Networking opportunities created by leading a workshop before the International Conference of Conservation Biology

Last week I attended to the International Conference of Conservation Biology in my lovely country, Colombia. Going to this conference gave me the opportunity to be involved in the development of a workshop with national and international experts about new opportunities on biodiversity conservation in Colombia’s post-conflict. The main interest of gathering this group is because Colombia is facing a socio-political transition produced by the peace agreement with FARC, that was the biggest illegal armed groups of the country. The peace agreement opens an immense opportunity for economic development, but also a potential threat for biodiversity if it is not thoroughly planned.



The workshop started as an initiative of Colombians doing their PhD in Australia, and was partially funded by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED).  The main objective was to strengthen collaborations with experts from different NGOs, academic and government institutions, in order to discuss how international experiences and methods could promote conservation in Colombia. This gave me the chance of establishing networks with people who share similar interests. From this workshop I could catch-up with conservation research and initiatives that different researchers and organizations are developing. For instance, besides of the great efforts the protected areas created by National Parks, the discussion with the participants highlight the importance of considering multidimensional approach to achieve more successful conservation plans, such as community base projects and the creation of green policies that promote sustainable development. It is vital to consider the socio-ecological context for proposing alternative management actions. Considering this complexity, we synthesized that the effectiveness of conservation is more than only considering biodiversity or deforestation. Finally a brainstorm of ideas that ranged from policy assessment to spatial planning were discussed.

Although running a workshop can be quite demanding and time consuming, I consider it was a great way to meet understand how to work collaboratively with my colleagues. It also was a great moment to meet people before such a big conference, where sometimes could be a bit challenging to find the time to create connections with other researchers and practitioners.

Re-imagining sustainability beyond death

by Sofía López

Leaving this world without a trace of toxins or growing a tree to give a breath to climate change is now feasible. Few years ago I ran into two innovative initiatives that reconcile the environment with a new cultural shift in the burial philosophy.

Unfortunately, our body is a container of multiple toxins that we have been collecting through several beauty products and even food. The artist and researcher Jae Rhim Lee explained in a very illustrative TED talk how many toxins we carry in our body (aprox 300) and how we are buried with them until the end of the days. Additionally, in her website, she explains how polluting are the conventional burial process. To name some, hundreds of formaldehyde gals (very strong preservative chemical) are used annually and billions of concrete tons are used to create the vaults. Cremation is not an environmental-friendly solution either, because several toxins are released in to the atmosphere and a significant amount of fuel is also necessary.

However, Rhim created the Infinity burial project. She is researching how mushrooms eliminate our body toxins. Her project is also committed to break taboos around the death, where she aims to create a relationship between death and the environment. With this project, the bodies will be covered with singular suit or shroud (Figure 1) which allows the optimal growth of the mushroom.


Figure 1. The suit and the shroud have channels were the mushrooms’ spores can develop properly to start digesting the body.

Another inspiring project that is linking death and the environment is Capsula di mundi which is focused on turn the love ones into trees. Similar to the last project, coffins will be no longer used and instead of cemeteries, a sacred forest will be the new place to go and visit our loving ones. The creators also gave an incredible Ted talk where they explain that bodies of the beloved ones are covered with an egg-shape pod (Fig. 2) made with biodegradable material. A tree will be planted on top of it to be part of a memorial forest, which is ideal to fight climate change.


Figure 2. Design of the sacred forest.

Although these two projects are in their first stages, I hope that this will become a worldwide trend. Hopefully these projects could be able to be combined in the future for my burial. I would like to use mushrooms to detoxify my body and choose a fig tree (one of my favorite trees) to be remembered.

Let’s break some taboos and embrace modernity!!



Is Colombia risking its overall development by decreasing non-renewal natural resources exploitation in order to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions?

