e360 digest


Interview: Why Ocean Health Is
Better, and Worse, Than You Think

In a recent groundbreaking study in Science, a group of marine experts — including lead author Douglas
Douglas McCauley
Douglas McCauley
McCauley — delivered a sobering message: The world’s oceans are on the verge of major change that could cause irreparable damage to marine life. While ocean ecosystems are still largely intact, the marine world is facing unprecedented disturbances, including ocean acidification and habitat destruction from deep-sea mining, oil and gas drilling, development, and aquaculture. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, McCauley discusses the parallels of the loss of wildlife on land and at sea and explains why creating marine reserves and establishing international ocean zoning regulations would help blunt the damage from a looming “marine industrial revolution.”
Read the interview.
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17 Feb 2015: Demand for Indonesian Timber
Far Outpaces Sustainable Supply, Study Says

More than 30 percent of wood used by Indonesia’s industrial forest sector stems from illegal sources rather than
deforestation for palm oil plantation

Deforestation in Aceh, Indonesia, for palm oil.
well-managed logging concessions or legal tree plantations, according to a new report based on data from industry and the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry. If Indonesian forestry industries operated at capacity, 41 percent of the wood supply would be illegal, the analysis found, and if companies were to go forward with plans for new mills, the supply would be 59 percent illegal. The source of this illegal wood is unclear, but the report suggests it is likely harvested by clear-cutting natural forests for new oil palm and pulp plantations. Part of the problem, the report says, is that Indonesia's sanctioned forestry plantations — the country's primary source of legal wood — are not currently sustainable because they are producing wood at only half the predicted rate.
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16 Feb 2015: Space-Based Measurments Can
Track Global Ocean Acidity, Researchers Say

An international team of scientists has developed new methods for studying the acidity of the oceans from space,

Enlarge
ocean acidification map

Global ocean alkalinity measured from space.
according to research published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Currently, scientists must rely on measurements taken from research vessels and sampling equipment deployed in oceans to determine acidity — which rises as the oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere — but this approach is expensive and geographically limited. The new techniques use satellite-mounted thermal cameras to measure ocean temperature and microwave sensors to measure salinity. Together these measurements can be used to assess ocean acidification more quickly and over much larger areas than has been possible before.
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13 Feb 2015: Study Says U.S. Southwest Set
To Face Unprecedented Drying This Century

The U.S. Southwest and Great Plains are on track to face persistent drought during the second half of this century,

Enlarge
risk of future drought

Risk of future prolonged drought in the Southwest
a new study forecasts, and the drought will be worse than anything seen in modern history or even during ancient so-called "megadroughts." Many studies have predicted that the Southwest could dry due to human-induced climate change, but this is the first to say that such drying could exceed the worst conditions of the distant past. The impacts of such a future drought would be devastating, the researchers say, given the region’s much larger population and heavy reliance on water and other natural resources. “The surprising thing to us was really how consistent the response was over these regions, nearly regardless of what model we used or what soil moisture metric we looked at,” said lead author Benjamin I. Cook, a researcher with Columbia University and NASA.
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12 Feb 2015: Mange in Yellowstone Wolves
Documented Through Thermal Images

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey are using thermal video cameras to study how mange is affecting
wolf with mange

Thermal image of a wolf with mange on its legs.
wolves in Yellowstone National Park, as shown in this video. Mange is a highly contagious skin disease caused by mites that burrow into the skin of dogs and wolves, causing infections, hair loss, irritation, and intense itching. The urge to scratch can be so overwhelming that the wolves neglect resting and hunting, researchers say, leaving them vulnerable to hypothermia, malnutrition, and dehydration, which can eventually lead to death. Thermal imagery allows scientists to document the extent of hair loss and the actual loss of heat associated with different stages of infection. Red patches on a wolf's legs, as shown in this image, indicate rapid heat loss caused by mange.
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11 Feb 2015: Learning About Geoengineering
Spurs More Agreement on Climate, Study Says

