We are extremely excited to follow up on yesterday’s press release on this blog and confirm that as of January 2017 UC Press will be the publisher of the open access journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene, which was launched in 2013 and incubated by BioOne.
As you can tell from its title, Elementa is committed to publishing research that ultimately leads to scientific solutions to the challenges presented by this era of human impact, the Anthropocene. The journal is organized into 6 inaugural knowledge domains, each with its own Editor in Chief. Each EIC takes great care to encourage the submission of cross-domain work, and present it in the most appropriate domains, to ensure it reaches the right readers beyond any single discipline.
We are thrilled to be taking on the journal in 2017. In the meantime, if you do research in this field please consider it for your next article, and please take a look at some of the science published so far,
The recent announcement that the Pacific Gas & Electric Company will close its Diablo Canyon nuclear power plants by 2025 made big news across the country as maybe, just maybe, signaling the end of the nuclear experiment in the United States. Time will tell about that, but there was an odd rewriting of history by at least two of the country’s biggest newspapers that needs correcting.
Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reported that in 1969 David Brower, then the executive director of the Sierra Club, was so angry at the club’s refusal to oppose the reactors proposed by PG&E that he quit his job and founded Friends of the Earth to fight the Diablo proposal. A tidy story, particularly since Friends of the Earth has been key to finally winning the campaign to shutter the reactors, but way off the mark.
The Diablo proposal nearly tore the Sierra Club in two in the mid sixties. The plant was originally proposed for a site near the Nipomo Dunes, also on the California coast. The Sierra Club, led in this case by the photographer Ansel Adams, had long supported establishment of a state park at the Nipomo site, and several of the club’s directors worked with PG&E to find a site that would save the dunes. They identified Diablo Canyon as a site the club could live with.
Only one of the fifteen members on the Sierra Club’s board of directors had ever visited Diablo Canyon, and when a motion to put the club on record as not opposing the site he—Martin Litton, then travel editor of Sunset Magazine—was out of the country. The motion passed by a large majority, despite David Brower’s urging that the vote be postponed until the directors could visit the site and see for themselves. When Litton learned of the board’s action he flew into a rage, accused the promoters of the project of fraud, and vowed to overturn the vote.
A year or so later the balance of power on the board of directors changed and the board adopted a resolution to the effect that its vote to tacitly approve the site was a mistake and a violation of club policy. Dave Brower stayed quiet through much of the battling, which raged for months. His sympathies were no secret—he and Litton were staunch allies—but he was being criticized by several directors (including Adams) for alleged profligate spending on the book-publishing program and for defying board orders on a variety of matters, and he needed to keep his head down.
In the end Brower ran for a position on the board and lost badly. He resigned in May 1969 to avoid being sacked. He always thought that the Diablo battle was a key to his demise (there were rumors that PG&E had helped conduct the campaign that brought him down), but there was no proof.
Still, to say that he quit in anger over the club’s refusal to oppose the project is simply incorrect. There is a nice symmetry to the story, however, in the end. Brower did oppose Diablo, he did found Friends of the Earth, and Friends of the Earth did lead the negotiation with PG&E that should see the end of the Diablo reactors by 2025.
Brower died in 2000, but wherever he is, no doubt he’s smiling.
Tom Turner has worked at the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and Earthjustice. He is the author of Wild by Law; Sierra Club: 100 Years of Protecting Nature; Justice on Earth; Roadless Rules; and hundreds of articles and op-eds on the environment.
Today’s post concerning the Brexit referendum and its potential impact on the environment comes from Jeremy Davies, author of The Birth of the Anthropocene. This re-blog appears courtesy of Made Ground, a website on the anthropocene era where it originally appeared.
There is a half-plausible Left case against the European Union (for the member states in general, not for Britain in particular). But this afternoon, Farage’s victory feels absolute—victory “without a bullet being fired” as he shouted this morning, overlooking in the heat of the moment the assassination of Jo Cox. In comparison to Farage, even Johnson seems to me almost diminished rather than conquering—among the political class, at least, if not necessarily with the voters. Johnson was generally taken to be the leader of the Out campaign; his great gamble has paid out against the odds; and he may well be Prime Minister in four months’ time. And despite all that, just now both he and the souverainiste ideologues—Redwood, Cash, Hannan, Carswell, Gove, Rees-Mogg (all of them linked by that same curious closely studied masculinity)—seem secondary to Farage’s achievement.