By Sofía López

Last year when I was participating in a podcast about climate change, we were talking about the exploitation of non-renewable natural resources, and one question of one participant gained my attention. He asked why Colombia could potentially put in risk its development since it only produces 0.4% of greenhouse gas emissions (GGE), compared to other developed countries, such as Australia which produces 1.3% of (GGE). The over-exploitation of natural resources could increase economy and therefore, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that this index shows the general development of countries. Although it is true that Colombia’s GGE is very low compared with developed countries, the current tendency of overexploitation of natural resources not only will increase the GGE footprint, which is not aligned with the mitigation goals followed by the government; but actually this activity is impacting several social or environmental aspects, such as health and water pollution. In other hand, several countries can boost their economic development by adopting and building their new infrastructure with environmentally-sound technologies applied in renewable resources. Finally, it is fundamental to take into account social and environmental activities to enhance the overall countries development.

Although economic growth is needed to overpass several development challenges in vulnerable developing countries; heavily relaying on this aspect could limit the growth of other fundamental sectors. GDP index has been incorrectly used worldwide as a reference progress and welfare, since it only considers the marketed economic activity, despite the environmental or social aspects behind each one [1]. For instance, environmental and social damages such as oil spill, war, fires, sickness, among others, increase GDP because solving those problems generates economic productivity [2]. If the leaders of developing countries have GDP as a benchmark of progress, the implementation of several public policies could be wrongly formulated. Nowadays, there are other indexes that try to measure the economic, environmental and social realms and Colombia’s development policies should be based on them. Some examples of the other indexes are the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), the Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) and the Social Progress Index [1] [3], which take into account aspects of education, job opportunities, health, housing, etc.

The current president Juan Manuel Santos has significantly encourage mining activity along his term [4], which has considerably contributed to Colombia’s GDP, becoming the second sector (after construction) with best economic performance last year [5]. Furthermore, because of the drop in oil prices, the government has been increasingly promoting this activity to balance the growth of GDP [6], which could potentially exacerbate social and economic problems. In the assessment of the importance of the exploitation of non-renewable natural resources in Colombia in previous years, some authors have mistakenly adopted GDP – per capita, as the measure of development, finding a positive general impact [7]. While other studies oriented in the assessment of life conditions and the accessibility to health of the population in the area of influence, they assert that the population are in critical conditions of poverty, with low coverage of services and housing shortage, due to of the lack of institutional investment [8] [9].

Therefore Colombia is not risking its development if we limit the extraction of non-renewable natural resources. It is imperative to stop thinking as “business as usual”, non-renewable natural resources should not be the main representative either of the economic growth or the milestone of development and progress. Additionally, intergovernmental organization such as The World Bank are encouraging a new concept named leapfrogging, which means that developing countries that usually have less infrastructure, possess the flexibility of adopting sustainable technology while they are growing. These sustainable technologies can mitigate GGE and that could be implemented in renewable resources [10]. It is essential that our leaders but also we are citizens, we must be aware that economic growth is not the foundation of overall development, but there are other realms and indexes that assess the performance of the country. In this way we can demand more holistically the measurement of Colombia’s development and promote more sustainable activities.


[1]          I. Kubiszewski, R. Costanza, C. Franco, P. Lawn, J. Talberth, T. Jackson, and C. Aylmer, “Beyond GDP: Measuring and achieving global genuine progress,” Ecol. Econ., vol. 93, pp. 57–68, 2013.

[2]          R. Costanza, J. Erickson, K. Fligger, A. Adams, C. Adams, B. Altschuler, S. Balter, B. Fisher, J. Hike, J. Kelly, T. Kerr, M. McCauley, K. Montone, M. Rauch, K. Schmiedeskamp, D. Saxton, L. Sparacino, W. Tusinski, and L. Williams, “Estimates of the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) for Vermont, Chittenden County and Burlington, from 1950 to 2000,” Ecol. Econ., vol. 51, pp. 139 – 155, 2004.

[3]          Social Progress Imperative, “Social Progress Index,” 23-Jan-2016. .

[4]          Ahumada, “Economía Santos defiende la locomotora minera,” Portafolio, 2013. .

[5]          Portafolio, “Economía colombiana creció 3,0 % en el segundo trimestre,” Portafolio, 2015. .

