Environmental Challenges Around the Globe:
What is Woods Hole Group Doing About Them?
It is a rare newspaper or magazine article these days that doesn’t raise some issue related to the environment. If it is not pollution, it is global warming, loss of biodiversity, or energy costs. Given the present global focus on environmental issues, Woods Hole Group is pleased to present part one of a two part series focused on the environmental challenges around the globe, and what Woods Hole Group is doing about them. Although some may view Woods Hole Group as a local consulting company, we have consulted for more than 100 countries, and have ongoing projects in dozens of countries each year. The scope of our studies leads to actions on global environmental issues. Our newsletter offers a brief description of what we are doing to improve the quality of life on our planet, for the major threats as we see them:
- global warming
- loss of biodiversity
- fisheries collapse
- pollution and waste management
- coastal development
- energy consumption
- water supply and quality
Global Warming: Though global change is a fact of life, and has been since the earth formed some billions of years ago, it is now readily apparent that humans are affecting the climate of the earth on which we live. Debates of two decades ago have been resolved through sound science on a global scale. Though uncertainties remain, humans are influencing the climate of the earth. This global change has both positive and negative impacts on habitability; the news is not all bad. Negative consequences of global warming include more rapidly rising water levels, possible increase of coastal storm severity, and changing global oceanic circulation patterns that affect how, for instance, western Europe is warmed by the Gulf Stream. The good news is that some areas may benefit from longer growing seasons, from increased precipitation, and other factors. Steps can be taken now to limit the impacts of climate change, and to help control its rate.
What is Woods Hole Group doing? Woods Hole Group is active in examining the causes and rates of water level change: what does the historical record show, and what does the future hold? We are assisting governments at various levels to plan for climate change, specifically in water level change. How should a government respond? What actions need to be taken? Next we are assisting in reducing carbon emissions under the Clean Development Mechanism, working with various companies to identify ways to reduce emissions and earn marketable energy credits. From an engineering standpoint, we are active in sustainable coastal zone management and design. We actively plan, design, and implement sustainable solutions for how to protect coastal resources from water level rise and storm damage. Beach nourishment projects, coastal structures, and wetland habitat restoration projects are examples.
Loss of biodiversity: The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) defines biodiversity as the variety of life in all its forms, levels, and combinations, including ecosystem, species, and genetic diversity. The decline in global biodiversity is well documented and wide-spread. Human effects, both direct and indirect, have led to this loss of biodiversity. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, completed in 2005, describes the scope of the problem. Although biodiversity can be lost naturally, at present the loss of biodiversity is estimated to be 1000 times the natural loss rate, and may move up to 10,000 times that rate. At least 10% of the mammal, bird, and amphibian species are currently threatened with extinction. About 12.5% of all plant species are “critically rare.” The loss of biodiversity, if it continues to increase as some predict, may lead to losses that exceed those found during the massive global extinctions of past geological eras. Food security, energy security, health, and social relations are all threatened by this loss of biodiversity.
What is Woods Hole Group doing? For the past decade, Woods Hole Group personnel have been working actively with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and with the United Nations Development Program, UNEP, and the World Bank to address problems of biodiversity. Much of our work has been involved in project development, in such diverse areas as fisheries (Caspian Sea, Yellow Sea, West Indian Ocean), Large Marine ecosystems (Yellow Sea, Gulf of Guinea, West Indian Ocean), terrestrial/riverine habitats (Caspian Sea, Volta River), and marine biodiversity (Mediterranean Sea, West Indian Ocean, Black Sea, etc.). Key elements in each of these regions have been the recognition and education of the importance of biodiversity, and reductions in stress to reduce the loss of biodiversity in these various ecosystems.
Fisheries collapse: Partly an element of biodiversity loss but a major issue in itself, the world-wide collapse of fisheries is well acknowledged and documented through various scientific studies. The lack of a consistent legal regime, effective global agreements, and enforcement measures all mar the move towards sustainable fisheries management. One study recently published in Science magazine (Worm et al., 2006) predicted the collapse (to less than 10% of historic catches) of all currently fished taxa by 2048. Some 29% of all fished species had collapsed by 2003, so the trend has begun. Whether it’s the reduction in Atlantic Cod stocks or decline of Pacific tuna populations, the effects are damaging to the ecosystem and the economy. This collapse is partly a result of loss of biodiversity, but the trend appears reversible with careful management, including restoration of critical habitats, careful management of fisheries, reduction of pollution, and creation of marine reserves.
What is Woods Hole Group doing? Woods Hole Group has worked with the Global Environmental Facility in the Yellow Sea, the West Indian Ocean, the Caspian and Black Sea, and the Guinea Current regions of the globe, to address fundamental effects on loss of fisheries. Through establishment of regional environmental agreements and bodies, with fisheries and biodiversity provisions, the problem can be addressed at an ecosystem scale, rather than through national legislation only across artificial and ecologically meaningless national boundaries. Woods Hole Group also is actively preparing Environmental Impacts Statements, Reports and Assessments, including fisheries habitat assessments, for various proposed projects in the ocean and coastal zones (e.g., pipelines, LNG facilities, harbor/waterfront improvements, dredging activities) to help ensure that new development is planned and executed in a manner that avoids and minimizes impacts.
David Aubrey, Ph.D., CEO, Chief Scientist
In 1986, Dr. Aubrey founded Aubrey Consulting, later called Woods Hole Group. Prior to founding the Woods Hole Group, Dr. Aubrey was for 22 years a Senior Scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Dr. Aubrey specializes in international environmental projects, including science, engineering, policy, legal, regulatory, and management. Dr. Aubrey has performed many environmental impact analyses, health impact analyses, and audits to evaluate the impacts of proposed projects on both the environment and human health, for various sectors including intergovernmental bodies (UNEP, UNDP, World Bank, International Development Bank), national governments, local governments, commercial firms, and private individuals.