There was a terrible fluency to Farage’s invocation of the “decent people” whose triumph it was. The odd thing is that a few hours earlier he’d been convinced he was going to lose; at 11 o’clock last night he was already setting loose a conspiracy theory about the voter registration process. But instead he’s turned out to be the first politician since Blair really able to mould events in England to his will, instead of just trimming his policy agenda to accommodate the popular mood. Tough-looking UKIP men congregated round him all night.
“Environmental issues” were virtually absent from mainstream discussion, except briefly when the out-supporting farming minister made some insufficiently coded remarks about “coming up with new, interesting ways to protect the environment,” “based on realistic assessments of risk.” But it’s understood that the most hardline extractivists have been disproportionately Leavers, and that this morning they were taken off the leash.
An autarkic agenda of fracking and fresh opencast coalmining is obviously a close fit with the new nativist ascendancy, though presumably there will also be rhetorical concessions (not necessarily practical ones) to the sensibility that wants the countryside protected from houses built for immigrants. Britain has tended for a long time to be ahead of the rest of Europe in attention to animal welfare, so the inevitable campaign to level down British environmental standards to those of the US in the interests of “buccaneering” free trade might encounter some struggles in that respect, if no other. But agricultural soil mining can presumably intensify without attracting much public awareness. The promised “bonfire of regulations” is likely to burn brightest among the EU’s controls on pollution—pesticides and herbicides, industrial toxicity, threats to public health, waste disposal—since that’s necessarily the most highly technical of domains; the skirmishes over neonicotinoids and Johnson’s record on air pollution as Mayor of London are ominous signs. And the carbon cycle… it’s hard to mourn the disruption of the EU Emissions Trading System (though perhaps in fact we should), but structural resistance to an energy transition within Britain seems bound to grow still stronger, and we’ve surely already lost the whole sense of a European vanguard on global climate policy in which Britain participates (and within which it even made the running, at least until 2010). That’s a horrifying blow.
Jeremy Davies teaches in the School of English at the University of Leeds.
Myriad’s award-winning atlases, some of which are published in the United States by University of California Press, are unique visual surveys of economic, political and social trends. By ingeniously transforming statistical data into valuable, user-friendly resources, they make a range of global issues – from climate change to world religions – accessible to general readers, students and professionals alike.
It’s International Otter Awareness Day! In honor of our semiaquatic, aquatic, and marine friends, we’ve posted a particularly otter-centric excerpt from Serendipity: An Ecologist’s Quest to Understand Nature. The book chronicles acclaimed ecologist Jim Estes’ otterly important early research of sea otters and kelp forests off the coast of Alaska, and how that research would eventually inform his entire career. Read more below, and click here to learn about IOAD events happening today around the world.
“Not the end of the world but you can see it from here” were the first words I saw as I exited the DC 6 aircraft at Shemya and entered a small building with my colleagues and a few other travelers, most of whom were in transit back to Anchorage. After the plane and passengers had departed, a surprised-looking airman asked why we hadn’t left with them. When I told him we were the biologists from Amchitka, he went on high alert. We were taken to a small, windowless room and put under armed guard while the Air Force tried to sort out what was going on and what to do with us. My colleagues and I thought it was funny but the guards didn’t share our humor. Eventually we were taken to see the base commander, a serious-looking full-bird colonel who was clearly put out by our presence and not someone to be trifled with. The colonel glared at us from across his desk, telling us that while he had confirmed our authorization to visit Shemya, he also considered us a risk to military security and a threat to morale. But after this initial bluster he warmed and seemed to soften, expressing interest in what we were studying and offering to show us around the island.
Finally, at the end of the day, we walked to the shore for a brief look around. In the fading light I was struck by two observations—the numerous tests of beach-cast sea urchins that were much larger than anything I had ever seen dead or alive at Amchitka, and a green hue to the beach sand. These were the first hints that sea otters mattered, and that I was on the track of something exciting.
