Letter from the Editor

bridges vol. 15, September 2007 / Letter from the Editor

by Caroline Adenberger

Dear Reader,

Among the many interesting contributions featured in this issue of bridges, I was particularly struck by Helmut Haberl's article on HANPP, which stands for "Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production." What appears very technical at first glance shouldn't keep you from digging into it. In brief, his article explains how one-quarter of nature's resources is gobbled up by a single species - and you can guess which one we are talking about: Humans.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} Haberl's prediction is that our resource consumption will rise even more over the coming years, putting the balance of earth's ecosystems at a dangerous risk. Ironically, a large part of the future increase in HANPP could result from the fight against climate change. Worldwide, people are turning to biofuels to free us from the suffocating grip of fossil fuels and the CO2 emissions from their combustion. But as Haberl's study shows, a full-scale replacement of fossil fuels by biofuels, which many policy makers envision in the long run, would have dramatic implications for the planet's ecosystems.

Take the example of Indonesia: Encouraged by the rising global demand for palm oil - a very popular biofuel - Indonesia is creating more palm oil plantations than it ever had before. The "collateral" damage to the environment has been devastating, and Indonesia has become the world's third-highest emitter of carbon dioxide, behind China and the United States. This is largely because many of the palm oil plantations are planted on carbon-rich peat land that must first be drained, releasing millions more tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. In addition, palm oil plantations pose the greatest threat to the survival of animals like the endangered orangutan, since their original habitat in the jungle canopies has had to make way for more palm oil plantations. To the cynic, it seems that a continued pursuit of this "green solution" to climate change will inevitably lead to the eradication of Indonesia's ecosystem, one of the richest still remaining on our planet.

In another feature article of this issue, Joseph Romm, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and author of the book Hell and High Water: Global Warming-the Solution and the Politics, investigates a strongly debated remedy for the warming of our planet: Carbon Offsets. From forestry offsets to large-scale ocean fertilization, Romm analyzes the true potential of these measures and whether they are more hope or hype.

bridges columnist Roger Pielke also picks up on the question of climate change in this issue's column , "Late Action by Lame Ducks." Pielke uses the occasion of this week's 2-days meeting on climate change in Washington, DC, championed by US President George W. Bush, to take a closer look at certain repeating patterns in the regulatory actions of "late-term lame-duck presidencies," as he calls them, and the reasoning and the real intentions behind them.

The guest commentary by David Michaels asks for a Sarbanes-Oxley Act for Science - referring to the American Competitiveness and Corporate Accountability Act of 2002, commonly known as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was enacted in the aftermath of the Enron scandal. Michaels, who directs the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP), presents in great detail the pros and cons of two approaches to scientific data use: One demands total transparency and public disclosure, the other underlines the need for data classification under certain circumstances.

An interview with Sherwood Boehlert, former chairman of the House Science Committee and longtime advocate for science, with more than a quarter century of experience in science policy making; an amazing mercury-banning campaign from the NIH, the biggest biomedical research campus in the world; and portraits of outstanding Austrian scientists working in North America will provide you with more reading matter to hold your interest during these early days of fall.

Caroline Adenberger

Humanity gobbles a quarter of nature's resources, 02 July 2007

Indonesia: Orangutans squeezed by biofuel boom
http://climateark.org, retrieved on September 24, 2007