December 12, 2016
It’s no secret that California is entering Year 6 of a drought-period. And though this rainy season has had one of the wettest starts in 30 years, at least in northern California, that doesn’t guarantee the end of the drought. In fact, the Department of Water Resources made an announcement in November that State Water Project customers can expect to receive 20% of their requested deliveries in 2017 (this is an initial estimate and likely to change).
Part of what impacts this is the overall health, or depth, of the snowpack in the Sierras. Snowpack can store millions of acre-feet of water that refills lakes and reservoirs as it melts—and how empty or full lakes and reservoirs appear provide a quick indicator of overall drought conditions.
However, it’s more difficult to account for some of the other impacts of a prolonged period of drought. Since 2011, more than 102 million trees in California have died, more than half of them (62 million) this year. These trees provide important ecosystem services, including supporting healthy watersheds, providing wildlife habitat, and acting as a “carbon sink”—meaning they capture atmospheric carbon. Even giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum), which are usually fairly resilient during drought periods, are showing evidence of drought through browning crowns and showing up as standing dead (sequoias are more likely to fall over when they die, because they’ve stretched too far from their stabilizing root systems).
Researchers Wendy Baxter and Anthony Ambrose began studying the impacts of drought to sequoias in 2015, with the support of the National Park Service (NPS). They, along with a team of volunteers, climb the sequoias using jumar ascenders, and collect samples at a couple of different points—including from the crown of the tree. These samples help researchers understand the severity of water stress the sequoias are under, the water content in their needles, and the amount of carbon-13 isotope the tree uses during the photosynthetic process (which provides additional insights into drought stress).
This information will ultimately be used in forest management—and could include selective thinning that would eliminate less resilient trees that are competing for water.
And the competition is tough: giant sequoias can take in 800 gallons of water per day. Water is drawn up through the xylem primarily through the release of water vapor through the leaves’ open stomata (transpiration). This creates a vacuum affect. As leaves conduct photosynthesis, water and sugars flow down the phloem*. These sugars are then either stored for later use when photosynthesis slows or used for the tree’s basic maintenance. As drought conditions continue, the tension created by the transpiration process increases and can eventually snap the xylem. This creates an embolism that prevents additional water from flowing up the trunk. If this happens too much, a tree will shed its leaves and eventually die.
Baxter and Ambrose aren’t the only research team working to figure out what’s happening with California’s forests. Another comes in the form of an airborne observatory that maps what’s happening with trees across the state (the technology is advanced enough that the observatory can pick up images about what’s going to become apparent to the human eye).
This should concern us all because forests act as carbon sinks—and if they are dying, that means the carbon will be released back into the atmosphere. Higher levels of atmospheric carbon are linked to global climate change. In addition, forests have a cooling effect on the surrounding area, in part due to the transpiration process, and provide habitat for many different species.
We’ll have to see what this rainy season in California brings—it is a La Niña year, which comes with the possibility of a relatively dry winter, despite the wet beginnings of the season.
*Like that pneumonic? Flow down à phloem!Leave a comment
December 5, 2016
Original news article on eco-business.com.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) this week hosted its inaugural Green Business Forum for Asia and the Pacific, which features high-level talks and panel discussions on sustainable business opportunities in the region.
The forum was held at the ADB Headquarters in Manila from November 22 to 24 amid the need to address Asia’s own socio-economic and environmental challenges – such as climate change, population growth, dwindling natural resources, land degradation and water and air pollution – through sustainability in the region’s economic development.
According to ADB, Asia is home to 60 per cent of the world’s current population which are fast migrating from rural areas to overpopulated urban centers. The region comprises nearly 40 per cent of global output and contributes 60 per cent to global growth.
This raises the need for building resilience through sustainable business growth.
Global as well as regional experts and frontliners from government, the private sector, and academia in areas like green financing, technology and sustainability brought to the table principles and best practices in sustainable business that can be applied to spur green growth in the region, specifically in the areas of agriculture, eco-tourism and services.