The next day we were up early. John and Charlie prepared for a visit to the rocky shore while Phil and I geared up for a dive. We had to assemble and inflate the skiff, find some gasoline for the outboard motor, fill the scuba tanks, and locate a safe place to launch. The wind and sea were calm and so on this first dive we decided to simply swim out from shore. Although the water was clear, I couldn’t see the sea floor until I slipped into the water and dropped below the surface. When I looked down at the sea floor, I was stunned by the vast numbers of urchins and absence of kelp. I looked at Phil and saw what struck me as an incredulous, impish grin. I swam out into deeper water and then a short distance up and down the shore, trying to get a sense of whether what I was seeing was unusual or typical of the area. Every place I looked was the same—large and abundant sea urchins over a seafloor of crustose coralline algae with little or no kelp. After almost a year of diving at Amchitka, I immediately understood why Shemya was so different. In the absence of sea otter predation, sea urchins had increased in size and numbers, and the larger and more abundant sea urchins had eaten the kelp. This was my “aha” moment, a profound realization that would set a path for the remainder of my life. I sat up most of the night, thinking and jotting down notes about what I had seen and what it meant.
My mind was buzzing with ideas but the immediate problem was to document what I had seen at Shemya in an objective and rigorous manner. I had 5 days left to work at Shemya and the notoriously unpredictable Aleutian Islands weather might turn for the worst at any time. My plan was to measure the density and size structure of the sea urchin population and the percent cover and species composition of fleshy macroalgae at 3 depths—10, 30 and 60 ft. I would do this at several sites, time and weather permitting.
The book received a mention in a recent New Scientist article about the Blaschka glass collection: ““If ever there was a time to compare the plentiful past with an ocean in jeopardy, that time would be now,” says author Drew Harvell, who was instrumental in bringing Cornell’s Blaschka collection out of storage and into the Corning Museum of Glass in New York state. “We hope to find out whether they are surviving in the sea as magnificently as they do in glass,” she says.”
A recent review in Library Journal said: “The author makes an eloquent plea for marine biodiversity conservation. VERDICT: General readers, as well as those who enjoyed J.E.N. Veron’s A Reef in Time: The Great Barrier Reef from Beginning to End and Richard Ellis’s The Empty Ocean, will appreciate this volume.”
Discover Magazine ran a profile of Drew Harvell, available online to magazine subscribers, as well as a beautiful slideshow of the Blaschka glass creatures.
The book was reviewed this week in Hakai Magazine. Julie Schwietert Collazo called the book “an SOS call for a change in human behavior.”
NPR’s Science Fridayran a piece on their blog about the Blaschka collection, mentioning the current exhibit at the Corning Museum of Glass as well as A Sea of Glass: “Today, the marine models are enduring examples of a successful union between science and art, and Harvell uses them as teaching aids at Cornell. For her, they’re a source of inspiration at a crucial time for ocean conservation. As she writes in A Sea of Glass, “My vision is that these masterpieces of glass art motivate wonder and appreciation for our ocean world.””
And to cap off the outstanding reception to A Sea of Glass, Eve M. Kahn mentioned the book in an article she wrote for the New York Timesantiques column earlier this month.
This post was originally featured on the UC Santa Cruz News Center, and has been reblogged with the permission of the author.
by Tim Stephens
In his new book, Serendipity: An Ecologist’s Quest to Understand Nature (UC Press, May 2016), marine ecologist James Estes recounts the simple twists of fate that sent him to the Aleutian Islands in 1970 to study the distribution and abundance of sea otters. It was the start of a remarkable journey of discovery that led to profound insights about the complexity of ecological interactions and the importance of predators in natural ecosystems.
Now a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, Estes has returned to the Aleutian Islands nearly every year after that first visit, developing a deep knowledge of the area’s natural history and witnessing dramatic changes in its ecosystems. InSerendipity, he starts with his research on sea otters and kelp forests, shows how one question led to another, and explains the broader principles of ecology illuminated by his findings.
“I try to not only tell the story of the science, but also give an explanation of how it came about and highlight why it’s important to the science of ecology,” Estes said.
His research showed that sea otters are a “keystone species” that maintains kelp forest ecosystems by controlling populations of kelp-grazing sea urchins. Sea otters had been hunted to near extinction for the fur trade, and the recovery of their populations was uneven and fragmented across the Aleutian Archipelago. This enabled Estes to compare coastal ecosystems around islands with and without sea otters, and he found that there were no kelp forests without sea otters.
His findings have become a classic example of how apex predators shape ecosystems. Estes continued to build on his early observations over the following decades, carefully documenting the interactions among sea otters, sea urchins, and other elements of kelp forest ecosystems. He conducted long-term studies tracking the changes at sites where sea otters recolonized an island and expanded their numbers, and at other sites where once thriving populations underwent sudden declines.
