New book out in July, 2018: Global Resources and the Environment, by Chad & Fatma Oliver

See also: Global Resources and the Environment page | Cambridge University Press site


People often feel anxious when advanced to a new job – when a politician moves to a higher office, a businessman takes on more responsibility, or an athlete turns professional. Over time, they learn to be more comfortable with their new situation and feel less overwhelmed.

The situation itself does not change. Rather, with more detailed knowledge, people learn to organize their tasks in context – what is likely to happen and what is not likely; what is important and needs tending and what is unimportant and can be delayed; and in what sequence things occur.

Many people are becoming anxious over the environmental situation because they are bombarded at a fast pace with a large number of individual facts and assertions but with little overarching context. The purpose of this book is to put the many aspects of the environment, resources, and people into perspective so that readers will feel less overwhelmed.

The book is based on the premise that much in-depth knowledge can be presented simply, thoroughly, and succinctly. People need to learn too many other things to spend too much time on one subject. The intended audience for this book is advancing, mid-career professionals, policymakers, managers, academicians, and anyone else who works with or is interested in environmental/resource issues. Even those with a focus on one issue will benefit from a broader knowledge of the subject as a whole.

The book intends to educate the reader thoroughly but, more importantly, give him/her a perspective as knowledge changes. The book is not intended for skim-reading. The chapters and sections are relatively independent and may be read selectively.

To the academician, the book goes against the trend of increasing specialization. The emphasis on specialization is creating much new knowledge, but it is limiting scientists’ abilities to integrate and understand broad perspectives. The changes in a given resource are generally more affected by changes in other resources than by actions taken by specialists in the target resource.

A hope is that this book will be adopted for graduate courses. Students would need to take several courses to learn about the environmental and resource systems covered in this single volume; they would then have less time to learn more or specialize.

The book is a monograph, not an edited collection of papers. Consequently, we have been forced to deepen our own understanding of each resource and how it interacts with the others and the environment. Economics is not discussed directly but sets the bounds of reasonable futures within which economic solutions can be constructed and debated.

The interactions among the environment, resources, and people are best understood from the perspective of complex, dynamic systems and sustainability, described in the first section of three short chapters. Then nine sections follow, of two to four short chapters each, on people, major environmental systems, and major resources. The environmental systems are climates, landforms, and biodiversity. The resources are water, agriculture, energy, rocks/minerals, and forests. Except for water, aquatic systems are only minimally covered and oceanic resources are not covered at all. Soils are covered as part of landforms. Disturbances have been well studied recently, but are treated as one “change” that is part of dynamic systems – not as a separate subject.

The book’s figures provide more global information subdivided by world regions than can be completely covered in the text. These figures allow the reader to extend his/her understanding of specific regions beyond the text.

Resources and the environment are covered globally because both are global issues; what is done in one part of the world affects all others. Described first are the underlying scientific principles of each resource/environmental topic and what makes each important; then, how it is distributed globally and managed; and finally, what future scenarios and options exist for maintaining, changing, or mitigating them.

The book predicts neither a “gloom and doom” nor a “glowing” environmental/ resource future. The future depends on how people manage the present. The book promotes an informed dialogue about future directions for the world’s environment and resources. It is not a motivational book, but it does not shy away from pointing out obvious “dead ends” and possible actions when analyses lead to such insights.

The book is a result of our common global perspective. It was inspired and informed by the synergies of Chad’s practical experiences and knowledge of resources and Fatma’s analytical perspective and interest in systems theories. More than forty years ago we met and married when Chad was in graduate school at Yale University and Fatma was teaching mathematics at the University of New Haven. Our different backgrounds and perspectives – Chad from a small town in South Carolina, USA, and Fatma from Istanbul, Turkey – have stimulated fascinating discussions ever since. We both enjoy traveling and have done it extensively.

Our travels and discussions with local people have made this book better. As colleagues that we visited in other countries learned of our writing the book, they became excited, offering us various insights, informed discussions, and tours with local resource professionals. Beforehand, we would study the area and frame mentally the resources, environment, and people as a system. Subsequent observations and discussions on the visit would show discrepancies between our mental model and our hosts’, which led to fruitful discussions and learning. It soon because obvious that energy policies affected agriculture as much as agronomists; that the condition of forests was less impacted by forest managers than by agriculture policies; and that water policies were affected strongly by agriculture, energy, and urbanization. Consequently, it became apparent that one needs to understand all resources to make informed decisions.

This book synthesizes existing knowledge, amalgamates different fields, and comes up with intriguing observations. The world’s information is now so vast, complicated, and rapidly changing that many things in this book will no doubt be out of date by the time it reaches print – just as many things changed while writing it. Since the book began about ten years ago, the calculated time of a previous Ice Age (not the present one) was changed by over 100 million years; and the time when North and South America joined has been adjusted by a few million years. A colleague at Yale who showed very scientifically why Neanderthals could never breed with Homo sapiens sapiens has been proven wrong. Locations of different landforms are inconsistent among authorities. This is, and will be, the future of science: no person or generation has perfect knowledge. The future will be about learning details, synthesizing, comparing, measuring, and experimenting; forming thoughtful, flexible mental models; and continuing to learn from and adjust them.

