When in Doubt, Ask Questions (Balance Special, 4/4)

This article is written by Marc Pagen (The Netherlands).

For a novice in science journalism the current debate on balance, or rather the alleged inappropriate use of it, is puzzling. As a journalism student one is imprinted with the golden questions of journalism: “who, why, what, where, when, how, and so what?” In short, one is taught to be inquisitive and investigative. Furthermore, from virtually the first days in the classroom, there can be no misunderstanding about the journalist’s responsibility for informing the public and providing a full range of information with which to make informed decisions about a given topic. So why the controversy about balance in science reporting?

It has been said that journalists like to equate their professional norms, especially objectivity, with those in the scientific world and therefore implicitly trust scientific claims. However, there is no such thing as balance in science, which is an evidence-based discipline. Most issues are more complex than “two sides of the story”, and at a certain point overwhelming scientific evidence can diminish a “side” of an issue. It has been shown that giving equal attention to “all sides” can misrepresent the prevailing scientific consensus.

To me, the principles of journalism, such as objectivity and its recent lexical replacements, fairness, balance, accuracy, truth, and comprehensiveness, are not the real problem. However, a lazy form of journalism that makes no attempt to investigate scientific claims, is a very real problem.

Journalists have been reproached to possess insufficient scientific knowledge and therefore to fall all too easily for scientific-sounding claims that they can’t adequately evaluate on their own. Again, the problem lies in accepting claims on mere face value. Even when a journalist lacks knowledge on a topic, he or she should be able to access people who have and have them do the evaluation. Isn’t that what journalism is all about: asking the right questions?

In general, journalists should treat scientific claims with a healthy dose of skepticism, and find out what major peer-reviewed papers or assessments have to say about them. This professional proving ground can inform journalists about the relative merits of scientific claims, and allow them to “balance” their writings accordingly.

Any absence of such signs of scientific scrutiny should encourage journalists to dig even deeper beneath scientific claims and look into the credentials and funding of the scientists who embrace an alternative viewpoint. They should report if an alternative is supported only by industrial interests and be particularly wary of viewpoints embraced only by outsiders who have no credibility in the scientific discipline.

To me, balance is about investigating the context of claims and viewpoints, especially the how’s and why’s. Outsiders’ opinions might be interesting, but they’re not theories, and they might not deserve any coverage at all. It’s the responsiblity of a science journalist to make this distinction clear to the public.

Accuracy Trumps Balance in Science Journalism (Balance Special, 3/4)

This article is written by Kurian Joseph Kattukaren (India), and is also published on his blog.

Hardly any journalism student enters the profession without the mantra of not being patronizing – presenting the facts from all sides and allowing the reader make up his mind – drummed into their ears, and, as often the case is, the student takes this advice to heart. This canon of journalistic profession, of being balanced, is indispensable when it comes to politics and economics. These spheres of human thought and action allow a multiplicity of views and provide ample space for different opinions. When writing about these spheres, it is essential that a journalists gives equal weight to this diversity and allow the reader the opportunity to make up his mind. Unfortunately, over the last three decades, the application without judgment of this balanced reporting canon has resulted not only in the integrity of the scientific process being questioned when it comes to global warming and intelligent design, but also in a misunderstanding on the part of journalists regarding how the scientific process works. The consequence of these journalistic lapses have resulted in popular discourse diverging from accepted scientific discourse, and we are all the poorer
because of it.

Science as practiced at the highest level is a process which undergoes intense scrutiny called peer review and is performed by the scientific community itself. Thus, any theory, conjecture or experimental result proposed is evaluated within the scientific community for its validity before being accepted as scientific knowledge. When in the guise of balanced reporting, the “scientific fringe,” as Chris Mooneycalls the group who often goes against the scientific consensus, is offered a platform to air their views, the journalist is debasing this peer review process.

