Sep 12 2014

THE FUTURE IS NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE: CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY SECURITY

Reviewed by Mike Gunter, Jr., Rollins College

 A thought-provoking analysis of the rather pessimistic prospects for dealing effectively with climate change and energy security

Jorg Freidrichs2

The Future Is Not What It Used To Be, by Jörg Friedrichs, MIT Press, 2013

International development scholar Jörg Friedrichs offers a thought-provoking analysis of the rather pessimistic prospects for dealing effectively with climate change and energy security. Arguing our industrial society is inherently transitory, Friedrichs goes beyond other recent analyses on climate change politics, spelling out in his sixth chapter the “moral economy of inaction.” Such inaction prevails thanks to the four obstinate obstacles of free-riding with collective action problems, psychological coping with seemingly intractable threats, and the discount factors of both time and space. This follows the logic of David Hume (1739) that the more distant a threat is, the less one cares.

After introducing his topic and discussing the links between climate change and energy scarcity in his first two chapters, chapters three and four delve into an intriguing set of case studies. With its focus upon climate change, the second case study in chapter three contrasts the medieval Norse settlements of Iceland and Greenland during the Little Ice Age (pp. 67–71) and makes a convincing argument that settlers in Iceland were more flexible then their Greenland brethren, adjusting agriculturally and becoming more accomplished fishermen.

Similarly, chapter four offers two case studies focusing upon energy scarcity. The latter study, which compares the Hermit Kingdom in North Korea to the Castro regime in Cuba, is more interesting. Both communist regimes were hurt by the loss of Soviet oil subsides at the end of the Cold War. However, while hundreds of thousands died from hunger in mid-1990s in North Korea, those in Cuba exploited the social capital offered by family, friends, and neighbors and survived.

Friedrichs next prescribes four solutions for our twin threats including lower energy consumption, better energy efficiency, the switch from fossil fuels, and carbon capture and storage. At the same time, he takes into account realistic limitations. The rebound effect, or Jevons paradox, for example, limits efficiency as there is considerable risk it will not lead to lower consumption, but will rather, because of reduced costs, actually encourage higher consumption.

Finally, despite its numerous strengths, the book falls short in the fifth chapter, a critique of the struggle over knowledge about climate change and peak oil. While Friedrichs is certainly correct that our knowledge base is flawed, one might take issue with his analysis as to why. Regarding climate in particular, Friedrichs gives the so-called skeptics too much credit. Mainstream climate scientists are labeled as alarmists while skeptics are assigned their preferred choice of terminology (instead of the deniers label) simply for the reason that they “openly talk about climate change” (p. 129).

Friedrichs justifies this reasoning by saying that the deniers label should only be reserved for those who avoid the issue altogether, but in doing so cedes significant rhetorical power to skeptics in terms of agenda setting. Additional references to skeptics as typically less published and less cited than peers (p. 133) is a gross understatement and there is a lack of attention to their financial connections to the fossil fuel industry.


Sep 11 2014

RIVER REPUBLIC: THE FALL AND RISE OF AMERICA’S RIVERS

Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma, Independent Reviewer

An authoritative exposé of the political economy of river management in the United States

River Republic: The Fall and Rise of America’s Rivers, Colombia University Press, 2012

Dictatorships are loathed the world over for the fatalities they cause. But rarely have democracies been reprimanded for the living rivers they destroy. Isn’t it a fact that the United States of America has led the world in inflicting grievous damage on its rivers?

It indeed is! In its two centuries of experience in manhandling rivers, the US Army Corps of Engineer has dammed, diverted and dried up nearly all the country’s rivers. It apparently never occurred to this elite force that moving water could also be a resource. Pouring concrete to impound or divert flows has prevailed as a water development strategy known as ‘water hubris’ guiding river management. As a result, some 3.3 million small and big dams have converted free-flowing rivers into a series of interconnected reservoirs in the US. Yet none of these projects have lived up to the promise of being self-sustaining. Annual maintenance expenditures alone have caused the initial cost–benefit calculus to go haywire.

Dam building and river engineering generate sufficient political capital to sustain themselves while water projects have become instruments of power, prestige and political gamesmanship. To get a sense of how water hubris has been nurtured, Daniel McCool, Professor of Political Science at the University of Utah, provides bio-sketches of two leading agencies: the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Bureau of Reclamation. Through their relentless pursuit to “curb the sinful rivers,” these two agencies have turned water hubris into a moral right, almost in religious terms, to conquer rivers. No wonder, then, that calls for new water projects are almost always accompanied by dire projections of impending “water crises.” The actual crisis is that the real requirements of water management are lost in the din.