[6]          Portafolio, “Construcción, industria y minería, moverán el PIB,” Portafolio, 2015. .

[7]          G. Perry and M. Oliveira, “El impacto del petróleo y la minería en el desarrollo regional y local en Colombia,” CAF, Working document 2009/06, 2009.

[8]          F. Ruíz, J. Amaya, R. Peñaloza, M. Ferro, M. Cárdenas-Estupiñán, and A. Quiroga, “Calidad de vida y salud: un diagnóstico de la zona de influencia del Cerrejón .,” Cendex, Universidad Javeriana de Colombia, 2011.

[9]          G. Rudas-Lleras and J. E. Espitia-Zamora, “La paradoja de la minería y el desarrollo. Análisis departamental y municipal para el caso de Colombia.,” in Minería en Colombia: institucionalidad y territorio, paradojoas y conflictos, Contraloría General de la República, 2013, p. 341.

[10]        The World Bank, “Understanding the Links between  Climate Change and Development,” in Development and Climate Change, The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, 2010, p. 439.


The perks of volunteering in a climate changing world

By Sofía López

Volunteer is an outstanding way of enhancing social and environmental realms, and it is a life experience that everyone should practice often in their lives. Why? Because helping other people or spending time outdoors improving the environment has positive effects on health, self-esteem and even for career projection [1]. It provides good training to become a leader and a project manager, which is a skill greatly appreciated in job positions [2]. For instance, thanks to the work in the environmental NGO that I made with some friends some years ago (Fundación Manigua desde la tierra), I gain good experience as volunteer which helped me to win an Australian scholarship to do a Master in Biodiversity Conservation.

Regarding climate change, the benefits of volunteering range from individual and personal growth to community empowerment. Working with vulnerable communities in adaptation process to climate change, creates on volunteers a sense of purpose for a better future [3]. Regarding a community level, working in community gardens promotes local engagement [4] and could become a long-term activity, which is beneficial to fight climate change.

Previous experiences volunteering has motivated me to continue doing this wonderful labor. When I volunteer doing environmental talks about climate change in my home country, I met several people with different backgrounds, who were open to change their habits or that already were practicing sustainable activities in order to mitigate climate change. One case that I remember the most was a man that told me that he was going to make hundreds of copies of the educational flyer of the talk in order to distribute them in all the post lockers to spread the message to his neighbors (picture 1). Another wonderful experience was volunteering in the logistics of the Climate March at Brisbane in November of this year. Watching young people getting involved in this big issue was like having a shot of energy to keep on the fight against climate change, because I felt that younger generations are taking the environment seriously. I got the opportunity to see how young people with two different backgrounds were totally passionate about changing the trend of this big issue. The first one (picture 2) is a girl wearing a traditional costume of the people of the pacific islands. She made a beautiful dance in the stage before the rally started, and afterwards she, with other members, made a beautiful speech about how the raise of sea level is affecting them. However, they striking words which inspire me the most are “we are not drowning we are fighting”. The second ones (picture 3) were two motivated young ladies belonging from a catholic congregation that raised strongly their voices for climate justice, they ended up with sore throat because of their enthusiasm in their singing. Now, I am excited and looking forward to work on a newer volunteer prospective, which is a new community garden that is starting to grow in my neighborhood.


One of the most important perk of volunteering is that you don’t have to follow schedules or deadlines, you don’t have a boss that demands results… you are totally free. This is an activity where the final goal is to share time with people that have common goals and that are happy to work collaboratively to create a better world. So I invite you to give as many time as you can volunteering, believe me, you will become addicted!


[1]          A. Meade, “Volunteering + social impact = mental health improvement,” Voluntary Sector Network, 06-Feb-2014. .

[2]          C. Thomas-Baily, “The benefits of volunteering,” Graduate careers, 20-Feb-2010. .

[3]          B. Ki-moon, “Volunteerism,” Global Issue, 12-May-2012. .

