why deny science when you can just make it up?

There is no reason to deny facts or evidence when you can just make up new ones that suit your pre-conceived notions, you truly believe anything that comes out of your own mouth is true, and tens of millions of other people do too.

This is not supposed to be a political blog. But it is supposed to be a blog about whether our civilization is progressing or at risk of a catastrophic downfall. And when the things in the first paragraph I just wrote are happening, I have to lean toward the catastrophic downfall side.

From Bloomberg:

“The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they’re setting records,” Trump said in excerpts of an interview with Piers Morgan on the U.K. television network ITV broadcast Jan. 28. Trump didn’t specify the data behind his statement about setting records…

“There is a cooling, and there’s a heating,” he said. “I mean, look, it used to not be climate change, it used to be global warming. That wasn’t working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place…”

In 2014, less than a year before he entered the 2016 presidential race, president, Trump said on Twitter that the “POLAR ICE CAPS are at an all time high, the POLAR BEAR population has never been stronger. Where the hell is global warming.”

Anybody with some basic science or information literacy knows that a short-term fluctuation in the data does not prove or disprove a long-term trend. You can look at a lot of those short-term fluctuations together and begin to determine whether they represent random noise or whether they are consistent with some longer-term trend you are seeing in the larger data set, as scientists are doing with recent hurricanes, droughts and fires.

This was my favorite quote of all though:

“The Paris accord, for us, would have been a disaster,” Trump said in excerpts of an interview with Piers Morgan. “Would I go back in? Yeah, I’d go back in. I like, as you know, I like Emmanuel” Macron.

I can’t picture Emmanuel Macron, but what I can picture is Sasha Baron Cohen kissing Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights. Sometimes fiction actually does turn into reality!

more on movement ecology

I’m still digging into movement ecology, which has always fascinated me. Here is a comprehensive recent literature review on the subject.

Trends and missing parts in the study of movement ecology

Movement is important to all organisms, and accordingly it is addressed in a huge number of papers in the literature. Of nearly 26,000 papers referring to movement, an estimated 34% focused on movement by measuring it or testing hypotheses about it. This enormous amount of information is difficult to review and highlights the need to assess the collective completeness of movement studies and identify gaps. We surveyed 1,000 randomly selected papers from 496 journals and compared the facets of movement studied with a suggested framework for movement ecology, consisting of internal state (motivation, physiology), motion and navigation capacities, and external factors (both the physical environment and living organisms), and links among these components. Most studies simply measured and described the movement of organisms without reference to ecological or internal factors, and the most frequently studied part of the framework was the link between external factors and motion capacity. Few studies looked at the effects on movement of navigation capacity, or internal state, and those were mainly from vertebrates. For invertebrates and plants most studies were at the population level, whereas more vertebrate studies were conducted at the individual level. Consideration of only population-level averages promulgates neglect of between-individual variation in movement, potentially hindering the study of factors controlling movement. Terminology was found to be inconsistent among taxa and subdisciplines. The gaps identified in coverage of movement studies highlight research areas that should be addressed to fully understand the ecology of movement.

An idea that has always fascinated me is the idea that when designing a development or an even an entire urban area, you could actually lead with ecology, then layer hydrology, infrastructure, housing, and the other human elements on top of that. Sadly, I don’t think I know a single engineer or urban planner who would be particularly open minded to this idea.

models for movement and population ecology

This page has links to some academic/professional models of movement ecology and population ecology, such as predator-prey interactions. It’s something that interests me because with an accurate theory of how animals and plants function and interact in ecosystems over time, it should in principle be possible to design networks of urban, industrial, and agricultural areas that maximize ecological function.

Developing this knowledge would be step one. Of course, there would still be the small matter of our civilization deciding this is something it would like to do.

wildlife range in urban areas

Here’s an interesting study finding a general rule across many types of wildlife that their range after urbanization decreases to between one-half and one-third of what it was before urbanization.

Moving in the Anthropocene: Global reductions in terrestrial mammalian movements

Animal movement is fundamental for ecosystem functioning and species survival, yet the effects of the anthropogenic footprint on animal movements have not been estimated across species. Using a unique GPS-tracking database of 803 individuals across 57 species, we found that movements of mammals in areas with a comparatively high human footprint were on average one-half to one-third the extent of their movements in areas with a low human footprint. We attribute this reduction to behavioral changes of individual animals and to the exclusion of species with long-range movements from areas with higher human impact. Global loss of vagility alters a key ecological trait of animals that affects not only population persistence but also ecosystem processes such as predator-prey interactions, nutrient cycling, and disease transmission.

One type of animal included in the study was deer in Pennsylvania. I also learned the name of the academic discipline that studies animal ranges and movements: movement ecology.

the Trump infrastructure bill

The Trump infrastructure plan has apparently leaked. The upshot seems to be that states and metropolitan planning organizations, among others, can submit projects to be matched at up to 20% by the federal government. Most of the selection criteria are based on making a strong case that there is a plan to come up with the other 80%.

This sounds okay, as far as it goes, and it might get some projects over the hump that would not otherwise get built. I like the idea that metropolitan planning organizations are eligible, because they are in the best position to look at a city’s needs as a whole, across fragmented political entities and across types of infrastructure. Cities are where people live, where most of the economy happens and taxes are paid, and where people are educated and given skills and where new ideas come from that make our lives better in the long run. What I don’t really like is that economic and social benefits are given only 5% weight in the selection criteria. And even then, they are considered for an individual project in isolation, in the absence of any larger plan. In my ideal world, planning organizations would have comprehensive infrastructure plans that look at all types of infrastructure together over the long term, even including green infrastructure, and really focus on maximizing economic benefits. This would allow us to prioritize individual projects in the larger context of how the whole socioeconomic system works and not just on one “project at a time.

