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Environment @Harvard H a r v a rd U n i ve r s i t y C e n t e r f o r t h e E nv i r o n m e n t www.environment.harvard.edu
The Rainmaker In the Amazon, Gauging the Resilience of a Rainforest By Alvin Powell he tower lay on the forest floor, a twisted mess of metal, wires, leaves and branches. Moments earlier, it had stood more than 200 feet high, a thin staff of crisscrossed metal loaded with scientific instruments, poking its nose above even the 160-foot tall trees of Brazil’s Tapajos National Forest, a vast tract of rainforest in the eastern Amazon more than 2,000 square miles in extent. For nearly five years, from 2001 until its collapse in 2006, the tower’s instruments had sampled Amazonian air, measuring the forest’s inhalations and exhalations as it absorbed carbon dioxide during the day, when sunshine drives photosynthesis, and released the gas at night, when photosynthesis shuts down and respiration becomes dominant. For Rotch professor of atmospheric and environmental science Steven Wofsy, the tower had been a scientist’s dream come true. Since the mid-1980s, when he first began tower-based data collection in the regenerating forests of Massachusetts, he had wanted to run similar experiments in the Amazon. An Amazonian tower, he had realized, could collect data in the world’s largest remaining tropical forests, and test hypotheses about the Amazon’s regional functioning and role in global climate. Such hypotheses filled scientific journals, magazines, and later, the weighty reports
of the thousandplus scientist Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Even in its ruin, though, the tower illuminated a key truth about the forest. The Amazon jungle is not a static biological feature, but rather a dynamic, shifting place, responding to inputs from the atmosphere and the soil, reacting to human chainsaws that convert vast tracts to field and pasture and growing new trees and vines in the suddenly sunny spots created by the regular fall of giant trees. “This forest turns over really fast,” says Wofsy. “You have these large trees that… are growing fast, but they couldn’t have been doing so for very long because they’d be even bigger than they are. Then you realize they turn over quickly and they start falling on you and knocking your tower down.” Though the Amazon is always in motion, concerns about a warming globe have raised scientific interest in just how it is changing. The forest covers 2.2 million square miles and contains a large porPhoto courtesy Harvard Magazine
A research tower in the Amazon rainforest. This one, near Manaus, Brazil, is still standing.
tion of the world’s biodiversity, harboring perhaps one fifth of the Earth’s species of plants and animals. This ecosystem exerts an enormous influence on the land, sea, and atmosphere. The Amazon river alone accounts for 18 percent of all the freshwater that flows into the world’s oceans. The Amazon basin, which receives more than twice the rainfall of the Northeastern United States, is a regional rainmaker: an estimated 30 percent of the rain that falls on the forest comes not from the ocean, but from evaporation from the trees themselves. In addition, a major atmospheric upwelling zone is anchored over the Amazon, pumping energy and water vapor into the
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Rotch professor of atmospheric and environmental science Steven Wofsy studies the role of the Amazon rainforest in regional and global climate.
“The idea that changes to the Amazon will have global ramifications, I think that’s a very likely outcome. Something important will happen.” atmosphere and linking the forest to global atmospheric circulation. “The idea that changes to the Amazon will have global ramifications, I think that’s a very likely outcome,” Wofsy says. “What we couldn’t say is what that outcome will be, specifically. Something important will happen, but we don’t really know what.” Today, scientists concerned about the changing global climate are interested in forests like the Amazon for their role in sequestering or emitting carbon. Carbon is a key ingredient in the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. The buildup of those gases in the atmosphere from human fossil fuel burning is thought to be the major culprit in global climate change. The Amazon’s enormous size makes it a natural storehouse for carbon. Scientists know that carbon is a major element in the cellulose and lignin that make up the tissues in the forest’s riotous plant growth. Carbon dioxide is absorbed by the leaves and converted to carbohydrates during photosynthesis. Some of it is locked up in the plant’s woody tissues while a lesser amount is released again during the energy-producing process of respiration. 2
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The carbon held in trunks, branches, and roots is stored away from the atmosphere until the tree dies and decomposes. But the Amazon rainforest is being cut down at an alarming rate, largely for conversion to pasture and agricultural fields. Already, 17 percent has been clear cut or burned; some estimates project as much as 30 percent will be gone by mid-century. In addition to human-caused deforestation, there is potential for loss of the forest due to climate change: predictions suggest that the Amazon could see warmer,
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drier years, with more frequent and longer droughts. Scientists are concerned this will cause the forest to die off and be replaced by grasslands, fire-adapted woodlands, and savannah. If that happens, it will be bad news for the planet. The Amazon is thought to store 70 to 80 billion metric tons of carbon in plant biomass. If the forest is burned to create fields and pastures, or if it dries out, dies off and decomposes, a significant portion of that stored carbon will be released into the atmosphere, speeding climate change. The forest’s changes have therefore put scientists urgently to work on two simplesounding but complex questions: “What is the forest doing now?” and “What will happen to it in the future?” Wofsy and professor of organismic and evolutionary biology Paul Moorcroft are both hard at work on the problem. Wofsy, a member of the Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE) Steering Committee, is using instruments mounted on towers and flown on small planes to determine just what’s going on with the forest today. Moorcroft, a HUCE-affiliated faculty member, is using Wofsy’s measurements to help him build a new generation of computer models to predict what the Amazon will look like in the future. A forest unbalanced Though scientists understand photosynthesis and respiration, there is much they don’t know about how the forest handles
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The Rainmaker: In the Amazon, Gauging the Resilience of a Rainforest Harvard researchers monitor Brazil’s changing earth, wind and water.
22 Acting in Time: An Interview with David Ellwood The Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School discusses the interplay of policy making and climate change.
3 Letter from the Director 20 The EPA @ 40 A December conference celebrated the history of the EPA and mapped the challenges ahead.
25 HUCE Scholarships Create Summer Research Opportunities Four undergraduates reflect on their experiences as part of the annual HUCE Undergraduate Summer Research Program.
Letter from the Director This past December, the Center for the Environment hosted a conference in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency. Joined by students, alumni, and faculty members from around the University, I sat and listened to the presentations and discussions,
Yet, as a small child when the EPA was founded, I grew up taking these accomplishments for granted. Like so many, I assumed that the air and water in my neighborhood would be clean, that the government’s commitment to protect the environment would be honored. Even as a graduate student in geochemistry, I was barely aware of the hardfought battles that contributed to the environmental conditions that surrounded me. At the conference, I was particularly taken by the opening comments from William Ruckelshaus (LL.B., 1960), the founding Administrator of the EPA, who recounted how most pieces of environmental legislation during the Nixon administration were broadly bipartisan; how the Clean Air
“Brazil seems far away, particularly in February, but Brazil is strugging with very similar environmental choices, and we have much to offer and to learn. How should Brazil manage the multiple demands on its land, particularly in the Amazon? Water, food, biofuel, carbon storage, and biodiversity — all have significant claims, and significant conflicts.” and reflected on how much has changed in the last forty years. The environmental problems we faced in 1970 were urgent and immediate. Toxic chemicals flowed into our waterways; lead from gasoline and paint additives poisoned our communities; and air pollution was so bad in some cities that children were not allowed outside to play. There is no question that the accomplishments of the EPA during the last 40 years have been spectacular.
Act of 1970 received unanimous support in the Senate; how Nixon’s veto of the Clean Water Act of 1972 was overridden by Congress. Who could imagine such bipartisan consensus today? Today, we face a new set of environmental challenges. It is easy to get frustrated with the partisan rancor on issues from offshore drilling to climate change. It is easy to feel that, whatever one’s political views, the discourse in Washington is not
capable of navigating such complex issues, of establishing reasonable pathways toward solutions. And yet, now more than ever, I feel a special obligation to redouble my efforts to strengthen and encourage the environmental research and education around Harvard. If ever our society needed thoughtful, provocative input from a diverse community of scholars, now is the time. My colleagues from around the University provide critical, creative perspectives that guide and stimulate our national debate, and educate our students, who will serve our nation and the world as environmental stewardship passes from one generation to the next. This winter, our Environment@ Harvard newsletter focuses on environmental scholarship in Brazil, and the wide array of activities my colleagues carry out far from the cold winter weather in Cambridge. Brazil seems far away, particularly in February, but Brazil is struggling with very similar environmental choices, and we have much to offer and to learn. How should Brazil manage the multiple demands on its land, particularly in the Amazon? Water, food, biofuel, carbon storage, and biodiversity—all have significant claims and present significant conflicts. I hope you will get from these articles a sense of the excitement about understanding these problems that is infectious here at Harvard. Warm wishes,
Dan Schrag Director, HUCE
Harvard University Center for the Environment
“People have been publishing papers saying the Amazon is taking up a lot of CO2, or that deforestation is a source of CO2. I knew, from the 1980s, that it was roughly in balance. The question is, is it any different now, 25 years later?”
One of two forest towers used by Wofsy and his colleagues to collect carbon dioxide data in the Amazon basin.
carbon. The biggest question about the forest’s functioning today—at least in relation to climate change—involves the tally called the carbon balance: Is the forest, in the final analysis, absorbing carbon and storing it away, or giving it off? This is a key question that figures into scientists’ calculations concerning climate change. Some research in recent years has indicated that the forest is absorbing carbon dioxide, perhaps because rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are acting to fertilize plant growth. But Wofsy doesn’t think so. His years of data collection and analysis have led him to the conclusion that the forest is roughly in balance, and is even slightly emitting carbon dioxide, likely due to agricultural burning. The forest tower that held Wofsy’s instruments was erected in 2001 near the Brazilian city of Santarem as part of a major international effort, led by Brazilian scientists, called the Large Scale Biosphere-Atmosphere Experiment in Amazonia (LBA). 4
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Photo courtesy J. William munger
Photo courtesy Steven wofsy
The Harvard portion of the LBA included a second tower near the coast, managed by senior research fellow in atmospheric chemistry J. William Munger. This 30-foot tower was built on top of a roof in Maxaranguape, a coastal town in northeastern Brazil, in order to take readings of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide in the trade winds blowing off the Atlantic. This data provided a baseline to better understand the results from the forest. The air is relatively clear of carbon monoxide when it reaches the first tower, says Munger. But as it flows toward the second set of instruments in Tapajos National Forest, it picks up small amounts of carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide is likely from agricultural burning and human activities in the small towns in between; a small amount is probably naturally given off by the oxidation of hydrocarbons released by leaves. On average, Munger reports, CO2 levels don’t change a lot on the overland journey from the ocean to the inland forest. The data show that “over that [land] interval, there’s neither a large source nor a large sink of carbon dioxide,” he says. “When we combine that with information we get from measurements, they all say the same thing: that over the whole region, the average level of carbon dioxide is about in balance.” Wofsy’s and Munger’s results counter earlier studies which found that the forest was taking in more carbon dioxide than it was giving out—possibly a lot more. If those studies were accurate, this would mean that the Amazon rainforest is a large natural sink that helps humanity at least partly mitigate
its climate change problem by taking carbon dioxide out of the air. But Munger believes those earlier results were erroneous because researchers were not taking into account changing air circulation patterns and calmer conditions at night, which could cause an undercounting of carbon dioxide released by the trees during the process of respiration. “If you don’t account for what goes on at night, you have a good accounting of the uptake [of carbon dioxide by the forest] but you miss the respiration,” Munger says. “Some of those reports of very large uptakes…are biased.” Having two towers has helped the scientists understand the forest’s daily and annual uptake and release of carbon dioxide. Results published in 2005 showed that the seasonal variation in this cycle was actually the reverse of what people had assumed. Scientists had thought the trees would be more active in the wet season, when there is plenty of water, than in the dry season. The dry season’s scarce water resources were thought to cause leaves to close their gas-exchanging pores, called stomata, to keep water vapor in, but with the collateral consequence of closing out carbon dioxide and slowing photosynthesis. But Wofsy’s results showed that the J. William Munger, senior research fellow in atmospheric chemistry at Harvard.
