Author Archive

Global Extinction Rates: Why Do Estimates Vary So Wildly?

Yale Environment 360: Most ecologists believe that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction. Humanity’s impact on nature, they say, is now comparable to the five previous catastrophic events over the past 600 million years, during which up to 95 percent of the planet’s species disappeared. We may very well be. But recent studies have cited extinction rates that are extremely fuzzy and vary wildly. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which involved more than a thousand experts, estimated an extinction rate that...

In Kenya’s Mountain Forests, A New Path to Conservation

Yale Environment 360: Here is a good news story from Africa. A story about how conservationists and forest managers are putting local communities at the heart of efforts to protect forests on critical upland watersheds. In Kenya, local famers are replacing state officials and forest wardens in the battle against a corrupt system intent on ransacking natural resources that once reached all the way to the president’s office. Can local control work where the state failed? Will the country’s critical “water towers” be...

Mideast Water Wars: In Iraq, A Battle for Control of Water

Yale Environment 360: There is a water war going on in the Middle East this summer. Behind the headline stories of brutal slaughter as Sunni militants carve out a religious state covering Iraq and Syria, there lies a battle for the water supplies that sustain these desert nations. Blood is being spilled to capture the giant dams that control the region’s two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. These structures hold back vast volumes of water. With their engineers fleeing as the Islamic State (ISIS) advances, the...

Biodiversity in Logged Forests Far Higher Than Once Believed

Yale Environment 360: Researchers have discovered a significant flaw in large swaths of ecological research into the impact of logging on tropical forests: Scientists have been dramatically overestimating the damage done by loggers, skewing conservation strategies paid for by the donations of millions of environmentally minded citizens. Logged tropical forests, new research suggests, are much more valuable for biodiversity than previously thought. Our understandable preoccupation with protecting pristine ecosystems...

Grisly Trend: Green Activists Are Facing Deadly Dangers

Yale Environment 360: Where is Sombath Somphone? With every day that passes, the fate of one of Southeast Asia’s most high-profile environmental activists, who was snatched from the streets of Laos in December, becomes more worrisome. His case has been raised by the State Department and countless NGOs around the world. But the authorities in Laos have offered no clue as to what happened after Sombath was stopped at a police checkpoint on a Saturday afternoon in the Lao capital of Vientiane as he returned home from...

A Global Treaty on Rivers: Key to True Water Security

Yale Environment 360: Is peace about to break out on the world’s rivers? It is amazing that until now there has been no global agreement on sharing international rivers. From the Mekong to the Jordan and the Niger to the Euphrates, there has been nothing to stop upstream countries from building giant dams that cut off all flows downstream. Yet in the coming weeks we could have two such treaties. First, the continuing bad news: Belligerent countries are still exerting their hydrological muscle. Just this month, Laos...

Beyond Big Dams: Turning to Grass Roots Solutions on Water

Yale Environment 360: How will the world find the water to feed a growing population in an era of droughts and water shortages? The answer, a growing number of water experts are saying, is to forget big government-run irrigations projects with their mega-dams, giant canals, and often corrupt and indolent management. Farmers across the poor world, they say, are solving their water problems far more effectively with cheap Chinese-made pumps and other low-tech and off-the-shelf equipment. Researchers are concluding that...

On the Road Back to Rio, Green Direction Has Been Lost

Yale Environment 360: It is easy to be cynical. Back in 1992, more than 100 world leaders, including George H.W. Bush, showed up for the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It was a two-week mega-event that attracted huge attention, highlighted by the signing of two groundbreaking treaties on climate change and biodiversity and grand declarations about creating a future green and equitable world. To put it mildly, the subsequent two decades have not lived up to the promises. George W. Bush effectively broke the climate...

The Big Payback from Bringing Back Peat Bogs

Yale Environment 360: Wild fires that swept across Russia during the record heat wave last summer wrecked crops, triggered a global surge in wheat prices, caused pitch-black smogs that killed thousands of people and -- though not much noted at the time -- poured huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The gas came mainly from burning peat in wide areas of drained bogs around Moscow. The world had seen nothing like it since peat bogs burned in Indonesia in 1998, shrouding neighboring countries in smoke for...

Phosphate: A Critical Resource Misused and Now Running Out

Yale Environment 360: If you wanted to really mess with the world’s food production, a good place to start would be Bou Craa, located in the desert miles from anywhere in the Western Sahara. They don’t grow much here, but Bou Craa is a mine containing one of the world’s largest reserves of phosphate rock. Most of us, most days, will eat some food grown on fields fertilized by phosphate rock from this mine. And there is no substitute. The Western Sahara is an occupied territory. In 1976, when Spanish colonialists left,...