Geoengineering, an experimental series of technologies aimed at counteracting the effects of climate change, could potentially diminish political polarization over global warming, according to new research. Roughly 3,000 participants in a study displayed more open-mindedness toward evidence of climate change and more agreement on the significance of such evidence after learning about geoengineering technologies, according to a study conducted by researchers at Yale and other universities. Participants became more polarized when they were told that curbing climate change would require reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the researchers report. The findings come after a report this week from the U.S. National Research Council recommended limited government-sponsored research into the use of sulfate aerosols, a potential geoengineering strategy known as albedo modification.
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As Arctic Ocean Ice Vanishes,
Questions About Future Fishing

With the steady retreat of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean opening up vast areas of this long-frozen marine basin, a key resource

A Russian fishing vessel trawls the Arctic Ocean.
issue is now emerging: the future of fisheries, especially in central Arctic waters. What species are migrating into the region as sea ice disappears? And could the heart of the Arctic Ocean sustain a commercial fishery in the coming decades? These issues were central to a discussion at a recent conference on the fisheries of the central Arctic Ocean. With more southerly fish species migrating into warmer and increasingly ice-free regions of the Arctic Ocean, officials from the U.S. and Canada say it’s important to negotiate an international agreement on fishing before allowing fisheries to open.
Read the article.
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10 Feb 2015: Flooding in U.S. Midwest Is
Becoming More Frequent, Research Shows

Flooding in the U.S. Midwest has become more frequent over the last half-century, a new study in Nature Climate Change has
furniture displaced in flooding

Furniture displaced by flooding in Iowa in 2008.
found, confirming what many residents of the region had already suspected. Of the nearly 800 stream sites analyzed, more than one-third had an increase in flood event frequency, while only 9 percent showed a decrease in flooding. Although the study did not attempt to link the increase in flooding with climate change, the findings do fit well with current thinking among scientists about how the hydrologic cycle is being affected by climate change, the researchers say. In general, as the atmosphere becomes warmer, it holds more moisture, and one consequence of higher water vapor concentrations is more frequent, intense precipitation.
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09 Feb 2015: Norway Divests National Fund
From Coal Companies Over Climate Concerns

Norway has divested its sovereign wealth fund — the largest in the world and worth roughly $850 billion — from coal companies, marking the first time a nation has divested for reasons related to climate change. Over the past three years, the country has dropped investments in more than 100 companies involved in coal mining, tar sands development, cement production, and mountaintop removal coal mining, officials announced. In a report released last week, the fund's directors said that risks associated with carbon emissions, deforestation, and poor water management outweigh the benefits of continuing to invest in these companies. Critics point out that the fund, which has been built with earnings from Norway's profitable oil industry, still holds roughly $40 billion in fossil fuel investments. The country says it will decide on a case- by-case basis whether to divest from those holdings.
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06 Feb 2015: Maine’s Iconic Lobsters
Face Threats From Ocean Acidification

Maine’s lobster fishery, worth $1.7 billion to the state and a vital source of employment, could be

A Maine lobster
threatened by acidifying ocean waters and rising sea temperatures, according to a new report. The report, issued by a state commission, called increasingly acidic ocean waters — caused by the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere — an “urgent matter” that needs to be addressed by state and local governments and the fishing infustry. Facing the prospect that increasing acidity could interfere with the ability of lobsters to make their shells, the commission set forth a handful of goals, including a stepped-up research effort on the acidification of the coast’s waters and its impact on crustaceans. Maine lawmakers have already introduced legislation for limits on industrial and agricultural runoff, which contribute to coastal water acidification.
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05 Feb 2015: Ultra-Efficient Solar Cells
Can Be Adapted for Rooftops, Research Finds

