Category Archives: Peer Reviewed Article Review

water-related risks to economic growth

From Water Resources Research:

Water and growth: An econometric analysis of climate and policy impacts

Water-related hazards such as floods, droughts and disease cause damage to an economy through the destruction of physical capital including property and infrastructure, the loss of human capital and the interruption of economic activities, like trade and education. The question for policy makers is whether the impacts of water-related risk accrue to manifest as a drag on economic growth at a scale suggesting policy intervention. In this study, the average drag on economic growth from water-related hazards faced by society at a global level is estimated. We use panel regressions with various specifications to investigate the relationship between economic growth and hydroclimatic variables at the country-river basin level. In doing so, we make use of surface water runoff variables never used before. The analysis of the climate variables shows that water availability and water hazards have significant effects on economic growth, providing further evidence beyond earlier studies finding that precipitation extremes were at least as important or likely more important than temperature effects. We then incorporate a broad set of variables representing the areas of infrastructure, institutions and information to identify the characteristics of a region that determine its vulnerability to water-related risks. The results identify water scarcity, governance and agricultural intensity as the most relevant measures affecting vulnerabilities to climate variability effects.

getting out of a burning building

There’s no perfect way to get people out of a burning high rise quickly.

Fire evacuation in high-rise buildings: a review of human behaviour and modelling research

A review of literature related to fire evacuation in high-rise buildings was carried out with the following objectives, (1) to identify the key behavioural factors affecting the performance of people during a fire in a high-rise building, the singularities associated to this type of buildings and areas of future research; (2) to review the procedures and strategies currently adopted in high-rise buildings; (3) to review and analyse the capabilities of evacuation models by reviewing their current characteristics and applications in the context of high-rise building evacuations. The review included both findings on human behaviour in high-rise buildings and modelling techniques and tools. Different categories of building use were taken into account, namely office buildings, residential buildings and health care facilities. The individual or combined use of different egress components was analysed. Egress components include the use of stairs, elevators as well as alternative means of escape (e.g., sky-bridges, helicopters, etc.). The effectiveness of the egress components is strongly affected by the building use and the population involved. The review shows that evacuation models can be effectively employed to study relocation strategies and safety issues associated with high-rise buildings. The suitability of egress models for high-rise building evacuations is associated with their flexibility in representing different egress components and complex behavioural processes. The review highlights that there is not a definitive model to be used but that the predictive capabilities of evacuation modelling techniques would be enhanced if more than one model is employed to study different egress aspects. Future research and model developments should focus on the study of the impact of staff actions, group dynamics and people with disabilities. Given the increasing height of buildings and the gradual reduction in the physical abilities of the population, the effects of fatigue on evacuation need further studies.

music and the brain

Evidence continues to mount that musical training is good for the brain:

According to a new Canadian study led by the Rotman Research Institute (RRI) at Baycrest Health Sciences, older adults who had musical training in their youth were 20% faster in identifying speech sounds than their non-musician peers on speech identification tests, a benefit that has already been observed in young people with musical training…

Among the different cognitive functions that can diminish with age is the ability to comprehend speech. Interestingly, this difficulty can persist in the absence of any measurable hearing loss. Previous research has confirmed that the brain’s central auditory system which supports the ability to parse, sequence and identify acoustic features of speech – weakens in later years.

Starting formal lessons on a musical instrument prior to age 14 and continuing intense training for up to a decade appears to enhance key areas in the brain that support speech recognition. The Rotman study found “robust” evidence that this brain benefit is maintained even in the older population.

decoupling

Here’s a new article from Ecological Economics on the idea of decoupling human progress from energy use. In other words, the idea that we can continue to improve the quality of our lives and society without continuing to produce and consume ever more energy, materials, and stuff. To do this requires distinguishing needs from wants, which goes against the grain of mainstream economics.

