rest of their species, are destined to die within the next few decades as the polar ice disappears.
An Inconvenient Truth, on the other hand, has other wonderful qualities. First, it gains traction from Al Gore's droll sense of humor (yes, really) as well as his deep, visible commitment to the issue. Second, it has some incrediblely vivid footage interspersed between the Gore narrative of his life and the Gore global warming slideshow. Third, it conveys the scientific information in more depth, addressing the questions that people have, and illustrating answers with extremely sharp graphics on how temperature tracks CO2, the 650,000 year natural cycles of both temperature and CO2 and how dramatically the present CO2 levels and temperature exceed historical levels, how hurricanes and other natural storms gain intensity from warming temperatures, how global warming can bring both droughts and floods, how El Nino works, how the ocean conveyor belt works, and how the North America glacier melt affected Europe's climate. Fourth, it has some unforgettable visual models of the 2002 collapse of Larson B in Antarctica and what will happen to sea level in NY, Florida, Shanghai, Bangladesh, and elsewhere if either a significant portion of Greenland or Antarctica melts [in the only obvious scientific error of the movie, Gore mixed up the sea level change expected from Greenland melting with that of the Antarctic].
So, which one would I have my students see? Both...they both have unique aspects that are worth a student's while. I'd give An Inconvenient Truth an edge on content, but only if students can get past the fact that An Inconvenient Truth is a great commercial for why we should all wish that the Supreme Court had selected Al Gore, instead of George Bush as our President.
What I wish someone would do is blend both -- take Gore's slideshow, the great scenic footage from both, the Hansen discussion and other scientists from Brokaw and put them together...but, lacking that, see them both!
July 2, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Ford will do hybrid R & D in Sweden, but apparently it won't produce hybrids for the US.
I'm a little confused. I think Ford believes that Americans don't want hybrids, but Europeans do.
At any rate, American car manufacturers seem to have their heads firmly in the sand.
HT Green Car Congress.
Ford to Establish Hybrid Development Center in Sweden; Volvo Cars to Invest $1.4 Billion in Environmental R&D
30 June 2006
Ford Motor, through its subsidiary Volvo Cars, announced it will establish a development center for hybrid systems in Gothenburg, Sweden, to serve Ford’s Premier Automotive Group and Ford of Europe business units.
In a related announcement, Volvo said that it will invest SEK 10 billion (US$1.4 billion) in environmental R&D to improve fuel economy and tailpipe emissions of its global fleet.
Hybrid development center. The hybrid development center will have overall responsibility for the application of hybrid systems into Volvo Cars vehicles globally as well as for ensuring Ford of Europe and brands from Ford’s Premier Automotive Group are able to apply core hybrid systems into their own product plans.
The center will be staffed initially by a mix of 20 leading engineers from both Volvo Cars and other brands from the Ford Motor Company group.
Part of a global initiative by Ford Motor Company to speed the introduction of more fuel-efficient vehicles, the new hybrid development center will build on the experience and expertise that Volvo Cars has built up over many years in developing advanced environmental technology systems, including some of the early hybrid systems, that eventually made their way into the world’s first hybrid SUV, the Ford Escape.
The center’s location will ensure that hybrid technology development at Ford Motor Company takes into account different market trends and customer preferences in regions around the world. While the new center will be located in Gothenburg, each brand within Ford European operations will be responsible for applying new technologies to their own product portfolios.
The team at the new hybrid center will also work closely with Ford’s hybrid development team in Detroit, Michigan, to ensure optimum global alignment and economies of scale.
Environmental R&D. In a linked announcement, Volvo Cars announced the investment of SEK 10 billion (US$1.4 billion) in environmental research and development. The aim is to reduce the total fuel economy and tailpipe emissions of the global Volvo Cars fleet.
The investment initiative will focus primarily on:
At the Challenge Bibendum 2004, Volvo introduced the 3CC electric concept car, a 3-seater prototype electric vehicle powered by a lithium-ion battery. (Earlier post). At the Challenge Bibendum 2006, Volvo introduced the Multi-Fuel, an extremely clean engine offering high performance, which can run on five fuels (bio-methane; bio-ethanol; natural gas; gasoline and hythane, a mixture consisting of 10 percent hydrogen gas and 90 percent methane gas). (Earlier post.)