Extremely efficient solar cells similar to those used in space may soon be ready for installation on residential rooftops, according to a report in Nature Communications. Concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) systems, which use lenses and curved mirrors to focus sunlight onto small solar cells, produce energy much more efficiently than conventional solar panels — 40-percent efficiency compared to less than 20 percent for standard silicon systems. But they are typically the size of billboards and have to be positioned very accurately to track the sun throughout the day. Now researchers have overcome these obstacles by developing a CPV system that uses miniaturized gallium-arsenide photovoltaic cells, 3D-printed plastic lens arrays, and a moveable focusing mechanism. The new system is small and light enough to fit on a residential rooftop and should be inexpensive to produce, researchers say.
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04 Feb 2015: Plant-Like Sea Slug Can Steal
Genes From its Food, Researchers Report

The emerald green, leaf-shaped sea slug known as Elysia chlorotica can live for months at a time by

Enlarge
sea slug Elysia chlorotica

Sea slug Elysia chlorotica
photosynthesizing its own food, like a plant does, but until recently scientists did not understand how the slug acquired and maintained this rare ability. A recent report in the journal The Biological Bulletin shows that the slug steals genes and chloroplasts — the cellular machinery that converts sunlight into food — from algae that the slug eats. Genes lifted from the algae can maintain cholorplasts in the slug for up to nine months, the researchers say — much longer than the chloroplasts would last in the algae themselves. Moreover, the slug can pass on those stolen genes to its offspring. The process is a mechanism of rapid evolution, says one of the study's authors.
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03 Feb 2015: Nine of 10 Cities in China Failed
Air Quality Standards, Government Says

Roughly 90 percent of China's large cities did not meet national air quality standards last year, according to the country's

Smog over the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.
environment ministry. Only eight of the 74 cities monitored by the ministry met standards for pollution metrics such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and fine particle concentrations, according to a report published on the ministry's website. The poor results actually represent an improvement over 2013, when only three of the 74 cities met air quality standards, Reuters reports. Last year, after residents grew increasingly alarmed about air quality in metropolitan areas, China promised to "declare war on pollution" by slashing coal use and closing heavily polluting factories. Still, the government does not expect the national average for fine particle pollution to reach official standards until 2030 or later.
PERMALINK

 

02 Feb 2015: Many California Farms and
Orchards Idled By Drought, NASA Maps Show

In 2014 — the driest year ever recorded in California — farms and orchards in the state's Central Valley took a major hit

Enlarge
California agriculture status

Status of CA farms in 2011 (left) and 2014 (right).
and many agricultural plots were left fallow, as shown in these maps based on NASA satellite data. The maps depict the status of crop cultivation in California in August 2011 and August 2014. Brown pixels show farms and orchards that have been left fallow, or “idled,” since January 1 in each year. Green pixels show plots where at least one crop was grown during the year. The most recent year with average or above average precipitation across the state was 2011, and, as the map shows, relatively little agricultural land was left fallow that year. In 2014, a much higher proportion of farms and orchards were idle.
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30 Jan 2015: Thunderstorms Move Ozone
Toward Surface of Earth, Research Shows

Thunderstorms move a significant amount of ozone from the stratosphere down toward the earth's surface — a process

Thunderstorms transport ozone toward earth.
that could have important impacts on climate, according to a recent study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. Ozone shields the planet from the sun's ultraviolet rays when it's in the stratosphere, the second-lowest layer of the atmosphere, but ozone acts as a powerful greenhouse gas and pollutant when it's nearer to the earth's surface, in the troposphere. The study found that massive thunderheads, which can rise 50,000 feet above the ground, disturb the atmosphere and allow ozone to pour into the troposphere. Scientists had not previously known that storms play a key role in transporting ozone. The new findings could impact climate models, researchers say, especially since storms are expected to become more frequent and intense as the earth warms.
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29 Jan 2015: Iceland Rising as Climate Change
Causes Glaciers to Melt, Researchers Say

The crust under Iceland is rebounding as climate change melts the island's great ice caps, researchers report in the