We have tried to use the latest, most accurate data. Some things reported earlier have not been updated with new data. Some recent data have not been consistently posted. Sometimes, an analysis with new data would take too long and would not show meaningful differences. Consequently, sometimes trends that are several years old are shown. Copious online data sets were used. Some of the data is imperfect or incomplete; however, it is preferable to err by commission and use imperfect data rather than to err by omission, for two reasons:

  • Out of respect for people who need to make decisions, we prefer to state an educated observation, rather than shy away on the basis of imperfect knowledge or data. Sometimes the data shortcomings are pointed out.
  • Fatma’s experience with data sets as an engineer has shown that the best way to improve data is to use it.

Hopefully, the reader will appreciate the dynamic nature of knowledge and use this book as a basis to adjust from, rather than as a static authority.

We also hope that environmental and resource knowledge will become more integrative and holistic. This book is designed to encourage that trend.

All units are metric.


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Chad Oliver Honored For Contributions to Forest Science

Yale’s Chad Oliver Honored For Contributions to Forest Science (By Kevin Dennehy)

Yale Professor Chadwick Dearing “Chad” Oliver will be awarded the prestigious Host Country Scientific Achievement Award from the International Union of Forest Research Organization (IUFRO), the largest global network of forest researchers, during its World Congress in Salt Lake City in October.

He is one of three recipients of the award, which recognizes outstanding career achievements by scientists from the nation hosting the event. The last World Congress hosted by the U.S. was held in 1971.

Oliver, the Pinchot Professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Director of the Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), is being honored for contributions to silviculture, forest ecology, and sustainable resource management.

According to U.S. Forest Service, which is hosting the World Congress, Oliver’s work has deepened the scientific understanding of basic biophysical processes of forest dynamics and the interactions of human societies and forests at multiple scales.

“There are so many excellent forest scientists that I am extremely honored to have been chosen for this award,” said Oliver. “I thank the people who nominated me and my family, friends, and teachers — from the Camden [South Carolina] public schools, The University of the South, Yale University, and The Harvard Forest.

“I have also been fortunate to work with a lot of stimulating forestry professionals, scientists, and students. We would identify a practical problem and set about solving it — changing scientific theory and/or forestry practices as necessary. We would ignore physical hardships, political boundaries, and scientific fads and simply focus on the problem and its solution.”

Oliver, whose early work focused on the basic understanding of how forest stands develop and can be managed silviculturally, has expanded his research to explore how this understanding can help resolve scientific, technical, environmental, and management issues at the landscape and global levels.

His Landscape Management System — a downloadable, computer-based tool for managing timber resources, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, and fire protection — has been used widely to analyze and visualize the effects of disturbances and management on landscapes.

“This richly deserved honor recognizes Chad Oliver as one of the preeminent forestry scientists of his generation,” said Peter Crane, Dean of F&ES. “During his career, he has helped us better understand how forests develop, at multiple scales and in all parts of the world, and how they can be more sustainably managed.”

Other recipients of the Host Country Scientific Achievement Award this year are Harold Burkhart of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Stephen Hubbell of the University of California at Los Angeles.

During the World Congress, Yale F&ES Professor Benjamin Cashore will receive IUFRO’s Scientific Achievement Award for his work related to the governance of forest resources worldwide.

The World Congress is held every four to five years in different countries worldwide. Forest scientists from throughout the world will present scientific and technical issues related to priority areas of forest research, policy, and management. This year’s event, which is being held from Oct. 5 to 11, is expected to draw 2,500 forest scientists from 100 nations.

IUFRO is a non-profit, non-governmental international network of 700 research organizations with over 15,000 forest scientists. Founded in 1892, it is the largest global network promoting global cooperation in forest-related research to deepen the understanding of the ecological, economic and social aspects of forests and trees and how they benefit societies.

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Using more wood for construction can slash global reliance on fossil fuels

In Vancouver, architect Michael Green has proposed a 30-story wooden skyscraper, called "Tall Wood." (Image via MG Architecture)

In Vancouver, architect Michael Green has proposed a 30-story wooden skyscraper, called “Tall Wood.” (Image via MG Architecture)

Using more wood for construction can slash global reliance on fossil fuels (Yale News by  Kevin Dennehy)

A Yale University-led study has found that using more wood and less steel and concrete in building and bridge construction would substantially reduce global carbon dioxide emissions and fossil fuel consumption.

Despite an established forest conservation theory holding that tree harvesting should be strictly minimized to prevent the loss of biodiversity and to maintain carbon storage capacity, the new study shows that sustainable management of wood resources can achieve both goals while also reducing fossil fuel burning. The results were published March 28 in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry.