On the first day of the forum, answers to some of the common barriers to sustainable business were raised. These included how to have an enabling policy and regulatory framework in place to support sustainable business, how to create a strong and consistent market for environmental goods and services, how to access funding, how to use technological innovations in green business set-ups and most importantly, how to make money while going green.
ADB president Takehiko Nakao said at the opening plenary: “We’ve had so many forums like sustainable transport, water management and clean energy, and also how cities can be cleaner. But in a sense this forum is focusing on the profitability of doing all these things and I think there is great potential.”
UNEP executive director Erik Solheim, who joined Nakao in the panel, said Asia will take a driving seat in spurring sustainable business in the world.
“In a few years Asia will lead, and at the core of that is China,” Solheim said. “The most important issue is the issue of mindset. People see the environment as a cost instead of an enormous business opportunity.”
Other speakers at the opening plenary were Dr Madhu Khanna from the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics in Urbana, Illinois, Bangladesh Environment and Forestry Minister Anwar Hossain Manju, Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources secretary Regina Lopez, and Daniel Spitzer from the Bhutan-based Mountain Hazelnuts Group.
To help establish a strong sustainable business sector in the region, Nakao expressed ADB’s commitment to lend funding to more public and private sector groups that are pursuing green growth initiatives.
He highlighted that in the Philippines, ADB issued green bonds which financed private sector geo-thermal power plant projects while in China, ADB funded initiatives to address the imminent issues of water, soil and air pollution. Nakao said these issues have to be addressed seriously to avoid causing social instability in countries.
“Perhaps the very important focus of this forum is that green can make money. It is about profit.” Nakao said. “The market is ready for environmentally-sustainable food and products. Consumers are ready to pay a little bit more.”
He added: “Fifty years ago, when we started ADB, the main agenda was how to feed people. But today it is about climate change and environmental sustainability. It’s not because of COP21. It’s not about the Sustainable Development Goals. Asian countries want this. People want this. And ADB is reacting to that.”
Underscoring that there is a strong business case for green products and services in Asia, the forum discussion moved to identify enabling policies and regulatory frameworks that must be in place to ensure that green businesses thrive.
Dr Khanna said that in order for existing businesses to be motivated to adopt sustainability, there has to be a policy push from the government, and that governments may mandate businesses to go green but without being punitive.
Government policies will ensure there will be a long-term demand for environment goods and services, Dr Khanna said.
For example, in the aviation industry, the push from Europe to impose carbon tax on flights based on the airlines’ fuel consumption is leading the aviation industry to shift towards renewable fuels, she explained.
“The combination of technical expertise [from universities] as well as the policy push is what creates the demand for these technologies,” Dr Khanna said.
She added that market-driven incentives that have been created by civil society also lead to a demand for green business, making them profitable.
“We’re seeing a shift to that now. China is a leading country in terms of ISO certifications in most recent years and far surpassed the rest of the countries. Why is China’s companies doing that? It’s a way for them to gain access to European and western markets,” she said.
For his part, Solheim said that international forums and financing facilities such as the G20 and the recently-launched Tropical Landscapes Finance Facility in Jakarta will also help drive sustainable business.
“We’re now going into green finance through the G20, which is the most powerful vehicle for regulating markets. China leads in the green finance at the front and centre. Germany is continuing. They want financial disclosure. Which means that companies should disclose their bank assets in an environment and not just in a financial way.”
Solheim added that if a company had caused abuses to the environment, then it must be disclosed.
“On the positive note, if you have green [investments] in your portfolio, that should be made open to everyone so that we could name and fame your business.” he added.
Both Nakao and Solheim concurred that governments have enormous impacts on the sustainable business market by the way they allocate budgets to support green growth, enforce compliance, and incentivise the public for buying green. This will create the economic and social pressures conducive to promoting sustainable business.
The second day of plenary discussions featured talks on how diffusing green technology would support business innovation and what are profitable business opportunities that sustainably utilise the rich and diverse natural capital in the region.
To view tweets of discussions and commentaries from the forum, visit #GreenBizAsia.Leave a comment
December 5, 2016
Coconut water. Coconut milk. Coconut cream. Coconut butter. Coconut oil. Fresh coconut meat. Dried, unsweetened coconut. Dried, sweetened coconut. Coconut flour. Coconut sugar. Coconut aminos. Coconut vinegar.