The Volvo Car Corporation, with its head office in Gothenburg, Sweden, has been a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company since 1999. Volvo has approximately 27,000 employees around the world.
Sierra Club Statement by Dan Becker, Director, Global Warming Program
WASHINGTON - June 29 - Yesterday, Bill Ford announced in an email to Ford Motor Company employees that Ford was walking away from its promise to produce 250,000 hybrid vehicles annually by the end of the decade. Instead, as Ford also announced yesterday in a letter with GM and DaimlerChrysler to Congress, it intends to focus on doubling its production of flexfuel vehicles.
“We were pleased to applaud Ford when it made a promise to build 250,000 hybrid vehicles annually by 2010. Today we are appalled that Ford is abrogating this promise. Ford is rapidly becoming the automaker that cried wolf. In 2000, Ford promised to increase the fuel economy of its SUVs by 25% over five years; it walked away from that promise in 2003. By swapping out more clean and efficient hybrids for more flexfuel vehicles, Ford is engaging in a classic bait and switch. Even the Bush administration admits that flexfuels run on regular gasoline 99% of the time, since E85 is only available at an infinitesimal .003% of the nation’s gas stations. Instead of taking concrete steps to save consumers money at the pump by giving them efficient hybrids, Ford is saddling consumers with the same gas guzzlers that will run on the same gasoline they have for the past 100 years.
“Ford already has the least efficient fleet of the Big 6 automakers and it can and should do better than simply using clever marketing to disguise its exploitation of the SUV-sized flexfuel vehicle loophole in the CAFE law. This loophole allows Ford and other automakers to make more gas guzzlers than the already weak CAFE law would allow if they simply make a certain number of flexfuel vehicles—even though the vast majority of these vehicles never actually run on E85.
“I am particularly disappointed that Bill Ford himself delivered this unfortunate news. He and his company have repeatedly claimed—using multi-million dollar ad campaigns—to be environmental champions that were working toward cleaner and more environmentally sound choices for consumers. We now know that Ford Motor Company cannot be relied upon to tell the truth or even to compete effectively with the more efficient fleets of foreign competitors like Honda and Toyota. It is also becoming clear that Bill Ford himself is either unable or unwilling to live up to his own commitments to the environment.
Robert Service reports in Science on research reported by chemical engineer James Dumesic and colleagues on a new process for turning fructose, the sugar in fruit, into a compound called 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), which can replace key petroleum-derived chemical building blocks. Science report on HMF process
Unlike previous schemes for turning sugar into HMF, the new process is efficient, easy, and potentially low cost. "It looks real good to me," says Thomas Zawodzinski, a chemical engineer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. "This is the direction things need to go in."
The changes doubled the percentage of fructose that gets converted into HMF, to 85%. With that boost and related improvements, "now you can make some pretty compelling arguments" for producing HMF commercially, says Todd Werpy, an expert on producing bio-derived chemicals at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. Producing commodity chemicals from renewable feedstocks "is really in its infancy," Werpy says. But with top research groups now training their sights on the problem, he adds, "renewables could make a major contribution to the chemical needs in the United States."
One of the difficulties with using biofuel/biomass as a transition out of a petroleum economy is the damage done to water resources by fertilizers. A promising biotech development may help surmount that obstacle: genetic modification of plants to provide their own nitrogen so that chemical nitrogen need not be applied, thus cutting the fossil fuel use of the agriculture industry in half and protecting scarce freshwater resources from agricultural pollution. Studies by Oldroyd and Stougaard published today in Nature that modify a plant gene allowing a crop to be self-fertilizing. The same technique could potentially develop self-fertilizings wheat, maize and rice. Nature article
Monday, June 26, 2006
In case any of you have been out of the loop or failed to watch the big game, humble Oregon State just won the College World Series!!! Go Beavs!