The collapse of the Teton Dam on World Environment Day in 1976 may have been the tipping point. From a 27 km long reservoir, 80 billion gallons of water swept through the 305-feet-high earth-filled dam killing about a dozen people in Rexburg, Idaho. Ironically, the disintegration of the Machhu Dam in Gujarat in 1979, which killed as many as 25,000, hasn’t had any impact on the prevailing water hubris in India.

It has been officially acknowledged that there are 15,237 dams in the US with high hazard potential. As many as 890 of these dams have been dismantled due to public outrage. Water hubris appears to be giving way to a new water ethic in the US. Inspiring accounts of citizen triumphs against the institutionalized annihilation of rivers are worth emulating.

McCool confirms that not only has the status quo been challenged, but that some rivers are returning to their free-flowing condition. River instigators are working their way through a maze of institutional obstacles. River restoration is now something of a cottage industry. Indeed, there are as many as 2,500 non-profit groups in the US partnering with the agencies that originally built the dams now working to restore rivers to their pristine status.

River Republic is an authoritative exposé of the political economy of river management in the United States. McCool stresses that the great challenge for this generation is to figure out a way to reverse the downward corkscrew of our rivers before we reach a point where there is nothing left to save.

Personal anecdotes and insightful analysis make it an important book. River Republic offers essential lessons for entrenched water bureaucracy.

 


Sep 10 2014

CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION IN PRACTICE: FROM STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT TO IMPLEMENTATION

Reviewed by Danya Rumore, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The book fails to provide a cohesive message or specific take-aways

Climate Change Adaptation in Practice: From Strategy Development to Implementation, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013

For those working in the field of climate change adaptation, the fundamental question is, “What does effective adaptation look like in practice?” We have many theories and ideas about how to help communities and ecosystems become more resilient; yet, just how these approaches will play out remains to be seen. Hence, it was with quite a bit of curiosity—as well as some skepticism—that I picked up Climate Change Adaptation in Practice.

The book draws together diverse case studies from the European Climate Change: Impacts, Costs, and Adaptation in the Baltic Sea Region (BaltCICA) project. The chapters, written by a range of academics and practitioners, review case studies ranging from efforts to support participatory adaptation decision-making in Kalundborg, Denmark, to ways of modeling climate change effects on groundwater in Hanko, Finland.  In so doing, the book seeks to illuminate a wide variety of technical and political approaches to preparing for and managing climate change risks.

While it does provide a snapshot of early adaptation efforts, possible technical approaches, and various engagement strategies, the book’s usefulness is limited.  The cases are largely descriptive, devoid of empirical evaluation. Although it is written in a scholarly style, the cases offer little by way of theoretical development. Additionally, like many scholarly collections, the book fails to provide a cohesive message or specific take-aways. Given that adaptation scholarship and practice are still in their early stages, a descriptive collection like this may prove useful to those looking for information on what is going on in communities worldwide, particularly the Baltic Region of Europe; however, beyond this, it is not clear that Climate Change Adaptation in Practice makes an important contribution to the field.


Sep 9 2014

MANAGING OCEAN ENVIRONMENTS IN A CHANGING CLIMATE: SUSTAINABILITY AND ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVES

Reviewed by Kelly Heber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Extremely useful for anyone focused on climate science and climate policy development

Managing Ocean Environments In A Changing Climate: Sustainability and Economic Perspectives, Elsevier, 2013

Managing Ocean Environments in a Changing Climate provides a state-of-the-science examination of several high profile threats to the ocean environment. These include acidification, warming, hypoxia, sea level rise, pollution, and over extraction of resources (the primary focus is fisheries). Where this book differs from others with similar aims is that it does not to discuss each of these global stressors in isolation, rather, it speaks to their relationships to each other, including their synergies, amplifications, and feedbacks across scales. Given such a complex scope, it cannot achieve everything it sets out to do. Some of the more successful chapters include a very practical section on Policy Recommendations, as well as its concluding chapter on Multiple Stressors. At times the discussion of the relationships among the stressors felt a bit vague; however, this does not detract from the overall effectiveness of the volume.

This book is written for a diverse audience, including academics, policy makers, and NGO personnel. The book’s concise and well-written literature reviews of the most up-to-date science in the field are very helpful, and they do converse with one another in the later chapters. The authors also use scenarios to be intentionally consistent with the IPCC Assessment Report 5. The use of scenarios, or storylines of possible future development and resource requirements, help to make the book accessible to the wider audience it is seeking to reach. The scenarios generate a narrative feel that makes for more interesting reading as compared to a technical document like the IPCC report it is meant to accompany. The focus on the relationships among six key stressors also helps to achieve consistency with the research aims of the IPCC Assessment Report 5. Thus, this volume is extremely useful for anyone focused on climate science and climate policy development. It is a timely read in the run up to COP 19 in Lima.