That’s a lot of coconut (and here’s a recipe that uses five different forms of coconut).
And that’s not even including the uses for the leaves, shells, and fibers associated with coconut—and we know from watching Tom Hanks in Cast Away that coconuts are pretty useful.
But the coconut is in danger.
Bacteria that cause a lethal yellowing are wiping out coconut trees in the Caribbean, Cote d’Ivoire, and Papua New Guinea (the latter two, of which, are living seed banks for the coconut). The proposed name for the version in Florida and the Caribbean is Candidatus phytoplasma palmae – and it affects not only coconut palms, but other palms as well, including the date palm. A variety of subgroups of phytoplasmas exist, and scientists are still debating appropriate nomenclature.
Although it’s called lethal yellowing, yellowing of the foliage isn’t the first sign in mature plants. Instead, for those palms that produce fruit, the earliest symptom is a premature drop of most, or all, of the fruit, and in coconuts, one end usually develops a brown to black appearance.
This is not a new problem. The earliest known reporting is 1834 in the Cayman Islands, with similar reports in Nigeria and the Dominican Republic before 1920.
But, I’m getting into the weeds.
The takeaway is this: the coconut is the seed and they don’t store in seedbanks easily. So, we can’t just save seeds until scientists figure this out. Instead, we have to use living seedbanks—which means coconut plantations specifically dedicated to growing coconuts for posterity. Because coconut trees can grow so tall, ensuring genetic purity can be difficult (it’s a risky task to climb a coconut palm and pollinate it, much less to bag female flowers so you can ensure they are only pollinated by the appropriate male flowers).
And of the five international living seedbanks—in Brazil, Indonesia, India, Cote d’Ivoire, and Papua New Guinea—as I mentioned above, the last two are threatened by the bacteria. Additionally, all are in places where land grabs may threaten the plantations.
Unfortunately, there is no simple solution for what we can do about this.
The International Coconut Genetics Resources Network has funded research that has focused on isolating and freezing coconut embryos (fun fact: most of the coconut’s meat and milk is endosperm, which is what allows the embryo to develop!). While scientists have figured out how to successfully freeze embryos, thaw them, and then grow them in a controlled environment until they are large enough to plant in the soil, the success rate is only 5-10%. Unfortunately, additional funding for this type of research is difficult to come by. Most coconut growers are small farmers who only maintain a few acres. They don’t have the money to help invest in coconut research or gene banks. In other industries, big companies usually foot the bill for this type of research—a good practice, if they want to be able to continue to market a resource.
This hasn’t happened yet for coconuts.Leave a comment
November 29, 2016
Recently, I wrote about the tradition of oyster stuffing—and the reality that some people eat oysters at all (not to yuck your yum, as the youth I used to work with would say, but it bears repeating: ew!).
In this blog, which is part of a series on bivalves, I’m going to focus more on the ecology of oysters. We’ll start again in New York. In the last blog, you’ll remember me saying that oyster production in New York peaked between 1880 and 1910, which was part of the “progressive era” in American history—a time categorized by historians as a period of modernization of natural resource management (among other things). However, this wouldn’t help oysters.
As oyster populations decreased, the bivalves were no longer able to filter all the water in New York Harbor (an adult oyster can filter about 40-50 gallons of water a day), and toxicity became a concern. By 1927, the last oyster bed in New York was closed due to health concerns, and there weren’t any improvements in the health of oyster beds until the 1972 Clean Water Act (CWA). Nearly 45 years later, however, the oysters of New York Harbor are still too polluted to eat and dredging can further complicate oyster health by stirring up centuries worth of pollution that has settled onto the harbor floor.