trees actually take up more carbon dioxide in the dry season. The trees, Wofsy says, seem better able to manage water stress than originally believed and keep their stomata open and their photosynthetic machinery in full operation despite drier conditions. “Most carbon models predicted that the dry season would be a time when carbon would be released…and then the reverse in the wet season,” Wofsy says. “The actual measurements showed the opposite. During the dry season more photosynthesis went on for one simple reason: that’s when the sun was out. The trees managed water stress much better than people thought they would.” (The measurements that made this discovery possible continue today, thanks to a 2007 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for International Research
and Education Program to Scott Saleska, a former postdoctoral fellow of Wofsy’s now at the University of Arizona. Saleska’s grant enabled reconstruction of the tower in 2008.) While the towers provided in-depth profiles of carbon dioxide flows at two locations over time, the researchers wanted a snapshot of the whole Amazon basin. In November 2008 and May 2009, Wofsy and a team of Brazilian and European collaborators, together with graduate students, converged on an airport in Manaus, Brazil. Together the team flew missions totaling 150 hours, measuring carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at one-second intervals from a small plane packed with instruments, while taking between 300 and 400 flask samples to be further analyzed in the laboratory. The project, originally proposed as part
of the LBA in 2001, had been another long-term dream of Wofsy’s. He first flew aircraft missions in the Amazon in 1985 and 1987, measuring the flux of carbon to and from the biosphere. Like the more recent tower measurements, those missions showed that the biosphere and the atmosphere in the region were roughly in balance, so when other researchers asserted that the forest was absorbing carbon, or releasing it, they got his attention. “People have been publishing papers saying the Amazon is taking up a lot of CO2, or that the deforestation is a source of CO2. I knew, from the 1980s, that it was roughly in balance, so we could test some of those ideas,” Wofsy says. “The question is, is it any different now, 25 years later? As it turns out, probably not much.” Though the Harvard contingent was
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eroes save lives. Consider Joel Schwartz, for example, a onetime MacArthur Fellow who is a professor of environmental epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. In his days with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Schwartz researched and wrote the rule that in the 1980s banned lead in gasoline. He also did the research that resulted in restricting particulate matter in vehicle exhaust. Those rules saved more than lives. An Office of Management and Budget study found that 80 percent of the economic benefits of all government regulations come from controlling lead and particles in fuels. “I’ve often thought,” Schwartz says wryly, “I should work on a commission basis.” At Harvard since 1994, Schwartz still concentrates on the health effects of pollutants. He has also studied how micronutrient antioxidants affect respiratory health; improved ways to model environmental health effects; and has even looked into the ways water-borne diseases impact drinking water systems in First World countries. He and his research partners have focused particularly on the health effects of traffic pollution, linking it to high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, and changes in
the heart’s electrical activity. Along the way, Schwartz developed a model that estimates long-term exposure to pollution from traffic at any address in Massachusetts. Schwartz and his colleagues are also studying the genes that mobilize the body’s defenses against oxidative stress caused by pollution. For example, they are examining how air pollutants affect methyl groups, which shut genes on and off during the manufacture of proteins that respond to infection. The potential public health consequences of climate change are another important focus of research. “We’re going to have more extreme weather,” Schwartz says, so his team is studying the health consequences of very hot and cold days, heavy rainfall, and other expected climate change disruptions. That work requires terabytes of data, including all U.S. death certificates going back decades and all Medicaid hospital admissions data from 1985 onward. By the time Schwartz arrived at Harvard in 1994, he had already published about 350 papers on health epidemiology—all the more remarkable since he never once took an epidemiology course. “But I teach courses,” he says. “That’s a good way to learn.”
Schwartz earned a doctorate in physics from Brandeis University in 1980. His specialty was theoretical condensed matter, a field that involved not only how things interact, but was also a lesson in “many-ness.” When a large number of things interact, he says, “you start seeing behaviors you wouldn’t have predicted.” The experience proved transferable to the field of epidemiology, which he taught himself by doing cost benefit analyses while at the EPA. That experience taught him to focus his attention on the problems that would save and improve the most lives, says Schwartz. “My philosophy is: Do some quick and dirty estimates of what the public health benefit might be, and then work on the ones where it might be big.” — Corydon Ireland
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Photo courtesy steven wofsy
banned by the Brazilian military from actually flying in the plane, they spent plenty of time in it on the ground, checking instruments and retrieving data as the sun beat down, causing temperatures to soar. Graduate student Victoria Chow, a Wofsy advisee, says the temperature in the plane was akin to the hottest days of a New England summer, but with higher humidity. Each day, the team would get up at four or five a.m. to check the daily weather forecast and begin to prepare for the day’s flight. By six a.m. they had to make a fly or no fly decision, Chow says, so they could get to the airport and begin readying the plane and its instruments. The weather above the Amazon is tricky, she says, because storms pop up unexpectedly. There are also fewer airports where the plane can land in case of a problem. While the plane flew without them, Chow, Wofsy and other members of the team monitored the weather, examined the previous day’s data to make sure the instruments were running properly, and prepared gear for future flights. The plane monitored the entire basin in both the wet and dry seasons. Wofsy says the measurements showed that the lower atmosphere, at two kilometers, is much more affected by the forest’s daily fluctuations than higher up, at four kilometers. “What we see is a really strong daily cycle, with a lot of CO2 coming out of the forest in the early morning after it builds
“There is a net source here and it is coming during the burning season. It seems to be telling us that overall, deforestation is adding carbon. We should [soon] be able to tell you how much.” up overnight. Then it gets sucked back down again during the day,” Wofsy says. Together, the measurements show that, contrary to assertions that the Amazon is a moderate to large carbon sink, it is actually emitting a small amount of carbon dioxide. Wofsy says the measurements, which are still being analyzed, show the Amazon being a net source of carbon in the November 2008 flights, and a somewhat larger source in the May 2009 flights. “The pluses have it. During that time, the Amazon was, on average, a small net source of CO2,” Wofsy says. “It wasn’t large, but it was noticeable.” Wofsy says the findings agree with recently published results from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that did monthly measurements from space over a long period of time. Wofsy attributed the release of carbon dioxide to agricultural burning to clear land. “The green stuff is in balance,” Wofsy says. “There is a source here. It’s a net source and the net source is coming during the burning season. A lot of the burning we’re seeing is agricultural burning. It still seems to be telling us that overall, the
deforestation is adding carbon. We should [soon] be able to tell you how much.” Wofsy says the findings, once they’re fully analyzed, might have implications for climate treaties, particularly for countries like Brazil, which has claimed it has reined in deforestation. Wofsy’s results will likely find their way into computer models of the Amazon. Scientists seeking to understand the region and where it fits into the global climate puzzle often turn to computers and their complex simulations to put the pieces together and see where different management actions might lead in the future. Of course, the simulations’ forecasts will be most accurate if the models themselves accurately reflect the extraordinarily complex workings of the forest itself. Until recently, computer models of the Amazon—and other forests as well—used what’s called a “big leaf ” model, which essentially scales up the functioning of a single leaf to the size of a large forest tract and uses that as a representation of how the forest works. While that may not be a problem if one wants a simplistic representation of forests as part of the planetary biosphere, the rise of climate change as a critical global problem has raised the stakes for accuracy in global computer models. It has put them front and center not just in scientific circles, but also in media explanations of what’s going on with the planet, in the public’s understanding of climate change and, perhaps most critically, in the debates engaged in by politicians around the globe that lead to law and regulatory change. Big leaf models that treat large forest tracts—typically thousands of square miles—as if they were a single entity are likely missing complex characteristics of a forest community that may be particularly important in a changing environment. Instead of having just one type of tree that may or may not be drought tolerant, for example, real communities have many species of trees whose response to changA view from an aircraft mission illustrates the severity of deforestation in the Amazon Basin.
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ing conditions may be different from each other. That means a real forest may behave in entirely different ways from a simple cyber-forest. Modeling trees as individuals Moorcroft, whose office is just up the hallway from Wofsy’s in Harvard’s Geological Museum, has been a pioneer in adding a realistic complexity to computer models of forest functioning. Borrowing the concepts that physicists use for modeling fluids and gases, Moorcroft treats individual plants or animals as a physicist would a particle, and sets rules for how each particle responds to different environmental conditions. Rather than an entire ecosystem responding as if it were a single big leaf, in Moorcroft’s models it is the responses of each individual in the system to environmental conditions that determines the model’s overall behavior. Moorcroft got his start modeling coyote movement patterns in Yellowstone National Park in advance of wolf reintroduction there, conducting fieldwork with radio-collared coyotes to check the model’s accuracy. He has more recently been improving models of how forests work, in many cases using Wofsy’s data and findings to sharpen his models, to check them against the current reality, and, hopefully, spin them forward to a more accurate understanding of the future. Today, the terrestrial ecosystem model Moorcroft designed, called an ecosystem demography model, is in its second major iteration and continuing to undergo development. Moorcroft’s model treats trees as individuals of three different types that respond differently to levels of light and nutrients—key variables that are affected when a forest is disrupted by large treefall, for example. The model allows for gaps and disturbances in the forest, subjecting individuals to conditions dictated by the time since the last disturbance. Moorcroft’s model trees have the characteristics of early-, mid-, and late-successional species. Early succession trees are light-loving and fast-growing and the first to invade gaps in the canopy such as that left by Wofsy’s falling tower. Mid-succession trees have some shade tolerance, denser wood, and slower growth rates. Late-succession trees are the slow-growing giants, which eventually form the forest canopy and shade out competitors below. “What we did was come up with a
model, defined at the scale of individual plants competing dynamically for resources, like light, water, nutrients,” Moorcroft says. “The ecosystem you see is the outcome of that individual level competitive process. The ecosystem is this ensemble, this collection of individuals, competing for resources.” Changes to the Amazon—and to the amount of carbon it stores—appear guaranteed. Though efforts are underway to preserve it, with continued cutting of roads through pristine forests, and the subsequent clearing of nearby land for cattle and soybeans, the shrinking of the forest seems inevitable. Moorcroft’s research is geared toward understanding the regional ramifications of the changing Amazon, and how the dwindling forest will affect not only the flow of carbon through the system, but water as well. With so many trees drinking deeply through their roots and releasing water vapor during respiration, the forest is a key player in regional weather. Early models of Amazon change looked at the effect of replacing the Amazon entirely with grassland, something unlikely to happen either soon or all at once. Those early models, though, showed that because the forest puts so much moisture in the air, should the forest disappear, rainfall in the region would drop by 30 percent and regional temperatures would
Paul Moorcroft, professor of organismic and evolutionary biology.
climb two to three degrees Celsius. “When you’re in the middle of the Amazon, you’re a long, long way away from the ocean,” Moorcroft says. “The modeling says because of that, the hydrologic cycle in the Amazon is really closed. Of the water that falls as rain there, a significant fraction was put there by the plants themselves.” Moorcroft says he has always been intrigued by those early models and by the idea that the biosphere can affect the physical world. It has long been known that the physical world affects the living world—falling temperatures kill plants or send them into dormancy, spring rains cause a new blossoming of life, storms and earthquakes affect life in many ways, including our own—but the scientific understanding that the reverse can be true hasn’t been around very long. Today, Moorcroft wants to apply that idea—that the forest affects the regional climate—to models of the forest’s future. With climate change models already projecting a warmer, drier Amazon and with forest conversion to agricultural land continuing, an important question is how the remaining forest will respond, and how that will further affect the atmosphere. “What’s happening is people don’t just
Harvard University Center for the Environment
go clearing the entire Amazon. It’s being transformed slowly,” Moorcroft says. “And, as that transformation is happening, how does that change the climate? How does that feedback process play out? So we need much more realistic vegetation models, dynamic and responsive to climate, so you’re not prescribing it, you’re allowing it to evolve as climate evolves. As climate shifts, so the vegetation shifts.” The answer is not just important to Moorcroft. Some of his research is funded by the Moore Foundation, a nonprofit that has traditionally been interested in conserving the Amazon’s immense biodiversity. With predictions that the forest might die back, they want Moorcroft’s help in deciding which tracts will still be forested 50 to 100 years from now and that might be most worth conserving. Marcos Longo, a doctoral student being advised by Wofsy and Moorcroft, is working to understand how the atmosphere might respond as the forest is converted to pasture, as roads are cut through and the forest becomes more fragmented. Longo is using a coupled model simulation that brings together atmosphere and ecosystem models, to
Photo courtesy steven wofsy
Tom Powell, a doctoral student working with Moorcroft, studies how drought affects trees in the Amazon.
