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U.N. Environmental Assessment
updated: Jul 09, 2012, 4:36 PM
Despite the ever-louder drumbeat for sustainability and global efforts to
advance environmental initiatives, Earth remains on a collision course with
"unprecedented levels of damage and degradation." That's according to a new
United Nations (U.N.) assessment that includes UC Santa Barbara researchers
among its authors.
The U.N. Environment Programme released its fifth Global Environmental Outlook
report -- commonly known as GEO-5 -- in June, on the eve of the recent Rio+20
Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil. Produced over three years, in
collaboration with some 600 experts worldwide, the document details global
progress, or lack thereof, on a host of internationally agreed-upon goals to
protect the planet and reverse a longstanding pattern of production and
consumption of natural resources.
"If you look at these issues over several years, it can be overwhelming and
discouraging," said David López-Carr, professor of geography at UCSB, director
of the Human-Environment Dynamics (HED) lab, and a lead author on two of the
report's 17 chapters. "But learning takes time, and patience truly is a virtue.
Many of the debates we have now are over things we weren't even talking about 40
years ago. So we do see areas of progress."
With Kostas Goulias, a UCSB geography professor and transportation expert, and
Matthew Gluschankoff, an undergraduate who works in the HED lab, López-Carr
helped write the opening substantive chapter to the GEO-5, "Drivers," about what
causes environmental change. Population and consumption are deemed the primary
drivers. High population growth in remote rural areas such as sub-Saharan Africa
-- and the impact that such demographic transition is likely to have on human
well-being and environmental integrity -- remains an especially "under-
recognized" issue, according to López-Carr.
"These areas are particularly vulnerable to climate change because they have a
direct dependence on the environment for subsistence and livelihoods in a way
that we do not," he said. "When breakdowns in commodity pathways change for us,
they are very quickly replaced by another. But breakdowns in subsistence
pathways are less resilient to shocks to the system. They are much more local,
and people are surviving on local resources through dint of their own labor.
When a breakdown happens to them they have to deal with it immediately, in their
environment, without the benefit of the global system that we have."
Former UCSB visiting scholar Narcisa Pricope, an assistant geography professor
at Southern Oregon University, leant her expertise in the emerging concern over
drylands to the chapter "Land," alongside López-Carr, who focused on population,
agricultural and forest transitions, and policy implications. Among other
insights, they reveal that competing demands for fuel, food, feed, fiber, and
raw materials are intensifying pressures on land -- and that globalization and
urbanization are further aggravating those demands.
"My overall sense is that things will get worse for land before they get
better," said López-Carr. "I would be delightfully but significantly surprised
if, in 10 years, we had more forest conservation, reversed soil decline, and
enhanced farmland sustainability."
As much about finding solutions as it is about exposing problems, the GEO-5 also
offers big-picture policy suggestions and identifies small changes with the
potential for big impact -- from supporting universal primary education and
health care, and improving governance and capacity building, to reducing
consumption of red meat. López-Carr describes the latter recommendation as "a
win-win for human health and the environment."
About the role of UCSB academics in the report, López-Carr added: "There is a
lot of incentive, particularly in the UC, to publish, publish, publish in
academic journals and get grants. We do that, at the highest level, yet we also
use that knowledge and research for policy mechanisms like this that are of
global importance, for which we are not paid by the university, or by anyone.
I'm really proud of the contributions coming out of UCSB, and this geography
Comments in order of when they were received | (reverse order)
2012-07-09 07:00 PM
It's almost unbelievable that the elitist overpaid underachieving UCSB professors primping and posing in their environmental science ivory towers overlooking Goleta Bay don't propose a solution to the poopoo pipe pumping only partially treated local daily defecations into Goleta Bay. It's a disgrace to be this far into the 21st Century and still be using dilution as a solution. Without accountability there will be no improvement and worthless propaganda will suffice instead.
2012-07-09 09:16 PM
Kudos to our UCSB Profs for playing such an important role. We should be proud of the environmental leadership provided by our local scholars.
2012-07-10 09:54 AM
682 they have proposed solutions, many of them, Goleta just doesn't want to put forth the effort and/or money to finally solve it. Do you have any suggestions other than name calling and spewing catchy buzzwords on the comment section of ed hat? I graduated from the environmental studies program at UCSB and can personally attest to the hard work, dedication, and commitment to improving the quality of life for everyone that these professors engage in. What's so elitist about that? I suggest going and talking with one of them and expressing your deep concerns and sentiments about Goleta bay. But until then chew on this...."If you're not part of the solution then you're part of the problem."
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