Chris Mooney in the conclusion to his article, “Blinded by Science,” addresses the trouble science journalists face when reporting on scientific consensus formed through peer review. What if the scientific consensus is wrong and the “scientific fringe” was right? It begs the question, are science journalists supposed to be the a microphone for airing the scientific consensus or if there is no place for skepticism in scientific reporting?
Skepticism has its place in scientific reporting, but in a peer-reviewed world it takes a backseat to accurate reporting of the consensus developed among the scientists. The journalist has less reason to be skeptical of peer-reviewed scientific results, as the process is conducted by knowledgeable, competent and qualified people, and it filters out scientific views and results that satisfying rigorous standards of scientific proof from those that do not.
Mooney gives two remarkable examples of the “scientific fringe,” Galileo in the 16th century and Einstein in the 19th century, respectively, who turned out to be right. These two examples are also instructive regarding the journalistic norm of balanced reporting.

In Galileo’s case, the scientific consensus was hardly one the scientific community arrived at after rigorous deliberation and proof. It was a view imposed on the scientific community by the Catholic church, and a good journalist reporting – if he was allowed to report freely – on the scientific consensus during Galileo’s time would have added a healthy dose of skepticism to his reports. The Galileo scenario is highly unlikely to occur nowadays. In most countries where science is practiced, scientists enjoy broad freedoms to formulate their own views and express their own opinions freely that there is hardly any reason for journalists to doubt the integrity of the scientific process. The journalism should also reflect this confidence in the workings of science.

Einstein’s case was different. The “Theory of Relativity” when introduced, most physicists found the theory conceptually very difficult to grasp, and the scientific consensus was pointedly against the theory. It is worth pondering, should science journalist have take the side of the scientific consensus when the debate around relativity was raging?

It is my opinion that a journalist, who had espoused the scientific consensus at that time was professionally doing the right thing, for he was unlikely to be in a better position than the physics community to better understand the theory and take sides. Moreover, unlike the scientific community in Galileo’s period, the physics community during Einstein’s time was hardly under pressure from external powers to take sides.

These two examples indicate the limitations of balance as a journalistic norm when it comes to science reporting. The scientific consensus, especially when it is formed voluntarily through a peer-reviewed process, is to be trusted. The consensus might be wrong – as in the case of Einstein – but  the more often that not it is right, and it’s the job of the journalist to communicate this consensus as accurately as possible. It is also the reason why accuracy as a journalistic norm trumps balance when it comes to science.

Science Needs No Balance (Balance Special, 2/4)

This article is written by Roelof van den Berg (The Netherlands).

Balance, together with depersonalization and accuracy makes up the journalistic norm of objectivity each of us (journalists) tries to adhere to. But, dealing with scientific content, balance might not be the right way to obtain objectivity. In this article, I point out some of the difficulties of using balance in journalistic articles on science.

Balance brings bias
A bias introduced by the use of balance in media coverage has been shown on the subject of climate change by Maxwell and Jules Boykoff in this paper. Boykoff and Boykoff showed that while there was international consensus by scientists, mass media gave relatively much attention to critics of research showing anthropogenic influence on climate change. Due to this balanced coverage it seemed to the world that scientists where uncertain about anthropogenic influence, despite the fact that there was consensus. Industrial lobby groups sponsoring scientists got out their message more widely thanks to balance. Should we use balance at all times? I think not.

Clashing opinions
The main problem causing the bias seems to be the difference between scientists and journalists. Much of the differences are explained by JoAnn Valenti in this paper. Scientists are experts on their own field and have loads of knowledge on their expertise. According to Valenti, they are in search for complete and objective knowledge. Journalists are not experts on one subject, but tend to be mostly generalists. Because it is difficult for them to research an objective truth themselves, they rely heavily on expert sources, like scientists in our case. In order to create journalistic objectivity from these sources, journalists seek out opposing opinions. They let the sources advocate their positions, making every subject to a debate while there might not be one at all.

Minority rules
While scientific truth arises from evidence based research, journalistic objectivity comes from combining sources. In the case of global warming, journalists mostly gave both opinions equal opportunity to advocate their opinion. The scientific consensus was towards anthropogenic influence, but the mass media reported it as if there was no consensus. Journalists might do better to let balance go and first find out if there is consensus on a subject. When only a small part of scientific society thinks differently, this difference in group size should be clearly stated and emphasized, but it might be even better to leave out the minority.