The unexpected collapse of sea otter populations in parts of the Aleutian Archipelago in the 1990s led the research in new directions. Estes concluded that the likely cause of the decline was predation by killer whales. But why had killer whales begun preying on sea otters? It appeared to be part of a broader “megafaunal collapse” that included several species of seals and sea lions.
Estes and others proposed that industrial whaling had forced a dietary shift in killer whales that had previously preyed on large whales. As the great whales became scarce, the killer whales turned to smaller marine mammals, including seals, sea lions, and sea otters, all of which underwent marked population declines. This remains a controversial hypothesis, and Estes devotes a chapter of the book to the ongoing debate.
In recent years, he has led international teams of scientists investigating how a broad range of ecosystems have been disrupted by the decline of large predators and other “apex consumers” at the top of the food chain.
“Natural ecosystems are strongly influenced by these big predators,” Estes said. “The top predators have really important roles in the way ecosystems are structured and how they operate, and the loss of these animals as part of the erosion of biodiversity is an issue of global significance.”
The book’s title, Serendipity, reflects the unpredictable and often surprising course of his research career, Estes said. “So much of the process of science has to do with fortuitous events, the people you meet, and the ideas that surface during informal conversations.”
A crucial encounter for Estes was a brief conversation in 1971 with the pioneering ecologist Robert Paine during a visit Paine made to Amchitka Island, where Estes was based. Estes had been observing a thriving sea otter population around Amchitka Island, diving in the kelp forests, and trying to come up with an idea for a Ph.D. thesis. Inspired by Paine, he organized a trip to another island in the Aleutian archipelago where the sea otter population had never recovered.
“That was probably the most exciting moment in my career, when I first went to an island that lacked sea otters and stuck my head in the water, and I saw how incredibly different it was,” Estes said. “That was such a powerful experience, probably the most defining moment of my life, and it happened in less than a second.”
Estes, who joined the UCSC faculty in 1978, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2014. He is also a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences and has received the Western Society of Naturalists’ Lifetime Achievement Award, a Pew Marine Conservation Fellowship, and the C. Hart Merriam Award of the American Society of Mammalogists.
Over 150 years ago, the father-son glassmaking team of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka created a glass menagerie of over 800 marine invertebrate models, documenting life in oceans untouched by climate change and human impacts. They were captivated by sea slugs, octopus, squid, anemones, and even soft corals, and they spun their likeness into exquisite glass replicas. As described in A Sea of Glass, my quest to find what living representatives remain of the Blaschka’s subjects was surprisingly successful, even though their variety and numbers have dwindled since they were first captured in glass. Sadly, their losses are accelerating beyond expectation due to climate-related impacts such as ocean acidification and warming seas, particularly for coral reefs. The devastation this year is shocking. According to a new report in the journal Science, coral reefs around the globe have been devastated by the world’s largest bleaching event. Only 7 percent of all Great Barrier Reefs are unaffected, and in the northern GBR, 80 percent of reefs are severely affected. Over half the live coral has died on these severely affected reefs, once the most vibrant on the GBR. This means vast tracts of reef are no longer good habitat for all the extraordinary biodiversity and fisheries wealth that once lived there.
The loss of the corals that make these reefs is the big story, but it also translates into the loss of habitat for the beautiful invertebrates the Blaschkas so admired: countless sea anemones, nudibranchs, squid, and octopus are now homeless refugees. My colleague, Dr Terry Hughes, who directs the Australian Research Council Center of Coral Reef Excellence reports, “This dwarfs previous bleaching events by a long mark . . . the northern GBR won’t get back to what it was, certainly not in my lifetime.”
Things are even worse in other places, like the tiny country of Kiribati where Dr Julia Baum of The University of Victoria estimates that 80 percent of the coral cover died. Those of us who study infectious disease know its not over yet; the remaining live, but severely stressed corals in both the GBR and Kiribati will still be susceptible to waves of lethal infectious disease yet to come.
Even before this disastrous year, coldwater corals that the Blaschkas once captured in glass, like the stunning precious red coral (Corallium rubrum) and the golden cup coral (Astroides calycularis) from the Mediterranean, have experienced multiple mass mortalities due to heat stress.