try to project those future effects. Longo and Moorcroft say fragmentation might initially increase rainfall along the forest edges by inducing small-scale atmospheric circulations as air over pasture land warms rapidly and interacts with moisture-laden air over the slowerwarming forest. “The idea is that this fragmentation process actually affects the atmosphere,” Moorcroft says. “Whenever you have contrast between two places, deep roots putting moisture into the atmosphere next to shallow roots, it can actually induce circulation that can affect rainfall.” Longo says he hasn’t run the model long enough to see how the modeled atmosphere above a fragmented forest responds, but he continues to work on the problem. With a drier Amazon a likely future scenario, Tom Powell, a doctoral student working with Moorcroft, is seeking to understand how drought affects the trees in order to incorporate that into the ecosystem demography model. If he’s successful, that will double the types of individual responses by the model’s trees, dividing each existing category into the additional categories of drought tolerance and intolerance. “Hopefully, this will enable us to better represent how drought is going to
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affect the forest,” Powell says. Powell is following up on a NASAfunded drought experiment at two Amazonian sites. One ran for five years and the second is still running after eight. The project imposed a 50 percent artificial drought on experimental plots by suspending solid panels connected to gutters just above the forest floor. Initial results reported that large trees were more susceptible to drought damage, dying with more frequency than smaller trees. A more recent examination of the data, however, showed a more complex story, with differing responses from different genera of trees. If that is the case, Moorcroft says, it’s possible that the forest may have the capacity to resist a drought- and deforestation-induced conversion to grasslands. The forest might persist—at least the part we don’t cut down—by shifting the mix of trees from drought intolerant to drought tolerant. Though Powell’s ultimate goal is to improve computerized Amazonian forest models, he is heading back to the rainforest to visit the drought experiment plots and gauge how the trees manage water. The challenge is a difficult one, Powell says, because the trees’ response to drought is nonlinear. Instead of shutting down photosynthesis early to avoid losing too much water vapor through their leaf pores, trees seem to keep photosynthesizing as long as possible and then go through a rapid shutdown. He hopes to measure the turgor loss point of the trees—when they close their leaf pores—and use that as a proxy for a tree’s ability to handle drought stress. If it doesn’t work, he says he’ll have to find some other way to measure a trees’ drought tolerance, so it can be realistically incorporated into the model. If the best measure turns out to be a trait of the roots, he says he may end up with a shovel, digging deep into the Amazon’s soil. “Plants live on the edge, trying to capture as much CO2 as possible” through opened leaf pores, balancing that against “trying not to lose so much water that they die.” Powell says. “Now the trick is to try to figure out…what traits make them drought tolerant versus intolerant. We’ll either [discover] this or go back to the drawing board.”
The Purest Air on the Planet By David L. Chandler
cot Martin has found a kind of atmospheric time machine. He’s been able to peer back in time to study the exact makeup of the finest particles in the air, called aerosols—the ones that form the basis of atmospheric cycles that are crucial to understanding everything from local rainfall to global climate change—more or less as they were before industrialization took hold. With an arsenal of science’s latest and most powerful tools, he’s been able to probe
some of the planet’s cleanest air, to analyze its chemistry and composition as it was before humans altered it. There are very few places you can go on Earth, over land, to find such clean air. But Martin, the McKay professor of environmental chemistry at Harvard, along with a team of about 40 scientists and students from Harvard and from Germany’s Max Planck Institute, found such a place in the Brazilian rainforest north of the relatively isolated but rap-
idly growing Amazonian inland port city of Manaus. There, in a research preserve in a sparsely-settled region of the country where the prevailing winds blow in from the Atlantic across more than a thousand miles of mostly unbroken rainforest, Martin and his team put up a 130-foot tower to collect air samples. They planted it right in the middle of the forest, with as little disruption as possible, three hundred feet from the nearest dirt road. The metal lattice structure supported a set of vertical tubes, open at the top, running down to a small shipping container on the ground where an array of instruments were installed—all powered by a generator more than a mile away
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Meghan O’Sullivan In March 2003, as then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein slipped out of Baghdad, Kilpatrick professor of the practice of international affairs Meghan O’Sullivan rolled into the city as part of the 200-person Organization for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. She figured she’d be in Iraq for about a month—long enough to help the Iraqi people get back on their feet. She ended up staying 17 months. But as the U.S. occupation of Iraq began, O’Sullivan’s estimate was hardly the only one that was a bit off. O’Sullivan, who teaches “Decision Making in Recent Crises” and “Geopolitics of Energy” (also a HUCE Graduate Consortium on Energy and Environment course) at the Kennedy School of Government, recalls that her training for the mission focused on how to minister to herself after exposure to weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). She learned to give herself injections and leave notes describing her condition for the medics who (she hoped) would find her alive but presumably unconscious. There were no WMDs, of course, (although there was plenty of danger as she tooled around Baghdad in “a beat-up Hyundai”), and the size of the humanitarian organization for which she had volunteered proved woefully inadequate to its assigned task: ameliorating water and food shortages, and caring for refugees. Even that mission became hopeless as Iraq devolved into sectarian chaos. How could U.S. policy have been so far off the mark?
“You have to understand,” says O’Sullivan, from 2004-2007 Special Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan, “the choices policy-makers have are usually between bad options and involve very complicated trade-offs. In any decision made at the highest levels, there’s a long list of stakeholders with interests that rarely align.” For example, in her “Geopolitics of Energy” course, O’Sullivan is using her experience with policy-making to help students grasp the difficulties involved in shifting the world to a more sustainable, less politically volatile energy source than oil. “Energy,” says O’Sullivan, “drives alliances, intelligence systems, and, of course, is critical to a nation’s security.” Developing and implementing sustainable sources of energy, she says, would enhance security as it would free nations from dependence upon foreign energy sources—mid-Eastern oil; Russian natural gas—even as it would help address the climate change issue, ameliorating the depredations of CO2 emissions. However, the profits to be made in oil and gas are so great, and the stakeholders profiting from the status quo so entrenched and powerful, that O’Sullivan describes the goal of reducing fossil fuel dependency as, at the moment, more “aspirational” than realistic. A former Brookings Institute fellow and
author of Shrewd Sanctions: Statecraft and State Sponsors of Terrorism, O’Sullivan remembers that the expectations the administration had for Iraq were similarly more aspirational than realistic. Unfortunately, O’Sullivan says, “We were not able to meet them or even come close because we were not prepared for the collapse of Iraqi society. Within two months, we had to shift to a radically new mission: nation building.” Part of the difficulty of nation building, says O’Sullivan, is the almost universal notion that “America is omnipotent.” Therefore, not only did the Iraqis not understand why the U.S. wasn’t able to provide the necessities for civil society, they assumed it wasn’t providing them because it didn’t want to. This belief helped transform the Americans from liberators to oppressors in the Iraqi mind. As for the book she will one day write about Iraq, she says that it will come, but right now “part of the privilege of being [at the Kennedy School] is having the opportunity to reflect.” — David Rosenbaum
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Fa c u l t y P r o f i l e
eople don’t have to be like microbes in a Petri dish, says William Clark, Harvard Kennedy School’s Brooks professor of international science, public policy, and human development. In a Petri dish, microbes gobble up all the food available to them and grow fat while sinking under their own waste until —oops— they’re dead. But unlike microbes, Clark says, “Humans have the potential to know what’s going on, and to act on that knowledge.” Understanding “what’s going on” in the Petri dish called Earth is at the core of sustainability science, a relatively new, multi-disciplinary approach that sits at the crossroads of the natural and social sciences, medicine and engineering, and the knowledge of practice. Right now, Clark, among others, is in the process of describing, defining, broadly disseminating, and bringing scientific rigor to the structures and processes of sustainability science. He is a contributing editor of Sustainability Science: A Reader, intended for teachers. That soon will be followed by the publication of Sustainability Science: An Introduction, a textbook being written by Clark and others under the auspices of the Sustainability Science Program that he co-directs at the Kennedy School. Linking research-based knowledge with action is one hallmark of sustainability science. Says Clark, it is a “value-and-policy-based” discipline. Its point is not only to analyze the complex web of interactions between humans and their environment, cataloging the 10
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depredations that result; it is also to help people articulate desired outcomes and suggest ways to achieve such outcomes in a world that “meets the needs of the current generation without jeopardizing the future.” This mission often places Clark between a rock and a hard place: ecological fundamentalists see sustainability science’s willingness to accept trade-offs between environmental preservation and economic development as a betrayal of the environment, he says, while the “Chamber of Commerce-types” see the erection of any barriers to untrammeled growth as a species of radical environmentalism. Caught in the middle, and faced with the continual, increasing degradation of the environment due to climate change and other pollution, as well as the fast-moving economic globalization that is leaving too many people behind, Clark manages to keep his head up. “I prefer a hopeful attitude that gets you up in the morning because there’s so much work to be done,” he says. “The good news,” Clark continues, “is that relative to when I was in college, there’s a growing understanding— except, of course in the denialist recesses of the U.S. Congress—that you can use the environment in ways that are good for us and our grandchildren. There’s a growing sense of moral responsibility that since it is within our ken to understand what we’re doing, we owe it to ourselves to change our behavior.” Unlike those microbes. — David Rosenbaum
and downwind, to avoid contaminating the samples. Once up and running, the system could theoretically operate autonomously 24 hours a day, but in practice almost always had a few members of the team on-site tinkering with the machinery and adjusting the instruments, Martin says. Their base camp was in a valley about 1,000 feet from the site. After months of preparation, the longsought result came during a few days in March of 2008, when the winds were slow and the rainfall had been strong. That’s when Martin and his colleagues sampled some of the most untainted air ever examined by science. Traveling to one of the Earth’s remotest regions to study minute samples of microscopic particles, far smaller than the width of a human hair, might seem like an extraordinary effort for a tiny return. But this meticulous research could end up having profound impacts. In a series of recent papers, including one published in the journal Science in September 2010, Martin and his large team of collaborators describe how the pristine aerosol particles found in this air are dramatically different from any that have been examined in the lab before, and will provide an essential baseline of data that may, over time, help to solve one of the thorniest conundrums in the Earth’s changing climate system. In this case, thinking microscopically may have effects globally. “We were interested in the connection between plants and rainfall, as regulated by atmospheric chemistry, and in particular, as regulated by particles,” Martin explained recently in his office at Harvard’s Pierce Hall. This connection is critical but surprisingly complex, and atmospheric scientists around the world have been trying to sort out for decades exactly how it works, and how it has been altered by the infusion of particulates caused by human activities. When a mass of air becomes saturated with water vapor, it can’t just form water droplets and rainfall by itself; instead, it needs a little help in the form of nucleation centers—tiny particles that water molecules can adhere to and accumulate around until they form droplets large enough to be pulled by gravity so that they fall as rain. Nucleation centers can take many forms: particles of salt, especially over or near the oceans; particles of pollutants spewed into the air from the burning of fuel or biomass, as is the case
“The exact role of these aerosol particulates in causing clouds to reflect or absorb sunlight is by far the biggest source of uncertainty in today’s global climate models.”
