Archive for September, 2008

Freaky Friday, Freaky problem

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Fourth in line to comment Dr Ricciardi’s presentation and still something to say. Perhaps this is a sign of the excellence of the presentation. His talks was energetic, passionate and fledged with he desire to inform his audience about one of the global problem of our modern world : Global swarming. He used metaphore and convincing and chocking vocabulary (some of my collegues already pointed it out) to deliever his message 

As the name implies, global swarming if affecting the entire planet. Dr Ricciardi made it quite clear the the once know boundaries were gone with the globalisation and the expension of transportation. Animals and plants are now found outside their resisding area. So far, no problem, since it happens naturally. Where the problem arise is in the number of invasion. In Hawaï for exemple, the ratio invasion\year went up a million times if you compare the pre-human ratio to the actual ratio.

Dr Ricciardi has also shown that there are many relation beetween species. Those relations are fragile and the introduction of a new specie may affect the entire ecosystem. For exemple, the waterfowl of the grand lake (i think it was Erie, sombody correct me if i’m wrong) are now dying of botulism. This is cause by an anaerobic bacteria, Clotridium botulism. Usually, there were no link beetween the to specie. But the introduction of a filtrating specie change it all. The bateria is now being filtrated by Zebra mussel, which in return are eaten by the Round gaby. Eventually, the waterfowl feed on Round gaby and are infected with the disease. Such an interaction did not exist in the past. N.B.: Botulism occurs in human as well. A source can be non-sterilised (or poorly sterilise) food caning.

As for economical consideration, Dr Ricciardi pointed out that the assessment were only partial and only on a regional level base. His solution implied better founding for the Canadien food inspection agency which he describe has the line of defence against invading species. But, the fact remains that the interaction between the species are very complexe thus hard to predict and assess. It will be a reel challenge to contain the invasive specie from doing harm to the native environnement especially if we can’t predict were they will be the most destructive.

Invasive species disrupt the fundamental rules of existence for everything’s else! Dr. Ricciardi

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Ok, now it’s Friday after-noon and instead of moving on for the weekend, we have attended to a seminar in the famous Redpath auditorium.  Hard Friday seminar??? Well, not that much since the guest speaker did a terrific job and also, we planned to move to the Thompson house after the seminar!  This Friday seminar was given by Dr. Anthony Ricciardi.  Dr. Riccardi is an associate professor at McGill University.  He wrote many scientific articles related to invasive species and does not hesitate to give his opinion (as an expect) in the community by collaborating in a wide range of medias (radio, newspaper, television).  This is a good way to reach different people with different background and also from different cities, regions, and countries.  The more you talk and write in the media, the more people know about invasive species and therefore, the level of knowledge should increases in the population.  This is a very good strategy to make people more sensitive to environmental issues.

Throughout his presentation, he showed enormous examples of world, continental, regional and local invasions and the impact they have in their new environment.  The reason why the researcher gave so many different examples can be the fact that he wanted to show that invasive species can have an effect on multiple domains and everyone can be affected.  This intention (called “passion”), however, turn me off in couple of times during the presentation because the speed of speaking was really too fast.  I’m sure this was not good to keep the audience’s interest.  However, in order to regain people’s attention, Dr. Ricciardi used several great words and expressions.  One of them has been used to demonstrate how invasive species are damaging.  According to Dr. Riccardi, “Invasive species (e.g. pigs) disrupt the fundamental rules of existence for everything’s else”.  The word “fundamental” and “disrupt” should bring bells and everyone must then pay attention to that because disrupting fundamental interacts will not only affect small little things that we do not really care about but will affect the roots of our own society.  For example, invasive species are capable to cause nuclear power plant breakdown (zebra mussels) and increase the risk of malaria outbreak (pigs dig holes that favour mosquitoes’ life cycle).  Finally, Dr. Ricciardi concluded by suggesting four mains Global Changes that favour the establishment of invasive species; the raising CO2, raising temperature, landscape alteration, and N-pollution. 