Sponsored scientists
Lobby groups sometimes sponsor scientists as part of their media campaign. Sharon Beder shows the field of forces in her paper on manipulation of the news. In the case of the global warming debate, skeptics on anthropogenic influence where sponsored by industrialist lobby groups trying to save their skin. Journalists should be aware of the hidden agendas of their sources in order to give value to their opinions. We should try to understand what the motives are for a scientist to research a subject and who his sponsors are. A little bit of research into the background of sources can give insight into their motives. The context in which a scientist operates should also be named in articles as far as it is possible to do so.

Sharing sources
While it is not always easy or possible to check the full background of a source in order to evaluate its opinion, we can also find out about this context by means of an interview. According to Wikipedia: “A journalist (also called a newspaperman) is a person who practices journalism, the gathering and dissemination of information about current events, trends, issues, and people while striving for viewpoint that is not biased.” Therefore, it seems to me to be a good idea to share gathered knowledge about the background of sources with each other via Wikipedia. This makes the task of checking backgrounds of sources take less and less effort.

Advise
In order to provide the world with a proper view on science, the scientific consensus needs to be communicated, if available. Such a consensus is sometimes hard to find, but scientists working for lobby groups can be found when journalists actively share information about their sources. Using online media like Wikipedia, this gives more insight into the motivation of scientists to conduct research. When publishing about a scientific outcome it is necessary to provide readers with background information about the context in which researchers work.

So, in short:

  • Find out if there is scientific consensus
  • Leave out minorities when there is scientific consensus
  • Make interests of each party clear
  • Disseminate knowledge about sources

Journalism in Transition: Accuracy Tips the Scale over Balance (Balance Special, 1/4)

This article is written by Katherine Celler (Canada).

As all good journalists have learned, central to responsible news writing is objectivity, accuracy, fairness and a balance of competing opinions. Yet in science journalism, when scientific evidence may favour one perspective, is balance still justified? Particularly in this field, accuracy, not balance, should be taken as the highest standard.

Balance demands that all sides of an issue – including all relevant information and stakeholder perspectives – are presented in an objective manner. But what if the balance of perspectives is 99 to 1? Does one maverick opinion deserve to be in the news, when the majority of scientists have come to a consensus on a topic? Does this not just cause public confusion and misperception?

In an article entitled ‘A Question of Balance: The Autism-Vaccine Controversy in the British and American Elite Press,’ author Clarke concurs that balanced reporting can represent a form of bias which can conflict with accuracy. Despite the overwhelming majority of scientists not supporting a link between autism and a childhood vaccine, in the name of balance, journalists gave the impression that the evidence was uncertain.

In the words of Clarke, ‘media coverage represents a social relationship with news consumers.’ Journalists do not only provide people with information, but also identify problems, stakeholders and possible solutions. Balance shapes what information and which perspectives are provided.

So the question is: how can journalists adhere to the balance norm, with all of its responsibilities, while still conveying truthful information in their reporting?

Accuracy comes to the rescue. Accuracy involves analyzing details, verifying facts, avoiding errors, and ensuring that the most supported view point is conveyed. When a scientific consensus has been reached, accuracy demands that journalists report the main scientific conclusion – even when an opposing viewpoint exists.

In the end, it comes down this: in science journalism, accuracy tips the scale over balance.

On Yucatán Peninsula, slash and burn endangering forests

HICHIMILA, Yuc. – Since time immemorial, the Maya have inhabited the northern lowlands of what is now the state of Yucatán, a sun-drenched place where pre-Hispanic wooden shacks and dirt roads serve as a reminder of how little life has changed.

The local ecosystem, however, has changed considerably, and not much for the better. The dry tropical woodland has suffered widespread deforestation due to ranching and slash and burn, a nomadic farming practice the Maya have used for ages to sustain their families. Thousands of trees have been burned down to clear the way for cornfields or sacrificed for firewood and building material, threatening to irreversibly alter the area’s unique biodiversity.