A view across the rainforest from Martin’s 130-foot tower north of Manaus, Brazil.
mains by far the biggest source of uncertainty in today’s global climate models. That’s why trying to get a handle on exactly how much and what kinds of atmospheric particles are being produced by human activities, and how that compares with the baseline—the atmosphere as it would have been in the absence of human interference—remain among the most urgent open questions in climate science. These are questions Martin has been studying for most of his career. Beginning in the fall of 2007, during a sabbatical year, he decided to try to find some answers in the Amazon basin. That’s when he joined a team of Max Planck Institute scientists who had been carrying out environmental monitoring in northern Brazil for more than 20 years. The arsenal of equipment the group brought with them in early 2008 was more extensive than any that had been assembled before for insitu monitoring in this remote region, which is surrounded by many hundreds of miles of almost unbroken forest. They brought scanning Photo courtesy scot martin group
almost everywhere in the northern hemisphere; or, as in Amazonia, particles of organic matter naturally given off by plants as part of their transpiration process, which then react chemically with oxygen in the air, energized by sunlight. When there are more nucleation centers, they can produce a large number of droplets, which are small and therefore produce clouds that reflect more sunlight back into space and yield little rainfall; a lesser number of particles tends to result in fewer but larger droplets, making for darker clouds with less reflectivity, and ultimately more rainfall. When human activities such as burning and land-clearing increase the concentration of nucleation centers in the air, this can mask the effects of global warming by producing more bright clouds, reflecting away more solar heat. But because carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for centuries, while the particles only last from weeks to a few years depending on their size, this masking is a temporary effect. The exact role of these aerosol particulates in causing clouds to reflect or absorb sunlight re-
Scot Martin, McKay professor of environmental chemistry.
electron microscopes and atomic-force microscopes, x-ray spectroscopes, ion and aerosol mass spectrometers, and several other cutting-edge tools to study samples of the air almost continuously over a period of weeks. And that’s how, for a few days in March, when the still air and recent rainfall had left the influence of outside air almost nonexistent (except for a small amount of dust from the Sahara), they got to study their sample of pristine air “as it was 500 years ago,” Martin says. In the pre-industrial world natural nucleation systems, of which the particulates given off by plants were an important part, had evolved into a stable equilibrium, with the plants producing enough particulates to produce enough nucleation centers to make rainfall to sustain the plants. “In the Amazon, most of the rainwater is recycled – it’s not coming in from the Atlantic,” Martin explains. The cycle is so efficient that the water for the most part just keeps evaporating and raining down again in the same region. But how do such natural cycles change, exactly, as emissions increase? This experiment is about to be carried out in the real world.
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Photo courtesy Marcos longo
Photo courtesy scot martin group
Left: Martin’s tower collects air samples. Right: Pristine air collected from the area— some of the most untainted air ever examined—may provide clues about cloud formation and their impact on climate.
In the pristine forest near Manaus, for example, things are changing fast. The air is going through the same changes that air around the world has gone through as the process of industrialization took off and pollutants of various kinds began to build up in the atmosphere. Manaus, deep in the rainforest and still blessed with surroundings that maintain some of the most unpolluted air remaining in Earth’s tropics, is experiencing explosive fossil-fuel-powered growth, encouraged by government policies that have made it a tax-free zone to promote the growth of business and industry. And its air is deteriorating accordingly. To illustrate the magnitude of the changes that are taking place, right now the air above the Amazon contains about 300 particles per cubic centimeter. Above
Boston, the number is about 30,000: average for the industrialized world, and a concentration over a hundred times greater than in the pre-industrial world. But near Manaus, one aspect will be different as things change. The whole process will be meticulously monitored and measured, so that researchers will at least know not only exactly what the baseline was, but how rapidly and in what ways change takes place. If patterns seen elsewhere are duplicated here, the concentration of particles will increase dramatically, and rainfall could change accordingly, possibly altering circulation patterns over a wide region. Just this October, Martin and a team of colleagues were awarded a grant for a year of detailed follow up research in the Amazon basin, using a large Department of Energy traveling laboratory, a shipping container full of equipment called the Atmospheric Chemistry Research Facility, to take place in 2014. They’ll be making small scouting trips this winter
The planned Amazonian research “allows us to make an investigation of how the atmospheric chemistry of the world’s tropical regions will be affected by the development of these megacities.” 12
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and spring to pick the research sites, and over time the expedition could end up involving a team of a few hundred researchers. “It’s a wonderful scientific opportunity,” Martin says. By studying side-byside data from areas inside and outside the plume of pollution that blows from Manaus, “we’ll be able to do an apples-to-apples comparison,” he says. If Brazilian officials can see exactly what is happening, chronicled in detail as it unfolds, they may have a chance to avert the worst of the consequences. “One would hope, by being able to demonstrate how unique the Amazon is functionally”—with plants generating their own rainfall—“development there will be able to proceed accordingly,” Martin says. That is, they could make choices about the rate and the type of development that can mitigate or prevent the worst consequences. And other nations facing the same growth patterns might then have a chance to learn the same lesson. Projections are that over the next halfcentury, perhaps 50 new megacities with populations over 10 million will sprout up globally, and most of them will be in the tropics. This represents a very dramatic shift from past growth patterns, with most of the world’s largest cities in temperate and subtropical zones. The planned Amazonian research, Martin says, “allows us to make an investigation of how the atmospheric chemistry of the world’s tropical regions will be affected by the development of these megacities.” In a sense, then, his atmospheric time machine will be allowing a glimpse into the world’s future—perhaps in time to help avert some of its perils.
Managing Malaria, Beating the Mosquito in the Amazon Jungle By Steve Bradt
Photo © National Geographic
n the developed world, malaria can seem like a relic of a bygone era. But in Brazil, home to 70 percent of the Amazon rainforest, it’s a scourge that in recent decades has been resurgent. The Brazilian Amazon has been steadily settled—and deforested—since the 1970s, when the government created incentives to support agriculture, mining, and human settlement in this vast but once sparsely populated region. The massive environmental impact of this human influx is widely known: one-sixth of the Amazon Forest has been lost, much of it over the last 30 years. But a less-recognized side effect of the clearing of the Amazon is that it has opened up massive new breeding grounds for mosquito species that are the primary carriers of malaria in South America. Because malaria in the Amazon takes a very different form than it does elsewhere in the world, there is a distinct name for the disease in Brazil and neighboring countries: “frontier malaria.” The effect on public health has been catastrophic in the large swath of Brazilian territory officially classified as Amazon (the Amazônia Legal, or “Legal Amazon”), which has seen a tenfold increase in malaria since 1970. The number of cases peaked at more than 635,000 in 1999, before sliding to about half that since the implementation of comprehensive government programs to control the disease. For more than 10 years, Marcia C. Castro, an assistant professor of demography at the Harvard School of Public Health, has been studying the thicket of factors contributing to frontier malaria that complicate the response to the disease in this area of the world. “Malaria transmission in Brazil is extremely complex, characterized by the poorly understood interplay of social, environmental, economic, political, and behavioral factors,” she says. “Among the most troubling aspects of our limited understanding of frontier malaria is that we know very little about how climate change
will impact transmission patterns. Infrastructure projects intended to promote further development of the region may worsen the burden of malaria if we fail to anticipate and mitigate the impacts.” There’s long been an inherent tension between the environmental and public health implications of Amazon frontier expansion. Environmentalists would prefer to see as little of the Amazon clear-cut as possible. So when settlers move in to establish a homestead and farm, environmental concerns would dictate clearing as small a lot as possible. But this, Castro says, flies in the face of what scientists know about malaria transmission: Namely, that proximity of poorly constructed houses to tropical forest is a surefire recipe for the spread of the disease. “Malaria control is optimized when there’s a buffer of at least 100 meters between houses and the forest fringe, where The female Anopheles mosquito is the only insect able to carry the malaria parasite.
mosquito density is highest,” Castro says. “When you have great proximity between man and the edge of the forest, the exposure to mosquito bites is maximized.” Furthermore, the ramshackle homes in many newly settled parts of the Amazon— only about three-fifths of which offer their occupants sanitation and clean water— don’t offer much protection from the primary carriers of malaria, the Anopheles genus of mosquito. And compared to the malarial vectors prevalent in Africa and Asia, the Amazon species’ behavior seems optimized to infect people. The mosquito carriers “are most active at 5 to 6 a.m. and at 5 to 6 p.m. They are also exophilic—they prefer to bite humans outdoors,” Castro notes. “Unfortunately, dawn and dusk are exactly the times when settlers are most likely to be outdoors, on their way to and from their work and school.” Most of the migrants who have sought economic opportunity in the Amazon during the past four decades, tripling its population to 23.6 million, came from malariafree areas in Brazil, and therefore have no immunity against the disease. They also know little to nothing about malaria protection or transmission. But Castro’s research has helped develop new ways of modeling the determinants of malaria transmission in the Amazon. Specifically, her work supports a temporallyand spatially-targeted approach to combating malaria in newly settled areas. In the initial years after an area is settled, she says, the Brazilian government needs to focus on environmental management to minimize malaria transmission. This does not necessarily include large scale vector and larval control, an almost impossible task given the sheer size of the region. But it does include strategies to improve the quality of houses and to reduce human-mosquito contact. First, improved construction techniques would keep malarial mosquitoes at bay. Second, homes should be built with buffers of at least 100 meters from the woods and 500 meters from bodies of water, she says. The mosquitoes that carry the malarial pathogen in the Amazon exist in particularly dense numbers at the forest fringe, where the species find the partially shaded habitat they prefer for breeding. Such habitat is also found
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Photo courtesy Marcia castro
Photo courtesy marcia castro
“The cost here is in searching for and finding settlers, and in monitoring their long-term health,” she says. “Once you’ve done that, the cost of actual treatment is very manageable.” But in a vast jungle spread across nine nations, borders are permeable and a single governLeft: Marcia C. Castro, assistant professor of demography, has been ment can’t solitarily studying the transmission of frontier malaria for more than 10 years. coordinate testing Above: Stagnant water, ideal for Anopheles breeding, is common after forest clearing, which leaves streams partially shaded and clogged by trees. and treatment. All across the are unlikely to seek medical treatment for Amazon basin, rivers rise dramatically dursymptoms but who can nonetheless infect ing the rainy season, flooding areas all along mosquitoes when bitten. their banks. When the rains end and the “We really think the two critical reasons rivers subside, pools of water—ideal for transmission remains stubbornly high in the mosquito breeding—are left along the AmAmazon are the large number of asympazon and its many thousands of tributaries. tomatic carriers and the high rate of human “The sheer size of the region, and its mobility,” she says. “Put these two pieces unique climate and hydrology, are importogether and you have a recipe for sustained tant challenges to controlling malaria,” transmission of malaria.” Castro says. “Control of mosquito larvae is The distinction between frontier malaria not feasible, given the extremely difficult and malaria elsewhere in the world was first task of identifying, or even reaching, most recognized in the 1980s, as the opening of breeding habitats.” the Amazonian frontier accelerated during During the first half of the 1900s in the Brazilian government’s launch of aggres- coastal areas of Brazil, engineering projsive efforts to encourage settlement there. ects—such as the construction of drainage Frontier malaria’s distinctive characteristics systems and the filling of marshes—were include low levels of successfully used to immunity, lack of com- “The environmental combat malaria, which munity and social isolais thought to have transformation under- come to South Amerition, and exacerbation of problems by poor ca with Europeans in taken by many new government planning. the sixteenth century. A way for the Brazilarrivals to the Amazon But the drainage work ian government to never extended inland often ends up creating to the vast Amazon respond, according to Castro, would be freregion. a perfect mosquitoquent testing of everyThese early engineerbreeding habitat. Set- ing projects were later one in frontier areas of the Amazon, treating augmented by nationtlers generally leave those found to be aswide anti-malaria camymptomatic. But the paigns starting in taller trees standing feasibility of this ap1940, when some four when they slash-and- to five million Brazilproach is questionable. There are practical burn a parcel of land, ians—then one tenth and logistical hurdles: of the population— maintaining the parHow do you find and contracted malaria treat everyone in an area tial shade Anopheles annually. Beginning in where the population is 1947, the insecticide finds desirable.” highly transient? DDT was used to
alongside lakes, rivers, and streams. Unfortunately, the environmental transformation undertaken by many new arrivals to the Amazon often ends up creating a perfect mosquito-breeding habitat. Settlers generally leave taller trees standing when they slash-and-burn a parcel of land, maintaining the partial shade Anopheles finds desirable. Burning increases soil pH, and the mosquitoes prefer breeding in alkaline standing water. Malaria outbreaks during the first two years after an area is settled tend to be especially severe. Castro points to the experience of a settlement called Machadinho, where migrants first arrived in late 1984. By 1986, more than 90 percent of the population had malaria at least once, and 56 percent of residents were sickened in at least five months of the year. Longer-term, after an area has been settled for about 10 years, urbanization and a degree of community cohesion tend to supplant erratic migration and highly variable land clearing practices. Paving and improved drainage create environments that are less hospitable to mosquito larvae, and health clinics become more prevalent. Castro’s research suggests that at this later stage of settlement the government could manage malaria by focusing on human behavior. Key contributors to the virulence of frontier malaria, she says, include the many asymptomatic carriers of the disease— essentially, outwardly healthy people who 14
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Right: Machadinho, where in 1986 more than 90 percent of settlers contracted malaria. Below: Red flags indicate homes where a resident has a fever. Health agents will stop at the house, prepare a blood slide, and if positive, provide free drug treatment.