Overharvesting and high levels of pollutants aren’t the only threat to oysters. Warmer ocean temperatures are leading to ocean acidification—higher levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) are present in the water—which can prevent the shells of young oysters from solidifying. In the previous blog, I talked about pathogens which also impact oysters—including Vibrio, MSX, and dermo—so I won’t rehash that here, but warmer waters can mean that these diseases are spreading beyond their historical presence. In addition, oysters still have to deal with their natural predators, which in addition to people include:
The plight of oyster is so bad that portions of the East Coast only have 1% of their historic natural oyster population—despite efforts to repopulate oysters. Fortunately, New York and many other areas are taking oyster repopulation serious. This is good because oyster reef abundance has decreased approximately 85% globally in the past century. Oysters help filter pollutants from water (though they can do nothing about heavy metals and PCBs, except absorb them into their bodies, which can render them dangerous to humans). Oyster reefs can also help stabilize sediments and slow wave-induced erosion, which can make a big difference in areas where coastal loss is a problem.
Although restoration efforts are underway up and down the East Coast and in other parts of the world, it will likely be years before oyster populations are restored enough to provide the same level of various ecosystem services that they once provided—and that’s assuming oyster harvesting is well-managed, and that diseases that can affect oysters don’t boom alongside these restoration efforts.
These restoration efforts, like all restoration efforts, should also include monitoring. This can help evaluate the state of the habitat, detect recruitment and survival rates, understand how the ecosystem is functioning, and recognize the interaction of species in and near the reefs.
*This video shows mussels, not oysters, but you get the idea.Leave a comment
November 29, 2016
As we move into the final month of the year, it’s time to offer an update on our work with the Colorado Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) project. This emergency recovery work is being completed in response to the devastating September 2013 floods, which impacted counties across Colorado’s Front Range. The program provides financial and technical support to community-based project sponsors to reduce erosion and impacts from future flooding, protect streambanks, remove debris, and more.
Great Ecology is working with state and federal agencies, counties, design teams, watershed coordinators, and landowners in order to design revegetation plans for 46 EWP projects. We have completed initial revegetation plans for 23 sites, and installation has started on 2 of those sites, which included overseeing approximately 445 volunteers who participated in planting days as part of the revegetation efforts. In addition to the 46 revegetation plans, Great Ecology is on the Technical Assistance Team and providing design reviews for the remaining 29 EWP projects. Great Ecology is also providing oversight and developing protocols to the Colorado State Forest Service Nursery for collection and propagation of ecotypic native plants to be used for revegetating all 75 EWP projects.
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November 22, 2016
It’s nearly Thanksgiving, and for some of us (especially if we have some New England traditions in our background) that may mean oyster stuffing. This tradition is likely a carryover from England, where as early as 1685, oysters were being used in stuffing for a variety of meat dishes.
If you’re like me, you’re thinking ew, gross. If you’re like our Senior Managing Ecologist, Randy Mandel, it’s one of your favorite parts of Thanksgiving.
Oysters can be pretty expensive though—East Coast oysters are typically about $2/each and while jarred oysters are generally a little cheaper, they’re still pricy. So how did the tradition of oyster stuffing carry over from England (if that is, in fact, where it came from)?
In the US, oyster production reached its peak between 1880 and 1910. During this period, the US produced up to 160 million pounds annually (today we produce about a quarter of that amount)—more than all other countries combined—and some biologists think New York harbor, which hosts the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) may have once contained more than half of the world’s oyster population. During the height of oyster production, they cost less than beef, poultry, or fish, and so were consumed by the masses—and even sold by street vendors. So many oysters were consumed that New Yorkers even paved Pearl Street with oyster shells and used them in the foundations of buildings. With this knowledge, it’s easy to hypothesize that folks mixed the plentiful and inexpensive oysters with some bread and spices, and voila, a continued tradition of oyster stuffing.
Today, that level of consumption seems unfathomable. Even during this peak production period, oyster populations were under siege from overharvesting. As early as 1658, back when New York was still New Amsterdam (and boasted a population between 6,000-9,000), there were rules in place that regulated when and from where oysters could be harvested because of worries about depleting this food source. Now, the oyster is functionally extinct in New York Harbor (it’s estimated, oysters once covered 22,000 acres of the Hudson River estuary).
The Billion Oyster Project hopes to change that—and to plant one billion oysters in New York Harbor by 2035. This isn’t just a project of planting oysters though—it is also an educational system designed to teach thousands of citizens, including students, about the Hudson River estuary. These oysters stand to provide major water quality services to the estuary system (but that’s another—and forthcoming!—blog).
