Environmental Education on the Web

Global Environmental Change


  "Earth's Ecosystem at Risk"
The recently released Millennium Ecosystem Assessment reports changes to ecosystems during the last 50 years have resulted in substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on earth. 
(CNN Science News, March 30, 2005)
  Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report
The first comprehensive global evaluation of the world's major ecosystems warns continued degradation of ecosystem services increases the likelihood of abrupt changes that will seriously affect the well-being of humans. Radical changes are needed in the way nature is treated.  (Report released March 30, 2005)
  "WWF reacts to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment"
World's leading international conservation organizations pledge to work together to conserve ecosystems.  This scientific wake-up call removes any doubts that the quality of humanity's future is tied to the way we treat the natural world, even related to ecosystems far away.
  Living Planet Report
"Humanity now exceeds the planet's capacity to sustain us"
WWF's report on state of the world's ecosystems
  Biodiversity Hotspots
"The most remarkable places on Earth are also the most threatened."
(Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International)


On this page we have attempted to briefly summarize some of the programs and research that are taking place on a global scale, each one a massive undertaking of critical importance related to the health of our planet and life itself.  One cannot properly summarize the extensive and complex information and theories put forth in these websites.  It is an injustice to attempt it.  However, our hope is to give you some idea of content and entice you into investigating the websites individually to gain an in-depth perspective of the ongoing research and accumulation of data as it evolves.  The information presented in these websites is from the cooperative efforts of the world community in working toward global sustainability.
Issues in Ecology  (Ecological Society of America)
A continuing series, by a panel of scientific experts, designed to present major ecological issues relevant to the environment in language that is understandable to non-scientists.
Pick one to read, and you will want to go back for more.
Issue 1: Human Alteration of the Global Nitrogen Cycle: Cause and Consequences
Issue 2: Ecosystem Services: Benefits Supplied to Human Societies by Natural Ecosystems
Issue 3: Nonpoint Pollution of Surface Waters with Phosphorus and Nitrogen
Issue 4: Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning: Maintaining Natural Life Support Processes
Issue 5: Biotic Invasions: Epidemiology, Global Consequences and Control
Issue 6: Applying Ecological Principles to Management of the U.S. National Forests
Issue 7: Nutrient Pollution of Coastal Rivers, Bays, and Seas
Issue 8: Effects of Aquaculture on World Fish Supplies
Issue 9: Water in a Changing World
Issue 10:  Sustaining Healthy Freshwater Ecosystems
Issue 11:  The Role of Nearshore Ecosystems as Fish and Shellfish Nurseries
Issue 12:  Impacts of Atmospheric Pollution on Aquatic Ecosystems
(clicking Text Only will quickly load the document; however, full text Adobe Acrobat versions contain  graphs and charts)
U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)
"Helping to understand, assess and predict global change."  Focus areas:  Composition and Chemistry of the Atmosphere, Biology and Biogeochemistry of Ecosystems, Carbon Cycle Science, Human Dimensions of Global Change, Paleoenvironment and Paleoclimate, Understanding the Earth's Climate System, and The Global Water Cycle.
Our Changing Planet A Supplement to the President's Fiscal Year 2004 and 2005 Budgets.
  A report by the Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research-
U.S. Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO)
Provides access to data and information on climate change research, adaptation/mitigation strategies and technologies, and global change related educational resources on behalf of the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) and its participating Federal Agencies and Organizations. Library containing extensive collection of documents. 
Ask Dr. Global Change (GCRIO)
Resources pertaining to global environmental change  to assist researchers, students, educators, decision makers and the general public.  Search the archives for a wealth of  information on Climate Change and Variability, Human Dimensions of Global Change, Impacts of Global Change on Natural Ecosystems, Ozone Depletion, Greenhouse Gases and much more. 
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
To assess the science of climate change, its impacts and to develop response strategies.  The IPCC has three working groups on those main objectives and a task force on greenhouse gas inventories.  The IPCC will assess  the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change.. IPCC bases its assessments mainly on published and peer reviewed scientific technical literature.
Climate Change 2001 report released 2/19/01.  Issues addressed:  Water Resources, Agriculture and Food Supply, Terrestrial Ecosystems, Coastal Zones and Marine Ecosystems, Human Settlements, Energy and Industry, Insurance and Other Financial Services, Human Health, Key regional concerns, vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities in various countries.  (U.N. and World Meteorological Organization)
World Conservation Union (IUCN - International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources)
The World Conservation Union is a collective and global partnership of 82 States, 111 government agencies, over 800 NGOs, and approximately 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries for the purpose of conservation of nature and equitable and sustainable use of natural resources. The Union convenes the World Conservation Congress and other platforms for discussing conservation issues.
The "Pulse of the Planet"
In April of 2004, at the international Earth Observation Summit, 47 nations and the European Commission established a "system of Earth observation systems" that will revolutionize the understanding of how Earth works.  This agreement committed to scientifically connect the world for the benefit of people and economies around the globe.  "Our environment knows no boundaries."  We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, and cause pollution.  "Working together, we can find the solutions and affect the changes needed to protect people, promote prosperity and preserve our planet."  "For the first time we'll be able to take the pulse of the planet."
GEO-II: Second Plenary Session of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO)
14-15 December 2005 Geneva, Switzerland
Challenges of a Changing Earth
"This conference presented the latest scientific understanding of natural and human-driven changes on our planet."
Over 1600 persons representing approximately 100 countries attended this Global Change Open Science Conference during July 2001.