How much we need to know about invasive species?  Well, this is still a hard question to answer, but I think the level of knowledge will be determined when people will realize how drastic our environment is changing and how this change will affect us.  In order to realize this Global Change, information must be accessible, understandable and in high quality.  Dr. Ricciardi is a good example because he does not rely only on scientific journals.

Is global swarming worse then global warming?

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

I attended this week’s “Freaky Friday” seminar on Global Swarming, presented by Anthony Ricciardi. It was a wake up call to the effects that human activity and the global environmental changes it induces have on other species, effects that in most cases are harmful to us in the most unexpected ways: they are costly -from an economical point of view, and they are hazardous to our health. For example the Leafy spurge, an invasive specie that is taking over the farms in Manitoba, has both economical effects, resulting from loss of farmland and toxicity to cattle, as well as human health effects: it causes contact dermatitis. Another costly example is that of the Zebra Muscle, who spread from the Black Sea and is now found on the Eastern coast of North America and in the Great Lakes. It reduces the turbidity of water, thus creating a proper environment for the growth and spread of weeds, their decay causing anoxic zones favorable for the development and persistance of human pathogenic germs like Clostridium Botulinicum. The same Zebra Muscle was responsible for three emergency shut-downs of a US nuclear plant by multiplying in the water intake systems. And these are just two examples. But there are many more plants, insects and animals that with the “help” of humans are spreading faster and invading parts of the world that otherwise would have been impossible for them to reach.

One of the most important points of the seminar for me was the labeling of cargo ships as “floating syringes”. The cargo ships that we now use and depend on for transport of food and freight, are the most common means of spreading invasive and deadly species around the world. The water released from their tanks in different ports (on coasts or up rivers) contains enormous quantities of viruses, bacteria, plants and animals. In Mr. Ricciardi’s view, these are the true terrorists crossing our borders each day and causing the loss of billions of dollars worldwide.

So is global swarming worse then global warming? They’re both very serious threats, closely related, caused and sustained by the same thing: human activity. We seem to be the worst kind of invasive specie, the one causing unsurpassing environmental changes wherever we go. And as Mr. Ricciardi pointed out, there aren’t many places on Earth right now where humans can’t go. It’s high time we face the consequences.

Alien species in your backyard

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

On Friday September 26, I attempted to the seminar “Global swarming” presented by Antonio Ricciardi. With various examples, Ricciardi demonstrated that species invasions are one of the most important global changes that we are experiencing at the moment. He also insisted on the fact that these modern invasions are happening at such a large scale and so rapidly that what happened in the past in nothing compared to the modern rates of biological invasions.

What really catches my attention is the choice of vocabulary that the speaker used during his presentation, starting with the title itself (global swarming). In his introduction, he used the terms “monsters” and “ecological terrorists” to designate the invaders he was going to talk about. Than, he mentioned that the example he was to give during the talk were not “insulated monster stories”, that alien species were present in almost all ecosystems worldwide. Some species like the pig were compared as “little engineer” transforming the habitat and at the end of the speech, he told us that those alien species were a “tax” on natural resources.

At the end of the presentation, in response to a question, Ricciardi made the strong assumption that the human kind is probably the worst invasive specie of the world. After all, we are all invaders outside of Africa! To support this idea, he brought up the fact that we are present in almost every ecosystem and that we are definitely the best when comes the time to transform our environment. This idea was, again, a very powerful way to insist on the role that human plays in spreading alien species all over the place.

All those superlatives were very catchy, and it surely was a great way to increase the auditor’s awareness of that special issue. I was wondering if this effort was necessary; do you need to sound alarmist to convince people? Perhaps! But it made a strong contrast with the more neutral tone used in the article Are Modern Biological Invasions an Unprecedented Form of Global Change?“.

