New research project on biodiversity and food security

Originally posted on Ideas for Sustainability:

By Joern Fischer

With only one final signature still missing, I’d like to announce a new project that I will be coordinating as of the middle of 2014. It’s entitled “Identifying Social-Ecological System Properties Benefiting Biodiversity and Food Security”. It will be funded via an ERC Consolidator Grant, announced earlier this year here.

erc summary

What will the project do?

Its goal is to develop and test a global theory that explains which properties of social-ecological systems benefit both biodiversity conservation and food security (and which may benefit one but not the other). To this end, the project will use a multi-scale approach that balances the likely trade-offs between depth and generality (see Figure above). Using a specifically developed typology of social-ecological system properties, the project will investigate rural landscapes as social-ecological systems at three levels of detail. First, drawing on expert knowledge, the project will develop a global database of…

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Sustainability as a by-product of contentment?

Originally posted on Ideas for Sustainability:

By Joern Fischer

I’d like to reflect on some thoughts articulated in an essay that I recently came across. The essay is by Jorge Guerra González, Faculty of Sustainability, Leuphana University Lueneburg. It’s in German, but Jorge translated its title as: Sustainability is out of reach: Wrong paths, wrong beliefs—and yet… light at the end of the tunnel? (available for download here).

I’ll try to summarise some of the key points here. Because some of the arguments are nuanced, I will probably get parts wrong … but here is what I understood the key points to be. In a nutshell, this essay tries to analyse why sustainability efforts appear to be failing. One key argument is that people are ultimately driven by their emotions; and that they lack incentives to act sustainably because the emotional benefits of doing so are not obvious. The essay suggests that outside interventions…

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On trusting experts, climate change research, and scientific translators

Originally posted on mathbabe:

Stephanie Tai has written a thoughtful response on Jordan Ellenberg’s blog to my discussion with Jordan regarding trusting experts (see my Nate Silver post and the follow-up post for more context).

Trusting experts

Stephanie asks three important questions about trusting experts, which I paraphrase here:

  1. What does it take to look into a model yourself? How deeply must you probe?
  2. How do you avoid being manipulated when you do so?
  3. Why should we bother since stuff is so hard and we each have a limited amount of time?

I must confess I find the first two questions really interesting and I want to think about them, but I have a very little patience with the last question.

Here’s why:

  • I’ve seen too many people (individual modelers) intentionally deflect investigations into models by setting them up as so hard that it’s not worth it (or at least it seems not worth…

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Deboer v. Snyder – Day 9 (Last day) closing arguments, part 1

Originally posted on Deboer v. Snyder - Through a Lawyer's Live Lens:

Plaintiffs renewed their Daubert objections to State’s witnesses Price, Regnerus and Allen, to recognize them as experts.

State renewed their motion in limine to exclude the second parent adoption issue.

Plaintiffs’ closing delivered by Kenneth Mogill

“The promise of equality is the promise of America”  15,000 gay and lesbian people living in Michigan, 2600 same sex couples and 5300 children of those people are being deprived of equality in Michigan. They have been subjected to pervasive institutionalized discrimination.  The legacy of discrimination remains.  The door is barred from entry into one of the most cherished institutions because they love the wrong kind of person.  Right to marry is a fundamental right.  Denial of that right is denial of due process under the Constitution.

No other group is required to establish parenting competency as a condition of marriage.  The denial of the right to marry is a denial of equal protection.

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Staph, Lies and Videotape

Originally posted on fieldquestions:

A new article in Clinical Infectious Diseases reports on an investigation of staph contamination (Staphylococcus aureus) on CAFO beef, pork, chicken and turkey in grocery stores in 5 US cities.  Staph was found on 47% of the meat samples, but what is particularly troubling is that over half of the staph samples were multidrug resistant.  It is clear that the CAFO’s are incubating drug resistance, and doing it quickly.  (For instance, fluoroquinolone antibiotics were used in in chicken CAFO’s from 1995-2005 and fluoroquinolone-resistant staph were common on the chicken samples — but not on the other meats).

(Multidrug resistant does not necessarily mean methicillin resistant, as in MRSA; this study only found 3 MRSA-contaminated packages out of 136 tested.)