[4]          K. G. Tidball and M. E. Krasny, “Urban environmental education from a social-ecological perspective:  conceptual framework for civic ecology education,” Cities Environ., vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 1–20, 2010.


Does it Matter Who Caused Climate Change?

By Cristina Casey

If someone is sitting in a library, and they start feeling cold because cold air is coming in from an open window – does it matter who opened the window? Their first thought would most likely be to close the window. Imagine that the wind is blowing away pages of ancient manuscripts and rain is coming in and damaging precious irreplaceable books that have been around for hundreds of year. Again the important aspect is not who opened the window but what to do to prevent further damage.

Of course there is relevance in identifying the causes of a problem and who is responsible for it, first and foremost to avoid repeating the same damaging actions (no point in closing the window if others keep reopening it obliviously or carelessly). But in the scheme of things, finding agreement on the actions to take to tackle climate change is ultimately more urgent and important than agreeing on whether or not it has been caused by humans.

Climate change deniers argue that the Earth’s climate has changed over the eras independently of humans and their activities. There have even been temperatures higher than those experienced nowadays, during the Holocene Climatic Optimum, without any human influence [1]. In addition, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have fluctuated over the millennia irrespective of humans’ existence. This is certainly true. Figure 1 shows that during the last 800,000 years CO2 levels have been quite regularly rising and falling between about 180 and 300 parts per million (ppm). However, the important factor is the rate in which these changes in temperature and greenhouse gas levels have been happening in the last two centuries. A peak is noticeable in the right hand side of the graph in Figure 1, as CO2 levels have been going up exponentially since the Industrial Revolution.


Figure 1. Atmospheric concentration of CO2 during the last 800,000 years [2]

Increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, like other greenhouse gases, lead to warmer temperatures, which lead to rising sea levels (as a result of thermal expansion and increased melting of glaciers) and cause increased evaporation, hence increased atmospheric moisture content hence more extreme weather events and precipitations [3]. In 2013, levels of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere reached 400 ppm for the first time in millions of years [4]. And just last week, it was announced that the Earth’s climate has hit a dangerous milestone, with global mean temperatures 1.02°C higher than pre-industrial levels, thus crossing the halfway mark to the critical threshold of 2°C, a threshold which scientists say should not be crossed in order to avoid irreversible “tipping points” [5].

As a species we have evolved to improve our quality of life; we strive to make things easier and more comfortable, and as much as possible we avoid and eliminate things that cause us harm. When it was recognised that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in aerosol sprays and refrigerants were causing depletion of the ozone layer, as a result of chlorine radicals decomposing ozone molecules [6], the Montreal Protocol was established in 1987 as an international environmental agreement to phase out the use of CFCs. Similarly, once it was identified that asbestos causes diseases including cancer, usage was stopped and alternative building materials were employed. Asbestos products were banned in Australia in 2003 [7].

Yet in spite of the evidence of the harm caused by burning fossil fuels, there is currently no unanimous action to stop extracting and burning oil and coal and embrace alternatives.

On the contrary. Some companies and some countries blatantly continue to support fossil fuels.

Investigations revealed that ExxonMobil was made aware through its own research in the 1970s of the likely harm that the release of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels would cause to the planet and humanity. Its response over the following decades, however, was to foster scientific uncertainty and fund groups that challenged climate change [8].

And in recent news Australia, one of the world’s biggest coal exporters, has been seen as trying to block a US-Japan plan that would regulate and limit the funding of coal plants in developing countries [9].

Supporting coal is the antithesis of sustainable development, which in its very definition conveys a responsibility towards future generations (see reference [10] for the definition). Coal is a finite resource; it will eventually run out, coal mines will shut down leaving gaping holes in the ground. Continuing to extract and burn coal, instead of investing in renewable energy, not only impacts the health of future generations, through pollution and climate change, but also fails to leave a lasting feasible infrastructure for future generations to rely on for the production of energy.

Our daily lives rely on energy, predominantly electricity. Figure 2 shows the proportion by sector of greenhouse gas emissions generated from human-related activities. Energy and transport together account for almost half. By producing energy from renewable resources, thus eliminating carbon emissions from this source, we could then seriously look at electric vehicles and make them carbon neutral as well.


