Uncommon Ground


Edwin Way Teale Series on Nature and the Environment

Teale 2016Every year since the 1997 the University of Connecticut has hosted the Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series on Nature and the Environment. The series features distinguished natural scientists, social scientists, authors, artists, performers, and policy makers whose work informs our understanding of nature and the environment. The lectures are free and open to the public. Many lectures in recent years are also available online. You can find the full list of past lectures and links to videos (where available) at this link: http://lib.uconn.edu/about/events/nature-the-environment-the-edwin-way-teale-lecture-series-past-lectures/.

Here is a quick list of this year’s events:

  • Julien Agyeman, “Just Sustainabilities: Re-imagining e/quality, Living Within Limits”
  • Emma Rosi-Marshall, “Our Rivers on Drugs: Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products as Agents of Ecological Change in Aquatic Ecosystems”
  • Harriet Ritvo, “Wanting the Wild”
  • Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Sixth Extinction”
  • Maria Carmen Lemos, “Building Capacity for Adapting to Climate Change”
  • Mina Girgis, “The Nile Project”

The dates and times for the events are available on the Teale Series website. If you are close to Storrs, please stop by and join us. If you are far away or other commitments mean that you can’t join us, please check back to see if a recorded version of the presentation that interests you is available online.

National Park Service – Happy 100th birthday

100 years ago today the National Park Service was born. National parks are, as the Ken Burns documentary put it, America’s Best Idea. Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in any of the celebrations today, nor am I likely to make it to a National Park this year, but I am delighted to live in a country that has placed such value on wild and beautiful places. I practically grew up in Yellowstone, and I’ve visited many other National Parks. Please take some time today to celebrate our good fortune, and if you’re close enough to a National Park or National Monument to visit, please consider taking the time to stop by and thank the Park Service employees for their service to our country.

Good news for Channel Island foxes

Channel Island foxes

National Park Service photo via Wikimedia (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Urocyon_littoralis_pair.jpg)

San Miguel Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Cruz Island, and Santa Catalina Island are each home to a subspecies of Urocyon littoralis, a small fox about the size of a house cat. The species was included as one of a number of species for which endangered species listing was “possibly appropriate” in 1982 (http://ecos.fws.gov/docs/federal_register/fr650.pdf). By 2000, there were only 15 individuals on San Miguel, 15 on Santa Rosa, and 55 on Santa Cruz, and the four subspecies were listed as endangered on March 5, 2004.

On September 12, only a little more than 12 years after they were listed, the fox subspecies on San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz will be removed from the endangered species list and the subspecies on Santa Catalina will be reclassified as threatened (https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-08-12/pdf/2016-18778.pdf). There are now between 700 and 2100 individuals on the islands where subspecies are being removed from the list.

Foxes on Santa Catalina Island — a tourist destination — also are recovering but not as fast as their counterparts on the northern Channel Islands. Their numbers plummeted in the 1990s after an outbreak of canine distemper, presumably brought over from the mainland.

Federal officials downgraded the status of the Catalina foxes from endangered to threatened because disease outbreak remains a concern. (http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-channel-island-foxes-20160811-snap-story.html)

It’s not often we have good news about endangered species. My thanks and congratulations go out to everyone involved in bringing these animals back from the brink of extinction.

USGS topographic maps from National Geographic

Coventry, CT - USGS 7.5 minute quad National Geographic has made available nearly all of the topographic quadrangle maps from the US Geological Survey as PDF download.

They are pre-packaged using the standard 7.5 minute, 1:24,000 base but with some twists:

  • Page 1 is an overview map showing the Quad in context
  • Pages 2 through 5 are the standard USGS Quads cut in quarters to fit on standard printers
  • Hillshading has been added to each page of the PDF to help visualize the topography

I use regularly use a GPS when I’m in unfamiliar territory, but it is even better to have a topographic map to refer to. I’m delighted to have found this resource.

Printable USGS PDF Quads from National Geographic

Climate change neoskepticism

Paul Stern and colleagues1 use the term “neoskepticism” to describe the view that although climate change is real and although humans are responsible for much of it, the costs of attempting to reduce or mitigate it exceed the benefits.

[N]eoskepticism accepts the existence of [anthropogenic climate change] but advocates against urgent mitigation efforts on various grounds, such as that climate models run “too hot” or are too uncertain to justify anything other than “no-regrets” policies as having net benefits. Mainstream climate scientists are well aware of uncertainty in climate projections. But neoskeptics’ citing of it to justify policy inaction marks a shift of focus in climate debates from the existence of ACC to its import and to response options.

The problem, of course, is that uncertainty is a double-edged sword. It’s possible that the impacts of climate change won’t be as bad as current (mean) projections, but it’s also possible that they will be far worse. Worse yet, the longer we wait to mitigate impacts, the more difficult and expensive it will be to prevent them. In response, they argue both for more attention to decision sciences and to the science of science communication. Both are certainly needed. But they also focus only on part of the science communication that’s needed, the part having to do with facts about costs, benefits, and risks of action or inaction.

As scientists, we pay too little attention to the emotional aspects of persuasion involved in guiding public policy, and here I’m not talking about appeals to “your children and grandchildren” or “our fellow creatures.” I’m talking about the emotions people feel when they think about scientists in particular or experts more generally, for example. Science communication is important even when it isn’t imparting facts or knowledge. In fact, it may be even more important when it’s not imparting facts or knowledge. It may be most important when it’s sharing scientists as caring human beings who can be trusted. Only if we are trusted will anyone listen when we share our insights with them.

1Stern, P.C., J.H. Perkins, R.E. Sparks, and R.A. Knox. 2016. The challenge of climate-change neoskepticism. Science 353:653-654. doi: 10.1126/science.aaf9697