You won’t be able to eat these oysters though—they will be filled with far too many pollutants, including heavy metals. This susceptibility of oysters to environmental pollutants is one of the things prompting oyster farmers to, well, farm oysters. But farmed oysters are also susceptible to some of the same pathogens as their wild-raised kin. Bacteria called Vibrio can cause severe illness (or even death) in people who eat shellfish or swim in ocean waters where the bacteria is present. Vibrio is, in fact, one of the reasons for that old saying “only eat oysters in months with an ‘r,’ which is to say, the colder months of the year because warmer waters can cause it to spread more easily.
Today, a fair amount of research and oyster-farmer education is being done on how to minimize the risk of Vibrio bacteria—but as oceans warm, and the bacteria moves further north, the risk becomes more prevalent in markets where it hasn’t been (as much of) an issue before (Shaw, et al. 2014).
The aquaculture industry has a vested interest (and those individuals who don’t, should) in researching Vibrio as well as two warmer water diseases that can decimate an oyster crop (MSX and Dermo, neither of which has an impact on human health). The research, and its findings, can be especially important for small oyster farms.
Small farms can be more vulnerable to the economic impact of losing many oysters or to developing a reputation for making people sick. This may be especially true for these small farms that are marketing themselves more like “boutiques,” which make efforts to stand out based on the flavor of the oyster.
So, what creates oyster flavor? The merroir (like a wine’s terroir)—climate, geology, water quality, and water temperature—the oyster grows up in. These factors vary depending on where it was raised and the time of year it was harvested. One shellfish company (and this is no endorsement of the company or the accuracy of the wheel—I don’t eat shellfish, just find them fascinating!) has even put together an extensive flavor wheel for oysters (as well as an aperitif pairing guide). There are, very literally, entire books you can read about the taste of oysters.
So, regardless if you like oysters in your stuffing, or on the half shell—or if you prefer them alive and filtering our water—it’s important to consider how the oyster’s environment impacts its health, likelihood of survival, and if you’re an oyster-eater, how much you’ll have to pay for an oyster and how it’ll taste.
Keep an eye out for a follow-up blog, coming soon, on the ecology of oysters.
Shaw, K.S., J.M. Jacobs, B.C. Crump. 2014. “Impact of Hurricane Irene on Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus concentration in surface water, sediment, and cultured oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, MD, USA. Frontiers in Research Topics. 5.204.Leave a comment
November 17, 2016
If I say wetlands, do you think of the Everglades?
For a lot of us living in the United States, that is exactly what we think because those are the wetlands featured again and again in those half-hour documentaries that we watched in science class. The Everglades, located in the southern portion of Florida, begins with the Kissimmee River and Lake Okeechobee. Water leaves Lake Okeechobee during the wet season and forms a 60-mile wide river that flows for more than 100 miles to Florida Bay.
But while the Everglades are certainly well known, there are many wetland areas in the U.S. – including around the Chesapeake Bay, the Delaware Bay, the San Francisco Bay Delta, the Mississippi River Delta, and the Great Dismal Swamp, as well as smaller wetland areas like prairie potholes, fens, vernal pools, and playa lakes. Wetlands tend to have high levels of biodiversity, because in many ways they serve as an ecotone—a place of transition between two biological communities, where life extends itself as far as it can either into the water or out from it.
Work is being done to preserve these important ecological habitats. Between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s, natural processes (such as large storms) and human activities resulted in the loss of more than 450,000 acres of wetlands each year. In partial recognition of this alarmingly high wetland loss rate, the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 put the U.S. federal government in the business of protecting surface waters from pollution and fill, including wetlands. By 2008, 36 years after the passage of the passage of the Clean Water Act, hundreds of thousands fewer acres were being lost each year.
The decrease likely occurred because during the George H. W. Bush presidency, the act was updated to include a provision mandating “no net loss” of wetlands. In short, this means that if human activities directly destroy wetlands, actions must be taken to restore wetlands within the same watershed. It does not account for human activities that don’t have a direct impact on wetlands (such as upland development), or changes to coastlines through storm surges and sea-level rise.