The Amsterdam Declaration on Global Change was presented and formally endorsed by a strong majority of the Conference participants to alert the world to the reality of global change and urgent need for action.  The agreement recognized that, "in addition to the threat of significant climate change, there is growing concern over the ever-increasing human modification of other aspects of the global environment and the consequent implications for human well-being."  The agreement was based upon research conducted under the auspices of four international global change research programmes - (International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), International Human Dimensions Programme on Global  Environmental Change (IHDP), World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), and  DIVERSITAS - the international biodiversity programme.

Some points presented during the conference:
“…we look to the future through the lens of the past”
“On longer time scales, there is a remarkably regular pattern of change: of an ebb and flow within and between different glacial cycles.” “It is almost as if we are hearing the rhythm of the planet's heart. The periodicity of interglacial and glacial climate periods are in dance step with the beat of the carbon cycle as significant pools of carbon are slowly transferred from the land through the atmosphere to the ocean as the planet enters glaciation, and then, there is the rapid recovery of carbon from the ocean back through the atmosphere and onto the landscape as the planet exits glaciation.” The repeated pattern “suggests a tightly governed control system with firm stops…” “What were the controls and why are there the ‘hard stops”?

"The palaeo records clearly show that we have driven the Earth system from the tightly bound domain of glacial-interglacial dynamics into carbon territory that has not been visited in the last 25 million years."

There is a well-placed sense of urgency regarding the environmental state of the planet, with regard to shortages of clean and accessible freshwater, degradation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, increases in soil erosion, loss of biodiversity,  changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere, alterations of the coastal zones, declines in fisheries, and the possibility of major  changes in climate.  "Humans are altering the ecology of the planet, the chemistry of the planet, and the climate of the planet."

The challenges are daunting, but hopefully not insurmountable.  Significant scientific understanding of the Earth system has been realized over the past10 years, but much more needs to be done.  We need to understand the fundamental biogeochemical cycle and underlying processes of the planet.  The issues are of immense importance and we must "take some of the pressure off the Earth."

The Amsterdam Agreement on Global Change, speeches, summaries of sessions, reports and presentations are available online.  Plenary Sessions Presentations: with link to Parallel Sessions

International Council for Science (ICSU)
International council bringing together natural scientists from around the world for the exchange of ideas and information, the development of standards, clarification of issues, finding solutions to problems, and raising awareness.

