Posts Tagged ‘science’

While working on the Appalachian Trail, I realized that many of the campsites used year in and year out by Thru-hikers are growing in size and degree of impact. Yet, many of the organizations tasked with monitoring campsites keep records in paper form and have no tangible concept of the way impacts are adding up.

In the video above, I used ArcMap to enter in a hypothetical centerpoint for a campsite. I then compile polygons, representing monitoring trips. Ideally, this data would be collected in such a way as to contain monitoring metrics in the attribute table, so the symbology can be classified by the severity of impact.

The video shows how one campsite grows over time. Typically, however, campsites don’t exist in isolation. This technique can be expanded to show multiple campsites bleeding into each other.

The area data can be compiled in either excel or R, and used as an input to a linear regression analysis. This can be used to project, that if impacts continue at the current rate, they would result in campsites over ever increasing size, until you wind up with giant camping areas.

By finding trouble spots on the trail and analyzing them over a five year period, enough data can be compiled to extrapolate useful modelling, which can help inform better management decisions.

Currently management decisions are being made without data to show whether they are working or not. Anecdotally, the impacts appear to get worse every year. Management and monitoring need to go hand in hand. When a decision is made, the impacts of that decision need to be monitored and that data needs to inform future decisions. Otherwise, we cannot be said to be making rational decisions.


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Many worried, going into COP 21, that we’d have a repeat of Copenhagen, where the world’s powers (especially the United States) drag their feet on making a deal, while some remain in complete denial of the problem. As the scientific consensus has grown stronger in the past decade, the American people still believe that there is a debate about the cause of climate change. While there is room for dissent in science, and the scientific community has occasionally been wrong, it is fair to say that there is next to no debate about what is causing climate change. The only remaining debate in the scientific community is over how bad warming is likely to be, (though most expect well over the targeted 2 degrees). As a result of the state of politics, many feared deadlock, and a refusal to acknowledge what the scientific community has had evidence of for more than 30 years, and has been sure of for probably the last 15.

With the state of politics the way they are, most admit that any deal, at all, is a victory. The United States has touted itself as a major leader on climate at COP 21, but it was, in fact, the United States that dragged its feet over many aspects of the deal being legally binding. For instance, the US pushed for monetary aid to nations afflicted by climate change to be voluntary, and for targeted emissions reductions to also be voluntary. This is likely a reflection of domestic politics, since congress passed a bill recently blocking any budgetary appropriations for climate change, and some republics have decried that attention be given to climate at all, in the wake of the Paris shootings. With this being the state of affairs, one cannot help but wonder if all the praise for a climate deal was the world’s leaders patting themselves on the back prematurely, simply for having come to any agreement at all…

Sure, the wording of the deal sounds nice.

Emphasizing with serious concern the urgent need to address the significant gap between the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre- industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre- industrial levels. [1]

But if this is merely a suggestion, how can we expect any party to consistently hold themselves to it. Furthermore, the United Nations has long been a governing body that lacks the authority necessary to actually make progress (on anything). If none of the agreement bears the weight of an international treaty, then how can we expect to raise the necessary $23 trillion necessary to wean the developing world off of carbon heavy energy sources?

If the deal had been legally binding, on the other hand, it would have never been approved by the US congress, leaving the world’s biggest per-capita carbon emitter out of the deal completely. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is largely just a legacy piece for the Obama administration, and means even less than Kyoto, which was also never passed into US law, and thus easily overturned by the Bush administration.

All of the “victories” of the climate deal will do absolutely nothing to change the way we live, and to preserve a planet that is clearly suffering at our hands. None of it address that we’ve already lost 1/3 of earth’s arable land, and that forest pests, fires and droughts are all already more common and more severe. The only “meaningful” victory was to prevent China and India from taking money from the developing nations fund, even as their economies continue to grow well beyond the bounds that would be defined as “developing.”

It seems, to me at least, that policy on the world scale is probably impossible in a democratic setting, and it has already gotten about 20 years behind the science thanks in part to a massive, multi-million dollar disinformation campaign, on the part of oil, coal and natural gas producers. We’ve already likely damned ourselves to the 2 degree rise many scientists consider the breaking point, beyond which the system will cease to function in the predictable manner we’ve come to rely on for our civilization, as a result of positive feedbacks we’ve introduced. (See bifurcation in complex systems). As far as I can tell, this “agreement” does little more than kick the can to the next conference, in the hope that the free market will decide to voluntarily take actions — which is ironic because climate change is by definition a market failure.


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