Whether Brazil and its neighbors can sustain this progress remains to be seen. A malaria control program implemented by the Brazilian government in 2000 and bolstered in 2003—targeting the communities that are home to the largest numbers of cases— has cut outbreaks dramatically. Castro says the government has improved its monitoring of pathogen resistance to existing malaria drugs, as well as its tracking of water levels so as to step up mosquito control when needed. But it’s possible, Castro says, that the government might instead curtail the program in an economic slowdown, as has happened during previous malaria control efforts. “Despite accounting for half the cases of malaria in the Western Hemisphere, Brazil has been cited in recent years as a country where malaria eradication should, in theory, be feasible,” Castro says. “I’m not sure I agree with that optimistic assessment, given the likely high prevalence of asymptomatic individuals. Aggressive and active surveillance—and treatment—of these carriers might be essential to containing malaria in the Brazilian Amazon.”
Photo courtesy Marcia castro
One of the biggest question marks in the ongoing control of malaria in the Amazon is what role climate change will play in future transmission patterns. While in temperate North America heavy rains usually promote mosquito reproduction by creating standing pools of water for breeding, the opposite can actually be the case in the humid tropics. During periods of drought, Castro says, river and lake levels fall in the Amazon, creating areas of stagnant water along their margins that are optimal mosquito breeding grounds. For example, 2005 saw a drought, followed by a jump in cases of malaria. But, she cautions, the relationship between precipitation and malaria outbreaks is probably more complicated than this, an issue she is currently exploring. “The variation in water levels, combined with irregular river and stream margins, helps to create pools of water,” Castro says. “But if a drought gets really severe and the area dries out, there are no breeding habitats. It all depends on how fast the process is, and if the water stays there long enough to allow larvae to mature into adult mosquitoes.” At least half a million cases of malaria were recorded annually in the Amazon between the late 1980s and early 2000s. Since a 2005 spike—the last time cases of malaria numbered more than 600,000—the incidence of the disease has been on a steep downward trajectory: only about 300,000 cases were documented in 2008 and 2009.
Photo courtesy marcia castro
spray the interior of houses across the country every six months, reducing the number of cases by 99 percent in just six years. (Interestingly, the tremendous success of this approach may explain why the Anopheles mosquitoes that transmit Amazon malaria have now evolved to become an almost exclusively outdoor species.) By 1970, cases of malaria nationwide reached their low point: just 52,371 individuals, about 60 percent of them in the Amazon. But throughout the 1960s, trends had been building that would soon send the rate of infection skyrocketing. In 1960, the Brazilian capital was moved inland from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília, marking the launch of a broad effort to integrate the Amazon region with the rest of the nation. Construction of highways into the rainforest intensified during the late 1960s and early 1970s, bringing with it an influx of impoverished migrants seeking land and employment. With this effort to link the coast with Brazil’s interior, to promote national development, and to increase the nation’s industrial power, the modern Amazon frontier expansion began. But it didn’t take long for the government’s strategy to upset the ecosystem balance of the once-thinly settled region. By the early 1980s, the Brazilian Amazon was already experiencing high rates of deforestation, conflicts with indigenous populations, and severe malaria outbreaks. The lack of acquired immunity among most settlers, combined with precarious living conditions—houses with partial walls, or with walls and roofs made of tree leaves— led to a resurgence of the disease. Unlike in Africa, where mortality rates are high, the disease causes relatively few deaths in the Amazon. Primarily due to improved clinical treatments, fewer than 100 people a year die of malaria in Brazil. The hundreds of thousands of cases annually in the Amazon result mostly in missed work and school, due to flulike symptoms that commonly include fever, chills, headache, sweats, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Despite the low mortality rate, the disease imposes a heavy social and economic burden, since most residents of the Amazon are farmers who are unable to hire others to work on the land. “Government permits to settle should be based, in part, on the risk of malaria in those areas,” Castro says. “In many parts of the Amazon, people should not have been settled in the first place.”
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Renaissance Training in the Water Worlds of Brazil By David L. Chandler
razil, says John Briscoe, is “basically four different worlds, when it comes to water.” About the size of the United States, the country has very different regions whose needs and resources cannot easily be lumped together when thinking about appropriate policies on agriculture, forestry, and energy production—all of which are connected to water. Briscoe, who grew up in South Africa, has spent significant time living in Brazil, mostly in its capital city of Brasília. During that time he represented the World
Bank but he has now assumed a new role: director of the Harvard University Water Security Initiative. The program, which began with a focus on Australia, Pakistan, Mexico, the U.S., South Africa, and Brazil, aims to build on the model set by the renowned Harvard Water Project of the 1960s, which pioneered the integration of engineering, government, and economics in the interests of water policy. The new, revived initiative will work to perform integrated, interdisciplinary research across the areas
of technology, economic growth, law, business, environmental responsibility, and public health. Few people are better qualified to be running such a sweeping collaborative program. Trained originally at the University of Cape Town as a civil engineer, Briscoe has spent four decades working on water issues in dozens of countries, and has lived in South Africa, Mozambique, Bangladesh, India, and Brazil. Formerly a senior water advisor to the World Bank, as well as the bank’s Country Director for Brazil, he speaks five languages. Once a student in Harvard’s earlier water program (he earned his doctorate in environmental engineering in 1976), he has now returned as Gordon McKay professor of the practice of environmental engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences—with a joint appoint-
Fa Fa c cu u ll tt y y P Pr ro o ff ii ll ee
Joel Schwartz Charles Waldheim
s a graduate student in the early 1990s, Charles Waldheim noticed a clear divide among some of his peers in the field of architecture. His North American colleagues were studying European cities to better understand the form and history of the American city. “But the Europeans looking at American cities were very different. Almost all of them said that to understand the American city, you really had to understand landscape.” The idea of treating landscape as a medium for understanding and designing cities intrigued Waldheim, the Irving professor of landscape architecture and chair of the department of Landscape Architecture at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. “Most of our models in the field and most of our theories in the literature assumed that you get a city by piling up buildings next to each other,” he says. But Waldheim found this building-first mindset to be no longer culturally relevant, and instead concluded that landscape considerations should be given more prominence in city-building. In recent years, he has noticed an increase in projects that begin not with the traditional planning and urban design phases, but with the hiring of a landscape architect. In this
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new approach—termed “landscape urbanism”—the landscape architect “is really shaping what the city will look like.” Waldheim says one of the reasons that landscape architects have become so essential is their unique toolkit. A design professional who is comfortable working with complex, non-linear problems in a high-pressure design culture and who also possesses a background in ecological and environmental science is increasingly relevant to market needs. Architects also occupy a privileged position in the design process that allows them to actively address environmental concerns. “The field of landscape architecture trained a generation to really be environmental advocates, and that was a great success. But even if we know all the science, if we don’t have the ability to intervene or have an economy that wants to apply that knowledge, then the natural science advocate is at a loss. Whereas the design professional has access to these problems, because they are invited into situations that
they can help to address or ameliorate.” While Waldheim notes that this scientific understanding of environmental impacts is essential, he also sees important lessons in the systems at work in the natural world. “The study of nature provides a cultural model or a metaphor. It’s not simply ensuring that buildings will emit less carbon or use less energy, it’s the idea that the natural world provides this complex self-regulating and responsive model. And increasingly, there is a cohort within architecture that imagines that architecture can be responsive in the way that natural environments are responsive.” — Dan Morrell
ment in the School of Public Health and the Harvard Kennedy School. The new initiative is operating in a very changed world, Briscoe points out. The time when it may have made sense to send experts from developed nations to try to teach lessons to the locals is long gone, he says. Now, what is essential is to develop programs that are highly collaborative from the get-go, working with local scientists, engineers, businessmen, and officials, setting the priorities in accordance with the local needs. “Everyone understands this intellectually, but I don’t think they understand it viscerally.” Brazil is an interesting and promising arena for such research, Briscoe explains, in part because of its enormous natural and economic resources and solid, stable government. “They’ve made enormous strides,” he says. “They have a quite stable political system—there’s zero chance of a Chavez or a Morales there.” The country’s economy has likewise been relatively stable, and its largely urban population— some 80 percent of Brazilians live in cities—has achieved great gains economically over the last decade, with poverty declining by about 70 percent. The fertility rate has gone down during the past 25 years from about 5.5 to about 2 children per woman, he says: “a precipitous drop.” And even for those still living in poverty, Briscoe says, the country has made great strides in innovative systems for providing water and sanitation, even in vast urban slum areas. Briscoe is clearly deeply attached to his second home of the last two decades or so, citing its incredibly friendly people. “Anyone who works on Brazil never stops working on Brazil,” he says. The water issues there are quite different from those in many other parts of the world. In much of the country, vast rivers supply an abundance of water that can provide power, transportation, and a host of other resources for both people and industry; there the issues have more to do with protecting the quality of the water that’s there, and protecting the urban populations from the vagaries and variations of the raging waters. In São Paolo, for example, a city of 20 million, a hard rain can produce flooding that slows cars and trucks to a near standstill, producing traffic jams nearly 100 miles long. Brazil is “an agricultural superpower,” Briscoe says, and about 90 percent of the
country’s agricultural output is dependent on rainfall. In the country’s sparsely populated northeast, however, where the climate is relatively dry, developing agriculture requires extensive new irrigation systems. Already, several states in the region are beginning to battle over rights to water from the São Francisco, the major river there, Briscoe says. From the rhetoric being bandied about regarding diversion of some of that river’s water for agriculture, “you’d think they were going to suck it dry,” he says, when in fact, currently proposed irrigation systems would divert only about a half-percent of the river’s annual flow. In the south and southeastern regions, by contrast, water is abundant. The vast majority of the country’s supply of electricity, well over 90 percent of it, comes from hydropower, with most of the installed capacity located in the southeast. The country now has more than 600 hydroelectric dams, including one that generates the most electricity in the world (more than five times that of the Hoover Dam): the Itaipu complex on the Paraguay border. But despite these impressive numbers, the country’s hydro resources are still vastly underused by global standards. Only about 35 percent of Brazil’s hydroelectric potential has been tapped, compared to 80 percent on average in the industrialized world. “Almost all of that underused portion is in the Amazon,” Briscoe says. “So development of hydropower in the Amazon is a large issue— but there are concerns about environmental impact.” The southern rim of the Amazon borders the center-west, the new growth area for Brazilian agriculture. The scale of the potential for power generation is vast. One single tributary of the Amazon, the 2,000-mile-long Madeira River that few outside Brazil have even heard of, is twice the size of the Mississippi in terms of annual flow.