CELDF, Environmental Law and Assigning Rights to Nature

Friday, September 26th, 2008

The seminar I attended was presented as part of the MSE Speaker Series; Legal Rights for Grassroots Environmentalism. Representatives from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) of Pennsylvania, USA gave a summary of their work and the capitalist government system which suppresses community level attempts at protecting natural resources. The CELDF mainly provided legal support to communities that want to protect some aspect of their natural environment (an aquifer, a forest, a population of wolves) or to keep their community free from projects that are potentially harmful for humans and environments (power plants, waste treatment plants, etc.).

One downfall of the CELDF’s early work is that it did not provide permanent results and/or conservation. The general pattern was this; A corporation submits a proposal to tap an aquifer that supports a community (its drinking water and agricultural irrigation) in order to sell the resource in the bottled water industry. The CELDF comes in, finds technical errors in the corporation’s proposal, thus having it be rejected. The community is extremely happy with their success until a few months later when the same corporation returns with a revised proposal that is not flawless (since the CELDF had edited it so thoroughly for them) and the aquifer is subsequently drained. I realize that the CELDF was simply working within the legal system towards a noble cause, which is all fine and good. The aspect I found highly questionable was the CELDF’s general reaction to this trend, which was more along the lines of, “that is awful and we feel really bad for that community,” rather than, “here is what we are doing to follow through with that community’s goal for environmental protection.” Currently, the CELDF has evolved and is working with communities to write and pass municipal laws that protect natural resources from overuse by large corporations. However, the same trend of success followed by immediate failure is very much possible, since the federal government has the power to preempt any municipal laws, and most certainly does when economic development is at stake. While I believe that the CELDF’s work is an important step in the fight to legalize the protection of nature and natural functions, it worries me that it will be the concerned communities, and nature itself, who will be the first and most numerous victims in this battle.

I strongly believe in the process of “bottom-up development” or grassroots movements that gain the power to influence policy and procedure at highly levels (be they legal, social, political or economic). The CELDF is an empowering body in this sense; CELDF has set up and run countless ‘Democracy Workshops’ throughout Pennsylvania, the USA and just recently at McGill University. These workshops are used to inform the general public of their rights within a democratic government, and to explain the obstacles to obtaining those rights in a country like the USA, where democracy is skewed and at the beck and call of the capitalist market economy. This is, I believe, an incredible tool, because the more informed a person, a community, a country is, the more policies, conventions and laws will be educated and representative. This relates to what we discussed in our last seminar meeting; how much do we need to know about any given subject? I would argue that when it comes to the political system governing your country, you ought to be well informed. Of course, you will not have the time and energy to become an expert about each issue (social, environmental, economic, etc) that arises, but when something you do care about and know about is at stake, you will be able to mobilize in an effective way to protect that something within your country’s political system.

Given the capitalist politics dominant in the world today, the question then arises, should we work within the current system or overhaul the whole thing in favor of a new, more social and environmental oriented system? Ecuador may make history on this account in the next few weeks; Ecuadorians will soon vote on a new Constitution that includes advanced human rights and rights to nature. Assigning rights to nature, as the CELDF members explained, is a natural progression from assigning rights to black persons and women, who were only ‘property’ before their rights were recognized, in the same way that the environment is today. However, this opens up an argument that assigning rights to nature devalues human life by placing the right and value of survival of a wildflower on par with the survival of a human being. I argue that that does not have to be the case, nor can it be as simple as an ‘eye for an eye.’ The right of nature and natural processes to survive can thrive alongside human rights; assigning rights to women did precede a devaluing or die-off of the male population. In fact, valuing nature and allowing it to survive will support human life by protecting the natural resources on which we survive.

This seminar, especially the focus on environmental ethics as they pertain to environmental law and conservation, reminded me Aldo Leopold’s, ‘Sand County Almanac.’ Leopold, an environmentalist and wildlife management professor at the University of Wisconsin (1933 until his death), wrote that, “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” The guiding ethic, and potential law, of the Ecuadorian Constitution bears a striking resemblance to Leopold’s ethic; nature has the right to “exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes of evolution.” I am interested to see what the actual policy implications of assigning right to nature will be. Especially in a development country like Ecuador, where there is vast biodiversity and vast socioeconomic divides, policy may be difficult to enforce across all levels of human and natural wealth. What would it mean if assigning rights to nature was successful? What would it means if was not, or if it was simply forgotten like so many other good policies? Would failure be drastically more damaging to the environment in a developing vs. developed country? These are questions that I am unsure of, but eager to see how their answers unfold; I hope we can discuss some of these in our seminar on Monday.

