Over 21,000 scientists from all over the world gathered at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) meeting in San Francisco Dec. 4 – 9th. I was fortunate to be able to attend and present my work on satellite based detection of large-scale ecological disturbances and studies of global skin temperature, or land surface temperature. Attendees of the 2011 Fall AGU meeting traverse between three buildings making up the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. Coming from La Grande Oregon, where the sidewalks are generally close to empty, it was exhilarating moving with a massive wave of people into the city for dinner at the end of the day.
I listened to presentations on global bioenergy capacity, treeline migration, global die-offs of trees, improving communication on climate change, the impact of drought and floods on the Amazon, challenges for feeding the world, and much more. I also got away from all the technical talk and listed to Simon Winchester tell stories about his own life, and heard presentations about the life’s work of prominent historic scientists, such as John Tyndall. John Tyndall was the first person to demonstrate that greenhouse gases absorb radiant heat in the laboratory in 1850, and then even recognized the implications of this discovery for effecting global climate. It makes one reflect on why we have come so far down this global warming path when we have had this fundamental information for so long.
While on the topic of troubling Earth system indicators, I listened to a prominent scientist describe his work with many others quantifying our exceeding of three of nine planetary systems considered in the study; Biodiversity, the Nitrogen Cycle, and Climate Change. We are now well outside the range of anything humans have ever experienced for these factors and rapidly changing most of the other factors, such as ocean chemistry.
On the lighter side, I dug an unwanted plant from an area of Golden Gate Park that is being managed to feel like an ancient forest. It was fun to get outside and do some physical work. It's worth noting that almost the entire park is exotic species because it was originally established on the beach sand dune environment. There were some native oak trees however, which can still be found growing there today.
Helping restore an ancient forest feel in the tree fern forest of Golden Gate Park during one of the AGU Fall Meeting events. I couldn't beleive how easy it was too dig in the soil compared to the rocky soil at my Eagle Cap cabin!
As I sat listening to the big changes that are already underway on Earth due to climate change and the unbelievably large-scale shifts in biomes that are expected because of impending climate change, I couldn’t help think of our conservation work. I for one, am very attached to the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, and even to little things such as the smell of a Douglas-fir plant community type in mid-summer, or the way light penetrates through the canopy at different times of the day. It is not easy to picture such big changes in our local Wilderness area. But I think it’s important that we get ahead of the curve and highlight the value of our current reserve system such as Wilderness areas, Roadless Areas, National Parks, National Recreation Areas, etc., as the best places we have to accommodate large shifts in the biotic community, mainly facilitated through natural disturbance processes. These are the only landscapes where these big changes can occur in a relatively natural way and I think there is real value in that from a conservation perspective. And through it all, large protected areas will still be areas where future generations can get into big open country, where solitude can be found, and a natural world can be observed, be it including novel ecosystems for which we have no historical counterpart. The entire National Forest System and Public Lands base is pretty well connected in many parts of the western U.S. and will serve as a corridor to the extent that our management allows for. I think this should be a key objective of the entire Public Lands base, as protecting connectivity of the landscape is the single most important thing we can do to aid plants and animals in adapting to climate change.
Other interesting factoids on our food production system:
1. Our food production system is responsible for 35% of total carbon dioxide pollution! In fact the rapid increases in global land use change (agricultural expansion), population growth and the increase in fossil fuel consumption are all very tightly coupled.
2. 40% of the Earth’s population is switching to a meat centered diet, creating a huge shift toward greater demand on global resources as the caloric benefit received from the meat is far less than the calories used to grow the meat. Particularly problematic is beef due to its water consumption and the massive amount of land allocated to grow corn for cows that isn't even edible.
3. Soybeans and cattle production continue to result in a one-two punch of destruction to the Amazon rainforest.
post by David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator