image: The drying of Lake Chad, satellite photo comparison, 1972 vs. 2007, UNEP Atlas of Our Changing Environment (source: United Nations University)
image: Basque Research
image: Michael Budde , U.S. Geological Survey
Can Cacti 'Escape' Underground in High Temperatures? How a Certain Species Will Potentially Handle Global Warming
image: A "living rock" cactus (Ariocarpus fissuratus) in a large container on the roof of the biology building of Occidental College, Los Angeles, in June 2008 after 8 days of high temperatures. This particular plants was embedded in sandy soil with surface rocks. Scale bar = 10 mm. (Credit: Gretchen B. North, Occidental College, Los Angeles)
Zacatecas, Mexico, 19 November 2010—The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) announced today the forming of a Regional Alliance for Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands Conservation.
The Alliance is the result of ten years of work, during which the Chihuahuan desert grasslands were identified as one of the priority regions for the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) and the Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands Conservation Strategy (ECOPAD) was developed. The Alliance is part of the CEC’s grasslands project, which will also deliver grassland bird monitoring results and updated priority conservation area maps for the grasslands region this year.
Representatives of nearly 30 institutions and entities from Canada, Mexico and the United States have joined efforts in creating the Regional Alliance for Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands Conservation.
“We will constantly seek to promote the design, implementation and evaluation of management plans, programs and projects oriented toward studying, conserving, rehabilitating and using this ecosystem in a sustainable manner. It is one of the most valuable but least appreciated ecosystems in the country. Our work will be based on coordinated actions by diverse stakeholders, and will also consider traditional, technical and scientific knowledge,” according to Dr. Juan Guzmán Aranda, coordinator for the Alliance.
Grasslands have significant economic importance due to their vital role as a strategic resource serving as the basis for North America’s livestock industry. The United States, Canada and Mexico are among the world’s 11 largest beef producers (US, fourth, with 9.7 percent; Mexico, eighth with 2.7 percent; and Canada, eleventh with 1.4 percent of the world’s production).
In addition, native grasslands offer invaluable ecological services such as the recharging of aquifers and providing habit for many resident and migratory bird and mammal species. Lastly, grasslands are an important tool in mitigating the effects of global climate change by storing carbon.
Nonetheless, grasslands are currently among the most threatened ecosystems in the world. During the last 50 years, between 50 and 70 percent of the original Chihuahuan desert grasslands has been lost or degraded, due to inadequate management, climate change, the presence of invasive species, agricultural expansion and urbanization.
“Having an Alliance of this type is significant because it brings together stakeholders in sectors that in the past viewed each other as antagonists. It also opens us to considering how beef, an emblematic product, can now be produced in a more sustainable manner,” commented Jürgen Hoth, of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Chihuahua Desert Program, a member of the Alliance. “This regional agreement can be the most important vehicle from the last 50 years for aligning efforts related to the well-being of a shared North America ecosystem,” he concluded.
Over 75 percent of the migratory grassland birds from the Northern Great Plains spend the winter in this region in the southern United States and northern Mexico, and this is a group of North American birds that has diminished considerably in numbers. Bird-monitoring studies conducted since the 1960s across North America reveal that the numbers of some particular species have been reduced by as much as 80 percent over the last four decades. The reasons for these diminishing numbers are not completely clear, but the loss of critical habitat in the Chihuahuan desert is probably a key factor.
“Acknowledgement of the environmental, economic and social values of grasslands, together with cross-border cooperation, make it possible, for the first time in Mexico, to establish strategic conservation schemes comparable to those in Canada and the United States, said Evan Lloyd, CEC executive director. “Sustainably managed grasslands are good for everyone and these conservation schemes aim to restore this important ecosystem.”
The Regional Alliance for Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands Conservation seeks to improve collaboration between environmentalists, livestock ranchers, specialists and governments and to secure strategic funding for specific projects aimed at the sustainability of the North American economy.
More information regarding this initiative can be found at: http://www.cec.org/grasslands
The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) was established by Canada, Mexico and the United States to implement the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC), the environmental side accord to NAFTA. The CEC supports cooperation among the NAFTA partners to address environmental issues of continental concern, including the environmental challenges and opportunities presented by continent-wide free trade.link
There has been little progress towards the goal of getting a multinational agreement on stemming the incredibly rapid worldwide species loss by 2020 since the United Nations biodiversity talks started last Monday in Nagoya, Japan.
And though the delegates are connecting some of the primary flashpoints -- biodiversity loss, desertification, marine degradation and climate change -- that make up the complex "anthropocentric" web that Homo sapiens has been weaving around our terrestrial globo-biosphere since James Watt blew off some steam, the main issue is barely getting mentioned: human overpopulation.
It's great that, during the week leading up to Nagoya, the United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification (UNDDD) in the Asia-Pacific Region was launched just across the Sea of Japan, in Seoul.
Oceans, too, are getting their day in court.
"Me and my other oceans-defending colleagues are pressuring these diplomats to form a marine reserve network covers at least 20% of our oceans by 2020," says Sofia Tsenikli, an oceans policy advisor for Greenpeace, who gave a report in Nagoya on the state of the world's oceans.
"This will help us reach the goal of protecting 40% of our waters, which scientists tell us is what we need to do if we're going to leave behind healthy oceans for the future."
Sure, much of the world is turning into a desert. And the global marine health is deteriorating rapidly, what with collapsing stocks of large fish like bluefin tuna and Atlantic cod, massive coral bleaching, coastal dead zones, melting polar caps and ocean acidification.