June 26, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
Monday, June 19, 2006
Gabrielle Walker reported in Nature last week on whether we are reaching the tipping point in climate change. The phrase "global warming" suggests to the uninitiated a gentle, linear increase in temperature with predictable linear effects on the earth. But both the complex system that is climate, and the more subtle and difficult to identify biological systems affected by climate, cannot be captured by neat linear equations. They have non-linearities: cliffs that are points of no return and tipping points when internal dynamics start to propel changes and small changes produce exponential impacts. See Real Science post on tipping points. (tipping point post) Are there tipping points or cliffs in climate change? When will they be reached? When and if they are reached, are they not just tipping points, but cliffs -- points of no return?
Although there's no strong evidence that the climate as a whole has a point beyond which it switches neatly into a new pattern, individual parts of the system could be in danger of changing state quickly, and perhaps irretrievably. And perhaps the most striking of these vulnerable components are in the Arctic. Farthest north is the carapace of sea ice over the Arctic Ocean. South of that is the vast ice sheet that covers Greenland. And then there is the ocean conveyor belt, which originates in a small region of the Nordic seas and carries heat and salt around the world. All three seem to have inbuilt danger zones that may deserve to be called tipping points. And the outside forces pushing them towards those points are gathering.
Even as it published the piece on tipping points, Nature noted in its editorial that there are dangers in focusing on those concepts:
there are three dangers attendant on focusing humanity's response to the climate crisis too much on tipping points. The first is the uncertainty of the science; the second is the tendency of such an emphasis to distort our responses; the third is the danger of fatalism.
The models through which our understanding of the climate system are channelled into assessments of how it might behave in the future are impressive by the standards of human investigation, but crude with respect to the details of the Earth system. All sorts of phenomena, from the formation of clouds to the respiration of soils, are hard to capture accurately, and it is on such details that an understanding of possible tipping points depends. Anyone claiming to know for sure when a particular tipping point will be reached should be treated with suspicion — and so must anyone who suggests that no tipping point will ever be reached.
The second problem is that an emphasis on tipping points not yet reached increases the focus on the future. Such an increase tips the balance away from adapting to climate change and in favour of trying to avoid it. A rational response to the challenge of the twenty-first century's climate is to do both: to reduce the rate at which greenhouse gases force climate change, but at the same time build up the ability to cope with adverse climates.
The third issue is that tipping points can induce fatalism. The concept may encourage the belief that a complete solution is the only worthwhile one, as any other course may allow the climate system to tumble past the crucial threshold. This sort of all-or-nothing approach is already over-stressed in climate policy by the Framework Convention on Climate Change, which calls for the complete avoidance of dangerous anthropogenic climate change, rather than the more reasonable and more feasible goal of minimizing and controlling it.
June 19, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, North America, Physical Science, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, March 9, 2006
The EU Science for Environment service reported on bioenergy crop research:
Changes in European agricultural productivity and subsidy policies are expected to reduce land devoted to food production and make land available for bioenergy crop production. Because European policy depends on increasing use of renewable energy, including bioenergy, research has been done to assess the impact of climate change on bioenergy crops. Recent research indicates that southern Europe's ability to produce bioenergy crops will be severely reduced in the future unless Europe undertakes measures to adapt to climate change, such as breeding for temperature and drought tolerance and alternative agricultural practices such as early sowing.
Tuck Gill et al. (2006) « The potential distribution of bioenergy crops in Europe under present and future climate », Biomass and Bioenergy 30: 183–197.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
The World Health Organization indicates that as the H5N1 virus mutates, it is becoming more deadly to poultry, but not necessarily more likely to be transmitted to human beings or more risky to human beings. WHO
The virus, which has spread in recent months from Asia into Russia, Africa and western Europe, has so far killed more than 90 people and forced the slaughter of millions of birds. Western Europe is on high alert - since Germany, Austria, France and Italy have cases in wild birds. 11 nations worldwide reported outbreaks over the past three weeks, an indication that the virus, which has killed at least 92 people, is spreading faster. "The recent appearance of the virus in birds in a rapidly growing number of countries is of public health concern," it said. "It expands opportunities for human exposures and infections to occur.">
The danger was increased when the virus jumped from wild to domestic birds, which was easiest when poultry lived in close contact with humans, as in Africa and parts of Asia. Although H5N1 remains difficult for humans to catch, scientists fear it could mutate to be easily passed from person to person and trigger a pandemic in which millions could die.