The “no net loss” provision—along with a growing recognition of the ecosystem services provided by wetlands—has created fertile ground for the development of “mitigation banks” to finance wetland restoration as a creative way to help developers maintain compliance with the “no net loss” policy. These banks, by restoring wetlands, generate credits that developers can purchase to offset damages caused by their projects.
The money received from developers is then turned around to repay investors, who front the money for the banks’ restoration work, along with a generous return. A 2014 report on conservation investments by NatureVest and EKO found that environmental credit-generating projects generate internal rates of return of between 10 and 14.9%. A recent article at Forbes argues “private capital is key to large-scale environmental protection and restoration” because government funding is becoming more constrained and there is little philanthropic money available for these projects. The White House also recognizes the need to importance of private investors—and incentivizing them to invest in what is still a fairly new market. Earlier this year, the White House released a strategy document, “Leveraging Innovation to Boost Private Investment in America’s Natural Resources,” which promotes policies that reward:
Wetland mitigation banking, which is the most mature of the ecosystem markets, still has room for growth. There are currently more than 2,900 mitigation banks (which focus on wetlands) and more than 100 conservation banks (which focus on other resources). These banks protect valuable ecosystem services, including providing habitat for threatened and endangered species, water purification, shoreline stabilization and storm surge buffering, flood protection, and groundwater recharge. However, developers can only purchase credits from banks within a certain geographic “service area”, or market. There are, therefore, still places in the U.S. that are not serviced by wetland mitigation banks that could likely use them.
From an economic perspective, one hope is that if outsourced compliance, such as that which comes with mitigation banking, can be proven effective in other areas, more private investors can be attracted to those—and other—ecosystem markets. Private investors may also be encouraged by a November 2015 Presidential Memorandum that created more predictability and incentives to encourage private investments. The Presidential Memorandum came with the anticipation that these additional private investments would grow the estimated 126,000 jobs and $9.5B in direct economic activity that was already centered around restoration of natural resources within the U.S.—providing another 95,000 jobs and $15B in economic output.
Great Ecology is a key player in this growing mitigation banking industry, and has recently partnered with Tellurium Partners, PBC, a mitigation banking investment firm, which works to locate and develop strategic mitigation banking opportunities as part of their mission to:
“restore and conserve wetlands and natural habitats, and to provide public agencies and private parties a method for complying with governmental mitigation requirements for the disturbance of ecological resources.”
Great Ecology provides consulting support for mitigation banks including site assessment, financial analysis, permitting and design, monitoring and maintenance, long term management, construction oversite, and operation and credit sales. Tellurium Partners owns, operates, finances and invests in the mitigation and conservation banks.
Great Ecology founder and President, Dr. Mark Laska, is on the Board of Directors of the National Mitigation Banking Association and has participated in their annual meeting since 2006. The upcoming meeting in May 2017 will celebrate the organization’s 20th anniversary, and Great Ecology will have a booth at the conference.
 Much of the ongoing loss is due to coastal wetland losses driven by subsidence and sea level rise, and not any one collection of permitted development activities.Leave a comment
November 14, 2016
Great Ecology is pleased to welcome Chris Loftus, RLA (back) to Great Ecology! Chris has worked on projects throughout Colorado and the West, including several award-winning designs. His past project experience includes planning and design of parks, trails, and open space; neighborhood and community master planning; innovative stormwater design solutions; urban streetscape design; and ecological restoration. Chris will collaborate with Great Ecology’s ecologists, designers, and planners to provide regenerative ecological design solutions for a variety of project types and scales.
He serves as Vice President of Programs for the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Colorado Chapter and on the Ecology + Restoration Professional Practice Network (ASLA) leadership team. He is a member of the Colorado Riparian Association, the Colorado Native Plant Society, and is a Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB) Certified Landscape Architect.
Chris holds a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies from University or Oregon and a Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture from Colorado State University.Leave a comment
November 7, 2016
The following information is from the ADB Calendar of Events.
