Ocean Acidification and Non-Calcifying Organisms

While the vast majority of research to date on ocean acidification has focused on potential impacts of rising levels of carbon dioxide on ocean calcareous organisms. However, a new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, B (subscription required) suggests that ocean acidification may also have serious implications for some non-calcareous species also, with the focus of the article on an extremely important oceanic ecosystem, kelp forests . The article also looks at the interesting issue of how ocean acidification and rising oceanic temperatures associated with climate change may exert synergistic effects.

The key take-aways from this study are as follows:

  1. While future projected levels of carbon dioxide had no positive effect on turf-forming algae, which can inhibit the growth of, and replace, kelp forests, when these future elevated levels are combined with projected increases in temperature.
    • When future carbon dioxide and temperature impacts are factored in, turfs occupied greater than 80% of available space, a full 25% more space that would be predicted by the independent effects of carbon dioxide and temperature;
    • The combined effects of carbon dioxide and increase temperature are projected to be 4x greater than ambient conditions
  2. Kelp loss may thus be exacerbated by the synergistic impacts of increasing carbon dioxide levels and temperatures. Unlike the case of nutrients, this will potentially cause habitat shifts even on “pristine” coasts

Increasing evidence that ocean acidification may adversely impact non-calcareous organisms, as well as the prospects for synergistic impacts, emphasizes the urgency of far more extensive research on ocean acidification. This could be an excellent law review article topic for students, as there has been some discussion about using U.S. domestic instruments e.g. the Clean Water Act, to regulate acidification, as well suggestions that several international instruments, e.g. UNCLOS and UNFSA may play a role in the future.

The Arctic Council and Geoengineering?

As the case for a concerted research and development program for climate geoengineering grows, questions of how to govern such initiatives, as well as potential future deployment, have grown. An interesting new piece suggests a possible role for the Arctic Council, Egede-Nissen & Venema, Desperate Times, Desperate Measures: Advancing the Geoengineering Debate at the Arctic Council (IISD, 2009). While the focus of the report is esoteric, it discusses many issues pertinent to a broader discussion of geoengineering, including equity issues, governance considerations, and the exigencies that might drive an embrace of geoengineering schemes.

Among the piece’s takeaways:

  1. The Arctic is a “canary in the coalmine,” facing dramatic warming and loss of sea ice; this includes accelerating thawing of permafrost, which stores billions of metric tones of carbon that could be released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane. Positive feedback mechanisms may ultimately result in passing a tipping point which will trigger unpredictable and irreversible impacts;
  2. The Arctic Council could serve an important role in advocating for a comprehensive scientific review of geoengineering options to protect the Arctic, and the planet more generally;
  3. Geoengineering options (with an emphasis on solar radiation management) must be taken seriously given the feckless international and national responses to climate change to date, and the very long lag that has marked responses to climate change; this, in conjunction with the possibility of approaching a tipping point in the Arctic very soon, argues in favor of developing a geoengineering governance architecture to facilitate to responding to potential climate crises;
  4. A taboo against geoengineering is not judicious, as it would only constrain those actors most likely to engage in responsible research, while turning less responsible actors away from international cooperation;
  5. While the Arctic Council shouldn’t “reinvent itself as a planetary engineer” since it it only comprised of eight States and only makes recommendations to its parties, it could serve as a good platform to help stimulate research on geoengineering options and help to develop governance infrastructure. The Arctic Council is a particularly good choice because its unique structure allows participation by indigenous groups in its working groups and its scientific committee.  Also, the Council could help to build trust between the scientific community, policy-makers and the public given the high degree of legitimacy it enjoys.

This article could generate some good discussion around the following questions:

  1. Would it be judicious to focus on a regional geoengineering response to climate change, e.g. in the Arctic region, as opposed to a global scheme? What are the potential benefits and problems with such an approach?;
  2. Is the optimal approach to geoengineering research and/or deployment a fragmented approach in which several regimes seek to regulate research and development/deployment efforts, or would it make more sense to centralize such efforts in one regime, e.g. the UNFCCC?
  3. Do you agree that a ban on geoengineering is injudicious because some actors would ignore such actions?

New Directions in Climate Policy: Special Journal Issue

Publication announcement:


Special issue of the St Antony’s International Review (STAIR, vol. 5, no. 2, 2010)


- Robert O. Keohane

- Jonathan Gaventa

- Michael MacLeod

- Frances C. Moore

- Anne Hammill & Richard Matthew

- David Benson & Andrew Jordan

- Christopher W. Boerl

The issue is available here:


To subscribe to STAIR, follow the “Purchase Subscription” link here:


Further information on STAIR is available here:


Biomass: miracle or monstrosity?

Evidence of the limited short lifetime expectancy for fossil fuel exploitation makes biomass projects attractive again but faced many socio-ecological and cultural challenges. How should biomass production and the related market activities be organized to minimize environmental harmful impacts and maximize social welfare as well as taking into account cultural aspects?