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
A study by Stige et al using data from the last few decades to predict food production given climate variations suggests that food production in Africa will be seriously reduced by climate change. The effect of climate variation on agro-pastoral production in Africa - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Science reports on the movement of bird flu into the EU and Africa. Many worry that "Beset by disease, poverty, and a lack of infrastructure, Africa is ill-equipped to deal with H5N1." AVIAN INFLUENZA: H5N1 Moves Into Africa, European Union, Deepening Global Crisis. On the good news front, the virus does not appear to be evolving quickly, which may make it an unlikely candidate for a human pandemic.
For those of you interested in the topic, see CIDRAP facts on H5N1
John Bohannon of Science reported yesterday that global warming is not the only effect of carbon dioxide pollution:
Over the past century, more and more fresh river water has been spilling off the continents into the oceans. But mysteriously, no change in overall precipitation can account for this increased flow. The net loss of water is worrying because it increases the risk of drought. Scientists have suspected that human-induced climate change is to blame, but it has proved difficult to finger just where the water budget has sprung a leak.....
Rising carbon dioxide levels alone appear to have caused the leak. A statistical analysis of the simulations revealed that increasing levels of the greenhouse gas are the main driver of river run-off, but not through global warming. Instead, CO2 is acting as a plant antiperspirant. Plants respond to increased levels of the gas by letting less water evaporate through their pores--known as stomata--and consequently taking up less water from the soil. This leaves extra water in the ground, which is eventually lost to river runoff rather than keeping the air moist--which would keep it circulating as fresh water.
The study is "clear and convincing," says Ian Woodward, a climate scientist at the University of Sheffield, U.K. The effect of CO2 on plant sweating is well known from greenhouse experiments, he says, but detecting the effect on a global scale is "a major result."
February 16, 2006 in Agriculture, Air Quality, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Energy, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Physical Science, Sustainability, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, February 12, 2006
Last week, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change released a
comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
in the United States.
"The "Agenda for Climate Action" identifies both broad
and specific policies, combining recommendations on
economy-wide mandatory emissions cuts, technology development,
scientific research, energy supply, and adaptation
with critical steps that can be taken in key sectors.
The "Agenda" includes fifteen recommendations
that chart a climate-friendly path for the United States.
They have been designed to be both cost-effective
and comprehensive. Although putting all of the recommendations
into place will take time,there is a compelling
need to get started. Further delay will only make
the challenge before us more daunting and more costly."
Pew Climate Action Plan
See also US greenhouse gas emissions 1990-2004
February 12, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Law, Legislation, North America, South America, Sustainability, US, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, February 11, 2006
The Ecological Society of America is sponsoring a Workshop on Agricultural Air Quality: State of the Science in Washington, D.C. on June 5 - 8, 2006. An excellent article on Emerging National Research Needs for Agricultural Air Quality was published in EOS, American Geophysical Union's publication. EOS Article on Agricultural Air Quality
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
In a confidential preliminary opinion, the World Trade Organization ruled that the European Union violated trade rules when it imposed a moratorium on approving genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). The WTO also ruled that six individual states - France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg and Greece - broke the rules by applying their own bans on marketing and importing GMO’s.WTO Coverage
The European Union will be forced to open itself to more genetically modified products after the world trade panel ruled today that its strict policy on biotech foods and crops amounts to protectionism. The case, brought by Argentina, Canada and the United States, claimed that the EU's unofficial 1998-2004 moratorium on GMO approvals hurt their exports and was not based on science. US farmers say the EU ban cost them some $300 million a year in lost sales while it was in effect since many US agricultural products, including most US corn, were effectively barred from entering EU markets.
The GMO moratorium ended in May 2004 with EU approval of a canned modified sweetcorn and there have been a handful of approvals since that time. However, the complainants argued that Europe's biotech approvals process is still not working properly.