A Framework for Decoupling Human Need Satisfaction From Energy Use

Climate change poses great challenges to modern societies, central amongst which is to decouple human need satisfaction from energy use. Energy systems are the main source of greenhouse gas emissions, and the services provided by energy (such as heating, power, transport and lighting) are vital to support human development. To address this challenge, we advocate for a eudaimonic need-centred understanding of human well-being, as opposed to hedonic subjective views of well-being. We also argue for a shift in the way we analyse energy demand, from energy throughput to energy services. By adopting these perspectives on either end of the wellbeing-energy spectrum, a “double decoupling” potential can be uncovered. We present a novel analytic framework and showcase several methodological approaches for analysing the relationship between, and decoupling of, energy services and human needs. We conclude by proposing future directions of research in this area based on the analytic framework.

new studies about drugs

Here are a bunch of new studies on drugs, both legal and illegal. Now, I am not advocating drug use. I am just advocating being aware of scientific research and making responsible decisions that reflect one’s personal risk tolerance. I would also point out that some legal drugs, like alcohol, tobacco, and prescription pain killers, are absolutely proven to cause harm to a lot of people, while some illegal drugs are not. I don’t take illegal drugs personally, because the idea of not knowing where they came from or what is in them is too scary for me. Nonetheless, here we go.

Recent studies have found that:

  • There is no association between marijuana use and heart disease.
  • There is a strong association between common pain killers, including ibuprofen, and heart disease, in “high doses”. I do not know if high doses include the Extra Strength Advil I can buy over the counter.
  • There is no clear link between marijuana use by pregnant women and any adverse effects on babies, although there is the “theoretical potential“. There is a strong link between alcohol and adverse effects on babies – I won’t even bother citing studies, they are easy to find.
  • “Magic mushrooms” are considered nontoxic, but they can have profound psychological effects. People who already have suicidal tendencies somewhat frequently attempt suicide while taking them, which is disturbing.

So I think there are pretty clear reasons to support medical use of marijuana and hallucinogens, and any side effects of recreational use should probably be treated as social or medical problems rather than law enforcement ones. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a gradual trend toward legalization, and eventual co-opting of access to these drugs by the mainstream government and corporate world. And next time I have a headache, I think I will just drink a glass of wine and go to bed rather than reaching for the ibuprofen bottle.

climate, economics, and agent based models

This journal article is mostly over my head, but I found the introduction interesting. It talks about the use of equilibrium models most common in economics compared to emerging research into agent based models.
Complexity and the Economics of Climate Change: a Survey and a Look Forward

Excerpt:

Mitigation and adaptation to climate change represent governance challenges of an unprecedented scale because of their long-term horizon, their global nature and the massive uncertainties they involve. Against this background, equilibrium models generally used in Integrated Assessment Models (IAM) represent the economy as a system with a unique equilibrium, climate policy as an additional constraint in the optimization problem of the social planner and consider the uncertainty of climate-related damages to be predictable enough to be factored out in the expected utility of a representative agent. There is growing concern in the literature that this picture might convey a false impression of control (seePindyck,2013; Stern, 2013, 2016; Weitzman, 2013; Revesz et al., 2014; Farmer et al., 2015, among manycontributions) and that IAMs might underestimate both the cost of climate change and the bene fits resulting from the transition to a low carbon-emission economy (Stern, 2016).

Network and agent-based models have been increasingly advocated as alternatives t to handle out-of-equilibrium dynamics, tipping points and large transitions in socio-economic systems (see e.g Tesfatsion and Judd, 2006; Balbi and Giupponi, 2010; Kelly et al., 2013; Smajgl et al., 2011; Farmer et al., 2015; Stern, 2016; Mercure et al., 2016). These classes of models consider the real world as a complex evolving system, wherein the interaction of many heterogeneous agents possibly reacting across different spatial and temporal scales give rise to the emergence of aggregate properties that cannot be deduced by the simple aggregation of individual ones (Flake, 1988; Tesfatsion and Judd, 2006). The development of agent-based integrated assessment model can overcome the shortfall of equilibrium models and ease stakeholder participation and scenario exploration (Moss et al., 2001; Moss, 2002a). Indeed, the higher degree of realism of ABMs (Farmer and Foley, 2009; Farmer et al., 2015) allows to involve policy makers in the process of the development of the model employed for policy evaluation (Moss, 2002b).

roads and railways as wildlife movement corridors?

At least, I think that is what this paper in Conservation Biology is about. The key conclusion is that biodiversity impacts (of the roads and rails themselves? it’s unclear) can be reduced by up to 75%. I am presuming this is by locating a linear park of sufficient width along the road or railway. Presumably you might need to do something to keep the animals off the road too. Could a few larger reserves located along the corridor reduce the impact to zero? I would find it very encouraging both to know that it is possible and to know that we have the quantitative tools to accurately predict the outcomes of policy and design choices.