Limited economic goods stress the demands which will increased prices. Simple economic adage surely, yet million of people suffer from this rule. Caused by fossil fuel scarcity in tandem with high prices, the world is facing fossil fuel crises. Some positivist attitudes used to claim that a prevalence of new technologies would counterbalance this insufficiency. Yet others alarmed that these technologies are not affordable for more than 50% of countries and would be as much energy demanding. A greater diversification of the energy supply is one of the solutions, therefore putting forward biomass projects seem to be the most “reasonable” economic choice since biomass is any plant material, vegetation, or agricultural waste used as a fuel or energy source.

The paper intends to demonstrate the positive outcome generated with biomass projects but also argues that negative impacts are compelling reasons for this issue to be taken more seriously especially in the context of Africa. In this regards, key environmental and economic traditional thinking will be reviewed briefly as a comprehensive approach to resource management.

Biomass is the oldest and the most used source of energy in Africa and a major economic sector with strong opportunities for development. This energy source is mostly providing by wood including charcoal, mainly used for heating/cooking which is particularly prevalent in Africa as being the largest consumers of biomass with more than 75% of energy consumption compared with 3% in the OCDE. The current demand of energy could be satisfied by this mean, but ironically Africa has been heavily dependent on imported oil/ energies sources for its energy needs. As a result, in recent years projects started to take measures to decrease the country’s dependence on oil by developing indigenous energy resources.

However, too little attention has been paid in the past to the negative effects imply with biomass energy. As mentioned above, wood is the most common biomass energy source but also involves environmentally detrimental practices. Trees and derived charcoal used or sold for fuel has become a profitable commodity resulting in an ever extending tree logging. The removal of trees without sufficient reforestation has resulted in damage to habitat, biodiversity loss and alarming rate of deforestation. Important of note is that deforestation is now the most pressing environmental issues in Africa since for example the Sub-Saharan Africa is home to the world’s second largest rain forest, in West Africa and one of the world’s most important carbon sinks. Problems are expected to worsen with the likely effects of Climate Change which constitute an imperative threat to environmental security in the near term. According to the United Nation, millennium-project, environmental security is the relative safety from environmental dangers caused by natural or human processes due to ignorance, accident, mismanagement or design and originating within or across national borders.

Apart from a strictly environmental perspective, negative effects are also found in terms of health and safety. The smoke generated in the use of fuel wood for cooking is a carcinogen and causes respiratory problem. According to the World Health Organisation, solid fuels on open fires or stoves without chimneys leads to indoor air pollution and exposure is particularly high among women and children, who spend the most time near the domestic hearth. Every year, indoor air pollution is responsible for the death of 1.6 million people which represents one death every 20 seconds.

In this regard, calculation of  a “reasonable” economic choice should systematically integrate environmental and gender consideration.

In order to restore to the economy its ecological and social foundations, the paper suggests escaping from the economic mainstream and pays attention to other school of thought. In the case of biomass projects Environmental Economics thinking are limited because conventionally Environmental Economics is dedicated to the analysis of externalities which are the side-effects or consequences of industrial or commercial activities. Since socio-ecological considerations are extremely important the paper brings about Ecological Economics principles. Simply put, instead of analysing the economy as a subsystem of the ecosystem, Ecological Economics intends to comprehend the interdependence and coevolution of human economies and natural ecosystems over time and space. History of Ecological Economics least to the 1960’s in the work of Kenneth Boulding and Herman Daly (Boulding 1966, Daly 1968) and the first formal efforts to bring ecologists and economists together occurred in the 1980’s when Ann-Mari Jansson organized a symposium in Sweden “Integrating Ecology and Economics”. One of the key European conceptual founders is Rene Passet (1979), who works towards a reconciliation of economic logic with the logic of the life sciences in its reference book: “L’Economique et le Vivant”.

However none of these disciplines clearly integrate cultural aspects, yet embedded in any economic activity. The following example will demonstrate that when putting it into practice the lack of cultural considerations presents a real challenge. Humanitarian organizations are promoting solar oven to help slow deforestation and desertification, caused by using wood as fuel for cooking. A solar oven or solar cooker is a device which uses sunlight as its energy source and accordingly do not use fuel and do not cost anything. These devices have also been used in the Darfur refugee camps to reduce the Darfuri women’s need to leave the relative safety of the camp to gather firewood, which exposed them to a high risk of being kidnapped or murdered. However, for other countries solar oven did not work that well because cultural and gender barriers have been stronger than these benefits. Reason that have caused other solar cooking projects to fail is that most people in the developing world work while the sun is out and eat their main meal of the day after sundown. Food cooked in most solar cooking devices must be consumed immediately or it will become cold. Another reason solar cooking has not been widely accepted is that most solar cookers require more time to cook than cooking over a wood fire and women in developing countries are reluctant to start cooking many hours earlier. Study found also that for some, switching to non-flame-based heat have effects on the taste of food. Even if new sun oven devices seem to overcome the cultural obstacles, the fact remains that the cultural aspect of any project is a key factor of durability.