GPS stations measure Iceland crust movement
journal Geophysical Research Letters. The current rapid rising, or uplift, of the Icelandic crust is a result of accelerated melting of the island's glaciers and coincides with a regional warming trend that began roughly 30 years ago, the scientists said. Some areas in south-central Iceland are moving upward as much as 1.4 inches per year — a surprisingly high speed, the researchers say. Whether the rebound is related to past deglaciation or modern glacial thinning and global warming had been an open question until now, said co-author Richard Bennett, a geoscientist at the University of Arizona. "What we're observing is a climatically induced change in the earth's surface," Bennett said.
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28 Jan 2015: Camera Trap Records Rare
Glimpse of African Golden Cat Hunting

An African golden cat, one of the least known and most elusive wild cats on the planet, has been filmed hunting in

African golden cat
Kibale National Park, Uganda, for the first time, scientists say. In the video, which was recorded by a camera trap, an African golden cat darts toward a group of red colobus monkeys feeding on a tree stump. The cat's attack is nearly too fast to be seen in real-time, but viewing the footage in slow-motion highlights the cat's swiftness and accuracy — even though its ambush failed to land a meal. The African golden cat is found only in the forests of central and West Africa, and it is threatened across its range by intensive bushmeat hunting and habitat loss. Researchers say the video provides important details about the African golden cats' hunting behavior that have never before been directly observed.
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27 Jan 2015: Pollinator Loss Could Put
Poor Nations at Risk for Malnutrition

Declining pollinator populations could leave as many as half of the people in developing countries facing nutritional deficiencies, according to researchers from the University of Vermont and the Harvard School of Public Health. In the study — the first to link pollinator declines directly to human nutrition — researchers collected detailed data about people's daily diets in parts of Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda, and Bangladesh. They found that in Mozambique, for example, many children and mothers are barely able to meet their needs for micronutrients, especially vitamin A, which is important for preventing blindness and infectious diseases. Fruits and vegetables were an important source of that nutrient for many people in the study, and those crops are highly dependent on pollinators, researchers say — for example, yields of mangoes, which are high in vitamin A, would likely be cut by 65 percent without them. Pollinator losses might also lead to folate deficiency, they say, which is associated with neural tube defects.
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26 Jan 2015: Oil Spills Can Lead to Toxic
Arsenic Water Contamination, Study Says

When petroleum breaks down in underground aquifers, toxic arsenic — up to 23 times the current drinking water

Water sampling at the Minnesota oil-spill test site.
standard — can be released into groundwater, according to a study by U.S. Geological Survey and Virginia Tech researchers, who analyzed samples collected over 32 years from a petroleum-spill research site in Minnesota. Arsenic, a toxin and carcinogen linked to numerous forms of cancer, is naturally present in most soils and sediments, but is not typically a health concern because its chemical properties keep it bound within soil and minerals. However, certain chemical reactions associated with petroleum contamination and microbial activity in low-oxygen environments, such as in aquifers, change the chemical state of the arsenic so that it can enter the groundwater, researchers say.
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23 Jan 2015: South Africa Relocates Rhinos
After Record Number Were Poached in 2014

Unable to curb poaching of rhinos within its borders, the South African government has relocated 100 rhinos to

A white rhino in Kruger National Park.
neighboring countries in an effort to stem the illegal slaughter of the animals, Reuters reports. For security reasons, officials did not reveal to which countries the rhinos had been relocated. An additional 56 rhinos were moved from poaching hotspots within South Africa's Kruger National Park — where two-thirds of the killings happen — to an "intensive protection zone" within Kruger, officials said. Poachers killed a record number of the animals in South Africa last year — 1,215 rhinos, up 20 percent from the 2013 total — and 49 have been killed so far this year. The animals are hunted intensely because their horns, which some Asian cultures incorrectly believe contain medicinal properties, are worth an estimated $65,000 per kilogram on the black market.
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22 Jan 2015: Draining of Greenland Lakes
Signals Massive Melting, Researchers Say