In a painful irony, as slash-and-burn agriculture has intensified under pressure from the growing farming community, the resulting erosion and desertification have reduced crop yields. Now hundreds of hectares have been reduced to wasteland.

Photos special to the News/Diodora Bucur

Photos special to the News/Diodora Bucur

Three decades ago, forests accounted for 74 percent of Yucatán’s territory, or 3.2 million hectares, a number that dropped to 52 percent, or 2.2 million hectares by 2000, according to figures from the Yucatán Urban Development and Environment Secretariat. The state lost more than one million hectares of forestland between 1976 and 2000. Meanwhile, agricultural projects gained ground, increasing from 900,000 hectares to 1.8 million hectares over the same period of time.

“While slash and burn agriculture is part of the story, large government colonization projects in the 1970s and subsequent large agricultural projects, such as rice and cattle production, are a big factor in deforestation,” said Peter Klepeis, a professor of geography at Colgate University in New York who has investigated deforestation patterns in southern Mexico .

The Maya benefit from forest clearing in the short term because it provides a form of livelihood, Klepeis said. But over time, the process degrades natural resources, and that makes the Maya more vulnerable to ecological and social shocks such as hurricanes, weeds, soil fertility decline and market changes.

“Helping the Maya communities requires empowering them and expanding their range of choice for livelihood,” Klepeis said.

“In other words, part of the problem is poverty.”

Magdalena Matú Canul and her husband Agustin Kantun get by on only $100 per month. The young family lives in a modest one-room hut off the main road into the village of Chichimila, a one-hour drive from the Maya ruins of Chichén Itza.

“We learned how to use organic fertilizers to enrich the soil and grow fruit and vegetables,” said Matú Canul, a 28-year-old mother of two, while giving a tour of the garden where she grows potatoes, tomatoes, and “flor de jamaica,” or roselle, the plant used to make Mexico’s famous “agua de jamaica” drink.

Still, most farmers in this rural part of Yucatán believe that burning vegetation provides the best way of enriching the soil and controlling pests. That may be true if practiced on a small scale with enough time between burn-and-slash cycles for fields to recover, experts say. But slash and burn is generally carried out every year during the springtime dry season, resulting in soil erosion and desertification.

Italian-born Sigismundo Lucidi made his first trip to Yucatán during the month of April, when slash and burn occurs.

“I felt like I was going from wildfire to wildfire, the heat was infernal,” said Lucidi, who later set up a non-governmental organization with his wife, Angela Petruso Barreta, to combat the problem. They have now helped reforest 5,000 hectares of land around Valladolid in northern Yucatán.

“The villages had 15 to 20 families 50 years ago. Now each village holds up to 100 families, with many going into the fields and destroying the vegetation in order to plant corn,” Lucidi said. “It is their traditional way of working the land which will irreversibly lead to the destruction of forests and the entire flora and fauna.”

Lucidi saw the devastating effects of slash and burn during a flight over the Yucatán Peninsula three years ago.

“It was May 1, and when we landed in Mérida at 6 p.m. it was 42 degrees [Celcius] outside,” he said. “It wasn’t the sun, it was the thousands of hectares they were burning and the millions of cubic meters of carbon dioxide released into the air.”

GREENHOUSE GASES

Environmentalists argue that extensive tree cutting and burning contribute not only to soil erosion and desertification, but also to the increase of greenhouse gas emissions since forests are natural absorbers of carbon dioxide. Forests take decades, even generations, to recover.

According to Greenpeace Mexico , forest clearing is one of the main causes of deforestation in Mexico, along with illegal logging. The international environmental advocacy group places Mexico fifth among nations with the biggest deforestation rate. At 600,000 hectares of woodland lost every year, Mexico ‘s forests could disappear in the next six decades, the group warns.

“The most important cause [of deforestation] is a public policy that has been promoting for decades unrestricted logging and the expansion of agricultural boundaries, in different words, the destruction of forests with the purpose of turning them into crop fields and cattle ranches,” Greenpeace Mexico’s Web site states.