In the comprehensive study, scientists from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and the University of Washington’s College of the Environment evaluated a range of scenarios, including leaving forests untouched, burning wood for energy, and using various solid wood products for construction.

The researchers calculated that the amount of wood harvested globally each year (3.4 billion cubic meters) is equivalent to only about 20 percent of annual wood growth (17 billion cubic meters), and much of that harvest is burned inefficiently for cooking. They found that increasing the wood harvest to the equivalent of 34% or more of annual wood growth would have profound and positive effects:

•    Between 14% and 31%  of global CO2 emissions could be avoided by preventing emissions related to steel and concrete; by storing CO2 in the cellulose and lignin of wood products; and other factors.

•    About 12% to 19% of annual global fossil fuel consumption would be saved including savings achieved because scrap wood and unsellable materials could be burned for energy, replacing fossil fuel consumption.

Wood-based construction consumes much less energy than concrete or steel construction. Through efficient harvesting and product use, more CO2 is saved through the avoided emissions, materials, and wood energy than is lost from the harvested forest.

“This study shows still another reason to appreciate forests — and another reason to not let them be permanently cleared for agriculture,” said Chadwick Oliver, the Pinchot Professor of Forestry and Environmental Studies, director of the Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry at F&ES and lead author of the new study. “Forest harvest creates a temporary opening that is needed by forest species such as butterflies and some birds and deer before it regrows to large trees. But conversion to agriculture is a permanent loss of all forest biodiversity.”

The manufacture of steel, concrete, and brick accounts for about 16 percent of global fossil fuel consumption. When the transport and assembly of steel, concrete, and brick products is considered, its share of fossil fuel burning is closer to 20% to 30%, Oliver said.

Reductions in fossil fuel consumption and carbon emissions from construction will become increasingly critical as demand for new buildings, bridges and other infrastructure is expected to surge worldwide in the coming decades with economic development in Asia, Africa, and South America, according to a previous F&ES study. And innovative construction techniques are now making wood even more effective in bridges and mid-rise apartment buildings.

According to Oliver, carefully managed harvesting also reduces the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires. 

And maintaining a mix of forest habitats and densities in non-reserved forests — in addition to keeping some global forests in reserves — would help preserve biodiversity in ecosystems worldwide, Oliver said. About 12.5% of the world’s forests are currently located in reserves.

“Forests historically have had a diversity of habitats that different species need,” Oliver said. “This diversity can be maintained by harvesting some of the forest growth. And the harvested wood will save fossil fuel and CO2 and provide jobs — giving local people more reason to keep the forests.”

The article, “Carbon, Fossil Fuel, and Biodiversity Mitigation with Woods and Forests,” was co-authored by Nedal T. Nassar of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Bruce R. Lippke and James B. McCarter of the University of Washington.

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Yale Researchers Receive Google Earth Engine Award for Land Studies

Yale Researchers Receive Google Earth Engine Award for Land Studies.

Using satellite imagery embedded with data on reflectance, the UHPSI team will work on developing statistical tools that rapidly scan a large area to locate plants or land-cover of particular interest. In northeastern Wyoming, the team will be using the tools to locate leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula; displayed within the inset image above), an invasive species that displaces native rangeland vegetation.

In support of their ongoing land stewardship studies in Wyoming, a team of Yale researchers has received a “Google Earth Engine Research Award.” The award will help the Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative make advanced methods for rapid land-cover detection and assessment available to the public through the use of freely available satellite data.

Specifically, they will work to integrate various statistical methods into Google’s new Earth Engine platform as preset tools that will allow users to evaluate vegetation or land-cover types of interest for any area of the globe.

These preset tools will be available to anyone in the world with an Internet connection and a Google account.

The Ucross High Plains Stewardship Initiative is a partnership between the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and the Ucross Foundation, and is directed by F&ES professor Chadwick Oliver.
Their research will incorporate contemporary methods for remote sensing, coding, and multivariate statistical analysis. The team expects to release its work at the end of 2014.
The Ucross Foundation is located on a 20,000-acre working cattle ranch in Clearmont, Wyoming.

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Sergiy Zibtsev was awarded Green Star Award

On September 2, 2013, Sergiy Zibtsev was awarded the Green Star Award for his activities relative to fires in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

From Left: Green Stars Dr. Sergiy Zibtsev (Ukraine), Dr. Nikola Nikolov (Macedonia) and  Sundar Sharma (Nepal) together with Dr. Johann G. Goldammer (GFMC)

Green Star Statement (in part): “During the last 20 years of his professional career, Sergiy Zibtsev, professor at the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, devoted his efforts for preventing wildfires of catastrophic dimensions in forests contaminated by radioactivity, as a consequence of the failure of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986. He assessed the effects of a worst-case scenario of a wildfire burning in contaminated terrain and mobilized political awareness to take appropriate action. Scientific studies carried out by an international group of prominent scientists, coordinated by Dr. Sergiy Zibtsev, proved that a high radioactive wildfire hazard exists in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.”

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