Jul 4 2014

ENVIRONMENTAL ECONOMICS: AN INTRODUCTION by Barry C. Field and Martha K. Field

Reviewed by Kelly Heber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Probably the best environmental economics textbook

An Introduction

Environmental Economics: An Introduction, by Barry C. Field and Martha K. Field, McGraw Hill, 2012

Nearly everyone who has taken a course in environmental economics has some experience with the textbooks of Barry and Martha Field. In Environmental Economics (6th edition), they continue with their uniquely clear and logical overview of the field and its analytical tools. Light on pure math, but strong on useful description, concrete definitions and clear explanation of otherwise complex topics (such as discounting), the text is a must for any undergraduate or graduate interested in the discipline and looking for a standalone primer. Of the many environmental economics texts available, the Fields’ work stands out because they write in a style that is technically sophisticated but easy to read. This is atypical of most economics texts.

Substantial sections of the book are dedicated to reviewing key concepts in environmental economics and how they can be applied; showing how theory meets practice. These are the stronger chapters. They include overviews of cost–benefit analysis, trading of permits or “incentive-based strategies,” top-down command-and-control regulation, and so on. The weakness of the book, as with many economics texts, is that it overlooks the political dimension of environmental analysis. When they discuss cost–benefit assessment, for example, it appears as though costs and benefits occur uniformly across all members of society (when that is not the case). They do not address issues of power or access in environmental decision making, or mention environmental justice at all. They do include contemporary case studies, or “exhibits,” which showcase what happens when environmental economics is applied in the real world. Here is where some of the missing elements in their theoretical exposition appear. Some of the better exhibits touch on the “intelligible principle” of the Clean Air Act, and incentives for deterring offshore oil spills.

Given the large difference in price between old and new versions of this textbook, the cases are not sufficiently innovative or contemporary to justify the massive price increase.


Jul 4 2014

WATER – ITS CONTROL AND COMBINATION: MULTIFUNCTIONALITY AND FLOOD DEFENCE by Monica Altamirano, Rik Jonker, and Jurgen van der Heijden

Reviewed by Frans Evers, Dutch OECD National Contact Point, Netherlands

Combining land use and water management objectives is the key to sustainable development

Water – its Control and Combination: Multifunctionality and Flood Defences, by Monica Altamirano, Rik Jonker, and Jurgen van der Heijden, Osborne/Deltares, June 2013 (Google the title for free download of the recent English version)

A road on a dyke with sheep on the slope beside it. Can this age-old combination inspire the development of modern flood defenses? Think of dykes producing renewable energy, or serving as nurseries for new plantlife. A good reason to make combinations like these is their sustainability. Three Dutch experts present and analyse a collection of almost thirty examples, mostly from the Netherlands. Although meant as a factual report, this book puts forward a message deserving extra thought.

An area is set aside for water storage to prevent flooding of a nearby city. This area is also a place for nature conservation, water treatment, open city and recreation. Developing and using the same land for multiple purposes saves space, time and money. Yet, however interesting, this isn’t what makes these combination special.

Authorities are used to optimizing each function separately; for instance, creating a basin for water storage as wide and deep as possible at the lowest possible cost. Combining functions sharing can bring the cost down, but what is special is how multiple functionalities can optimize one another. Water storage helps nature, and nature helps water treatment. Such combinations enhance spatial quality, resulting in a better place for recreation. Revenues from recreation can be devoted to nature conservation.

Using one function to optimize others provides a unique economic force that has always been there, but has yet to be fully explored. The authors prove with almost thirty examples that such an approach contributes to sustainable development. This is an inspiring book for water managers who want to go beyond traditional solutions.


Jul 4 2014

EXTRACTED: HOW THE QUEST FOR MINERAL WEALTH IS PLUNDERING THE PLANET by Ugo Bardi

Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma, Development Analyst and Columnist, New Delhi, India

Replacing costly minerals with cheaper ones is the key to sustainable mining

bardi-extracted-book-2014

Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet, by Ugo Bardi, Chelsea Green Publishers, 2014

The Club of Rome shot to fame with publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972. This report on the future of mankind not only triggered a hot debate, but degenerated in all-out smear campaign. By the time its critics had had their say, the public perception of the report was that it offered nothing more than a series of wrongheaded predictions made by a group of deluded scientists. So much so, subsequent reports by this global think tank have not merited much attention.