Meanwhile, Héctor Ruiz Barranco, head of the biodiversity conservation department at the Yucatán Urban Development and Environment Secretariat, says a state law protecting forests is currently under review. The law provides for preventive measures against forest fires, but offenders can only be prosecuted under federal law by PROFEPA, the law-enforcement wing of the federal Environment Secretariat, or SEMARNAT.

The Yucatán government has also undertaken a number of reforestation projects, including tree planting. But some critics are not impressed.

“Overall, my view of rehabilitation programs is somewhat cynical,” said Billie L. Turner, professor of environment and society at Arizona State University. “They mean well, but they are often implemented with the green belief that they work, with virtually no science on which the belief is based.”

Recently, Deputy Health Secretary Mauricio Hernández talked about the success of a Calderón administration plan to fight global warming by accelerating tree growth. His comments came during a forum in Mérida in December, only weeks before the project known as ProArbol was slammed by critics, who claimed that nearly half of the millions of trees planted in 2008 had already died.

“I support tree planting because it builds community and helps stabilize soils,” Klepeis said. “However, tree planting is a band-aid approach to the problem. What is needed is the kind of integrative approach that links poverty alleviation with selective use of nature reserves.”

Back at Matú Canul’s home, life changed for the better five years ago when her family stopped burning trees and began living off the parcel of land in their backyard.

“We didn’t know anything about organic farming before,” she said.

Fuming with anger

One of the best science journalists from Uruguay, Cristina Canoura, had very good and bad news recently. She won the prize Bartolomé Hidalgo, by the Cámara Uruguaya del Libro (Uruguayan Chamber of Book), for her beatiful book Los invencibles, which was published last year. The same prize in another category was won by the famous writer and journalist Eduardo Galeano at the same time. But the happiness of Canoura was short.

She became angry when she noticed that the Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO) has published a research document in 2002 that mentions her as an “independent journalist” who went to Miami invited by a tobacco company to assist in a seminar for journalists.

Based on the industry´s official documents, the PAHO´s paper (“Profit over people”) informs about the strategies of marketing of tobacco industry to get more clients. It affirms: “Anticipating growth in public concern over smoking and health issues, the goal of the symposia was to tilt regional journalists’ opinions in favor of the industry” (Page 27). So, the industry organized several media seminars in Latin America. The journalist Canoura was one of the attendants. The document quotes 22 journalists from Argentina, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela (most of them are not science journalists).

She criticized the authors because “the trip did not mean any story in favour of the tobacco industry”. On the contrary, she published a story a year after the trip to Miami about the hazards of smoking for health. She included a list of places to get help to quit smoking. Her sources were doctors and industry representatives, according to what she wrote in a new column.

She wrote a column published in Búsqueda, the newspaper for which she is actually a staff reporter, on December 4th 2008: “If you infer a journalist who is invited to a conference or seminar can be “bought” or “corrupted” by the organizers is as serious as to suspect a doctor giving a prescription because the drug company helped him to support his or her congress´ fee, gave funds for brochure or a computer for his or her hospital”. At the end of her column, she says all kind of fundamentalisms “always are terrible”.

Should the PAHO retire the names of journalists from the document? Should PAHO apologize to them? Or should the journalists not accept to go to tobacco industry seminars?

Go to the lab and your mind can be read

Science is what scientists do. But what scientists really do, only partly appears in their scientific publications. In the publications we read what went well, not what went wrong; we read the results, not the struggle to find the results. When I was doing science myself – as a PhD student in physics – I have seen colleagues struggling for four or five years to build an experiment and get it to work. When the experiment finally worked, the data were sometimes collected in a month. From their scientific publications you would guess that the research had gone smoothly and logically, but the reality had been the opposite.

Science is a process, not even a logical process, but an irregular one. To understand that process, science journalists should regularly go out and see science in action: in the lab, at the accelerator, to the Arctic, on a volcano, or wherever. We can not fully understand science from scientific publications alone.

Since I have reported regularly about brain scan experiments, I finally wanted to be part of such an experiment myself. Not just for fun, but as a subject in a scientific study. Last Thursday I was lying in an fMRI-scanner at Maastricht University in the Netherlands for an hour. With a three-tesla magnetic field my brain was scanned and my mind read.

