Saturday, May 12, 2018

Men stepping up to be stronger allies

Over the last year I've been struck by how hard it can be for us all to move from good intentions to being able to act around issues of diversity. How can we all do our part to build a better place to work for everyone? One phrase I have heard again and again from men (including in my own head) is "I don't know what I can do." Here are a few tips on gender that I've heard in the conversations I've had during Engaging Across Difference (a 2.5 day diversity workshop at The Nature Conservancy) and some subsequent workshops I've been co-leading at my office.

First and foremost, take the time to get better educated and prepared to act. For TNC staff, Engaging Across Difference is a fantastic workshop that will provide the tools necessary to work more effectively across differences. Challenge yourself to read books or articles, or watch movies / videos that can expand your perspective on gender. Let me know if you want some suggestions. You may want to set yourself a monthly reminder to keep yourself honest. Through hearing stories, you will likely be surprised how differently women often experience the workplace compared to men, and how much experiences vary among women.

Next, ask your friends and colleagues about their experiences as women. When have they felt possible gender bias or uncomfortable due to gender, especially at work? What, if anything, do they wish was different at work? It could be systemic (policies) or individual (what people do). Take the time to truly listen, ask questions, and thank them for being honest (even if it's difficult). Remember that the goal is just to listen and understand – to hear and validate their experiences, and that to work you need a foundation of trust and authentic curiosity. Everyone I have spoken to has emphasized that they want to be engaged as an individual, not lumped in with others based on characteristics, so don't just do this with one person and assume it will apply to others!

Third, if you're able to do so with an open mind, you can ask your colleagues specifically for ideas about how you can be a better ally. That can include making yourself available for support and discussion in the future, or talking about situations to watch out for in the future (e.g. I've had a few women request that when they get interrupted in meetings, I should say something like "hold on, I want to hear what ___ had to say"). Whatever feedback you get, thank them for their honesty, take time to reflect about it, and ask questions seeking to understand (but not to agree / disagree / fix). It's important to realize that even when our intent is good, we can still have a negative impact on others without meaning to. I plan to do this for the upcoming annual review cycle, and welcome input from anyone reading this.

Finally, and this one is likely the hardest: speak up when you see problematic behavior (even when it feels awkward, which it almost always will). If you notice the youngest woman in the room is often asked to take notes despite having a similar position to others, volunteer to take them yourself or ask for other volunteers. If someone makes a sexist joke, call it out. You can do this in a lighthearted way so that you are diffusing tension and still setting a positive example (Active Bystander training has ideas), and if it feels best you can do it 1:1 after the fact. Emphasize your positive intent, and that you're trying to alert them to unintended impacts of their behavior rather than criticizing them. I have found that I struggle the most to speak up in a group of all men, but in a way, this is the most important time to do so. It sets norms of what gets men a high five and laughs, and what gets a more awkward and critical response.

If that sounds too abstract, here are a few examples of how you can speak up that I've seen work well. Especially for people who are probably clueless why their behavior is problematic, you can talk to them one on one and say something like "I know you're a nice person and wouldn't want to make anyone uncomfortable, so I wanted to share with you that what you said could be hurtful." If they don't buy it, you can share examples of when people have mentioned how similar behavior made them feel. Another is when a group of men is going on about how hot an athlete / actress / colleague is, you could say something like "When can we start valuing women for their accomplishments and not just their looks? This woman is an amazing athlete, can't we talk about that?" Finally, for low-grade clueless and inappropriate behavior I sometimes just say "Wow, gross!" or "What's wrong with you?" in a semi-joking tone (but if they don't let it drop, I make it clear it's uncool).

If you only take one thing away from this- take the time to actively listen with a real sense of curiosity and a desire to improve. While this blog was written about gender, I've heard the same themes consistently in discussions on race, sexual orientation, and other related topics. I'm still surprised sometimes when my wife calls me out on something I've done (or not done), but that just means I'll keep learning (she also helped to make this blog better). The fear of looking ignorant by asking questions is the biggest enemy we have to learning how to support each other better.

What has your experience been?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May 2018 Science Journal Article roundup

burning logged forest

Merry May!

Most of this summary was written on a red-eye flight to China, so apologies if it makes even less sense than usual, and please let me know if you spot errors or omissions! There's some focus on habitat conversion, but I threw in two water quality papers, plus one each on grazing and soil C, and one on knowledge diffusion.