Extracted is the latest report from this elite club. Had The Limits to Growth attained popularity, the title of this report could easily have been The Limits to Extraction. Digging out the history of mining, from prehistoric times to the modern age, the report suggests that mankind has extracted most of the cheap mineral resources available while plundering of the earth’s ecosystems and displacing millions of people. Mining is one of the largest global industries, but the gradual depletion of low-cost minerals, including fossil fuels, is fast becoming a major limitation to economic growth. Since high-grade ores are extracted first, it will become much more expensive to produce mineral commodities in future. Given the growing demand for precious metals and rare earths, however, a resource war is likely to emerge among countries that hold quasi-monopolies over certain mineral deposits.

The political economy of mining makes it an important growth engine for most countries. China has 97 per cent of all active rare earths, including exclusive deposits of molybdenum. South Africa holds 82 per cent of global platinum. China leads countries like Chile, Australia and Argentina in global copper output. Tibet has become the new mining focus for China. Under a new regime, India intends to go full throttle into mineral extraction.

Extracted is written by a team of experts, headed by Italian scientist Ugo Bardi. The report says that deposits of many high-grade ores are running low: copper, zinc, nickel, gold, silver and others are expected to reach their productive peak within less than two decades. Not only will this affect our lifestyles, but it may cause agriculture production to decline as well. By the time the world wakes up to the full impact of mining (including oil and gas), the lasting impacts may be impossible to reverse.

The solution, says Bardi, is to replace costly minerals with cheaper ones; recycle as much as possible, and generate energy through renewable energy sources such as sun, wind and water. He and his colleagues believe that mining machines and drilling rigs will disappear without a corresponding decline in the demand for minerals.


May 30 2014

ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION: PRINCIPLES, VALUES AND STRUCTURE OF AN EMERGING PROFESSION by Andrew F. Clewell and James Aronson

Reviewed by Kelly Heber, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Virtual field trips to see ecological restoration make this a special book.7044

Ecological Restoration: Principles, Values and Structure of an Emerging Profession, by Andrew F. Clewell and James Aronson, Island Press, 2nd edition, 2013

The premise behind this exhaustive account of the practice of ecological restoration is to illustrate the Pandey (2002) concept of “holistic ecological restoration” in great detail. Restoration in this context focuses as much on socioeconomic considerations as it does ecological concerns. As is true in most interdisciplinary efforts of this sort, sustainability and biodiversity conservation are bundled with restoration in a complex fashion, creating somewhat uneven results. Though careful, detailed, and thorough, this volume seems at times to be trying to do too many things. A number of the key concepts mentioned probably warrant primers of their own. Hints of this problem surface in the early sections which offer a seemingly unending list of potential members of a target audience for the book that could, in effect, include anybody. Efforts to appeal to such a wide audience blur the focus. Any hope of an integrated examination of the socioeconomic and biophysical steps crucial to restoration is lost.

The authors note that their intent is not to provide a comprehensive review of scholarship in the field, but they ignore decades of careful scholarship that might have helped to ground what they call “an emerging profession.” All that being said, the book has a number of redeeming qualities, especially the “Virtual Field Trips” or illustrated case examinations of specific restorations. These are different from other practice-oriented restoration presentations in other texts in terms of the range of ecosystems covered and the variety of case locations, which span the globe. I would use this text in an introductory course on ecosystem-based management or sustainable development.


May 30 2014

ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS FROM THE GROUND UP edited by Hali Healey, Joan Martinez, Leah Temper, Mariana Walter and Julien-Francois Gerber NATURE’S WEALTH: THE ECONOMICS OF ECOSYSTEM SERVICES AND POVERTY edited by Pieter van Beukering, Elissaios Papyrakis, Jetske Bouma and Roy Brouwer

Reviewed by Mattijs van Maasakkers, Harvard University

Managing ecosystems services can reduce poverty.book9781849713993

9781107698048

Ecological Economics from the Ground Up, edited by Hali Healey, Joan Martinez, Leah Temper, Mariana Walter and Julien-Francois Gerber, Routledge, 2012

and

Nature’s Wealth: The Economics of Ecosystem Services and Poverty, edited by Pieter van Beukering, Elissaios Papyrakis, Jetske Bouma and Roy Brouwer, Cambridge University Press, 2013

The popularity of the “ecosystem services” concept continues to grow. Recently, two new edited volumes were added to the seemingly ever-expanding library of books describing the benefits that nature provides to people. Both publications follow the same general structure: offering a broad introduction to the idea of ecosystem services, followed by a series of in-depth case studies from all over the world. Perhaps surprisingly, this is where the similarities end.

