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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Species Extinction

A report published this week in the journal Conservation Biology details the possible species extinction consequences of continued global warming. The report - by Forestry specialist Jay Malcolm of the University of Toronto and an international team of conservation professionals - looked at the changes to vegetation types, or biomes, in 25 so-called 'hotspots' (unique ecosystems with a wide range of endemic species). In fact biodiversity hotspots are some of the richest and most threatened biological pools on Earth. They concentrate some 44 percent of plant and 35 percent of vertebrate species on only 1.4 percent of the Earth's land area. Each hotspot contains its own set of unique species. The researchers modeled what exactly might happen to the plants in these areas under the hypothesis that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide doubles in the next 100 years.

Using a variety of models that project habitat changes and migration capabilities for a selection of species, they examined the possible related extinctions in 25 of these "hotspots," reaching the rather alarming conclusion that almost a quarter of the world's plant and vertebrate animal species could face extinction by 2050.

Here's the article abstract (and here's a pdf from the WWF which contains an earlier examination of the same issues):

Global Warming and Extinctions of Endemic Species from Biodiversity Hotspots

Abstract: Global warming is a key threat to biodiversity, but few researchers have assessed the magnitude of this threat at the global scale. We used major vegetation types (biomes) as proxies for natural habitats and, based on projected future biome distributions under doubled-CO2 climates, calculated changes in habitat areas and associated extinctions of endemic plant and vertebrate species in biodiversity hotspots. Because of numerous uncertainties in this approach, we undertook a sensitivity analysis of multiple factors that included (1) two global vegetation models, (2) different numbers of biome classes in our biome classification schemes, (3) different assumptions about whether species distributions were biome specific or not, and (4) different migration capabilities. Extinctions were calculated using both species-area and endemic-area relationships. In addition, average required migration rates were calculated for each hotspot assuming a doubled-CO2 climate in 100 years. Projected percent extinctions ranged from <1 to 43% of the endemic biota (average 11.6%), with biome specificity having the greatest influence on the estimates, followed by the global vegetation model and then by migration and biome classification assumptions. Bootstrap comparisons indicated that effects on hotpots as a group were not significantly different from effects on random same-biome collections of grid cells with respect to biome change or migration rates; in some scenarios, however, hotspots exhibited relatively high biome change and low migration rates. Especially vulnerable hotspots were the Cape Floristic Region, Caribbean, Indo-Burma, Mediterranean Basin, Southwest Australia, and Tropical Andes, where plant extinctions per hotspot sometimes exceeded 2000 species. Under the assumption that projected habitat changes were attained in 100 years, estimated global-warming-induced rates of species extinctions in tropical hotspots in some cases exceeded those due to deforestation, supporting suggestions that global warming is one of the most serious threats to the planet's biodiversity.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Peru Elections

Now this breakdown of support ofr Humala is really interesting. I just don't see how people can maintain that this 'native' transformation of some parts of Latin America has nothing to do with demographics:

"The people here in the interior of the country, the humble people, are behind him more so than for those other parties that are in favor of the rich," Luis de la Cruz, a hardware shop owner.

Among the mostly Quechua-speaking inhabitants of Ayacucho and surrounding state, Humala's support neared 60 percent, with more than 70 percent of the region's votes counted.....

Here in the Ayacucho region and along Peru's Andean highland spine, where the petticoated Indian women with their felt hats are postcard-pretty to tourists, campesinos eke out livings growing corn and potatoes and producing colorful tapestries, clay sculptures and other artisan crafts.

"Ayacucho is still the most sensitive department in Peru. The poorest people are here," said Urbano Munoz, a 37-year-old university professor in Ayacucho.

It matters little to them that Humala grew up in the middle class in the capital, Lima, the Pacific coast 205 miles away.

"The people feel defrauded by successive governments and in general by the political class and Ollanta is capitalizing on all this discontent and frustration," said Munoz.

It's a situation not unlike the one that helped Evo Morales, a coca growers' union leader, win the presidency in December in bordering Bolivia.

Humala's father, Isaac, is a retired Marxist lawyer who was born in the Ayacucho region and graced his son with a Quechua name that means "warrior who sees all."

Isaac Humala is the founder of ethnocacerism, a racist movement named after a 19th-century president, Andres Avelino Caceres. It is rooted in a concept of ethnic vindication for Peru's indigenous descendants of the Inca Empire against their lighter-skinned oppressors.

Ollanta Humala insists he does not share his father's racist ideology, but there's little question he has benefited from it.