But the root cause of it all -- human overpopulation -- is basically background noise at the Nagoya convention.
A Google search for "Nagoya biodiversity" for the past month returned 237,000 Web pages. But only a paltry 119 of those pages even mention the word "overpopulation."
The topic of human overpopulation was also oddly absent from the schedule at last month's climate change and sustainability forum, "The Sustainable Planet: Three Days of Debate, Opinion and Discussion," which was hosted by three major European newspapers -- The Independent (United Kingdom), Libération (France) and La Repubblica (Italy).
Why are so few mentioning the big white elephant in the room? Maybe it's hubris. How can there be too many of us? After all, we're the smart ones, right? We're the only ones with metacognition, right?
In the early 1970's the world human population was around 3.7 billion. We are on target to almost double that by 2012. (The current population is 6.8 billion.)
"We're really stressing the Earth's natural resources due to population explosion," says Capt. Philip G. Renaud, the executive director of the Living Oceans Foundation, in an exclusive 13.7 Billion Years interview.
"This is one of the most difficult issues we humans must come to grips with...If population continues to expand unchecked, we'll be facing food and water shortages and we'll quickly deplete our world's natural resources."
"Coastal regions are where people naturally populate because of shipping commerce, food from the sea and natural beauty," says Renaud.
And these areas are common sites of overpopulation. Once of these regions, the Chinese coastal province of Guangdong, has almost the same number of people as Mexico, but crammed into less than a tenth of the space.
This intense population density has put an incredible strain on Guangdong's ecosystem: Fertile land is turning into dry desert. For many places like this on Earth, the devastation may be irreversible.
In his opening statement at Nagoya, Convention on Biological Diversity Executive Secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf said, "This planet's full of diverse living things and we've got to keep them safe."
Too bad he didn't mention the fact that the main reason that these species are not safe is because one species has multiplied to the tipping point of the planet's resources: Homo sapiens.
image: Planet Nagoya! TTI terminal by EugeniusD80 (Flickr Creative Commons)
image: A heat-affected barley or wheat crop with an invasion of capeweed (Arctotheca calendula) during a green drought in Gregadoo, New South Wales (credit: Bidgee)
Drylands make up more than 40 percent of the world's land surface and are home to 2.1 billion -- one in three -- people worldwide. Every year, 12 million hectares of land (120,000 square kilometers) are lost to such degradation, an estimated economic loss of $42 billion.
"If the land is totally degraded, it takes hundreds of years to recover," Yukie Hori, coordinator of the Awareness Raising, Coordination and Education Unit of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, told America.gov. "But if you stop the desertification by properly managing land -- we call it sustainable land management -- the land becomes very productive."
Part of the challenge for the Decades for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification, launched August 16, is to educate people about the difference between deserts, drylands and desertification.
image: Desertification at Lobos Island, Canary Islands (credit: Federico Del Bene)
image: increased dust in the Sahel, which can spread far out to sea (inset), has been linked to agriculture. Credit: J. Leyrer/NIOZ (photo); NASA (inset)
image: vegetation anomalies in East Africa in February and March 2006, visualizing the drought in the region at this time (NASA)
image: Luc Viatour
IMAGE: A train passenger quenches his thirst in Allahabad as temperatures in the Indian city soared above 113 degrees Fahrenheit. Photograph: Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images
Additionally, Dan Bloom, founder of the Polar Cities Research Institute and the Virtual James E. Lovelock Museum of Climate Retreat Living Pod Images has been developing his concept of Polar Cities, underground cities made up of "climate retreat pods" envisioned in Norway, Russia and Alaska in the year 2121 A.D.
IMAGE: In case rising seawater swamps low-lying parts of the world, architect Vincent Callebaut has dreamt up Lilypad, a floating island for climate refugees. (credit: Vincent Callebaut Architectures)
IMAGE: Ramzi Touchan of the University of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research takes a core from an Altas cedar, also known as Cedrus atlantica, in Morocco. (Credit: Photo courtesy of R. Touchan, University of Arizona)
China Building “Biggest Solar Energy Production Base” in the World Read more: China Building Clean Energy Park To Rival Silicon Valley
IMAGE: Solar cells on a photovoltaic panel at the National Solar Energy Center, Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, in the Negev Desert, Israel of . (credit: David Shankbone)
IMAGE: Women working in a plantation north of Chapora river (Goa, India). (credit: Dominik Hundhammer)
IMAGE: The Taklimakan Desert in northwest China is a vast region of sand desert sitting in a depression between two high, rugged mountain ranges. Seen in this true-color MODIS image from October 27, 2001, the Taklimakan's rolling sand dunes stretch out over about 125,000 square miles in the Xinjiang region of China. The desert is hemmed in to the north by the snow-covered Tien Shan Mountain range and to the south by the rugged Kunlun Mountains. At the lower left corner of the image is the Karakoram Mountain range, where the world's second highest mountain, K2, casts a blue shadow. At the bottom of the image lies the Tibetan Plateau. Desertification and shifting sand dunes are a major concern for the farmers and grazers who live at the desert's edge. (credit: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSF)
Rolling fields of farmland spread out over acres and acres of land, but in urban areas, there's no place to go but up."The vertical farming idea is kind of a perfect storm because it's the solution for so many problems that we're facing in this country," says environmentalist Bobby Kennedy, Jr. WUSA-9