I’ll be live-blogging my experience at the 2015 Global Change Symposium at UC Berkeley. This year’s theme is Integrating Biology and Paleobiology.

Any mistakes here are, of course, mine. Please let me know in the comments and I’ll correct them in the text.

8:06: Tony Barnosky starts us off and reminds us that moderators will be strict and keep us on time.

It’s been hard to get Paleobiologists and Conservation Biologists in one place, so that’s the point of today. We can put our resources together to help this #ChangingPlanet.

Thanks to the sponsors, at UCB, Stanford, and ICCB, Senckenberg Group. Please see the website for details-I’m not taking great notes on this bit. Also thanks to organizers and student helpers.

 Liz Hadly also welcomes us to the symposium. She’s been thinking about this subject since 1997 conference discussion with Steve Jackson. She’s hopeful that the combined creativity can help lead to meaningful change.

Charles Marshall welcomes us from the UCMP. Over 6 million collection objects, large number of non-UC publications, plus 24 million page loads from their outreach webspace.

Now we move on to the first session….

8:16 Lynn Stegner to speak on “A Capacity for Hope.”

She’s speaking about the relationship of the natural world to our spiritual, emotional, and psychological health. Hope is like the stone of stone soup: no value of its own, but it catalyzes the rest of the action. In the end, this is an eloquent, poetic statement of the reasons we should protect the environment. I can’t do it justice the way I could a scientific presentation.

8:30 Justin Brashares on “Conservation Opportunities.”

We need to do better at articulating the dream, and perhaps leave off the nightmare.

Paleobiology has provided 1) deeper baselines, 2) view of dynamisim and resilience of populations and communities, and 3) response of flora and fauna to perturbations (fragmentation, climate change, extinction filters).

He’s focusing on extinction filters. Nested set of local to global filters determine species presence in ecosystems. The human filter is more than just “big and tasty things disappear”.

He’s focusing on Africa, where he can watch the disassembly of relatively complete ecosystems in real time. But instead of just focusing on humans alter ecosystems, he wants to understand how altered ecosystems alter humans. E.g. for the billion people who still depend on wild meat resources, ecosystem destabilization can be cataclysmic.

Even though we’ve watched as we made species extinct (e.g. passenger pigeons), we have no idea what extinction is shaped like. Do populations have a threshold and a crash? A monotonic decay? Mix-and-match? He’s got datta from 78 population extinctions in Africa. For almost all of these, they are stable until they get to ~5% of their natural population size, then drop off an extinction cliff.

Also, remember that losing a single species can set off a trophic cascade. Also also, remember that we have to think about connectivity between reserves.

8:48 Liz Hadly on “What’s left to save?”

Begins with a photo from Cdr Scott Kelly from ISS, pointing out that this is the only planet we have, so we have to be careful with it.

Now an anecdote about elk in Yellowstone NP. At the time, there was a controversy about whether elk were native. After all, the park was overgrazed, so they couldn’t be native, right? So Liz went looking in the fossil record and found them throughout the fossil records. In fact, she could fiind 95% of the animals currently in the park. She also found wolves in the fossil record, and that occurrence helped lead to their reintroduction.

Leopold report, 1963: maintain parks as they were for the first Europeans, and keep them within natural variability. Unfortunately, we cannot manage parks this way anymore, because of combination of climate change and habitat modification around parks. In fact, we’re on track to have temperatures comparable to 14 Ma by 2100, so we cannot manage parks in natural range of variation.

22% of all mammal speecies are threatened. E.g. an elephant killed every 15 minutes, but their gestation period is 22 months. That means ~4 elephants have been killed since we began this morning.

51% of land area has been converted for Human Use.

Lions have lost 80% of their range. Tigers have lost 93% of their range. These by combo of culling and habitat modification.

By 2045, we’ll have 9 billion people on earth.

It’s not just climate and habitat modification: we’ve also chopped up the planet with transportation routes. This means protected areas are isolated.

Finally: Boreal Forests. The largest land-based biome on the planet. May sequester more carbon than tropical and temperate forest combined. Critical breeding habitat for songbirds across all North America and even northern South America. Threatened by synergy of impacts: clearcuts, mountain pine-beetle, and wildfires.

New Leopold report from NPS, so the parks are now thinking about managing for continuous change.

9:06 Ken Alex, our first Keynote. “Better Policy Through Science?”

Shocker: Science does not always enlighten policy. He’s going to discuss the difficulty in using science to inform policy. E.g. California’s current drought may have permenantly altered the state, but no one has come to grips with it yet. But in the most recent legislative session they could not get a bill through to reduce the use of oil in transportation because oil companies convinced moderate democrats that increase in gas price was more important to constituents than any environmental impact.

“Sound science” is used as a political buzzword, but has no definition. It pushes scientists into the role of another special interest groups. He suggests “sound science” should be relegated to the science of sound waves.