"He has not needed to champion the racist preaching of his father and his brothers because people see him anyway as someone who is going to put the whites in their place," said Jorge Bruce, a psychoanalyst and respected social commentator in Lima, where nearly one in three of Peru's 27 million people live and where Flores dominated Sunday's vote.

Ruben Gomez, head of Humala's regional campaign in Ayacucho, reluctantly acknowledged that Humala's physical appearance is a powerful draw.

"He is like us, like an average person," Gomez said. "That is the great difference, as opposed to the other politicians who come with neckties, they have another physical look, perhaps that greatly influences how the population sees the candidates."

By contrast, Humala has worn T-shirts and jeans during campaigning.

And in a now-famous photo of Humala, taken during the campaign, he is dressed as Pachakutek, the storied Inca warrior king who expanded that nation's empire to its widest in pre-Columbian times.

More Economists Blogging

Maybe I am slow on the uptake, but I just noticed two new economics bloggers, Greg Mankiw, and Paul Romer. Romers last post is about French labour market reform, and has some pretty to the point arguments:

According to the OECD, in 2002 the unemployment rate for French 20- to- 24-year-olds was 15.5%. This is higher than many other industrialized countries--for example, the same figure for Canada was just 7.2%, less than half of the French statistic.

However, while the difference in the unemployment rate between two adjacent years in the same country can tell you a lot about the state of the economy, the difference in unemployment rates between two countries is harder to interpret because so many factors can differ. To make a meaningful comparison of the labor market in two countries, it helps to look at other variables besides the unemployment rate. For example, the same OECD report also shows that the fraction of all 20- to- 24-year-olds who were unemployed was 8.4% in France, compared to 5.7% in Canada--higher to be sure, but by much less.

How can these two measures of joblessness paint such different pictures? Might it be that labor market conditions in France are not as bad as the unemployment rate suggests? Recall that the unemployment rate is the fraction of the labor force that is unemployed, not the fraction of the population. The unemployment rate is higher in France because a smaller fraction of 20- to- 24-year-olds are in the labor force there. The labor force participation rate for this age group is 54% in France and 79% in Canada.

A recent article in the Financial Times suggested that the main reason for the lower labor force participation rate may be that more twenty-somethings in France attend university. In fact, this can account for only a small part of the difference. The fraction of 20- to- 24-year-olds in education is only five percentage points higher in France--44% compared with 39% in Canada. Most of the 25 percentage point difference in labor force participation rates must therefore arise for some other reason.

A more troubling explanation for both differences is that many young people in France stay out of the labor force because they are discouraged--that is, they have been unemployed for so long that they do not feel that they can find a job, so they stop looking. Or they never bother to look.

Interest Rates: The Gung Ho Approach?

I can't help but be struck by the difference of approach which seems to be revealed in two separate stories in the news today. The first comes from Japan:

The Bank of Japan kept interest rates close to zero as it awaits more evidence the world's second-largest economy can withstand the first increase in borrowing costs since 2000.

Now from the ECB:

European Central Bank council member Klaus Liebscher signaled the bank may raise interest rates in June to curb inflation and said policy makers may lift their estimate for 2006 economic growth in the dozen euro nations.

While the ECB doesn't want to increase rates next month, there is ``no all-clear'' on inflation and ``still a need for action,'' Liebscher, who heads the Austrian central bank, said in an interview in Vienna yesterday. ``The next meeting is in June. If you look at the whole picture that we've painted, then I'd say that's the next appointment.''

Liebscher's comments echo those by ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet on April 6, when the bank kept its main lending rate at 2.5 percent and quashed investors' expectations for an increase in May. Trichet said economic growth is strengthening and pressure on inflation is mounting, though his remarks on timing sent the euro to its biggest drop in two weeks.

Now Japan is being understandably and rightly cautious, so whence the seeming gung ho confidence in Europe, where the ECB seem to be doing their best to encourage the markets to think that a June rate rise is coming (and that more will follow), certainly it doesn't come from a clear sign that the reform process is advancing and working (which, of course, there is in Japan):

For the European Commission and other EU member states, the French government’s humiliation offers a sobering lesson: six years after the EU declared its ambition to become the world’s most competitive economy by 2010, member states are struggling to push through the kind of reforms needed to achieve that goal.

France is far from unique in its reluctance to embrace economic reform. In Germany, Angela Merkel has yet to capitalise on her comfortable majority in parliament and strong popular support to push through deep structural reforms. In Italy, business groups have chided the dearth of reform under Silvio Berlusconi’s tenure as prime minister.

So I can't help asking myself this: just how rational are people being in Europe about our actual situation right now? Simple wishful thinking won't work I'm afraid.