Figure 2. Human-related greenhouse gas emissions by sector [11]

Ultimately the main issue is not about assigning blame, it’s about taking action. It’s about knowing that if something we do causes damage, then we should try to do something differently. It’s about recognising that if there exist alternatives to the way we do things, that are less harmful to ourselves and to the environment, then we should invest our money and efforts into making them a reality and making them our new standard.


[1] C. Beck (15 December 2006), “How to Talk to a Global Warming Skeptic”, at, accessed 15 November 2015.

[2] Image courtesy of Scripps Institution of Oceanography as shown in Scientific American (9 May 2013), “400 PPM: Carbon Dioxide in the Atmosphere Reaches Prehistoric Levels”, at, accessed 17 November 2015.

[3] IPCC, “Summary for Policymakers” in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, USA, 2013.

[4] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Greenhouse gas benchmark reached“, at, accessed 16 November 2015.

[5] Climate Council (11 November 2015), “Global warming passes critical one degree mark”, at, accessed 12 November 2015.

[6] J.C. Farman, B. G. Gardiner and J. D. Shanklin, “Large losses of total ozone in Antarctica reveal seasonal ClOx/NOx interaction”, Nature, vol. 315, pp. 207-210, 1985.

[7] N. O’Brien (19 October 2014), “Asbestos: the hidden danger lurking in your backyard”, at, accessed 14 November 2015.

[8] N. Banerjee, L. Song and D. Hasemyer (16 September 2015), “Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels’ Role in Global Warming Decades Ago”, at, accessed 13 November 2015.

[9] A. Morton (11 November 2015), “Turnbull government accused of blocking US, Japan plan to reduce coal”, at, accessed 12 November 2015.

[10] World Commission on the Environment and Development, “Our Common Future (The Brundtland Report)”, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. Definition of Sustainable Development in s. 27, p. 16:

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

[11] UN conference on climate change (2015), “Changement climatique – Mapping Knowledge / Universcience”, part of “10 videos to understand climate change”, at, accessed 12 November 2015.

Climate change, an issue that affects every sector and invites collaboration for action

By Sofía López

One day having a conversation with new friends about how amazing is travelling, we expressed our jealousy for photographers that work on National Geographic who travel around the world, exploring and taking pictures of marvelous places. Then, I remembered that National Geographic gives grants to explore nature and cultures; thus, I proposed that we should apply together. However, I could notice some scepticism in the air, maybe because we have different backgrounds (botany, entomology, ichthyology and town planning), so identifying common topics or problems to solve could represent a challenge. After some thoughts, we said that climate change could be a potential field where all of us could work together without giving up our fields of expertise. Nevertheless, they still are sceptic to work together on this field, thus here I explain how relevant is working collaboratively to fight climate.

Why has climate change become such an important issue? The environment affects several sectors, from nature and natural resources to social justice. It is forecasted that temperature will increase by the year 2100 to 2°C in the best scenario, or to 4°C in the worst [1].  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has reported that the increment of temperature has significant impacts on physical systems (e.g. rivers, glaciers, floods, etc.), biological systems (terrestrial and marine ecosystems) and human systems (food production, livelihood, health, economy) that reveal differently worldwide (Fig. 1). Few examples of the impacts on nature are the deaths of thousands of Australian flying-foxes because of extreme heats [2]. Regarding social justice, climate change is threaten the right to food and health of hundreds of people that live in countries that are highly vulnerable and are little resilient to climate change. Climate variability is leading to a decrease on crop yield in lower latitudes where several developing countries are located [3], and  the increment of malaria disease also in developing countries [4]. Therefore, since 1992, several nations have joined an international treaty to mitigate the increment of temperature and also to adapt to the current negative effects of climate change [5].


Figure 1. Observed impacts attributed to climate change in all continents [6].