To the question of how should biomass production and the related market activities be organized to minimize environmental harmful impacts and maximize social welfare and taking into account cultural aspects. Biomass is a lucrative market, a vital output for local communities and essentially it replies to basics needs. In this sense it is a necessarily devil. Experiences show that biomass energy can be sustainable when embedded in socio-ecologic management. In this regard, the paper brings about prior Environmental Economy thinking as basic and comprehensive approach but also demonstrate its limitations regarding cultural considerations. The future dilemma is that given that biomass energy is of paramount importance to Africa numerous activities have to take into account sustainable practices maximizing the economic, environmental and social benefit with cultural considerations. In this regards research projects should be aimed to assess systematically key variables of durability.

Video on ocean acidification

Here’s an excellent new video on the impacts of ocean acidification on oysters:


Australian trading system proposal goes down under

A new post on the U.S. Law’s environmental law blog site reports that Australia’s Labor government has dropped its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme until at least the next election, or possibly the one after that. It’s the second discouraging legislative setback this week, with the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill in the United States imperiled by Senate Graham’s withdrawal from sponsorship of the bill over his pique about the Democrats’ decision to take up immigration legislation first (though it looks like the Democrats may cave on this). These developments could lead to a good discussion with students about whether the pledges made under the Copenhagen Accord are chimerical given these developments. What is Plan B in Australia and the U.S.? What is the potential impact on the ever-fading prospects for a breakthrough at COP16 in Cancun?

U.S. EPA Fact Sheets on CC

EPA Posts Four New Fact Sheets on Climate Change

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has posted four two-page fact sheets on climate change based on recent scientific data and findings. These documents may be useful to state and local governments looking for public outreach materials on climate change. The four new fact sheets are:

  • Climate Change Science Facts: Describes the causes (human and natural) of climate change, the link between greenhouse gases and temperature, signs of climate change, and projections of future climate change.
  • Climate Change and Ecosystems: Discusses the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, oceans, forests, habitat, invasive species, and migrations and life cycle events.
  • Climate Change and Health Effects: Covers the effects of climate change on heat-related illnesses and deaths, respiratory problems, and diseases and allergies.
  • Climate Change and Society: Explains how climate change could affect water resources, coastal communities, food production, and energy use and supply, among other things.

EPA’s Climate Toolbox, which includes the four new fact sheets as well as other resources, is available on EPA’s Climate Change Basic Information page at: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/basicinfo.html.


Health Impacts of Climate Change

Readers may find the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences recent publication, A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change, noteworthy. It provides an accessible discussion of existing knowledge and research needs pertaining the strikingly wide array of health impacts related to climate change, organized into 11 broad topics. Greater awareness of the probable direct impacts of climate change on human health in the U.S. could go a long way toward raising the public’s perception of climate change as an important policy issue.

Ocean Acidification and Benthic Organisms

Another excellent piece on the potential impacts of ocean acidification on ocean ecosystems was published recently in Nature Geoscience, Andy Ridgwell & Daniela N. Schmidt, Past Constraints on the Vulnerability of Marine Calcifiers to Massive Carbon Dioxide Release, 3 Nature Geoscience 196-200 (Feb. 2010) (subscription required). The researchers in the study employed an Earth system model to simulate and compare past and present changes in carbon dioxide levels in the ocean to assess likely future impacts of declining pH levels on marine species.

Key take-aways from the study include the following:

  1. Although there has been extensive laboratory assessments of the potential impacts of ocean acidification on marine species, impacts on ecosystems in the open ocean may be different given the potential for species to physiologically evolve or adapt through shifts in biogeography;
  2. By the year 2150, the calcite saturation horizon (below the point at which calcite begins to resolve), could shoal rapidly to about 600 meters. It would take approximately 10,000 years for the saturation horizon to once again approach pre-industrial levels;
  3. Benthic foraminers live several years, and thus are most likely to be susceptible to acidification impacts. Deep-sea benthic foraminers experienced large rates of extinction during the Palaeocene-Eoocene thermal maximum 55 million years ago, a period characterized by warming and marked acidification; comparable rates in the future suggest the possibility of similar levels of extinctions in the future.

Curriculum video on teaching environmental law in an era of climate change

The one and a half hour video recording of the 12th Annual Professors’ Workshop, Curriculum Adaptation: Teaching Environmental Law in an Era of Climate Change and Other Global Challenges held at Pace Law on February 19, 2010 is now available! Go to www.law.pace.edu/nelmcc and click Professor’s Workshop on the left.

Attended by over 30 faculty members who accompanied their teams to the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition, the Workshop discussion focused on new environmental, energy, and resources courses, clinics, experiential learning opportunities, and more.  Participants were Craig Johnston, Professor of Law, Lewis and Clark Law School; Madeline June Kass, Associate Professor, Thomas Jefferson School of Law; and Patrick Parenteau, Professor of Law & Director, Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, Vermont Law School.

Please watch and listen when you have a moment.  We hope that this year’s recording of the Workshop is helpful to those of you who could not be with us.

Mark your calendars for next year’s Competition, to be held February 24-26, 2011.  Save the date cards will go out in May.

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, Esq.

Assistant Dean of Environmental Law Programs

Adjunct Professor of Law

Pace University School of Law

Center for Environmental Legal Studies

Preston Hall 214, 78 North Broadway

White Plains, NY 10603

914/422-4209 (tel); 914/424-1587 (cell); 914/422-4261 (fax)