Quantifying the conservation gains from shared access to linear infrastructure

The proliferation of linear infrastructure such as roads and rail is a major global driver of cumulative biodiversity loss. Creative interventions to minimise the impacts of this infrastructure whilst still allowing development to meet human population growth and resource consumption demands are urgently required. One strategy for reducing habitat loss associated with development is to encourage linear infrastructure providers and users to share infrastructure networks. Here we quantify the reductions in biodiversity impact and capital cost under linear infrastructure sharing and demonstrate this approach with a case study in South Australia. By evaluating proposed mine-port links we show that shared development of linear infrastructure could reduce overall biodiversity impacts by up to 75%. We found that such reductions are likely to be limited if the dominant mining companies restrict access to infrastructure, a situation likely to occur without policy to promote sharing of infrastructure. Our research helps illuminate the circumstances under which infrastructure sharing can minimise the biodiversity impacts of development.

tipping points and ecosystem collapse

This research presents seagrass meadows as an example of an ecosystem that seems to disappear suddenly, but actually reached a tipping point caused by chronic pollution.

Testing for thresholds of ecosystem collapse in seagrass meadows?

Ecological systems can be dynamic and unpredictable, with shifts from one ecosystem state to another often considered ‘surprising’. This unpredictability is often thought to be due to ecological thresholds, where small cumulative increases in an environmental stressor drives a much greater consequence than would be predicted from linear effects, suggesting an unforeseen tipping point is crossed. In coastal waters, broad-scale seagrass loss often occurs as a sudden event which is associated with human-driven nutrient enrichment (eutrophication). We tested whether the response of seagrass ecosystems to coastal nutrient enrichment represents a threshold effect. Seagrass response did follow a threshold pattern when nutrient enrichment (dissolved inorganic nitrogen) exceeded moderate levels, with a switch from positive to negative net leaf production. Epiphyte load also increased with nutrient enrichment, potentially driving this shift. Inadvertently crossing such thresholds, as can occur through ineffective management of land-derived inputs such as wastewater and stormwater on urbanised coasts, may help account for the widely observed ‘sudden’ loss of seagrass meadows. By identifying tipping points we may not only improve monitoring for adaptive management that seeks to avoid threshold effects, but also the restoration of systems that have crossed them.

glyphosate

It’s not as safe as advertised, according to Conservation Biology.

Glyphosate has become the most commonly used herbicide worldwide, with a reputation of being environmentally benign, non-toxic and safe to wildlife and humans. However, studies have indicated its toxicity has been underestimated, and that its persistence in the environment is greater than once thought. Its actions as a neurotoxin and endocrine disruptor indicate its potential to act in similar ways to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as the organochlorine (OC) chemicals dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and dioxin. Exposure to glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides for both wildlife and people is likely to be chronic and at sub-lethal levels, with multiple and ongoing exposure events in both urban and agricultural landscapes. Despite this, little research attention has been given to the impact of glyphosate on wildlife populations, and existing studies appear in the agricultural, toxicology and water chemistry literature that may have limited visibility among wildlife biologists. There is a strong case for the recognition of glyphosate as an ‘emerging organic contaminant’ and significant potential exists for collaborative research between ecologists, toxicologists and chemists to quantify the impact of glyphosate on wildlife and to evaluate the role of biosentinel species in a preemptive move to mitigate downstream impacts on people.

 

reproducible research in hydrology

This October 2016 article in Water Resources Research on reproducible research got some attention.

Hutton, C., T. Wagener, J. Freer, D. Han, C. Duffy, and B. Arheimer (2016), Most computational hydrology is not reproducible, so is it really science?, Water Resour. Res., 52, 7548–7555, doi:10.1002/2016WR019285.

Reproducibility is a foundational principle in scientific research. Yet in computational hydrology the code and data that actually produces published results are not regularly made available, inhibiting the ability of the community to reproduce and verify previous findings. In order to overcome this problem we recommend that reuseable code and formal workflows, which unambiguously reproduce published scientific results, are made available for the community alongside data, so that we can verify previous findings, and build directly from previous work. In cases where reproducing large-scale hydrologic studies is computationally very expensive and time-consuming, new processes are required to ensure scientific rigor. Such changes will strongly improve the transparency of hydrological research, and thus provide a more credible foundation for scientific advancement and policy support.