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On the Nature of Global Change


Professor John Harrington, Jr. (jharrin_at_k-state.edu) Department of Geography, Kansas State University Planet Under Pressure Mar 2012 London – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: On the Nature of Global Change

On the Nature of Global Change
Professor John Harrington, Jr. (jharrin_at_k-state.e
du) Department of Geography, Kansas State
University Planet Under Pressure
Mar 2012 London International
Conference on Adaptation May 2012
Tucson Climate Change Impacts Responses
Jul 2012 Seattle
Unprecedented Types, Rates, Scales, Combinations,
and the Magnitude of Change Planetary
the Earth system is now operating in a
no-analogue state.
Symptoms of human induced global change -
warming - rapid change in surface appearance
(LUCC) - changes in chemical indicators
(nitrogen) - change in gaseous composition
(atmos) - loss of key biotic components - new
organisms have been introduced - rapid depletion
of stored reserves (water) - rapid depletion of
stored reserves (energy) - the rate of change is
Climate change is part of something bigger
  • Global Change
  • Global climate change (CO2 global weirding)
  • Air pollution (gross insults micro toxicity)
  • Shrinking glaciers loss of Arctic sea ice
  • Population growth and resource consumption
  • Land use change deforestation for agric.
  • Water resources (reservoirs irrigation)
  • Ocean acidification, sea level rise, coral reefs
  • Loss of biodiversity (major extinction event)
  • New ideas to hopefully change the conversation
  • Ecological Footprints and Overshoot (1.5 Earths)
  • Ecosystem services (externalities and the
  • Sustainability Science Vulnerability, Resilience
  • Planetary Boundaries The Anthropocene
  • Planetary Stewardship The Wildland Garden
  • Earth Hour (late March)

The more you read in this subject area, the more
you understand the multiple connections, the
complexity, and just how hard it will be to make
the changes needed for a sustainable transition
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Oxfam 2012
CO2 levels are now at 394 ppm (up 39.6) CO2
levels were at 315ppm at the start of the Mauna
Loa record. The CO2 level for pre-industrial
times was 280 ppm.
Annual cycle driven by summer vegetation
greenup in the Northern Hemisphere Lower values
at the end of the growing season
Understanding the Earth system (feedbacks and
response times) indicates that there is more to
  • Warmer areas on Earth will emit slightly shorter
    wavelengths and water vapor is the main GHG
  • Cooler areas on Earth will emit slightly longer
    wavelength energy and CO2 is the main GHG

Global pattern of temperature anomalies for
2000-2009 compared with the 1950-1980 base
period. More CO2 and cold places warm up.
Images of change in alpine glacial ice from
Africa and North America
Mount Kilimanjaro
Glacier National Park
The loss of Arctic Sea ice.
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The loss of Arctic Sea ice.
Human Dimensions of Global Change Land Use Change
More land was converted to cropland in the 30
years after 1950 than in the 150 years between
1700 and 1850.
Cultivated Systems in 2000 cover 25 of the
terrestrial surface
Unprecedented Change Biomes
Land use change different directions in
different regions
Ecosystems in some regions are returning to
conditions similar to their pre-conversion states
Rates of ecosystem conversion remain high or are
increasing for specific ecosystems and regions
The Human Footprint and the Last of the
Wild E. Sanderson et al. 2002
BioScience Last Child in the Woods
There is a human footprint on 83 of the land.


Anthropogenic Biomes of the World
Mosaic gt25 tree cover mixed with gt 25 pasture
and/or cropland

Ellis Ramankutty
Changes in Water Resources
  • 5 to possibly 25 of global freshwater use
    exceeds long-term accessible supplies (low to
    medium certainty)
  • 15 - 35 of irrigation withdrawals exceed supply
    rates and are therefore unsustainable (low to
    medium certainty)

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A period of rapid and unprecedented global change
The pace of growth is slowing
The Green Revolution genetics, fertilizer,
tractors, irrigation turning oil into food
Made it in Oct 2011 How do we feed the next 2
Consilience a fancy way to describe how science
is changing
  • E.O. Wilsons 1999 book, Consilience The Unity
    of Knowledge - provided a powerful restatement of
    the importance of linking major areas of
    scholarly thought
  • C.P Snows 1959 lecture The Two Cultures - major
    thesis was that the breakdown in communication
    between the sciences and the humanities was a
    major barrier to solving the world's problems

Four cultures new synergies for engaging
society, MC Nisbet et al., 2010, Frontiers in
Ecology. Vol 8(6) 329-331.
Consilience Biocomplexity
  • Biocomplexity the study of complex structures
    and behaviors that arise from nonlinear interacti
    ons of biotic agents and abiotic factors, across
    multiple scales
  • Biocomplexity was introduced as a new initiative
    at NSF for funding integrative projects in the
    late 1990s by Rita Colwell
  • Rita Colwell was NSF Director from 1998 2004

The role of women in scientific discourse is
critically important
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  • Reciprocal Effects Feedback Loops
  • Nonlinearity and Thresholds
  • Surprises
  • Legacy Effects and Time Lags
  • Resilience
  • Heterogeneity

New framings and new questions
NSF now has SEES
Science, Engineering, and Education for
  • Achieving a sustainable human future in the face
    of both gradual and abrupt environmental change
    is one of the most significant challenges facing
  • All eleven NSF Directorates and Offices have
    joined together to support Science, Engineering,
    and Education for Sustainability (SEES)
  • Requests for proposals in sustainable

sole authors did produce the papers of
singular distinction in science and engineering
and social science in the 1950s, but the mantle
of extraordinarily cited work has passed to teams
by 2000. (p. 1038)
It takes about a year of working together to
establish a good team
life supporting resources declining
we are in what E.O. Wilson (in 2002) referred
to as the bottleneck
consumption of life supporting resources rising
Can global leaders find a way to address a
long-term and global problem? Two imperatives
work against a solution
The imperative of the present Topophilia
love of place we need geophilia or gaiaphilia
The imperative of the local
The relative indifference to the environment
springs, I believe, from deep within human
nature. The human brain evidently evolved to
commit itself emotionally only to a small piece
of geography, a limited band of kinsmen, and two
or three generations into the future. E.O.
Wilson 2002
Science and engineering enable new technologies
that accompany change There is a need to move
toward sustainability
  • To change something, build a new model that
    makes the existing model obsolete.
  • Buckminster Fuller
  • Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,
    committed citizens can change the world indeed,
    it's the only thing that ever has. Margaret
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