What do we do in the face of uncertainty?

What should we do in light of the facts?

Should scientists be advocates?

Examples of advocacy: Teach more science in school, teach more climate science in school, teach anthropogenic climate impacts…

Should we teach under two degrees? How do we decide the goal? Is that decision something scientists should make?

Should we teach the benefits of a carbon tax?

What is the difference between advocating for action on climate and advocating for climate tax instead of cap and trade?

To have an impact on policy, you have to engage in a long, repetative process. You have a responsibility to make clear when you are in and out of your realm of expertise.

“What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, al we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?” – F. Sherwood Rowland

——————————– Break ——————————-

9:53 Nils Chr. Stenseth on “Where paleobiology meets conservation biology.”

He’s going to talk about _where_ conservation biology and paleobiology should meet.

Context: We cannot continue the way we’re going.

Cons bio meets paleo through Ecology and Evolution.

Quick review of evolutionary biology, need for mechanism for heredity, feedback between evolution and ecology.

Conservation bio needs to understand the evolutionary history of a system and how it came to be, as well as current ecology.

We need to understand population ecology of species to be able to predict whether it will be able to adapt to environmental change.

Discussion of the difference between biotic drivers (sometimes characterized by the Red Queen of Van Valen) and abiotic drivers (Court Jester of Barnosky). Will evolution continue in unchaning physical environment? In the end, he suggests both factors drive evolution at all scales. E.g. Canadian Hare-Lynx interaction, foram diversity and ocean temperature, hartebeest speciation driven by fragmentation.

Finally: we need to get out of our trenches and march together across disciplines.

10: 10 Steve Jackson on “Conserving Nature in a World of Change.”

Dual perspective: research career and directing a boundary organization linking research and practice.

From the fossil record: Climate change is nothing new and climate change drives ecological change, genetic change. Also, the climate path has always been irregular, so we  should not assume simple monotonic warming. So, ecological realizations are hard to predict.

We’re going into novel climates, not previously seen. E.g. CA drought is not exceptionally low precipitation, but it is exceptionally high temperatures.

“Conservation of nature can no longer rely on historical baselines.” Consequently, moving from a model of saving nature to managing for change.

History provides hope: The biota has been through a lot of change, and while there have been casualties, there is clearly natural resilience to climate change. We need to investigate the way species have persisted through past climate change as well.

The scientific and techincal challenges are huge, but the human challenges are much bigger because of the gap between the communities of research and decision. We need deep engagement, sitting scientists down with the managers.

10:27 Patrick Gonzales on “Climate Change in US and Global National Parks.”

Begins with an anecdote about his childhood experience with winter in Yosemite and how research shows that those winters have changed: that experience is no longer the same.

The 20th century warming for the US National Parks is 3x the background rate of warming for North America. Now he has a series of examples of the way climate change has affected National Parks.

He points out that that there are resonable scenarios where we can keep global climate change to only 1 degree C.

What are the potential vulnerabilities at US National Parks? Increased fire frequency in Yellowstone, decreased fog in Redwood, Joshua trees become extremely vulnerable, marmots are vulnerable to losing their habitat completely, increased erosion at Point Reyes, more coral reef bleaching. Plus a lot of examples from other nations’ national parks.

On to global biome shifts: some national parks are experiencing a complete shift in the biomes the parks were erected to protect.

Park agencies are responding to these issues in as informed a way as possible.

10:44 Kashish Das Shrestha on “Science, Conservation, and Policy in the New Nepal.”

He has a photo essay on display in the lobby of the building we’re meeting in. If I can find a link to a slideshow, I’ll add it.

This nation has extreme relief: running from near sea level to the Himalayas. It’s one of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries.

His story: while shooting 2007 Fashion Week in NYC, he reads about Nepal glacial loss in a NYT story on IPCC 4. That got his attention and he became engaged in his native Nepalese environmental issues. The country runs on hydropower, but there won’t be enough glacial melt in the future… So he started asking the government of the New Nepal about this issue, and could not get anyone to listen until 2009. Until the hearing he organized in 2009, many of the government officials in Nepal beleved climate change was propaganda from the developed world to keep other countries from developing.

He has an anecdote from one of these hearings where it became clear that because the scientists weren’t advocating with their research results, the government officials had never heard of them and were not using them in their decicion making. You can’t just publish a scientific paper and expect folks to read it. You have to get it into their hands and make the implications clear.

His next big advocacy issue is to end oil exploration in Nepal.


11:02 Panel Discussion with Ken Alex, Eric Biber, and Holly Doremus. Theme: “The interplay of science and policy.”

This is a panel of legal experts who also have a strong background in scientific research. They will be answering the dual questions “Do we need new environmental laws?” and “What do cons bio folks need to do to help policy makers?”

Holly: I’m not going to answer these questions because you can’t tell professors what to do. We can’t keep doing what we are doing. Law is only a piece of the puzzle. We need to rewire human impulses.