The aim of the researchers is to let ‘locked-in’-patients communicate with their family and friends. ‘Locked-in’-patients suffered from a stroke or an illness so that they cannot move, they cannot speak, they cannot even blink their eyes. But they are conscious, as we know from those who luckily managed to recover. They can hear what others are saying but they cannot react in any way. German Karl-Heinz Pantke was one of the lucky ones who recovered and he wrote about his striking experiences in the book Locked-in – Gefangen im eigenen Körper. These patients would be helped enormously if their minds could be read.

Researchers from the Maastricht Brain Imaging Centre now invented a way to indirectly read the letters the patient produces in his mind. For example, when I was in the scanner, we had defined that the letter D stood for saying in my mind the Shakespeare-quote ‘To be or not to be, that’s the question’, and that A stood for mentally drawing a house. I produced seven letters by different cognitive tasks, and the researchers reconstructed all the letters correctly from the scans, of course not knowing which letters I wanted to produce. The principle works and they read my mind. And I will be one of the six subjects on whose experimental results the scientific publication will be based.

Sure, it’s very cool to lie in the scanner, have your mind scanned and after the experiment see your own brain inside out on a high resolution scan. But it also gave me much more insight in the scientific process. I saw the clever way in which they had devised the experiment, but I also noticed little things that went wrong. When I had not understood a certain task, I started to analyze my own mistake. This messed up that part of the experiment, because I couldn’t concentrate well anymore on the cognitive tasks I had to do.

I know, going out there to watch science in action takes time, and time is money, but it is an essential part of science journalism. I am afraid that with the growing commercial pressure on journalism, there will be even less journalists than today that will take the time and the effort to go to the lab. But without that effort our job will lose a lot of meaning. As it is said: one dead person is a tragedy, a thousand dead is statistics. Science is more than telling the statistics. To show this, we have to go out there and report science in action.

Taming the embargo beast

Embargoes are “strange beasts”, noted ITN’s health and science editor Lawrence McGinty at the annual general meeting of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW) in London earlier this week. Few branches of journalism are so familiar with, or shackled by, embargoes as science journalism. Every self-respecting journal appears to implement them, and most science journalists adhere to them.

Most, but not all. Or so it seemed when the British tabloid The Sun splashed “Life on Mars. NASA’s historic discovery of methane on the red planet” on their frontpage on Thursday 15 January. Much to the dissatisfaction of US-based science and technology news service Eurekalert, that had distributed the story to journalists under embargo. In one swift swoop across their keyboards Paul Sutherland, author of the challenged Sun article, was banned from receiving embargoed stories from Eurekalert.

Sutherland hadn’t broken the embargo, though. On his own website he writes that his “story was based entirely on good, old-fashioned, investigative journalism.” And that touches on one of the disadvantages of embargoes. Embargoes encourage lazy journalism. Whereas embargoes can give journalists the time to really investigate a story, all too often they actually take away the stimulus and the need to do “good, old-fashioned, investigative journalism.” Lucky for Sutherland the ABSW takes good care of its members and after deliberations between ABSW and Eurekalert the latter accepted that no embargoes were broken and Sutherland’s privileges have been restored.

But does that mean that Sutherland’s old-fashioned legwork resulted in a better story? Did he beat all those lazy journalists? Unfortunately, no. Sutherland got the story wrong. NASA never claimed, nor could they, that the methane on Mars is of biological origin. “Right now, we do not have enough information to tell whether biology or geology — or both — is producing the methane on Mars,” the embargoed press release states. Nor was the finding historic, because methane on Mars was already discovered in 2004.

This leaves the question wide open whether embargoes actually help science journalists make better stories or whether they are only tools of power in the hands of the producers of embargoed material. Ted Nield, chairman of the ABSW, is forming a committee of journalists “to review the guidelines that apply to material released in advance to the media – focusing specifically on science reporting,” the Press Gazette reports.