Outgoing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, described by President Obama as “the world’s most popular politician,” used much of his considerable political capital to push for new dams in the Ama-
John Briscoe, McKay professor of the practice of environmental engineering and former senior water advisor to the World Bank.
zon basin, and his newly-elected successor Dilma Rousseff is likely to continue those efforts, Briscoe says. These projects, in Briscoe’s view, make a great deal of sense for Brazil and for the environment. They are run-of-the-river projects with small footprints, they mean that Brazil will reduce its growing use of fossil fuels, and they open the way for transporting agricultural products by water rather than by destructive and expensive roads. Good as these projects are, Brazil faces a major challenge in planning them more strategically. For decades, Briscoe explains, hydroelectric development was entirely under the control of one huge public-private company, Electrobras, which was the planner, financer, contractor, generator, and distributor. Following global good practice, the company’s operations have been unbundled with Electrobras now focusing on distribution, while private companies have become the main generators of new capacity. “What dropped off the table was planning,” he says. “Projects are now being done essentially without planning, with-
Harvard University Center for the Environment
Photo courtesy wikipedia commons depository
out taking non-energy needs into account and all over the place instead of concentrating in a few places.” In the absence of any overall strategy for development and environmental protection, individual dams have begun popping up everywhere. This rapid growth has led to an urgent need for analysis of existing resources and ecosystems, something that the Brazilian government recognizes and has started to implement. Policies and potential directions for development also need to be reexamined. That’s one place where Harvard’s Brazilian partners see a potential role for Harvard’s new initiative, working with local researchers, regulators, and institutions to study plans and evaluate alternatives that integrate development, energy, transportation, water supply, and the environment. “Obviously the ideal would be that you co-define what you want to do” together with Harvard’s local partners, Briscoe says. “How can we pool the intellectual capacity and co-produce research?” The approach he envisions is “much less huband-spoke, and much more mutuality.” Briscoe’s years of working in Brazil and building relationships with officials and academics will help in setting up these working partnerships. For example, in looking at ideas for development of areas of the Madeira and Amazon basins, Harvard can help with the development of an “integrated approach to how you do this,” he suggests, selecting specific areas for intensive development and leaving others untouched to maintain biodiversity. The importance of hydropower to Bra-
zil’s growth and “At Harvard, our The time when it may economic strength strength is not that provides an avenue have made sense to send we have a big engifor demonstratexperts from developed neering school. We ing to people the don’t. We’re renaisnations to try to teach importance of sance engineers,” protecting their Briscoe says. “Across lessons to the locals is resources, Briscoe this great university says. For example, long gone. “Everyone un- we have people who while global specialize in economderstands this intellectu- ics, laws, business, climate change may eventually ally, but I don’t think they biology, governexacerbate some ment, public health, understand it viscerally.” and so on—we can water resource problems, that’s an bring together a issue too far removed from the day-to-day range of disciplines, to converge around concerns of most people to play a role in environmental issues and economic deplanning. But in Brazil there is a far more velopment.” A kind of renaissance man tangible and immediate impact, since the himself, Briscoe says he still thinks of Amazon forest is the “water pump” that himself as an engineer, but “in my career, fuels the benign hydrology on which so I’ve worked as an epidemiologist, an anmuch of Brazil’s electricity and agriculthropologist, and as a banker, always with ture depends. If deforestation and climate a core of working on water.” He hopes the change are shown to alter the rainfall new water program will develop a generacycle and affect the abundance of water in tion of people devoted to water, who will the entire region, that’s a more immediate delve deeply within their own disciplines, concern. “The role of the forest in regulat- but will also learn about the contribuing the hydrological cycle becomes a big tion of other disciplines and be able to reason for Brazilians to pay attention to grasp the complexities and relationships maintaining the forest,” he says. “There’s among issues. They’ll look at “sociological a clear local benefit, much more visible aspects, regulatory institutions, technolto many people than the more abstract ogy issues—the fusion of all of these,” global benefits that they don’t really see.” he says. By bringing together experts The tradeoffs involved in such decisions from a variety of fields around specific can be complex and can span a wide vari- water-resource issues, Briscoe hopes the ety of economic, technical, cultural, and program will educate a new generation of political factors. Briscoe hopes this will ‘specialized integrators.’ “For a biologist, provide a fertile area for research in which to be the best biologist they can be; for an students will have a chance to dig deeply economist, to be the best economist they and become broadly educated. can be; but with a broad understanding so they don’t just stay in that domain. We want them to understand that the particular domain in which they work exists in a broader context.” “Each country that deals with water deals with it in a very particular way,” Briscoe says. But learning about these complexities in a context like Brazil, with its diversity of regions, resources and issues, and its strong partner universities, should provide a broad swath of experience that will stand Harvard’s new specialized integrators in good stead wherever their work takes them. Brazil has one of the most extensive river systems in the world. The Madeira, a single tributary of the Amazon, has an annual flow twice that of the Mississippi River.
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Balancing Brazil’s Economic and Environmental Needs By Steve Bradt tion that it is not a vast monolith. The 70 percent of Brazil that’s legally considered Amazon is divided between inland rainforest and savannah. This savannah, or cerrado, is home to some of the world’s most productive agricultural land. But it’s an agricultural dynamo under greater pressure than any other part of
Photo courtesy Fabio Pozzebom / Agência Brasil
“The Amazon is not just a collection of trees,” says Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Pound professor of law at Harvard Law School. “It is also a collection of close to 25 million residents.” This view of the Amazon as habitat not only for flora and fauna, but also for humanity, informed Unger’s work from 2007 to 2009 as Brazil’s minister of strategic affairs. Popularly known as the “minister of ideas,” he grappled with the challenges of balancing environmental concerns and the economic needs of those who call the Amazon home. “There is no precedent for the sustainable development of a major rainforest region,” says Unger, who has remained involved in the politics of his native land since joining the Harvard Law School in 1971. “We cannot copy; we must initiate a model of development that is environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive.” “Without economic sustainability,” he adds, “the Amazon will be driven inexorably toward destruction.” Starting in the 1960s, the government encouraged relocation to the Amazon, as it saw the settlement of Brazil’s vast interior as a benefit to national security. Those settlers were required to clear land to stake a claim and obtain credit. Then, as North American and European nations recoiled at the Amazon’s deforestation, Brazil did a U-turn, putting in place some of the world’s strictest environmental regulations. This environmental straitjacket left less than a tenth of the Amazon open to productive use. “We need environmental regularization,” Unger says, “not the choice between a freefor-all versus genuflection to the rich North Atlantic nations. We need a real framework, not one developed for show.” An urgent issue underlying the environmental pressures on the Amazon, Unger says, is confusion over who owns it: less than four percent of the Amazon has a clear legal title. Unger has called for legal changes to regularize land titles. Also key to addressing the environmental needs of the Amazon, he says, is the realiza-
these pursuits, and the only way to prevent them is policing that’s difficult to impossible in such a massive territory. Unger argues that new technologies, better suited to the heterogeneity of the rainforest, must replace those developed for use in temperate forests. Economic development in the Amazon, he says, must also mitigate the temptation to encroach on the natural environment. He points to the city of Manaus, where cell phones and motorcycles are manufactured, so the economy doesn’t rely on the extraction of natural resources. Finally, Unger says, alternative legal paradigms are needed for managing forests, “so the only arrow in our quiver is not the concession of
Roberto M. Unger, Pound professor of law and Brazil’s former minister of strategic affairs.
Brazil. Key to the sustainable development of the cerrado, Unger says, is the recovery of large areas degraded by unregulated grazing. For every acre that is farmed, five are turned over to grazing. According to Unger, the technology needed to return this despoiled pasture land to productive farmland is affordable. It costs just 1,500 Brazilian reais—less than $900—to return a hectare (about 2.5 acres) of abandoned pasture to high-intensity, high-value agriculture. The forested part of the Amazon is subject to a similar dynamic, in that many environmentally destructive practices—soy farming, low-intensity ranching, lumbering—are economically efficient. Settlers have little financial incentive to abandon
large forests to corporations.” When he was tapped by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2007 as Brazil’s first minister of strategic affairs, Unger’s objective was to formulate a future direction for the government and the nation. He quickly realized that long-term planning needs to begin in the short term. “We need a succession of moves, not a blueprint,” he says. “This should be music, not architecture.” Unger was succeeded as minister in 2009 by a Harvard law student, Daniel Barcelos Vargas. “I will be engaged as I can, directly or indirectly,” says the man who, from Cambridge, has been a behind-the-scenes player in Brazilian politics for four decades. “I have great hope that this will go on. We must protect and preserve the Amazon for the benefit of humanity.”
