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Monthly Archives: December 2009

Leading environmental scientists and evangelical Christians join forces to lobby senators in support of the climate bill.

Evangelical Christians at prayer. Leading evangelical Christians and scientists are lobbying senators to support the climate bill.

The handful of Senators trying to rustle up support for Obama’s energy and climate change legislation in Congress could certainly do with some inspiration, or even divine intervention – so an initiative this week by scientists and evangelical leaders is especially timely.

Members of the two camps paired up in a campaign on Capitol Hill to lobby Senators to support the bill. Evangelicals are the bedrock of the Republican party and are often seen as sceptical of science, from global warming to evolution. So the initiative’s core argument is: if evangelicals can find it in their hearts to support action on climate change, why can’t senators have a similar conversion?

As they began their rounds on Tuesday, Harry Reid, the Senate Majority leader, confirmed that a climate change bill would have to wait until next spring.

The delay suggests a further weakening of political will to cut America’s greenhouse gas emissions, which Republicans and conservative Democrats say will deepen the economic recession.

But Richard Cizik, a former executive of the National Association of Evangelicals, who is one of the leaders of the initiative, argues there is far broader support among religious communities for action on climate change that is widely understood. The younger generations especially are passionately concerned about the environment.

"These evangelicals have an intensity level that even some in the environmental community don’t have. They believe this is their God-given calling," he said. "When you realise you have missed something – as I did when I had a conversion on these issues – you become like a new convert to the faith, a passionate activist."

For many, the connection between climate change and poverty in the developing world – a core issue for many churches – was crucial in forcing a rethink on climate change issues.

"There has been for some in this country a conflict between faith and religion and science and so climate change has been in certain ways a victim of the origins debate. Scientists believe in evolution, therefore I oppose evolution."

The Scientists and Evangelicals Initiative is an effort to build bridges on the climate change issue:

Ultimately, we believe that such collaboration will capture the imagination of people worldwide who will recognise the urgency of our concerns about the environment and be moved by our willingness to put aside whatever differences we may have to work together to protect it.

The idea of leading environmental scientists and evangelical Christians meeting and working together is initially often met with surprise and some anxiety as there are clear areas of disagreement between the two groups.

However, both groups have come to understand that the devastating effects of climate change and biodiversity loss disproportionately affect people who are poor and lack the financial resources to adapt to a changing climate. This is at the heart of our groups’ shared sense of moral purpose.

The international observance of World Water Day is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro.

The United Nations General Assembly designated 22 March of each year as the World Day for Water by adopting a resolution.This world day for water was to be observed starting in 1993, in conformity with the recommendations of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development contained in chapter 18 (Fresh Water Resources) of Agenda 21.

States were invited to devote the Day to implement the UN recommendations and set up concrete activities as deemed appropriate in the national context.

The Subcommittee welcomes the assistance offered by IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre to contribute to an information network centre in support of the observance of the Day by Governments, as required.

Visit www.worldwaterday.org today.

The University of Kansas and Bioserve Technologies decided to send some monarch butterfly larvae to the International Space Station, provide them with microgravity (the nearest thing to feeling weightless) and see whether or not the caterpillars would become butterflies. The creatures did manage to metamorphose, but now that they’re butterflies, the poor things absolutely cannot fly. The low gravity conditions fling them into a chaotic and rapid flight pattern that sends them banging around the plastic cages they’re living in.

This video is of Dr. Chip Taylor, the director of Monarch Watch, explaining the experiment.

Photo by Vicki’s Nature

Mammoth dung has proved to be a source of prehistoric information, helping scientists unravel the mystery of what caused the great mammals to die out.

An examination of a fungus that is found in the ancient dung and preserved in lake sediments has helped build a picture of what happened to the beasts.

The study sheds light on the ecological consequences of the extinction and the role that humans may have played in it.

Researchers describe this development in the journal Science.

The study was led by Jacquelyn Gill from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the US.

She and her colleagues studied the Sporormiella fungal spores contained in the sediment deep within the bed of Appleman Lake in Indiana.

Many very large mammals including mammoths, mastodons and ground sloths inhabited forests in this area of North America about 20,000 years ago.

Sporormiella produces spores in the dung of large herbivores. These are then preserved in the layers of mud and can provide an index of the number of these great animals, or megafauna, that roamed the environment at a particular time.

The researchers took sediment cores from the bed of Appleman lake in Indiana.

"Sediment cores are much like ice cores, except with lake mud," explained Ms Gill. "The spores [and other materials] settle out into the lake mud and get buried over time."

She and her team simply counted the pollen, charcoal and Sporormiella in these layers of mud, tracking the timescale of ancient environmental changes.

Their results showed a slow decline in megafauna that began about 15,000 years ago and appeared to last for about 1,000 years.

This discovery rules out one idea that the extinction might have been caused by an extraterrestrial object striking Earth 13,000 years ago.

The scientists also spotted signals of major environmental changes around the time of the extinction.

"This study is exciting because we’re getting some solid data about the ecological consequences of the removal of these animals," said Ms Gill.

"After their decline we see an increase in the more warm-adapted deciduous trees, and an increase in charcoal [which means there was] an increase in the number of forest fires.

"So we can see that the forest is reassembling following the extinction."

Human or environment

The cores provide a timeline of environmental change
The study also shows that the decline began about 1,000 years before the Clovis period – when the archaeological record shows that humans were making stone tools designed specifically to hunt large animals.

Prior to this discovery, some scientists believed that Clovis people hunted the animals to extinction.

But Professor Christopher Johnson from James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, said the study still supports the hypothesis that humans were primarily responsible for the mammals’ decline.

Professor Johnson was not involved in the study but wrote an accompanying article in the same issue of Science, outlining its significance.

He wrote: "If people were responsible… they must have been pre-Clovis settlers.

"The existence of such people has been controversial, but archaeological evidence is slowly coming to light."

Ms Gill commented: "We can’t resolve the climate versus humans debate but we have eliminated one of the main hypotheses for each camp."

She added that there were "modern conservation implications" to the study.

"We know the large herbivores on the landscape today are some of the most threatened," she said.

"And we’re starting to learn that they’re ecological keystones. They’re not just charismatic, they might also be ecologically significant."

Professor Johnson told BBC News: "If we want to understand the history of ecosystems across the planet we really need to understand the effects of megafaunal extinction."