Ted Nield told me in an e-mail that the committee is still in formation and it will “undoubtedly include Lawrence McGinty and possibly Natasha Loder (The Economist).” Hopefully it will also include members of the embargo producing entities. I hope and expect that both parties will also have an open discussion about what purpose embargoes actually serve?

According to the Press Gazette “a draft report of the committee’s findings will be discussed at this summer’s World Conference of Science Journalists, to be held in London at the end of June.”

What is the score so far in this embargo fracas? In the spirit of the host country of the World Conference of Science Journalists: NASA 30, science journalism 15. And Eurekalert? A tough love.

La Terre pourrait devenir inhabitable

Chaque heure, 4 millions de tonnes de dioxyde de carbone (CO2) sont émis à travers le monde. Dans le même temps 1500 hectares de forêts disparaissent. Dans le même laps de temps, trois espèces de plante ou d’animaux sont éteints dans le monde. Carlos Nobre, chercheur à l’Institut national de recherche spatiale du Brésil (INEP) qui donne ces informations pense que l’humanité est à un point critique de son histoire. De nombreux changements provoqués par l’homme induisent des changements qui modifient les écosystèmes et la biodiversité à un rythme très élevé. Pour lui, « notre génération se doit de présenter des excuses à ses enfants de ne pas assurer la durabilité de l’environnement ». Le Chercheur brésilien était particulièrement pessimiste lors de son exposé de la première journée internationale de l’Eco-Forum 2008 axé sur les défis et les opportunités que le changement climatique mondial a sur notre planète.

Les sombres perspectives climatiques découlent, selon le Chercheur à la fonte de l’Arctique et le Groenland, l’acidification des océans et le blanchissement des coraux, des phénomènes qui ont des impacts majeurs sur le climat, l’économie et la sécurité alimentaire.
L’homme est au centre de ce drame environnemental et est déjà visible dans sa région, notamment l’Amazone, où le déboisement causé par l’exploitation forestière et l’aménagement du territoire est en train de changer peu à peu l’espace à l’écosystème de savane. Ce changement a lieu à un taux compris entre 10 et 30 mille hectares de forêts chaque année.

Le chercheur a une seule recommandation face à cette situation : réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre.

Cet article a été publié dans le journal “La Nouvelle Expression”

Les biocarburants pas toujours bio.

La question des biocarburants était au centre d’un atelier à Merida.

La pollution de l’air tue 800 mille personnes chaque année et l’une des principales causes est l’émission de gaz. Il apparaît indispensable pour les habitants de la terre de réduire considérablement l’utilisation des combustibles fossiles et envisager d’autres solutions telles que les biocarburants.
« Toutefois, souligne Dr Jonathan Paz, le président de l’Association internationale de l’OCE, nous devons être attentifs à cette question parce que ce n’est pas une solution simple. Au contraire, elle peut causer de graves problèmes si cette question n’est pas étudiée minutieusement. »

Pour réduire, les graves menaces qui pèsent sur la santé humaine, de la société, il est impératif afin de réduire notre dépendance sur les combustibles fossiles. Le scientifique a fait savoir que 500 mille hectares de forêts et de bosquets se vident chaque année, causant de graves et des effets nocifs sur l’environnement et la santé avec un impact plus grand sur le changement climatique. La destruction des forêts pour cultiver les agro-carburants, notamment, le maïs et la canne à sucre. Pour produire de l’éthanol comme carburant n’est pas aussi efficace qu’on le croit.
Le scientifique a aussi évoqué la consommation de la viande qui est aussi une source de pollution parce que l’élevage de bétail est un processus qui dépense beaucoup d’énergie, la destruction des forêts pour créer des pâturages.

Sur ce point, le Cameroun dont le massif forestier disparaît à un rythme effréné est particulièrement interpellé. L’agriculture itinérante sur brûlis, les feux de brousse dans la partie sahélienne du pays pour la création de pâturages, et l’exploitation incontrôlée des forêts accentue les effets du changement climatique qui impacte déjà sur le rythme des saisons et sur l’agriculture qui dépend encore de l’eau qui vient du ciel.

Cet article a été publié dans le journal “La Nouvelle Expression”