There's another paper out from the study of how Conservation by Design (CbD) 2.0 spread through TNC and beyond. This paper (led by Yuta Masuda, I'm a co-author) focuses on "boundary spanners" - people with informal connections across departments / geography. These “boundary spanners” are four times more likely to spread information about “innovations” (here that means info about CbD 2.0) and to drive changes in attitude that encourage adoption. However, their advantage in spreading info only exists when they have <4 direct reports and are relatively low in the organizational hierarchy (counting levels of who reports to their direct reports etc. etc.). There's a blog with more info at: and you can read the paper at

Nevle & Bird 2008 is grim but fascinating. They find a connection between seemingly unrelated factors: global CO2 levels and pandemics among indigenous people in the Americas brought on by European contact. They link the population crash to a reduction in burning of forests for swidden agriculture, subsequent forest regrowth storing ~5-10 Gt carbon, and argue this is a likely contributor to a small measured reduction in global atmospheric CO2 at the same time. It's more of an interesting hypothesis with data which is consistent than real 'proof' but it's still a fascinating (if depressing) read.

OK, you know food choices matter for habitat conversion, and several alternatives to conventional meat are 'hot' right now. But what protein source has the most promise for sustainability? Alexander 2017 has some answers. They look at a few categories: insects (crickets and mealworms), plant-based imitation meats (they looked at humble tofu rather than newer products like the 'bloody' impossible burger), cultured meat (real meat from animal cells grown in a lab), and aquaculture. Fig 1 has the results on efficiency - tofu came out on top (if you find it gross, let me know, preparation is key and rarely done right in the US), followed by bugs. Cultured meat didn't have much edge over pork and poultry. Table 2 then shows what the global impact on land use would be under different diet change scenarios (including odd ones like replacing 50% of current animal products with beef, doubling the ag footprint on earth). While insects came out as less efficient than plant foods, that could change if we found ways to use food waste for a significant portion of the insect feed.

Chaplin-Kramer 2015 asks how much it matters which lands get deforested in terms of impact on carbon storage and biodiversity. They look at two regions of Brazil and find where conversion happens affects its impact by a factor of 2-4, which conversion deep inside forests more harmful than nibbling away at the edges (although they note that their modelling scenarios use patterns different from what is typically seen in the real world). The discussion has some good points about how development of roads into new regions will likely have a higher impact than investment in infrastructure around existing agricultural lands.

Tyukavina et al 2017 has details on deforestation and forest degradation in the Brazilian Amazon since 2000. Figure 2A is my favorite - it conveys both the reduction in overall tree cover loss since a 2004 peak, and also the shift in what the land was cleared for. Pasture is consistently the biggest chunk, followed by swidden (small scale slash & burn) and then permanent croplands. There's lots of other interesting data here but that figure was the high point for me.

Wright et al 2017 uses a recent high-quality data set on conversion of natural habitat to / from farmland to show that there is a correlation between how much habitat was converted to farmland and how close the land is to the nearest ethanol refinery. While this study didn't correct for other factors, they point to another study which did and still found refinery proximity to be significant with conversion. The ability of refineries to stimulate conversion were highest where corn acreage was low to start. See for a blog post aobut this one.

Kastens et al 2017 uses remote sensing data to look at conversion of forests in Brazil to soy farmland. The key finding is that the forest to soy conversion rate was cut in half after the 2006 soy moratorium. You can see the shift in Figure 5 by noting the change in the slope of the green line, but the abrupt difference right after the moratorium is more apparent in table 3.

Hansen et al 2018 is a cool paper using empirical data to test how effective wetlands in the Minnesota River basin are at reducing nitrates in an ag landscape compared to cover crops and land retirement. They compared river water quality at ~200 sites under different flow conditions to high-resolution data on wetlands and land use to map correlations (they didn't get at true causation). They found wetlands were 5 times more effective per unit area at removing nitrates compared to cover crops and land retirement (although it's much harder to make a business case to a farmer around wetland creation). They also found wetlands strategically placed to intercept as much flow as possible were much more effective (see Fig 4 - the concept is obvious but the numbers are interesting). All these findings align well with prior work emphasizing the critical role of well-placed wetlands to improve water quality. If you read this paper watch out for the term "crop cover" (% of a given site area used to grow crops) as opposed to "cover crops" (presence of an additional crop on farmland that would otherwise be fallow for part of the year), as they're not super clear how they use the two terms.