Building Activism, Stripping Corporate Power, Recognising the Rights of Nature

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

On September 15, Thomas Linzey gave a seminar on how communities are working to preserve their environment without being trumped by the government, or corporate rules and rights.  Communal and municipal actions and regulations can be overruled by the following; preemption from the federal and state government; Dillon’s rule, generally stating that the community or municipality is like a child which the state allows certain actions, and; corporate rights which lawfully personify company structures.  Problems would arise when a community would attempt to prevent structures such as a waste incinerator from being built in the area; the community was interfering with the corporate rights of the incinerator company from managing their business, and they were being preempted by the government’s issue of a permit to build.  Thus the pollution that such a structure might cause would impede the environment and the community.  The Community Environment Legal Defence Fund (CELDF) was created to give free legal services to communities with not enough lawyers to fight these trials.  In addition, one of their goals is to aid communities in making constitutional laws that would give nature the right to flourish.

The seminar may have been biased, under representing the balance between the needs of the community and corporations.  It was delivered enthusiastically and was not difficult to listen to.

I enjoyed the concept of the seminar, however I failed to grasp the effectiveness of the program to strip corporate power.  If communities create a constitution of environmental policy that the government is in disagreement with, what’s to stop the government from preempting the environmental legislation for what they consider more economically favorable?  The seminar gave me the impression that these civil changes are more effectively obtained through active protests, rioting and sometimes civil war.  The seminar gave examples of the protests of the suffragettes in the women’s rights movement or the civil war to abolish slavery.  Note this is not to say that CELDF advocates or opposes these tactics; their position was not mentioned, only the examples were given.  However, given the increasing popularity of environmental discussions, it may be in the interest of the government to consider their own policies to protect the government.  Still it appears they will have the final say.

While the concept of giving nature rights is brought up in the article Ecology in Ecuador, the question of whether assigning rights is the correct mode of action is brought up in The Return of Goodness by Skidelsky.  What I’ve obtained from Skidelsky’s article is that morality is not completely covered by a set of rights and rules.  If our actions interfere with the standards protecting others, this is immoral.  But if all we do is follow rules and regulations without having our own definition of virtue, do we lose our own innate ability to determine morality?  Skidelsky uses the example of the man watching porn:  He has the right to do so, and others may frown on his outlook, but he is not immoral (Skidelsky, 2008).  Take (for lack of a better one) the example of a river.  We have the right to use rivers for water (in general terms to use the river), but if we deplete the river are we immoral?  We are exercising our right to water (justified and positive) but we our using up our resource (a negative).  Our innate definition of morality would determine the balance.  It is society’s innate morality that makes our just laws.

Health and climate change

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

I attempted Dr Ebi presentation; “Healthy People 2100: Health Risks of Climate Change” on September 11th. As it was mention by supernova in a previous comment, I think the Dr. Ebi wanted to warn us about the possible impacts of not acting nor getting prepared to face climate change. We, as a society, are often acting like climate change impacts are something far away, as we were not going to deal with it during our lifetime. However, according to Tong (2008) 150 000 deaths, yearly, could already be possibly linked to climate changes. Isn’t it a proof that something has to be done ?

I do think it is far time that we stop debating about numbers (i.e. what will be the exact temperature rise, in how many years …) and that we start acting. The situation makes me think of those houses that are way to close to a river. Rivers overflow ; if it is not this year, it may be next year or in ten years, but it will overflow ! So why would you complain when there is water in your basement ? It had to happen ! It is the same thing about climate change ; we know it is going to happen, even though we are not quite sure of the exact scale of consequences. But it does not mean that we should wait to see what happens, and then try to deal with it. It is too late to think about how to protect old people health when a heatwave has already started, it is too late to think about an evacuation plan when the hurricane is there above our heads.