Interdisciplinary bodies have been established to address a complex array of subjects: freedom in the conduct of science, responsibility and ethics in science, dissemination of scientific information, Antarctic research, environmental problems, food security, genetics and biotechnology, natural disaster reduction, geosphere-biosphere, oceanic research, solar-terrestrial physics, space research, water research, the lithosphere and other specific areas that require international collaboration.
International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP)
Mission - focus on global biogeochemistry.
To describe and understand the interactive physical, chemical and biological processes that regulate the total Earth System, the unique environment that it provides for life, the changes that are occurring in this system, and the manner in which they are influenced by human actions.
Why is IGBP needed?
"Earth IS a System.  Analysis of the gases trapped in air bubbles in layers of Antarctic ice reveals a rhythmic pattern of `planetary breathing' for nearly half a million years."
"Humans now have the capacity to alter the Earth System in ways that threaten the very processes and components, both biotic and abiotic, upon which humans and our societies depend."
Scientists say "business-as-usual" is not an option
"The accelerating human transformation of the Earth’s environment is not sustainable."
Read the list of some major changes that are occurring around the globe.
International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP)
Open Meeting, Bonn October 2005 - "Global Environmental Change, Globalization and International Security:  New Challenges for the 21st Century"
The IHDP coordinates research on the human dimensions of global environmental change.
World Climate Research Programme (WCRP)
Mission of this program is to develop a basic scientific understanding of the physical climate system (global atmosphere, ocean, sea and land ice, and the land surface)

DIVERSITAS - To coordinate scientific research in the biodiversity sciences at the global level, focusing on the origin, composition, ecosystem function, discovery, maintenance and conservation of biodiversity; and to provide accurate scientific information and predictive models of the status of biodiversity and sustainability of the use of the Earth's biotic resources.
"Biodiversity underpins the life-support system of our planet."  The Earth is experiencing an unprecedented rate of species extinction, bringing us to a critical point.

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) United Nations Environment Programme
Biological diversity is a common concern of all humankind as it is vital to humanity's future.
Of the original forests on Earth, 45% are gone, and much of the biodiversity within those forests along with them.  Also among the planet's richest ecosystems are coral reefs.  Up to 10% of those marine habitats have been destroyed, with another third of the remaining coral reefs looking at collapse in the next 10-20 years.  50% of coastal mangroves are gone, which are vital nursery habitat for countless species.  Severe loss of biodiversity may come from global climate change and depletion of the ozone layer in the stratosphere.   Many species and ecosystems will not be able to adapt to extreme or rapid changes.  It is estimated that 34,000 plant and 5,200 animal species face extinction.  Extinctions are irreversible.  Fragmentation, degradation and loss of ecosystems are the greatest threats to the world's biodiversity.  Biodiversity within ecosystems plays an important role in maintaining the stability and productivity of the ecosystems. All goods and services must be considered, using an ecosystem approach in conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.  Biodiversity must be conserved in its natural environment, but also in gardens, zoos and in gene banks to assure, as much as possible, against loss.

"It is unethical to drive other forms of life to extinction, and thereby deprive present and future generations of options for their survival and development."

Surveys must be conducted to identify what biodiversity exists; the values, importance, and endangerment status of each must be assessed; key components of biodiversity that need to be conserved and used sustainably must be monitored; protected areas need to be established; sound development promoted, degraded ecosystems restored and rebuilt, recovery of threatened species need to be promoted in a joint effort with local residents; aggressive action is needed against threatening alien species; potential risks related to development of organisms modified by biotechnology need to be controlled; and education and involvement of local residents and the general public should be promoted, including their participation in assessments of environmental impacts.

The three main goals of the Convention on Biodiversity are: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources.  The agreement covers all ecosystems, species, and genetic resources, linking conservation with sustainable use of biological resources.  It addresses biotechnology and biosafety issues, including principles for fair and equitable sharing of resources and benefits.
Read "Sustaining Life on Earth" - How the Convention on Biological Diversity promotes nature and human well-being.

We must make conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity a real priority, otherwise "children born today will live in an impoverished world."

The National Council for Science and the Environment
"Improving the scientific basis for making decisions on environmental issues"
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change
The Pew Charitable Trusts have invested billions of dollars as part of their Environment Program in  promoting and contributing to energy-saving programs, projects, research, policies, enforcement and decisive action in reducing harmful emissions that contribute to global warming.  Read their global climate series of reports and analyses focusing on Solutions, Economics, Environmental Impacts and Policies.
Center for International Earth Science Information Network
CIESIN's mission is to provide access to and enhance the use of information worldwide, advancing understanding of human interactions in the environment and serving the needs of science and public and private decision making.

Gridded Population of the World and the Global Rural - Urban Mapping Project
GPWv3 depicts the distribution of human population across the globe. It is the most detailed version of GPW to date with more than three times the amount of data as version 2, and includes population estimates to 2015. GRUMP builds on GPWv3 by incorporating urban and rural information, allowing new insights into urban population distribution and the global extents of human settlements.

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