Harvard University Center for the Environment
THE EPA@40: PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT & OUR COMMUNITIES During the past forty years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has made great strides in stripping toxic chemicals from our waterways, eradicating lead from our communities, and improving air quality in our cities. Yet, despite such achievements, the EPA still faces colossal challenges on several fronts. To honor the forty-year history of the agency and to contemplate the mission ahead, HUCE—in conjunction with Harvard’s Kennedy School, Law School, and School of Public Health—hosted “The EPA @ 40: Protecting the Environment & Our Communities” on December 3. More than 300 attendees gathered for the day-long event, which featured addresses by EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and former Vice President Al Gore, as well as four thematic panel discussions: • A Legacy of Environmental Protection • Global Problems, Local Solutions • From Science to Policy • Confronting Climate Together, the panels offered the perspectives of 25 experts from academia, government, business, and environmental NGOs, including William Ruckelshaus, the founding EPA Administrator. To view video and photos from each panel, visit www.environment.harvard.edu/epa PHOTOS: Left - EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson Right: 1. William Ruckelshaus, founding EPA Administrator 2. (left to right) Harvard Law professor Jody Freeman; Harvard President Drew Faust; Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow; Lisa P. Jackson; former Vice President Al Gore; John Holdren, Kennedy School professor, Assistant to President Obama for Science and Technology, and Director of the federal government’s Office of Science and Technology Policy; Daniel P. Schrag, HUCE Director and professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and the department of Earth & Planetary Sciences 3. Global Problems, Local Solutions with moderator Jody Freeman 4. The panelists open the field to audience questions 5. EPA @ 40 conference poster 6. Lisa P. Jackson listens intently to the panel discussions 7. Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, answers an audience member’s question 8. Al Gore addresses lunch attendees
Photos by Eric Vance, EPA chief photographer, and Jamie MalcolmBrown, HUCE staff photographer 20
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Harvard University Center for the Environment
David Ellwood ’75, has been dean of Harvard Kennedy School since 2004. One of the nation’s leading scholars on policy and welfare, he also played an important role in developing and implementing social policy while serving in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration. Harvard Center for the Environment Director Daniel P. Schrag interviewed Ellwood on October 28, 2010. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:
On Acting in Time: An Interview with David Ellwood
Daniel Schrag: When you think about Harvard’s role in the broad challenges of energy and environment, it is Harvard’s impact on policy and the real world that really sets it apart from other universities. The focal point for that effort is the Kennedy School. Your own background in domestic social policy and poverty is obviously quite different from climate change or energy policy. Yet, you’ve been a strong supporter of the Center for the Environment and of the involvement of your faculty. I suspect there are lessons that you can bring from your own experience in terms of translating scholarship into policy, and policy into action. David Ellwood: Let me start by commenting on something that I know you’ve been quite involved with, Dan, which is the Acting in Time project. [The AIT project, begun by Ellwood, is developing a body of research on how leaders and citizens can recognize and respond to pending disasters before they become calamities.] When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, there was an outcry about the poor government response: the sense that it was slow, that federal agencies didn’t notice that there were people left in the Civic Center, and so on. We should have done better, although I think we understand why that was an unusual situation: it turns out that our emergency response units other than the Coast Guard are not pre22
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unable or unwilling to act. I call that an “act anytime” problem: a problem you can see coming a mile away, but for some reason, you are unwilling or unable to act. It turns out that there is a whole class of such issues out there. Certainly, the most important among them is energy and climate change because there is just no doubt that there is a very serious risk. Even if the odds aren’t one hundred percent, the potential danger is catastrophic. Even more notable is that the climate problem has a nonlinearity to it, a set of feedbacks that could lead to an uncontrollable runaway effect. Waiting longer makes the problem much more expensive to deal with, so acting soon is critical. To make that happen, you need science. You need engineering. But you also need to involve business, government, and civil society. None of the remarkable engineering scholarship that goes on in universities as well as in private industry will be useful unless some other set of forces is moved to action. Solving this problem means raising the effective price of carbon. It means advancing technology in places where the private sector won’t do it on its own. It means thinking about a whole series of strategies that are clearly going to involve government, often as the leader, and certainly as a major player. There is just no scenario in which private industry and civil societies come together and say, “We are going to do this; we are just going to stop emitting carbon.” This is a problem where it is absolutely essential to bring all these parties together. Harvard is a perfect place to attempt this. We have spectacular people in science and engineering. The President’s chief science advisor is the Kennedy School’s Heinz professor of environmental policy John Holdren—I had a fascinating discussion with him just a couple of days ago— who also holds a joint appointment [as professor of environmental science and public policy] in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The school also has economists
pared for dealing with water everywhere. But that is not the tragedy of Katrina, in my view. The tragedy of Katrina is that everyone knew it would happen. Everyone had New Orleans as one of the top two or three most likely places where a natural disaster would cause immense destruction. Schrag: The Friday before Katrina, there was an excellent article in the New York Times that explained exactly what was going to happen in New Orleans. Ellwood: There had been articles in the Times Picayune in New Orleans. A year before, there had even been simulation exercises. Indeed, the press release from that exercise reads just like the press release from the real thing. And the real thing wasn’t as bad as the exercise had projected. By the time Katrina hit, it was only a category three hurricane. Modest improvements in the levees would have prevented the disaster and yet, for whatever reason, we were
who work on environmental issues and think about what kind of policies might actually work to effect change. The University has people focused on technology and on energy. It has a whole range of people thinking about sustainable development. It has the Business School and the School of Public Health, since the health implications of climate change are enormous. There is not only an opportunity for a place like Harvard to take on these longterm challenges, but an unbelievable responsibility to do so. Schrag: Three years ago, it looked like climate change was no longer going to be a partisan issue. Now, suddenly it is more partisan than ever. In the most recent election, it was reported that 29 out of 31 republican senatorial candidates officially didn’t believe in climate change. The Tea Party seems to think that climate change is fiction, that somehow it is part of a liberal socialist elitist agenda. In the sense that climate change policy has become politicized, it mirrors tax policy and other domestic social policies in a variety of ways. I am interested in how these issues are becoming commingled in the United States. Based on your experience in domestic social policy, how do you think about action on climate change? Ellwood: Most of my work has been on social policy, and poverty and welfare reform in particular. I was one of the people leading the efforts for welfare reform during the 1990s. And it was an unbelievably partisan issue. Welfare was a code word for liberal. There was a huge underlying racial facet to it. When people ran for office, they would talk about welfare queens. Ronald Reagan used to talk about that. Schrag: A woman on welfare driving an expensive car. Ellwood: Exactly. It was the classic divisive issue. Politicians would just attack welfare mercilessly. Part of what happened in welfare reform was that a group of liberals figured out that maybe the welfare system was part of the problem; that government shouldn’t be in the check-writing business, it should be in the help-peoplehelp-themselves business; and that there might be an alternative that would involve more support for working people, but that would probably mean cutting back on the traditional check writing aspect and saying, “Okay, at some point, you are going
to have to go to work. We’ll make sure you have a job and training.” That changed the dialogue completely. A bill was passed— one that I was not entirely happy with— but you never hear anybody talk about welfare queens anymore. So, part of what has to happen is you have to advance an issue so that it no longer falls along traditional fault lines. I would urge people not to generalize from the recent election. We are in a really tough economic situation. People are hurting and frankly, tackling climate change is going to cost us. Schrag: Fighting climate change will be a fifty- or a hundred-year battle. Still, it is discouraging to postpone it. Ellwood: And very costly. Comparing it to some of the other problems we’ve been studying as part of the Acting in Time project, climate change is interesting because it carries every one of the markers associated
with making a problem tough. Marker number one is uncertainty in the scientific or professional community. Human beings are terrible at dealing with uncertainty, especially when it entails sacrifices. People think, “The experts can’t even agree.” Schrag: That didn’t stop us from going into Iraq. Ellwood: I would say that Iraq is a very different kind of issue because it came on the heels of a rather dramatic event in New York City. If there were some sort of catastrophic climate event, the world would change instantly on the politics. Schrag: Absolutely. My optimistic view is that some climate-related crisis might occur, and that this would wake people up. This happened briefly in Australia. Climate change was low on the political agenda and then they had record droughts that really scared people. Suddenly, climate
The Acting in Time Project: A Primer From climate change to health care, to disaster preparedness and disease outbreaks, the institutional response to many of our world’s most crucial problems increasingly has been a failure to confront major challenges. The Acting in Time initiative, a brainchild of Dean David Ellwood, harnesses the capabilities of Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard University with the goal of understanding why particular problems are not being addressed, and helping to foster ideas for effective solutions. By bringing together scholars from different backgrounds and disciplines, the program aims to learn more about the qualities of analysis, governance, policy design, democratic institutional structure, information, political mobilization, and leadership that can lead to effective and timely action. Through the Acting in Time initiative, research teams—consisting of top practitioners and scholars from a broad variety of fields—have brought their expertise to bear on many of these problems: Acting in Time on Disaster Response and Recovery This project looks at landscape-scale disasters, focusing on two major elements of disaster management—response and recovery—to identify ways to better address these concerns.
The Structural Challenges Presented by Distant Risks “JARing Actions” is an acronym for “Jeopardize Assets that are Remote” in time, distance, or probability. This group is using the “JARing Actions” methodological lens to look at earthquakes, floods, and fires. How to Bridge the “Knowledge-Action Gap” in Public Health What are the most significant barriers to effective mobilization of science and technology for health? This project explores the effectiveness of different global institutional arrangements for closing the knowledgeaction gap to improve health in developing countries. The Looming Crisis in Long-Term Health Care This research team examines arrangements for ensuring and financing long-term health care in the United States. Among the elements of policy solutions this team is studying are changes to federal and state tax rules and expansion of the supply of informal care. Acting in Time on Energy Policy This project addresses major topics related to energy challenges facing the U.S. and makes recommendations to the U.S. government on tackling these problems in time to make a difference. Source: Harvard Kennedy School website
Harvard University Center for the Environment
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class NyxoLyno Cangemi
Hurricane Katrina, the aftermath of which is shown in this photo, is what Dean Ellwood refers to as an “act anytime” problem: a problem society can see coming a mile away, but for some reason, is unwilling or unable to act on in order to prevent.
at universities. Investing in highquality university work that also engages with business and engineering enhances that credibility.
change was an important issue. Now, interest is waning again. That is the problem. For many of the issues studied as part of the Acting In Time project, a crisis is a great opportunity to act. The problem with climate change is that it requires doing something persistently for several decades at least, if not beyond. Political memory is short. Ellwood: You’ve got two choices. You can go home, pack your bags and say, “This is terrible, I am going to find really high ground.” Or we can say, “The hardest, most important problems in the world are important and hard and that is why we haven’t solved them.” Climate change involves a really tough set of issues, but there are a few insights here that you can use. Number one is that you have to do something to make the problem vivid. That’s vital. So, if there is a drought or a series of hurricanes, you should use that to make things vivid. But another interesting point to remember is that politics can make strange bedfellows. You have to bring unusual coalitions together that break down some of the traditional boundaries. Remember the hole in the ozone layer? Schrag: Yes, DuPont came to the table on that issue. Ellwood: DuPont came to the table. Why did they come to the table? Because they invented an alternative to CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons that broke down the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer). 24
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Schrag: Yes, that has influenced my thinking. In fact, I’ve been giving talks here at the Kennedy School about the role of the natural gas industry, because by emitting the least carbon dioxide per unit of energy among the fossil fuels, they are the winners under a carbon tax. Ellwood: Exactly. Another interesting question of particular relevance to this University is one that I have asked around the world: “What institution, group, or individual in your country has so much credibility that if they said ‘This is a problem that we must deal with,’ everyone would sit up and listen?” We used to have
Schrag: In terms of the ramifications of addressing climate change, I think about domestic social policy and poverty. White flight from urban areas was driven in many ways by the transportation act, a Cold War effort to dilute cities, build highways, and suburbanize America. All of the racial and poverty issues, tax issues, and much of the social wrangling of the sixties, seventies, and eighties were a consequence of policies that had implications for energy and the environment. We are talking about reversing those: reurbanizing; changing transportation systems. The social and political implications of that are profound. Ellwood: I think you make the point very vividly. If we think this is just an engineering challenge, or just a matter of convincing people that there is a problem, we are not going to get anywhere. We have to recognize that this is a very real, right-inthe-center-of-the-gut kind of problem that
“You’ve got two choices. You can go home, pack your bags and say, ‘This is terrible, I am going to find really high ground.’ Or we can say, ‘The hardest, most important problems in the world are important and hard and that is why we haven’t solved them.’” that: Walter Cronkite was often introduced as the most trusted man in America. When he said, “Vietnam was a mistake,” the world changed. But it turns out those institutions are rare. In a few places that trusted role will be held by the church. In other places, it may be an individual. Sometimes it is a group. Universities at their best have that kind of credibility, but to have an influence, they have to work in ways that are seen as honest and straightforward. Veritas is our motto. That is what we are all about
we have to understand, think through, and provide answers for. We must try to understand what is going to make a difference, how it is going to affect people’s lives, and how we can mitigate the impacts. Or how we can make it work in an exciting and compelling way. This is as hard a problem as there is, but it is an important problem, and that is why I think it is the work of great scholars, great scientists, great schools, and great universities. That is one of the reasons I am so excited to be a part of this effort.