Due to the fact that climate change is affecting almost every sector, few interdisciplinary projects have been emerging, which have inspired people to increase their knowledge about climate change and also have inspired to action. Scientists and artists have worked along different projects that allow the public to understand climate change apart from charts and maps. A string quartet made an exquisite interpretation of “climate data to climate music” to describe the “pace and the place of global warming” (to watch and listen, please click here [7]). Another interesting example which involves multidisciplinary approach, is the CLIMAS project (Climate Assessment). In this project, scientists are improving their capacity of communication to help stakeholders that manage water supplies to expand their decision-making when they are facing climate variability [8]. In addition, scientists have received feedback from stakeholders to improve decision support systems that the community is using, such as web-based tools to assess climate forecast [9].

Nevertheless, it is important to highlight that it is still necessary to increase collaborative work about climate change, since it seems that gathering all the sectors has been challenging, or even when they have joined together, there are some barriers that make it difficult to work as a cohesive group [10]. An important barrier is the extensive time required to build trust among heterogeneous groups [10]. In addition, there is a failure in tolerance between earth scientist and social scientist, because the firsts are more prone to give neutral and value free evidences, while the seconds are more prone to develop more critical reflections from experiences [10].To overcome those barriers, there are some key actions to implement in a heterogeneous group to increase the tolerance and to open communication: 1) Recognize common important concepts or problems (nodes), 2) identify the processes that are unifying them (linkages), and 3) implement a cohesive language [11]. Furthermore, there are some practices that improve interdisciplinary work [12]:


Finally, probably if I do a brainstorm with my friends about the many impacts of climate change in our fields, we will able to find also some linkage among them to find a way to work together. I hope that using the practices mentioned above, it will be easier to persuade my friends to travel around the world solving socio-environmental problems.


[1] IPCC, “Summary for Policymakers.,” in Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of  Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, [Stocker,  T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, 2013.

[2] J. A. Welbergen, S. M. Klose, N. Markus, and P. Eby, “Climate change and the effects of temperature extremes on Australian flying-foxes,” Proc. R. Soc. B, vol. 275, pp. 419–425, 2008. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2007.1385

[3] World Bank Group, “Turn down the heat. Why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided” International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Washington DC, 2012.

[4] A. M. Molina, “Sistemas de información geográfica para el análisis de la distribución espacial de la malaria en Colombia,” Rev. EIA, vol. 9, pp. 91–111, 2008.

[5] United Nations, “Towards a climate agreement,” UN and Climate Change, 2014. .

[6] IPCC, “Climate change 2014, Synthesis report summary for policy makers” 2014.

[7] University of Minnesota, The sound of climate change from the Amazon to the Arctic. Minnesota, USA: Environment and the College of Liberal Arts, 2015. Retrieved from:

[8] J. Overpeck, “CLIMAS Climate Assessment for the Southwest a NOAA RISA team,” The University of Arizona, 2015. .

[9] K. Jacobs, G. Garfin, and M. Lenart, “More than Just Talk: Connecting Science and Decisionmaking,” Environ. Sci. Policy Sustain. Dev., vol. 47, no. 9, pp. 6–21, 2005. DOI:10.3200/ENVT.47.9.6-21

[10] D. Sutherland, S. Brorstad, A. Klitkou, C. Lyall, and S. Yearley, “A Better understanding of Interdisciplinary research in Climate Change,” NIFU Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education, 2013.

[11] C. Vogel, S. C. Moser, R. E. Kasperson, and G. D. Dabelko, “Linking vulnerability, adaptation, and resilience science to practice: Pathways, players, and partnerships,” Glob. Enironmental Change, vol. 17, no. 3–4, pp. 349–364, 2007. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2007.05.002

[12] R. Ison, K. Collins, J. Colvin, J. Jiggins, P. P. Roggero, G. Seddaiu, P. Steyaert, M. Toderi, and C. Zanolla, “Sustainable Catchment Managing in a Climate Changing World: New Integrative Modalities for Connecting Policy Makers, Scientists and Other Stakeholders,” Water Resour Manage, vol. 25, pp. 3977–3992, 2011.