While concluding the seminar, Dr.Ebi mentioned that adaptation should be considered as important as mitigation. Policy makers have to think about all possible ways to reduce GHG emissions, but they also have to get prepare to face the future.

Healthy People 2100: Health Risks of Climate Change

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I attended Dr. Kristie Ebi’s seminar “Healthy People 2100: Health Risks of Climate Change” on Thursday, 11.09.2008. To me it was an impressive presentation and I’ll never forget some of the images she included, particularly the one showing the trucks used to deposit the victims of the 1995 Chicago heat wave. In the coming years we ought to expect even more extreme weather events, including severe droughts, heat waves, floods, hurricanes, the rising of sea water levels. The consequences on health would most certainly be a rise in the number of cases of malnutrition, diarrhea, infectious diseases – including those transmitted by vectors.

One of the most important points Dr. Ebi made was that the countries responsible for the global warming are not the ones suffering the worst consequences. She projected a map of the world which proportionately showed which areas are likely to suffer the most drastic consequences. The African continent and south-estern Asia were the areas that stood out by far. North America, one of the biggest source of greenhouse gas emmisions, was projected to suffer the least. This goes out to show a potential reason why it’s so hard to convince decision makers to take action: they don’t see poverty and illness first-hand. And they think that they can avoid being affected by the consequences of global warming. It is certainly much more financially profitable to go on a “business as usual” path than to change your ways, start thinking of the consequences and start taking action toward mitigation and sustainability.  Even the few actions that are being taken are done without thinking of the human health consequences, without asking for advice from the authorities in the field – the example of changing the course of a river in China.

In conclusion, Dr Ebi’s presentation was a picture of the present situation and a projection of what to expect in the future. If I were to criticize it, I’d say that knowing the topic of this presentation I expected it to be more focused on the health related issues and potential solutions for the future.

“The rate of change has never been that fast before” – Dr. Bell

Monday, September 15th, 2008

If you like listening seminars with funny but high-quality speakers in a little and pretty mysterious auditorium, September 11th 2008 at 6 pm in the Redpath museum auditorium was one of those nights.  Dr. Graham Bell is a world-renowned scientific experimental evolutionist and evolutionary ecologist at McGill University and his seminar was a really nice example of a combination of his scientific work and the new global issue; Climate change.  He made a funnel effect to his presentation by introducing large biological concepts and finishing with really precise questions related to his laboratory work.  Before letting people leaving the auditorium, he also clearly identified how this global event may alter biological communities.

In front of packed audience and after his introduction by the chairman, Dr Bell did not wait too much time and jumped feet first in the great word of biology by describing simple biological concepts.  The first one was how species reacts when facing to environmental stressors.  Some species migrate, some adapt and others.  A simple example of how science works.  Water fleas have been introduced as an example of species who adapt (change body shape) themselves in presence of predators.  The second response suggested was migration and explained that plant evidences are obtained through the pollen record.  The last type of response is extinction.  Dr. Bell gave all kinds of example.  He explained that fossil records are abundant and proved most of the extinction currently known.  Mammoths, Moa, Thyadacine, Giant Beaver, Giant Ground Sloth, River dolphin are all extinct species mostly gone by human pressure.  Suddenly, a huge and cold wave of exasperation has hit the auditorium and people have changed their smile to a much more exasperate face.  Dr. Bell tried to rescue the audience by throwing a life buoy called “rapid evolution”.  He has secured the crowd by suggesting famous evolutionary experiences like the two variations of moth type (black and white) in Great Britain and a weed (Vicia sativa) that has been continuously been harvested with regular crops and the plant has evolved in a way that its seeds is no longer identical to the wild type but resemble more to the seed of the crops.