Researchers have discovered craters left behind when two lakes under the Greenland ice sheet rapidly drained recently — an indication

Crater left after a Greenland lake drained.
that a massive amount of meltwater has started overflowing the ice sheet's natural plumbing and is causing "blowouts" that drain lakes away, they say. One of the two lakes once held billions of gallons of water and emptied to form a mile-wide crater in just a few weeks, researchers report in the journal The Cryosphere. The other lake, described this week in the journal Nature, was two miles wide and has filled and emptied twice in the last two years. The researchers suspect that as more meltwater reaches the base of the ice sheet, natural drainage tunnels along the Greenland coast are cutting further inland. The tunnels carry heat and water to areas that were once frozen to the bedrock, potentially causing the ice to melt even faster.
PERMALINK

 

21 Jan 2015: Filtering Polluted Stormwater
Through Soil Can Protect Salmon, Study Says

Filtering polluted runoff from urban areas through a simple soil mixture dramatically reduced the water's toxic metal and

A pair of coho salmon.
hydrocarbon content and made it safe for coho salmon and the insects they eat, according to new research. Scientists collected polluted runoff from a four-lane highway in Seattle, then filtered part of the water through a mixture of sand, compost, and shredded bark. Coho salmon and aquatic insects thrived in the filtered stormwater, but they quickly died in the unfiltered water, researchers reported in the journal Chemosphere. Chemical analyses showed that filtering the water through the soil mixture reduced toxic metals by 30 to 99 percent, polyaromatic hydrocarbons to levels at or below detection, and organic matter by more than 40 percent. The research supports the use of rain gardens and other natural stormwater filtration systems, the authors say.
PERMALINK

 

20 Jan 2015: Genetic Diversity Is Key To
Food Stability in Changing Climate, UN Says

As climate change advances, much more should be done to study, preserve, and take advantage of the biological diversity

Wild red rice is hardier than cultivated varieties.
underpinning world food production, according to a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Between 16 and 22 percent of current crop species — including 61 percent of peanut and 12 percent of potato species — could become extinct in the next 50 years, the report notes. Wild strains, which are often better at adapting to environmental changes, will become increasingly important for feeding the global population, which is expected to grow by 3 billion people by 2050, the report says. Strengthening gene and seed banks, improving breeding practices, increasing genetic diversity on farms and in fields, and preserving soil microbiomes will be key to boosting crops' climate resilience, the FAO said.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: How Chinese Tiger Farms
Threaten Wild Tigers Worldwide

The number of tigers living in the wild has dropped to the shockingly low figure of 3,200, down from 100,000 a century ago.
Judith Mills
Judith Mills
But nearly as shocking is this statistic: An estimated 5,000 to 6,000 tigers are being legally farmed today in China, their bones steeped in alcohol to make tiger bone wine, their meat sold, and their skins turned into rugs for members of China’s wealthy elite. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, wildlife activist Judith Mills makes a passionate case against tiger farming, explaining how these magnificent creatures are bred like cattle for their body parts, how some conservation groups have chosen not to confront the Chinese government about the farms, and how tiger farming poses a direct threat to the world’s remaining wild tigers because increased availability of these bones and pelts fuels demand that strengthens the incentive to poach wild tigers.
Read the interview.
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16 Jan 2015: Solar a Better Investment Than
Stocks in Most Large U.S. Cities, Study Says

For homeowners in 46 of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., investing in a residential solar power system would yield better returns than putting money in the

stock market, according to an analysis by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State University. For 21 million owners of single-family homes in the U.S., solar energy already costs less than current local utility rates, the report says, as long as the system can be purchased with low-cost financing of 5 percent interest over 25 years. Residents of New York City, Boston, and Albuquerque would likely see the largest benefits from investing in residential solar, the report says. The findings assume, however, that government incentives encouraging solar investments — such as tax exemptions and policies allowing homeowners to sell excess solar power to utility companies — will continue, which is highly dependent on federal, state, and local politics.
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15 Jan 2015: Underwater Kelp Forests Mapped
In New Citizen Science Project