1) We need interactions between people of different backgrounds. Like in this meeting, only with smaller groups. Like groups that can sit around a table at a bar.

2) We need to not be afraid to talk publicly about what we’re trying to do. We need to be explicitly about what we want to get out of conservation, so we can measure it and see if it’s working.

3) We need institutions that can put these ideas together and make them reality.

4) We need policy that thinks into the future of evolution.

Eric: We don’t actually know if we need any new laws yet. He’s not sure we want laws that have too much flexibility, because we need law to help us stay on target and not give in to easy or quick solutions.

We need to know, of course, the big ideas of “How can species adapt to climate change?” but we also need specific answers to specific questions for narrowly defined managed land. We also need to think about either picking different baselines or using historical baselines in different ways.

Ken: It’s good that academics are different from government officials.

First question: of course we’ll need new laws. E.g. how should we handle autonomous vehicles? Should they all be zero emission?

Second question: cons bio needs to inform policy makers of the _cost_ of inaction, in both biological terms and in financial and security terms.

Time for Q&A. Liz Hadly has the first question: Why does climate change not have the same legal protection the way eqrthquake danger does in CA?

Ken: There are laws that govern building energy efficiency, so on that scale they are comparable.

Holly: I didn’t understand the question. Liz clarifies: Earthquakes are high risk but low frequency, and we have laws that protect us. Climate change is certain and we have no (or few) laws to protect us.

Holly: It may be because of the big 1906 eq, so folks can see the risk. Maybe we can’t handle the diffuse risk.

Eric: Economists point to eq’s as an example of people’s inability to plan ahead. Also, the insurance on homes is from a CA state government agency that is an order of magnitude underfunded.

Holly: We have a hard time undoing past mistakes (like location of UC law school on Hayward Fault). It’s hard to force folks to retrofit whether for eq’s or climate.

Question from audience: How do we address shifting baselines given the laws assume stable baselines?

Eric: This is the most important legal point. How can we write laws that replace static baselines in a way that doesn’t allow folks to just  slide down to oblivion?

Ken: The emissions baseline is essential and everything else floats from that. And for cons bio, we need to focus on open space and connectivity, rather than trying to get detailed in our management.

Holly: The problem of long-term self restraint is very difficult. Folks have to have a thing they really care about. E.g. Lake Tahoe: there is a consensus plan, but it’s hard to keep all stakeholders on board.

Eric: Tahoe is a great example, because it has to pass the “Bumper sticker test” to get the legislature on board.

Question from audience: Are scientists erring too far on the side of least drama, hurting our own case?

Holly: Scientists need to be better at communicating what uncertainty means to the general public, but should not shy away from being clear on the true uncertainty. Scientists need to move outside of their lingo.

The IPCC reports are on the right track, but still to abstrcted.

Ken: There is a difference between uncertainty and risk. We should use language more like the earthquake hazard folks, or like the insurance industry uses for fire risk. Also, focus on solutions and not just on bad news.

Eric: Ken makes a good point, but in some cases the uncertainty precludes a good risk assessment.

Question from audience: How do we do things communally when you get local decisions that harm the broader world but benefits the locals?

Holly: Clarifies that she doesn’t think we need to throw out our framework environmental laws, but we do need to change our laws to help local policy makers see their position in the bigger picture. The specific example has to do with adding housing in areas with restricted water supply. Also need institutions to support the laws.

Eric: Need institutions to provide incentives to make decisions that benefit the global picture.

Q from audience: What if we’re wrong? Scientists disagree a lot. How do we get the public and politicians to see this disagreement as a positive thing?

Ken: Reminds us of the long-running dispute between cancer and smoking as well as HIV and aids. Eventually the scientists’ consensus persuaded the politicians.

Holly: The problem with climate is the diffuse, conflicted nature of the many GCM predictions of future climate. The public isn’t used to thinking about models and predicting into the future, so we need to get them educated. (aside from me: I think they do, but they just don’t think of it that way. If they’re planning for retirement, or saving for that trip to Disney Land, they’re modeling and planning for the future.)

Q: Are there above-species-level attributes you could write an environmental law for?

Eric: There’s been a lot of discussion of ecosystem protection, but not movement. Then there’s the disputes in law (and science) about what is a species for the Endangered Species Act. How would folks dispute the definition of an ecosystem if we had an Ecosystem Protection Act?

Holly: We will never have a law that protects ecosystems the way the ESA does for species. However, it is possible to protect iconic species and ecosystems with, e.g. national parks.

Eric: Holly’s own scholarship disagrees with her statement. If you only focus on ‘special’ things, you lose the background details.

Liz closes with this takehome: “Species matter, ecosystems matter, ecosystem services matter, and ecological processes matter.”

11:54 Lunch break. I’ll start a new post for after lunch and link it when I get a chance.