Everyone was then ready to receive the second cold wave of the presentation.  Climate change is the biggest challenge of the human history because it does not affect one species at a time but the entire community.  This is the biggest change that human are facing today because it introduces three type of complications. 

1) How biodiversity will react?

2) How the complexity of an ecosystem will evolve?

3) What will be the species evolutionary change?  


After explaining global issues, he introduced his research to explain how CO2 can drive the evolutionary response to algae.  He found that algae can evolve rapidly.  At high CO2 level,  algea had higher rate of respiration and photosynthesis.  They had also an higher chlorophyll content but reduce in size.  However, these cells were not able to survive when CO2 level went back to normal concentration.  Even if some species are able of rapid evolution, Dr Bell insisted that most of the species are not able to evolve at a fast rate and concluded that the rate of change has never been that fast before.  

Finally Dr. Bell has clearly well identified the type of audience he had in front of him and has adjusted his presentation accordingly.  He had the ability to manipulate the emotions of his audience (like rollercoaster) even if the topic of his presentation does not announce “good news”.  He is not shy to say “we don’t know” as an answer which makes him opened minded (important in science).  This presentation finished with a small snack at the Redpath museum lobby.  This is a really nice idea because it allowed people to discuss of their impressions.  However, I was not able to make it since people at MAC were waiting for me for a soccer game!  Next time, I’ll be… Present!  🙂

Adaptation, Extinction and Global Change – Graham Bell

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Professor Bell’s seminar on the effects of climate change on species was intriguing.  It was presented both in scientific terms and after in common easily understood terms.  In addition the seminar was easy to listen to as it mixed scientific evidence with humor.

Bell began his talk with an explanation of variation of global conditions, and suggestions on how change begins slowly but becomes more extreme in the future.  Bell then describes the ways species may respond to such global changes.  They may alter certain traits or adapt, wait until conditions return to what the species is compatible with (dormancy), or they may migrate or change their area of accessible habitat.  If the species is unable to cope with these changes it will go extinct.

Finally the potential results of climate change are stated with regards to diversity complexity and evolutionary change.  The main possible affects appear to be changes in community structure and species adaptations.  Bell illustrates the potential adaptations of climate change using the example of an experiment with algae and their response to CO2 levels.  The article Phenotypic consequences of 1,000 generations of selection at elevated COin a green alga by Collins and Bell is related to this example.

Some of the final messages given by this seminar are the potential for species to adapt (which increases with more gradual change), and the possibility that for certain species, decline may reach a trough and return to normal through evolutionary rescue.  However the speed of global changes is occurring at a faster rate than before.

Bell’s seminar had me reflect on several things, mostly concerning what the species changes might mean for our future world.  Adaptation suggests a differing biological and ecological construct of the world as we know it.  Migration and habitat change may have implications concerning loss of diversity in certain areas (where species can no longer return to relatively hostile conditions) or increase in diversity with immigration of foreign species (provided that the invaders do not out compete the natives).  Dormancy would suggest a need for conditions to return to normal for us to recognize the world as we see today.  The ability to forsee the effects of climate change are further complicated by the relationships between communites and the species within them; a potential positive mutation for species A may negatively impact species B with returning negative impacts for species A.  The opposite may occur for a negative mutation.

Graham Bell- Climate Change and Evolution of Ecosystems and Species

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

On the 11 of September at the Redpath Museum, I attended an environmental seminar about climate change, evolution and ecosystems, given by Dr. Graham Bell, professor and researcher with the Department of Biology, McGill. In his seminar, Dr. Graham Bell explained the possible impacts of anthropogenic driven climate change –warmer temperatures, shifting biomes, increased precipitation, etc.- on the ability of species and ecosystem to adapt, evolve and/or become extinct. Species and ecosystems will, as Bell explains, cope with changes in climate in the following ways; plasticity, dormancy, migration, range shift, adaptation and extinction. I think Bell did a wonderful job at presenting not only the well know examples of species that have gone extinct due to human and climate related changes, but also gave examples of species being able to adapt to climate and anthropogenic stressors: certain plant species adapting to and living with heavy metals in the soils of a contaminated copper mine, moths changing color from mottled white to black to camouflage with black soot covered trees.