The European Commission claims the EU has put in place tough but fair laws since 1998 to ensure a smooth approvals process, so there is no reason to change them - whatever the WTO says. The Commission insists that the case is not about Europe's GMO policy as such but what happened between 1998 and 2004. All applications for GMO approvals will continue to be processed and approved on a case-by-case basis using scientific criteria. EU Statement
The WTO issued a clear-cut condemnation of EU policy and criticized national bans on specific GMO products in several EU countries. These products had already won EU-wide approval but several governments used a legal exemption clause to enact national bans. These national bans were cited in the original WTO complaint in 2003.
Green groups predict that opposition to genetically modified foods will increase -- opposition to GM foods already exceeds 70% in Europe.
Thursday, February 2, 2006
EPA's Environmental Appeal Board has approved the first batch of consent agreements between animal feeding operations and the Agency concerning CAA and CERCLA 103 violations. The consent agreements are a small portion of the consent agreements that will cover more than 6,700 farms in 42 states,ranging from small dairy operations with perhaps five dozen cows to huge hog and dairy operations with tens of thousands of animals. The farms will monitor soot and volatile organic compounds, under the Clean Air Act, and ammonia and hydrogen sulfide under the CERCLA 103 emergency reporting provision. The data will be used to tailor>
clean air, hazardous waste and emergency reporting laws for the operations and the farms agree to follow those laws after the data are collected. Each operation pays $2,500 into an E.P.A. fund, which will pay for two years of air monitoring at 28 to 30 farms nationwide.
Companies also would have to agree to pay civil penalties of $200 to $100,000, depending on the size and number of farms they operate. Those fines would cover presumed violations, past and present.
EU Science for Environment Reports:
agricultural practices have been recognised as key drivers of environmental
degradation at the global scale. Thus, promoting agricultural
sustainability by the use of technologies and practices that improve food
productivity without causing environmental damage is crucial in our pursuit
for a more sustainable and equitable development in Europe
In one of the largest analysis of sustainable agricultural practices in developing countries, an international group of scientists has examined 286 completed and ongoing sustainable farming projects in 57 countries. In total, 37 million hectares (3% of the cultivated area in developing countries) and some 12 million farmers were engaged in transition towards resource-conserving agricultural practices. These included integrated pest and nutriment management, conservation tillage, agroforestry, water harvesting, and livestock and aquaculture integration in farming systems. Questionnaires and published reports by project have been used in order to assess adoption of sustainable practices and changes in yield production over time.
For the 360 reliable yield comparisons, the analysis has shown an average increase in crop yields by around 64% since the 1990s. Half of the projects have shown yield increases between 18 and 100% and 25% of the projects showed 100% increase in yields. However, important differences have been noted between various crops. Cotton and rice showed the lowest increases, while maize, potatoes and some legumes (beans, pigeon peas, and others) demonstrated more than 100% increases.
Though many technologies and practices have been used in these “success projects”, the authors suggest that the following three types of technological improvements have probably played substantial roles in food production increases:
1. More efficient water use;
2. Improvement in organic matter accumulation and carbon sequestration; and
3. Reduced pesticide use.
The paper notes that all crops showed water use efficiency gains with the highest improvement observed in rainfed crops. This is due to increase in water productivity (i.e. kg of food per unit of water) as a result of certain sustainable agricultural practices, viz. removing limitations on productivity by increasing soil fertility; reducing soil evaporation through conservation tillage; using more water efficient varieties; reducing water losses to unrecoverable sinks.
By increasing carbon sinks in soil organic matter and above-ground biomass, the farmers have increased the amount of sequestered carbon by an average of 0.35 tonnes C/ha per year.
Regarding the analysis of pesticide-use practices, 77% of projects with reliable pesticide-use data have shown a decline in pesticide application by 71% while crop yields grew by an average of 42%.
The authors agree that in spite of the fact that sustainable agriculture alone will not solve the problem of hunger and poverty in developing countries, their findings give grounds for optimism. They also recall that the challenge lays in finding the ways to improve the farmers’ access to resource-conserving practices through international collaboration and support.
J.N. et al. (2006)
“Resource-Conserving Agriculture Increases Yields in Developing
Countries”, Environmental Science and Technology on-line.
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Please feel free to post comments relevant to environmental law, natural resources law, or sustainability.