There is much that can be done to reverse the impacts of climate change; it is the grand challenge of our time, and our reward for success will be an ocean full of nature’s masterpieces. Otherwise, in fifty years it may be that all we’ll have left is our sea in glass.
Drew Harvell is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University and Curator of the Blaschka Marine Invertebrate Collection. Her research on the sustainability of marine ecosystems has taken her from the reefs of Mexico, Indonesia, and Hawaii to the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest. She is a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, a winner of the Society of American Naturalist Jasper Loftus-Hills Award, and a lead author of the oceans chapter in the recent U.S. Climate Change Assessment. She has published over 120 articles in journals such as Science, Nature, and Ecology and is coeditor of The Ecology and Evolution of Inducible Defenses.
Frequently compared to John Muir, David Brower was the first executive director of the Sierra Club, founded Friends of the Earth, and helped secure passage of the Wilderness Act, among other key achievements. Tapping his passion for wilderness and for the mountains he scaled in his youth, he was a central figure in the creation of the Point Reyes National Seashore and of the North Cascades and Redwood national parks. In addition, Brower worked tirelessly in successful efforts to keep dams from being built in Dinosaur National Monument and the Grand Canyon.
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a dramatic blossoming of the environmental movement with the creation of Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, Greenpeace, Environmental Action, and the Environmental Defense Fund, among others.
Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin sensed the public’s growing concern for the environment and proposed a national environmental teach-in (borrowing language from Vietnam protests) that was soon dubbed Earth Day. Nelson recruited Denis Hayes, then an undergraduate at Stanford, to sign up supporters and organize rallies and demonstrations and other activities. The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970, and was the largest such outpouring of concern to that date.
When Dave Brower heard of the plan for Earth Day, he got in touch with his old friend and collaborator Ian Ballantine of Ballantine Books, who is sometimes credited with pioneering inexpensive paperback books. Brower and Ballantine had cooperated on publishing projects when Brower was still at the Sierra Club, most notably producing a line of calendars illustrated with beautiful nature photographs that were an instant success. Brower suggested that Ballantine and Friends of the Earth collaborate on a book to complement and inform Earth Day. It would have to happen fast. Ballantine agreed. Brower recruited a Cal student named Garrett DeBell, who assembled previously published material and solicited original pieces from here and there.
The contents were an eclectic mix. One piece on “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis” blamed Christianity for the problem. Paul Ehrlich decried the population explosion. Ken Brower, Dave’s eldest son, reminded readers of the importance of wilderness. Garrett Hardin of UC Santa Barbara explained his theory of “The Tragedy of the Commons.” There was a short piece titled “Ecopornography, or How to Spot an Ecological Phony,” criticizing misleading advertisements being run by oil companies and strip miners.
DeBell somehow put a manuscript together in around three weeks, and Ballantine produced bound books in another three or so weeks. It was titled The Environmental Handbook and it took off, selling more than a million copies in a few months.
Earth Day was off to a good start.
About guest blogger and author of David Brower: The Making of the Environmental Movement, Tom Turner:Tomhas worked at the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, and Earthjustice. He is the author of Wild by Law; Sierra Club: 100 Years of Protecting Nature; Justice on Earth; Roadless Rules; and hundreds of articles and op-eds on the environment.
What caught Drew Harvell’s eye first was a glass octopus. Inspired by the incredible glass marine sculptures of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, she soon set off to search for their living counterparts. In her new book A Sea of Glass, she tells the story of this journey of a lifetime while exploring unusual biology of these ancient animals and showing us that our ocean ecosystems—like the Blaschkas’ works of art—are as fragile as glass.
In honor of Earth Day, check out a slideshow of incredible Blaschka creations below, and learn more about Drew’s book here.
Additionally, click here to save 30% on new and bestselling science titles.
Common Octopus (Photo: Gary Hodges)
Sea Pansy (Photo: Gary Hodges)
From Left to Right: Siphonophores: Apolemia uvaria (Photo: Kent Loeffler) and Rosacea cymbiformis (Photo:Gray Hodges)
From Left to Right: mauve stinger (Photo: Drew Harvell), mauve stinger glass (Photo: Corning Museum of Glass), stinger watercolor (Photo: Corning Museum of Glass)
tentacle tubeworm (Photo: C. Smith)
From Left to Right: Doto Glass (Photo: C. Smith), Doto live (Photo: Reyn Yoshioka)