This November, ADB will host its first Green Business Forum for Asia and the Pacific (GBF). The GBF brings together experts, business practitioners, and key stakeholders to share knowledge and identify avenues for promoting green business solutions in the region.
The GBF aims to provide a platform for knowledge sharing and lessons learning on the best policies/incentives, institutional arrangements, and financing modalities that can best support rapid green business development in the region.
ADB hosts its First Green Business Forum in recognition that green business is a key component and mover of green growth. It is a friendly gathering where green business practitioners and professionals can have an open dialogue and share their best ideas and experiences. Participating in the Green Business Forum enables you to become part of the increasing momentum towards green growth.
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November 2, 2016
By Marlene Tyner-Valencourt
60% of Americans say climate change is important to them, and for good reason. Climate change is critical from the perspective of national security, domestic safety, and ecological stability. But what you may not know is that climate change is also having significant impacts on global economic trends and regional culture. This is especially apparent in the viticulture, or wine grape, industry.
Climate change affects the distribution of temperature and precipitation patterns across landscapes. Wine grapes are particularly sensitive to both of these climate factors. That’s why wine grapes have been grown in very specific geographic areas for thousands of years – the terroir, or climate and soil conditions, have been just right for growing grapes that make premium wine varieties. The sensitivity of these grapes to even the smallest changes in climatic factors also means they make a useful ‘canary’ when assessing the impacts of climate change on the ‘coal mine.’
During graduate school, I was fortunate to work with Lee Hannah, conservation ecologist and Senior Researcher in Global Change Biology, and his research group on an effort to understand how climate change may impact the global distribution of wine grapes. Hannah et al. (2013) defined the climatic ‘envelope’ of temperature and precipitation ranges that best support viticulture, and then looked at climate models to understand where these specific temperature and precipitation ranges will be found around the world in the future. What our group found was that many of the places that are the current centers of wine production – southern Europe, South America, and South Africa – will lose 25% to 73% of area suitable to grow wine grapes by 2050. The climate envelope is predicted to shift to places where wine is currently not grown or is just starting out, such as North America’s intermountain west, northern Europe, and coastal New Zealand.
Indeed, we are already seeing evidence of this agricultural shift in the global markets today. Analysts are expecting a 5% reduction in global wine production for 2016, with output among the lowest in twenty years. The hardest hit areas include France (12% reduction), South Africa (19%), Chile (21%), and Argentina (35%), meaning that nice Malbec you like at Trader Joe’s is likely to become much more expensive. If that’s the case, check out wines from Australia, which saw a 5% increase in production, or New Zealand, which saw their production increase by 35%. It’s worth noting that these production trends follow Hannah’s predictions regarding the global shift in wine production.
The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) blame extreme El Nino-driven rain events for the impacts to the South American wine industry, but steadily increasing temperatures have been impacting grape production globally for some time. For example, between 1993-2009, Australia’s wine grapes ripened an average of 1.7 days per year earlier than historical phenological maturity times (Webb et al. 2011), affecting the quality of the vintage along with causing logistical challenges at regional processing facilities.
Additionally, climate change not only affects precipitation patterns, but also long-term access to water resources. Depending on the wine you’re drinking—where it was grown and how it was produced—a typical 4-ounce pour of wine uses somewhere between 14.2 gallons and 51.5 gallons of water. This is a serious issue for California, the largest wine producer in the US, as the state enters its sixth year of drought. Other climate change-driven risks to the wine industry include sea level rise at key coastal production areas, such as the Bordeaux region of France, parts of Portugal, and New Zealand, as well as increasing prevalence of insects and insect-borne crop diseases in viticulture stands (Mozell and Thach 2014).
Wine is not the only crop affected by climate change. Analysts and policy makers are projecting significant impacts to the coffee, chocolate, and corn industries, and predicting shortages, higher prices, and shifts in the distribution of global production of these crops and secondary products, like beef, over the next few decades. In other words, climate change is having very real effects on foods that millions of Americans eat every day, and is going to make our favorite bottle of Pinot Noir, coffee drinks, and steak dinner way more expensive really soon. 60% of Americans say climate change is important to them, but 100% of Americans will feel its impacts at the grocery store.Leave a comment