HUCE Scholarships Support Summer Research This past summer, 18 Harvard undergraduates set out to destinations near and far as recipients of grants from the Center’s Undergraduate Summer Research Fund. The students completed independent and faculty-sponsored research on a variety of topics, including climate dynamics, ecology, and energy. Following is a sample of three student projects, as recounted in their own words. Max Brondfield ‘11 Urban Metabolism: Quantifying Methane Sources for the Boston Metropolitan Area “My research is part of the Boston ULTRA-ex (Urban Long-Term Research Area-Exploratory) project, studying ‘urban metabolism.’ Broadly, this project, which involves multiple schools in the area, seeks to understand how urban centers consume and emit energy, as represented by fossil fuels and greenhouse gases. The project focuses on a 100-kilometer area from Boston to Harvard Forest, and we hope to get a sense for the ‘urban-to-rural gradient’ of greenhouse gas emissions, or in other words, a sense of how emissions change as you move farther away from big cities. The
focus of my summer work was on methane and CO2, which we measured by driving around the study area with a mobile sensor in the trunk of our car. We then were able to analyze the data and search for important correlations and trends. Although we are not ready to draw any definitive conclusions, it appears we have found some very good metrics for distinguishing the gradient from urban to rural areas, and we have found that concentrations of greenhouse gases decline steeply as one moves away from an urban center. While it is hardly a groundbreaking discovery that cities emit pollutants, these distinct trends should help us to better isolate sources of gas and more accurately
model the flux of energy through urban systems. By far the most rewarding aspect of my research has been the opportunity to apply what I have learned in school to active research in the environmental science field. I began pursuing environmental science because I found it interesting and fun, but I never anticipated getting the chance to tackle challenging problems at the forefront of the field. I am so excited by the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to a project that has implications far beyond the classroom.” Paul VanMiddlesworth ‘13 Landscape Ecology “The main goal of the project was to determine how the spatial arrangement of roads, dominant tree species, parking lots, canals, and other aspects of the urban environment affect the dispersal of invasive Anolis lizards in the Miami metropolitan area. The research involved a preliminary survey to determine the range of the invasive populations; this data, along with historical records concerning the locations where the lizards were initially introduced, allowed us to map out areas that appeared
The multiple challenges of sustainability in the 21st century transcend borders. This summer, a multinational group of students took on those challenges in Tokyo through an interdisciplinary course team-taught by James Engell, Gurney Professor of English Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature at Harvard; Kevin Griffin, a terrestrial biologist from Columbia University; Loke Ming Chou, a marine biologist from the National University of Singapore; and Shiqiu Zhang, an environmental economist from Peking University. Engell, a HUCE faculty associate, helped design the course, “Global Seminar on Sustainability,” as part of the Global Honors College, a program that assembles academically talented students from universities in Asia and America to provide a comprehensive overview of enduring and emerging global issues. “The course brings together different disciplines and different cultures to examine a large, common challenge,” Engell explains. “Ultimately, we hope to mitigate social and cultural boundaries and use science to examine the bigger picture of sustainability.” Thirty-one students—from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, University of Washington, MIT, Korea National University, National University of Singapore, Waseda University in Japan, and Peking University in China—took to the web in June for the first phase of the course. For seven weeks, they linked up for readings, postings, videos, and
Photo courtesy JaMes engell
Harvard Professor Spearheads Global Sustainability Course
podcasts on four units: terrestrial biodiversity; environmental economics and sustainability; marine biodiversity; and humanistic and interdisciplinary perspectives. Faculty members provided feedback and oversaw their work. On August 2, the group gathered at Waseda University in Tokyo for the final phase. They spent three weeks participating in intensive discussion, making group and team reports, doing Internet research in scientific and other journals, and taking field trips. In supplementary talks, they heard directly from Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN, the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, and a company that makes mosquito netting for use in Africa. Although the end of summer brought Harvard participants Emily Hughes ’11, Tiziana Smith ’11, and student mentor Ewa Sadej ’12 (who took a version of the course in 2009) back to Cambridge, their engagement did not end there—all three continue to be involved in environmental issues and study. Harvard University Center for the Environment
to function as boundaries to the spread of the invasion. We created several transects that intersected the hypothesized boundaries. We then conducted extensive surveys of the habitat on each transect in order to determine how the boundaries of the lizard’s geographic range were correlated to changes in habitat and, by extension, how different features of the urban environment serve to either facilitate or hinder the spread of invasive populations. The most rewarding part of my assistantship was the opportunity to get involved with every stage of project, from experimental design and methodology to data collection and analysis.”
declines throughout East Africa. Moreover, ecological understanding of African rangelands continues to lag that of high-latitude and wet-tropical systems. And yet, millions of people depend on these rangelands for their livelihood. All my work was conducted in a recently established largeherbivore exclusion experiment that employs restrictions applied to 1-hectare (10,000 m2) plots. Each restriction is replicated at three sites with different levels of natural John Mussman ‘12 rainfall (spanning Predicting Occupant Alertness just 20 kilometers, Levels in Day Lit Buildings yet encompassing “I worked with Professor “We hope to get a sense for the ‘urban-to-rural an 80% increase Christoph Reinhart at the in precipitation gradient’ of greenhouse gas emissions, or in Design School to simulate the from the driest to effects of naturally lit spaces other words, a sense of how emissions change the wettest site). on human circadian rhythm— Three scenarios use as you move farther away from big cities.” the conjunction of metabolic electrified wire to cycles that determine exclude different size factors such as alertness and cognitive contribute to a more purposeful design classes of herbivores (elephants/giraffes performance over the course of the day. aesthetic, while simultaneously developing only; all mammals larger than dik-diks; all Every human’s circadian rhythm differs the case for resource efficiency. mammals larger than hares). The fourth slightly from the precise length of an Earth I now have a much fuller sense of how plot is unfenced, allowing access to all day, so we use parameters like sleep and sustainability practices guide the academic animals. Thus, the experiment simulates light exposure to reset our internal clocks and professional design community. I’m size-biased extinction by excluding species in accordance with the planet’s rotation. currently considering urban planning, of successively smaller size. Using student sleep schedule data and though I also have strong interests in film My research had two goals. First, I circadian simulation software developed and philosophy.” wanted to quantify basic ecosystem by Professor Steven Lockley’s team at the functions and attributes under different Medical School, I modeled how exposure Grace Charles ‘11 herbivore exclusions across the to different intensities of light in built Interactive Eﬀects of Large-Mammal precipitation gradient. Second, I sought environments could effectively reset Extinction & Climate Change to develop and test a passive-warming occupant body clocks. “My summer research was conducted at device to experimentally heat small areas, The ultimate goal is to build a workflow Mpala Research Center in central Kenya. so that subsequent work can incorporate that helps architects design naturally lit My work focused on the interactive effects temperature variability. Next year, I will buildings that are sustainable not just in of climate change and simulated extinction return to Mpala as the project manager for how they use daylight in place of artificial of herbivores on the structure and function the project and I will continue to carry out lighting and internal heating, but also in of ecological communities. Understanding my research. the way they promote occupant health how climatic variability mediates the and productivity. This more targeted effect of animals on an ecosystem is an Photos, clockwise from top left: development of sustainability principles increasingly relevant topic in light of Max Brondfield; Paul VanMiddlesworth; will lead to more efficient structures recent climate change predictions, as John Mussman; Grace Charles. and more effective urban spaces, and well as documented ungulate population 26
Volume 3, Issue 1
Environment @ Harvard A sampling of the fall semester’s events ongoing series
the future of energy
The Future of Energy lecture series focuses on finding secure, safe, and reliable sources of energy to power world economic growth. The fall series kicked off in September with Steven Koonin, Under Secretary for Science with the U.S. Department of Energy. Reducing dependence on foreign oil and reducing greenhouse gases are the two major challenges facing U.S. energy systems, Dr. Koonin explained to a packed Harvard audience. Koonin also argued for the role of government in managing risk and leveraging innovation in the energy industry. The Center also hosted Sunil Sinha, CEO of Tata Quality Management Services, Tata Group, a large Indian conglomerate. His talk described the innovation process behind the Tata Nano, a two-cylinder car that gets 55 miles to the gallon, and, at $2,500, is one of the world’s most affordable automobiles. The company plans to export the vehicle to developing nations. Past lectures can be viewed online anytime at http://www.environment. harvard.edu/events/video. biodiversity, ecology, & Global change
Each semester, this series brings top scholars in the fields of biology and ecol-
ogy to Harvard. This fall, the Center hosted Daniel H. Janzen, University of Pennsylvania; Brian Enquist, University of Arizona and The Santa Fe Institute; and Oswald J. Schmitz, Yale University. Video of their presentations are available for viewing online at http://www. environment.harvard.edu/events/video. This lecture series is sponsored with generous support from Bank of America. Green conversations
HUCE sponsors the annual Green Conversations lecture series, which brings energy and environmental experts to campus for a brief presentation and public discussion with Harvard faculty members. This fall, Andrew Steer, Special Envoy for Climate Change at the World Bank, visited campus for a lecture co-sponsored by HUCE and the Center for International Development. Steer discussed the urgency of implementing global climate deals in developing countries before shifting to a discussion with HUCE director Daniel P. Schrag, Hooper professor of geology, and faculty associate John Briscoe, McKay professor of the practice of environmental engineering. science & democracy lecture series
What will education look like in 2050? Michael Crow, President of Arizona
State University, visited Harvard to speculate on the future, as the U.S. faces declining student performance, global market competition, and falling wages and employment. “How is it that we can have these great research universities and have negative-trending outcomes?” Crow said. “I hold the universities accountable. … We are part of the problem.” His solution? Since taking the helm of Arizona State, Crow has created a series of initiatives designed to be “inclusive, scalable, fast, adaptive, challenge-focused, and willing to take risks.” His lecture was co-sponsored by the Kennedy School’s Program on Science, Technology, and Society.
special lecture Global Water & food security: A new role for the Private sector Peter Brabeck, Chairman of Nestlé
Co-sponsored by HUCE, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard Business School, Harvard School of Public Health, and Harvard Kennedy School, Peter Brabeck’s talk in late October focused on the world’s looming water shortage. After realizing water was the key to Nestlé’s longterm success, Brabeck began the 2030 Water Resources Group, a collection of organizations dedicated to developing technology and guiding policy aimed at solving the looming water crisis. He praised the Harvard University Water Security Initiative, calling it an important step in the right direction.
The Harvard University Center for the Environment has officially joined the social media age!
Friend us on Facebook to learn more about the Center for the Environment, our upcoming events, and our special programs. We also have video and photos from past lectures and conferences. To find our page, simply search for “Harvard University Center for the Environment” in the search bar in Facebook, or visit our website at www.environment.harvard.edu and click the Facebook insignia at the bottom right of the page. Harvard University Center for the Environment
Spring 2011 Events The Future of Energy
With five participants scheduled for the spring installment of the Future of Energy series, the upcoming season promises to be one of the most engaging yet.
Pu b l i c a t i o n N o t e F A L L / W I N T E R
2 0 1 0 - 1 1
The Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE) encourages research and education about the environment and its many interactions with human society. By connecting scholars and practitioners from different disciplines, the Center seeks to raise the quality of environmental research at Harvard and beyond. Environment @ Harvard is a publication of the Center for the Environment Daniel P. Schrag, Director James I. Clem, Managing Director Kellie M. Corcoran, Communications Coordinator, Designer All portraits by Claudio Cambon unless otherwise noted.
Harvard University Center for the Environment 24 Oxford Street Cambridge, MA 02138 www.environment.harvard.edu
Volume 3, Issue 1
First to visit was Bruce Sohn, president of First Solar, who spoke on February 3. Sohn said that reducing the cost of solar energy is on the horizon, but solar power has to grow dramatically if it is to replace fossil fuels. The keys to such growth, according to Sohn, are cost reduction, a policy boost by world leaders, and steps to ease the process of building solar power plants and connecting them to the power grid. Cherry Murray, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences dean and commission member of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, continued the series on February 22 at 6 p.m. in Science Center D, One Oxford Street. Sharon Burke, director of Operational Energy Plans and Programs, U.S. Department of Defense, speaks on March 2 at 5 p.m. in Science Center D. Michael Bromwhich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, speaks on March 9. Check our website for a confirmed time and location. And finally, Jeffrey Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, ends the spring series with a talk on April 5 at 5 p.m. in Science Center D. For more information on the series, please visit our website. Biodiversity, Ecology, & Global Change
Three leading researchers in biology and ecology will speak at Harvard this semester, starting on February 16 with
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Paul Moorcroft, Harvard professor of organismic and evolutionary biology. Jon Chase, professor of biology and director of the Tyson Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis, speaks on March 1. Kathleen Treseder, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, rounds out the series on April 20. All lectures take place at 5 p.m. in the Biolabs lecture hall, 16 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge. Green Conversations
Lester R. Brown, president and founder of The Earth Policy Institute and author of, “World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse,” spoke to a packed audience on February 9 as part of a Green Conversations lecture. Brown argued that the real catalyst for spurring society into action against climate change will be rising food prices. Jon A. Krosnick, Glover professor in humanities and social sciences and professor of communication, political science, and psychology at Stanford University, will continue the series in April. Check our website for more details.
Published on Feb 7, 2011