The examples in Nature’s Wealth: The Economics of Ecosystem Services and Poverty are organized around concerns like biodiversity, marine and coastal ecosystems, and forests. The central hypothesis of the book is that the protection or restoration of ecosystem services is likely to alleviate poverty. Most of the case studies in Nature’s Wealth indicate that environmental protection, like the creation of Marine Protected Areas, can reduce poverty in a variety of ways. This kind of analysis, it turns out, doesn’t really need to dig into the ecosystem services concept at all. In fact, in the chapter on marine protected areas in the Asia-Pacific, ecosystem services are hardly mentioned. This is troublesome. An increasingly pressing question is whether using the concept of ecosystem services is helping to inform better resource management practices or not.

As Antunes et al. write in their introduction to Ecological Economics from the Ground Up, “The value commitment to work for a sustainable society has always been a distinctive feature of ecological economics as a scientific discipline” (p. 2). Or, to put it differently, the goals of the proponents of the ecosystem services concept have never been purely academic. So, while an ever-increasing number of publications using the ecosystem services concept indicates popularity among scholars and researchers, some of the original proponents have expressed concern that the practical goals associated with the concept have yet to be achieved. It has been more than five years since a group of prominent scholars argued that it was “time to deliver” (Daily et al. 2008). Since then, one of the early proponents of the concept has lamented that ecosystem services has gone from being “an eye-opening metaphor to a complexity blinder” (Norgaard 2010).

The book Ecological Economics from the Ground Up represents an original, useful and accessible examination of how the explicit use of the ecosystem services concept can inform environmental decision making in practice. For example, the introduction includes an extensive table of environmental advocacy organizations showing how they use ecosystem services concepts and methods. The remainder of the volume places the goal of working towards sustainability at it center. The writers of many of the cases are environmental activists directly involved in the conflicts they describe. This approach does not always yield the most even-handed accounts, but it does provide a detailed sense of how specific ecosystem service-based concepts and methods have been used to influence decisions. More disinterested (but certainly not uninteresting) explanations of key concepts and methods appear in text boxes throughout what are often deeply controversial cases. In the most successful chapters, this provides a rich account of how concepts and approaches drawing on the ecosystem services idea can influence environmental decision making in practice.

In summary, both of these books contribute to the environmental literature. Nature’s Wealth seeks to empirically test the hypothesis that environmental protection alleviates poverty under a variety of conditions and in different ecosystems. Since this assumption has come to be almost taken for granted in some quarters, this is a meaningful scholarly endeavor. However, this project is in some ways only tangentially related to the concept of ecosystem services. Ecological Economics from the Ground Up, on the other hand, is less scholarly and limited in its ambition to test specific hypotheses. It is a truly exciting and innovative contribution to the literature on ecosystem services.


May 30 2014

SUSTAINABILITY SCIENCE by Bert J. M. de Vries

Reviewed by Peder Hjorth, Lund University, Sweden

An important and well-documented book. A very helpful guide to sustainable development and sustainability science.

sust_science

 

Sustainability Science, by Bert J. M. de Vries, Cambridge University Press, 2013

This book provides one of the best explanations yet of the origins and meaning of sustainable development. Quoting Seneca (3 BC – 63 AD), de Vries writes: “The society of man is like a wall of stones, which would fall if the stones did not rest on another; in this way it is sustained.” The book puts the problems of sustainable development in context, providing case examples, discussing the trajectory the concept has taken to reach the current moment, and highlighting the thinking behind it.

The book clearly states that a scientific worldview by itself cannot give meaning to our lives; nor can it resolve the ethical questions surrounding sustainability. Sustainability science has a more limited scope than sustainable development. Essentially, it is the study of what science can and cannot know. Even if thermodynamics, system dynamics and complexity theory are designated essential components of sustainability science, and it is based on the premise that studies of real-world problems must not respect the confines of artificial nineteenth-century boundaries among scientific disciplines, sustainability science can only illuminate part of what we need to know. Current complexity and uncertainty require a realistic appreciation of the predictive and explanatory powers of science and models.

Questions regarding what we ought to do are outside the scope of sustainability science, although the book opens up a panorama of possible directions we might take, offering multiple options for reflection and discussion. The discussion of sustainable development should be required reading for all university students. The section on sustainability science is much more demanding and is only suitable for students at an advanced level with strong science background. An experienced teacher prepared to jump between traditional disciplines would do well to incorporate this book into his or her classes.

The author focuses on renewable and non-renewable resources as well as the essentials of earth, land, nature and agro-industrial systems. At the end of each chapter, there are relevant book references and websites. The best news is that book has been “field-tested” for seven years. I highly recommend it.



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