One recent comment concerned hunting of wildlife on public lands in New South Wales. See Comment
February 1, 2006 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, January 13, 2006
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Please feel free to post comments relevant to environmental law, natural resources law, or sustainability.
December 10, 2005 in Africa, Agriculture, Air Quality, Asia, Australia, Biodiversity, Cases, Climate Change, Constitutional Law, Economics, Energy, Environmental Assessment, EU, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, International, Land Use, Law, Legislation, Mining, North America, Physical Science, Social Science, South America, Sustainability, Toxic and Hazardous Substances, US, Water Quality, Water Resources | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
The World Bank released a report yesterday at the Montreal conference: Where is the Wealth of Nations? Measuring Capital for the 21st Century.
The report documented that the most important asset of most developing countries -- their land resources -- is at high risk from climate change. Excluding oil states, natural resources amount to 25% of the wealth of low income countries, much more than the 16% share of produced capital. The largest component of natural wealth in these countries is land. Cropland and pastureland constitute 70 % of the value of natural capital in low-income countries. Warren Evans, Director Environment Department, The World Bank, states: "The conclusion is clear - the most important natural asset for the poorest countries is agricultural soil. How these soils are managed and their productivity enhanced and maintained will have a critical impact on rural poverty and economic growth."
The Bank points out that current indicators used to guide development - national accounts figures, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – ignore depletion of resources and damage to the environment. In Where is the Wealth of Nations, the World Bank offers new estimates of total wealth, including produced capital, natural resources, and the value of human skills and capabilities, which show that many of the poorest countries in the world are not on a sustainable path.
The Bank explains:
Switzerland heads the list of the top-ten performers, the other nine being European countries, the United States, and Japan. Sub-Saharan Africa dominates the bottom-10 list, with Ethiopia having the lowest level of total wealth. Canada has the seventeenth largest level of total capital in the world. Natural resources represent ten percent of total wealth in Canada, owing to sub-soil resources and forests.
The 7th Millennium Development Goal (MDG) – ensure environmental sustainability – calls on countries to “reverse the losses of environmental resources” by 2015. Achieving this goal has proven to be elusive for most countries, not least because of a lack of indicators of sustainable development.
“There is a shared sense of urgency about meeting the Millennium Development Goals,” added Evans. “However, it would be tragic if the achievements of 2015 are not sustained because soils have been mined, fisheries and forests depleted, and climate change erodes the assets of the poor. Avoiding this outcome is the true seventh Millennium Development Goal.”
Where is the Wealth of Nations complements the report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The MA played an important role in signaling the importance of environmental services to human wellbeing. Where is the Wealth of Nations places an economic value on natural resources and argues that many of these values are underpinned by environmental services that may be at risk – for example, forest owners have no incentive to preserve watershed services that benefit water users; therefore, forests are overexploited and their worth unmeasured.
According to Atilio Savino, Secretary of Environment, Argentina, “Governments need to know the environmental costs so as to make informed decisions concerning development. Frequently, we have difficulties in perceiving that the development policy cannot be broken away from the environmental policy. It is only by the inclusion of the environmental dimension may we obtain an accurate measurement of the environmental cost of development, very often overlooked or undervalued.”
“This book,” he continued, “by considering the first assessments on the capacity of human resources, i.e. our capacity to work on our own welfare, together with natural resources, and by proposing as a conclusion that these are more important capitals than the assets produced or than finance, represents an enormous contribution to the policy of sustainable development.”
Savino added, “This theoretical and methodological construction allows then for the first time to use quantifiable factors to measure and weight the notion of sustainable development, which can be an ambiguous concept.” The value of environmental services can be significant, according to the report. Recent research has highlighted the value of services provided by natural forests in the Mediterranean region. These services, including sustainable harvest of timber and fuelwood, forage, other non-timber products, and recreational uses, amount to up to $350 per hectare per year.“Measuring the change in total wealth and the change in natural wealth,” said Kirk Hamilton, lead author of Where is the Wealth of Nations, “can contribute to a comprehensive measure of whether a development path is sustainable in the long term. The indicators in ‘Where is the Wealth of Nations’ can guide countries toward a sustainable path.”