Another potentially important tool to improve water quality can be controlled drainage aka "drainage water management" or DWM for short. The basic idea is that for cropland with 'tile drains' the nutrient-laden water can be stored and later reapplied to the field. Ross et al 2016 (led by several TNC colleagues) looked at both how effective DWM was on average in reducing the flow of water, N, and P from tile drained landscapes (they were all cut roughly in half), and identified what tended to make DWM work best. DWM performed better at higher fertilizer rates, when aggressively managed during the non-growing season, and there's a lot more evidence on N than P. Possible caveats: DWM can increase surface flow (and potentially erosion) as well as increase N2O by keeping fields wetter depending on how it's done.

Naverette 2016 (led by TNC's Diego Naverette) is another paper showing that we need different grazing strategies in temperate and tropical climates. There is considerable interest in temperate regions about the potential for high-intensity rotational grazing to improve soil carbon sequestration under some conditions. But this paper found in their study area (part of Colombia / Brazil / Peru), conversion from forest to grazing lands at intensities >1 head per ha led to soil carbon declining by 20% on average after 20 years, while conversion from forest to low-intensity grazing lands (<1 head / ha) actually led to a 40% increase! It's important to note rather than looking at individual pastures, the study looked at one "high intensity" region and one "low intensity region," so it's not controlling for soil type or other variables. Also note that the low intensity region includes a lot of abandoned pasture land which was regrowing with trees and shrubs, and questions of 'land sparing' by intensive grazing were not addressed. But this is useful baseline data we can use to evaluate the contribution of silvopastoral systems.

Alexander, P., Brown, C., Arneth, A., Dias, C., Finnigan, J., Moran, D., & Rounsevell, M. D. A. (2017). Could consumption of insects, cultured meat or imitation meat reduce global agricultural land use? Global Food Security, (April), 1–11.

Chaplin-Kramer, R., Sharp, R. P., Mandle, L., Sim, S., Johnson, J., Butnar, I., … Kareiva, P. M. (2015). Spatial patterns of agricultural expansion determine impacts on biodiversity and carbon storage. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(24), 7402–7407.

Hansen, A. T., Dolph, C. L., Foufoula-Georgiou, E., & Finlay, J. C. (2018). Contribution of wetlands to nitrate removal at the watershed scale. Nature Geoscience.

Kastens, J. H., Brown, J. C., Coutinho, A. C., & Esquerdo, D. M. (2017). Soy moratorium impacts on soybean and deforestation dynamics in Mato Grosso , Brazil, 1–21.

Masuda, Y. J., Liu, Y., Reddy, S. M. W., Frank, K. A., Burford, K., Fisher, J. R. B., & Montambault, J. (2018). Innovation diffusion within large environmental NGOs through informal network agents. Nature Sustainability, 1(4), 190–197.

Navarrete, D., Sitch, S., Arag√£o, L. E. O. C., & Pedroni, L. (2016). Conversion from forests to pastures in the Colombian Amazon leads to contrasting soil carbon dynamics depending on land management practices. Global Change Biology, 22(10), 3503–3517.

Nevle, R. J., & Bird, D. K. (2008). Effects of syn-pandemic fire reduction and reforestation in the tropical Americas on atmospheric CO2 during European conquest. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 264(1–2), 25–38.

Ross, J. A., Herbert, M. E., Sowa, S. P., Frankenberger, J. R., King, K. W., Christopher, S. F., … Yen, H. (2016). A synthesis and comparative evaluation of factors influencing the effectiveness of drainage water management. Agricultural Water Management, 178, 366–376.

Tyukavina, A., Hansen, M. C., Potapov, P. V., Stehman, S. V., Smith-Rodriguez, K., Okpa, C., & Aguilar, R. (2017). Types and rates of forest disturbance in Brazilian Legal Amazon, 2000–2013. Science Advances, 3(4), 1–16.

Wright, C. K., Larson, B., Lark, T. J., & Gibbs, H. K. (n.d.). Recent grassland losses are concentrated around U . S . ethanol refineries, 44001.



p.s. as a reminder, you can search all of the science articles written by TNC staff (that we know of) here
(as you publish please email to help keep this resource current).
If you'd like to keep track of what I write as well as what I read, I always link to both my informal blog posts and my formal publications (plus these summaries) at