Still, this might be a small step in the right direction. Along with public infrastructure and some small steps to encourage capital investment, research and development in the private sector, add serious programs to address education, job skills training, and research and development in the public sector and you would have the beginnings of a long term national economic plan. Maybe toss in a revenue-neutral pollution tax for good measure.

living near a forest is good for your amygdala

The amygdala is a part of your brain, and what is good for it is good for you.

“Our results reveal a significant positive association between the coverage of forest and amygdala integrity,” the researchers report. The amygdala is the almond-shaped set of neurons that plays a key role in the processing of emotions, including fear and anxiety.

Perhaps surprisingly, Kuehn and her colleagues found no such association from living close to urban green spaces such as parks, or near bodies of water. Only proximity to forest land had this apparent positive effect…

The study complements the already-strong psychological evidence of the benefits of living close to nature. Previous research has linked access to green space to longer lives, lower levels of aggression, and kids’ cognitive development. One study suggests it even makes for nicer people.

drought and snowpack

At the same time we are experiencing drought and groundwater depletion in populous, food growing regions, there is concern about long-term declines in snowpack. Here are a few papers on the situation – two about the western United States and one about Asia.

Large near-term projected snowpack loss over the western United States

Peak runoff in streams and rivers of the western United States is strongly influenced by melting of accumulated mountain snowpack. A significant decline in this resource has a direct connection to streamflow, with substantial economic and societal impacts. Observations and reanalyses indicate that between the 1980s and 2000s, there was a 10–20% loss in the annual maximum amount of water contained in the region’s snowpack. Here we show that this loss is consistent with results from a large ensemble of climate simulations forced with natural and anthropogenic changes, but is inconsistent with simulations forced by natural changes alone. A further loss of up to 60% is projected within the next 30 years. Uncertainties in loss estimates depend on the size and the rate of response to continued anthropogenic forcing and the magnitude and phasing of internal decadal variability. The projected losses have serious implications for the hydropower, municipal and agricultural sectors in the region.

The twenty-first century Colorado River hot drought and implications for the future

Between 2000 and 2014, annual Colorado River flows averaged 19% below the 1906–1999 average, the worst 15-year drought on record. At least one-sixth to one-half (average at one-third) of this loss is due to unprecedented temperatures (0.9°C above the 1906–1999 average), confirming model-based analysis that continued warming will likely further reduce flows. Whereas it is virtually certain that warming will continue with additional emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, there has been no observed trend toward greater precipitation in the Colorado Basin, nor are climate models in agreement that there should be a trend. Moreover, there is a significant risk of decadal and multidecadal drought in the coming century, indicating that any increase in mean precipitation will likely be offset during periods of prolonged drought. Recently published estimates of Colorado River flow sensitivity to temperature combined with a large number of recent climate model-based temperature projections indicate that continued business-as-usual warming will drive temperature-induced declines in river flow, conservatively −20% by midcentury and −35% by end-century, with support for losses exceeding −30% at midcentury and −55% at end-century. Precipitation increases may moderate these declines somewhat, but to date no such increases are evident and there is no model agreement on future precipitation changes. These results, combined with the increasing likelihood of prolonged drought in the river basin, suggest that future climate change impacts on the Colorado River flows will be much more serious than currently assumed, especially if substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions do not occur.

Changes in seasonal snow water equivalent distribution in High Mountain Asia (1987 to 2009)

Snow meltwaters account for most of the yearly water budgets of many catchments in High Mountain Asia (HMA). We examine trends in snow water equivalent (SWE) using passive microwave data (1987 to 2009). We find an overall decrease in SWE in HMA, despite regions of increased SWE in the Pamir, Kunlun Shan, Eastern Himalaya, and Eastern Tien Shan. Although the average decline in annual SWE across HMA (contributing area, 2641 × 103 km2) is low (average, −0.3%), annual SWE losses conceal distinct seasonal and spatial heterogeneities across the study region. For example, the Tien Shan has seen both strong increases in winter SWE and sharp declines in spring and summer SWE. In the majority of catchments, the most negative SWE trends are found in mid-elevation zones, which often correspond to the regions of highest snow-water storage and are somewhat distinct from glaciated areas. Negative changes in SWE storage in these mid-elevation zones have strong implications for downstream water availability.

the latest on trees and ecosystem services

I don’t have to be sold on trees and ecosystem services at this point. Planting a ton of trees in cities, and maintaining them well, should be a priority given what we know at this point. I wish we were doing that and ready to move on to talk about adding other layers of vegetation in cities, and designing networks and corridors to connect urban green infrastructure to neighborhood and regional parks and larger reserves outside the city. We are not there, at least in my city, which is generally viewed as somewhat progressive. Anyway, here are some new papers and resources I have come across while perusing the various Elsevier journals:

Urban Heat Islands in Relation to Green Land Use in European Cities

Effect of native habitat on the cooling ability of six nursery-grown tree species and cultivars for future roadside plantings

The effects of trees on air pollutant levels in peri-urban near-road environments

Carbohydrate dynamics in roots, stems, and branches after maintenance pruning in two common urban tree species of North America

Wetlands and carbon revisited

Every breath you take, every move you make: Visits to the outdoors and physical activity help to explain the relationship between air pollution and subjective wellbeing

Physiological and psychological effects of viewing urban forest landscapes assessed by multiple measurements