Kelp forests grow along roughly 25 percent of the world’s coastlines and provide valuable habitat and nutrients for many types of aquatic life. Now, research by the “Floating Forests” project is shedding light on how these underwater kelp forests are affected by climate change. The project is using NASA satellite data to observe changes in kelp forests over a period of more than four decades. The catch: No accurate way to automate the process exists, so the researchers rely on an international team of nearly 3,500 citizen scientists to mark the bright green kelp forests, which contrast with the deep blues of the ocean in the images.
Read more.
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14 Jan 2015: Offshore Wind More Profitable
Than Drilling on U.S. East Coast, Report Says

Offshore wind would produce twice the number of jobs and twice the amount of energy as offshore drilling

Offshore wind turbines in the Irish Sea
near the U.S. East Coast, according to a new report from the advocacy group Oceana. The report contends that recent claims by the oil and gas industry about the economic potential of offshore drilling in the region are exaggerated because many of those oil and gas reserves are not economically viable to drill. Plans to build the nation's first offshore wind farm off Cape Cod have repeatedly failed to move forward. But Oceana calculates that over the course of 20 years, offshore wind in the Atlantic could produce nearly twice as much energy as all of the economically recoverable oil and gas. Offshore wind installations also would likely create an additional 91,000 jobs — twice as many as offshore drilling would create, Oceana says.
PERMALINK

 

13 Jan 2015: California Still in Widespread
Drought, Despite Heavy Precipitation

The heavy rains and snow that fell across much of California in the first half of December did little to recharge the state's

Enlarge
California precipitation deficits

California precipitation deficits
dry reservoirs or ease long-term drought conditions, an analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms. By the middle of December, 98 percent of the state remained under drought conditions, which is the same portion as before the storms, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Dry conditions over the last three years have left the Sierra Nevada mountain range with a 30- to 50-inch precipitation deficit, NOAA reports, and the agriculture-heavy San Joaquin Valley has fared even worse. To bring the state's four-year precipitation total out of the bottom 20 percent historically — a benchmark used to declare drought conditions — every part of the state would need to exceed its average rainfall between now and September.
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12 Jan 2015: Maasai Group Plans to Sell
Biogas Made From Slaughterhouse Waste

A group of Maasai farmers in southwestern Kenya has developed a profitable way to convert animal waste and

A Keeko Biogas cylinder prototype
blood from a local slaughterhouse into biogas that can power the facility as well as other local businesses, Reuters reports. The Keeko Biogas project plans to start bottling the fuel and selling cylinders of it in March, once safety testing has been completed, project leaders say. At roughly $8 per 6-kilogram cylinder, the biogas is about half the price of liquefied petroleum gas, and it can be up to 40 percent more energy efficient than propane or butane, says the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute, which is providing technical support for the project. The facility will be able to produce 100 to 300 cylinders of biogas per week, organizers say. The project will not only offset the costs of waste management for the slaughterhouse, it will also likely help prevent deforestation in the region. "We cut down a lot of trees for charcoal and we hope to reduce that,” the chairman of the slaughterhouse told Reuters.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Giving Local Women
A Voice in Grass-Roots Conservation

The roles of women in traditional societies can be quite different from men’s, and their knowledge of the
Kame Westerman
Kame Westerman
natural world and the way in which conservation projects affect them may also be different. But these variables aren’t necessarily taken into account when developing such projects. The results can range from missed opportunities to project failure. Earlier this year, Conservation International began piloting guidelines to help integrate gender considerations into its community projects — an initiative that Kame Westerman, the "gender advisor" for that organization, helped develop. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Westerman discusses these guidelines, as well as the perils of ignoring gender when planning conservation initiatives.
Read more.
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