If you are wondering when we are going to stop making meat “cheap” by steadily eroding the power of antibiotics, you could have gotten a partial answer from…

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Economic development can only buy happiness up to a ‘sweet spot’ of $36,000 GDP per person


Interesting. Previous analyses I’ve seen show a sloping off of happiness vs. income, but I’m not sure if they used PPP (purchasing power parity) as opposed to per capita GDP. (Roughly speaking, PPP adjusts GDP for differences in costs of living different countries.)
Some (achem, Pielke, achem) have thought of this saturating function as being “disproven” because a recent paper saw that the relation was linear — if you used a log scale for income! Suffice it to say, I’m willing to believe that happiness continues increasing at higher incomes but requires exponential increases at higher incomes, but (a) that still mitigates against allocating resources to the most well-off as you’re definitionally getting less “bang for your buck”, and (b) all biological systems have a saturation point, so (some) economists’ unhinged fantasies aside, a saturating function *must* represent happiness’s relationship to income.
This piece implies the relationship might flip at some point, which I would also find plausible.

Originally posted on Entrepreneurship Matters:

Once countries reach around $20,400 GDP per capita, the increase in happiness that higher wealth brings is less obvious. Between this level and the very highest GDP per capita level ($54,000), the probability of reporting the highest level of life satisfaction changes by no more than two per cent. (Credit: University of Warwick)

Economists have shed light on the vexed question of whether economic development can buy happiness — and it seems that life satisfaction actually dips among people living in the wealthiest countries.

Politicians are intensely interested in the link between national wealth and levels of happiness among the population, but it is a subject which is still wide open to debate among economists.

A new analysis led by economists Eugenio Proto in the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy at the University of Warwick and Aldo Rustichini, from University of MInnesota finds that as expected, for…

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What is the future of conservation


Excellent thoughts and commentary by Dave Abson from Ideas4Sustainability.

Originally posted on Ideas for Sustainability:

In a forthcoming article in Trends in Ecology & Evolution entitled “What is the future of conservation?” Daniel Doak and colleagues rail against what they term ‘new conservation science (NCS)’. Doak et al., never quite get round to providing a clear definition of what NCS is. Rather they describe NCS through a series of the problems with ‘traditional’ conservation science they claim are made (somewhat tenuously in my opinion) that NCS makes and the NCS remedies to these posited problems with traditional conservation approaches.  In short they claim that NCS claim (see, it is already getting tortuously tenuous) that traditional conservation:

a) Ignores the well-being of the poor and therefore causes suffering.

b) Is based on the myth of pristine nature.

c) Wrongly assume that nature is inherently fragile.

d) And finally, that NCS claims that “conservation for biodiversity’s sake” is failing.

Doak et al., then suggest that…

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Teaching Economics? Start with Key Contested Ideas

Originally posted on Unlearning Economics:

How economics is taught has been the subject of a lot of debate recently. Although there have been a lot of good points made, in my opinion Andrew Lainton‘s recent blog post hits the nail on the head: we need to begin economics education with a discussion of key, contested ideas.

Starting with contested ideas has a few major benefits. First, it immediately shows students what economics is: a subject where there is a lot of disagreement, and where key ideas are often not well understood, even by the best. Second, it allows students to grapple with the kinds of critical questions that, in my experience, people generally have in mind when they think of ‘economics’: where do growth, profits come from? How do things ‘work’? Third, it allows us to intertwine the teaching of these concepts with economic history and the history of thought.

Lainton’s key contested idea is…

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10 Things I Didn’t Know About Phosphorus Fertilizer


Some great analysis on P/ee for thought… err, Food Policy for Thought!

Originally posted on Food (Policy) For Thought:

Since my post about nitrogen fertilizer is still one of the most successful ones yet (who’d thought?), and I’ve been working non-stop this week on a paper to analyze phosphorus and its resource, phosphate rock, for a paper in my class Economic Growth and Sustainable Development, I thought I’d give you some insights into what I learned. Sit tight, since there are definitely a couple of things you’ll be surprised by…

1. First off, you’ll remember that there are three macronutrients that are needed for plant growth – nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). A German chemist called Justus von Liebig actually discovered this in the 1840s; before, people thought that plants got their energy somewhat mysteriously from other plants and animals decomposing in the soil which would transfer their life onward – but then came organic chemistry and people rejoiced at a quick and easy formula to make…

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Interview with Local Bites from International Society for Ecology & Culture (ISEC) – How to Feed the World? A Political Agroecological Approach

My recent interview with the Local Bites Podcast from the International Society for Ecology & Culture (which was founded by Helena Norberg-Hodge and boasts an advisory board of Wendell Berry, Frijof Capra, Peter Matthiessen, Diana Rose, Jonathan Rose, Vandana Shiva, David Suzuki, and Alice Waters) is now up on both ISEC’s webpage and at Radio Sustain at IATP. Thanks to Brian Emerson and Alex Jensen for the opportunity to speak with them and ISEC’s audience!


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