Another interesting focus of Bell’s seminar was the three major complications of CO2 for the global environment. 1. Biological diversity: Bell explained how this involves loss of diversity as well as ecological replacement of native species with alien species better suited to the changed climate and ecosystem. There was a point that Bell made here that I strongly liked and agreed with: Bell stated that the more species of any given living thing (butterflies, fish corn, etc.) the more likely it is that one or more species will be able to survive and adapt to climate changes, thus living to evolve into more diversified species once again. This implies the significance of preserving a diversity of species (not just one, mainline species of corn that we use to eat, for example) in order to raise chances of species survival. 2. Ecological complexity: Due to the high complexity and interconnectedness of ecosystems, climate could shift the whole structure of ecosystem community stability, productivity, etc. 3. Evolutionary change: Here, Dr. Graham Bell gave an example of Phytoplankton response to CO2 over many generations, the same research presented in the article we chose for ENVR 650 to read. I think an important point to come from this example, one that Bell mentioned as well- is that while the future impacts of climate change and increased levels of CO2 for ecosystems and species is largely unknown and there needs to need more field research looking into this, there is definitely going to be significant changes in climate and ecosystems that will surely effect the global environment as we know it.

This seminar was, in my opinion, wonderful. Bell has an ability to describe complex issues and environmental systems in a way that anyone can understand and relate to. He presented his arguments in a clear, rational way, always giving evidence for the effects of anthropogenic climate change, but at the same time leaving the audience with both sides of the story (ie. That warming could bring certain benefits, for example higher productivity in agriculture). Above this, he is a captivating speaker, funny and approachable despite his amazing breadth of knowledge. Bell ended with a strong point; that it is not a new phenomenon in the history of the planet for climate to change, but that it is the human driven rate of change that threatens the planet’s delicate ecosystems, ecological processes and species’ adaptability.

Health risks of climate change

Friday, September 12th, 2008

On Thursday the 11th of September at 3:30, in the Leacock building of McGill university, I attended a seminar on ” Health risks of climate change ” given by Dr. Kristie Ebi.

She drew a rather critical portrait of the earth situation. In her opinion, even if we stopped emitting greenhouses gases, we still could have 50 years of climates rising to come. Climate changes have many impacts on human health. One particular example she gave was the increasing number of catastrophes such as hurricanes (e.g., Katrina) and major heat waves (like the one that hit Europe in August). The problem also resides in the fact that the cities are not prepared to face such treats. During the major heatwave that hit Chicago, they stored the affected person in refrigerator vans because they had no where to put such a large amount of people. However, she explained that the required changes will not be easy to accomplish. For example, in prevision of sea level rise and future hurricanes, some flood lines have to be moved. This will not please the entrepreneurs nor the owner of the fields who suddenly would find themselves in a flooding zones. Insurance policies will increase.

An another important issue raised in this seminar was the fact the human health is never included in the planing for future development. As a matter of fact, rising temperature affect humans, animals but also pathogens. Epidemics of samonela, malaria, diarrhea, malnutrition and other wonderful infectious vectors will spread further with increased temperature. Furthermore, some solutions to the problem may enable those parasites to access new areas. For example, a plan in China will have a river from the south redirected toward a river in the north. The southern river is contaminated with a pathogen that is currently unable to reach the northern part of the country. For now, it is impossible for the pathogen to move because of the low temperature but with the climate change, it will have access and millions of new people will be subject to infection.

To conclude, it is crucial that the countries prepare for those catastrophes (it was done for the last el nino and the result were impressive) and health should considered when doing so.


Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

I’m new to the Computers, Society and Nature Blog.  My interests include (but are not restricted to) animals and conservation, as well as music.  I occasionally participate in activism petitions relating to social, environmental and animal concerns.  I will be posting for ENVR 650.