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African Biomass Burning and Its Atmospheric Impacts  

Charles Ichoku

Biomass burning is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, which harbors more than half of global biomass burning activity. These African open fires are mostly induced by humans for various purposes, ranging from agricultural land clearing and residue burning to deforestation. They affect a wide variety of land ecosystems, including forests, woodlands, shrublands, savannas, grasslands, and croplands. Satellite observations show that fires are distributed almost equally between the northern and southern hemispheres of sub-Saharan Africa, with a dipole-type annual distribution pattern, peaking during the dry (winter) season of either hemisphere. The widespread nature of African biomass burning and the tremendous amounts of particulate and gas-phase emissions the fires produce have been shown to affect a variety of processes that ultimately impact the earth’s atmospheric composition and chemistry, air quality, water cycle, and climate in a significant manner. However, there is still a high level of uncertainty in the quantitative characterization of biomass burning, and its emissions and impacts in Africa and globally. These uncertainties can be potentially alleviated through improvements in the spatial and temporal resolutions of satellite observations, numerical modeling and data assimilation, complemented by occasional field campaigns. In addition, there is great need for the general public, policy makers, and funding organizations within Africa to recognize the seriousness of uncontrolled biomass burning and its potential consequences, in order to bring the necessary human and financial resources to bear on essential policies and scientific research activities that can effectively address the threats posed by the combined adverse influences of the changing climate, biomass burning, and other environmental challenges in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Atmosphere, Economy, and Their Holistic Framings in the Twentieth Century and Beyond  

Robert Luke Naylor

Despite apocalyptic discourse surrounding climate change since the 1970s, climate and weather have a longer history of being conceptualized as useful entities in the Anglophone world. The adversities of the Great Depression and hopes for a better postwar future led to climate being designated as a limitless resource—an object integral to the national economy that organizations, most notably governments, could draw upon to operate more effectively, especially against adversity. With a resurgence of neo-Malthusian perspectives in the 1970s, fears over resource scarcity reframed atmospheric resources as being strictly limited, and the concurrent rise of environmentalism challenged the idea that the atmosphere should be seen as a useful entity for industry. Instead, the economy–atmosphere relationship increasingly began to be framed through climate impact assessments, which analyzed the ability of climatic changes to perturb human systems. In addition, economic fragmentation, marketization, and privatization challenged the concept of national resources, meaning that by the end of the 1980s, the idea of the atmospheric resource had fallen from vogue. In the context of such marketization, the meteorological applications industry experienced rapid growth, leading some to advocate seeing the sector as a weather forecasting enterprise to encourage a renewed integrated perspective on weather impacts, forecasts, and policy. In contrast, in 2015, scholars identified how climate change has been reconstructed as a market transition by political and business elites, as climate change came to be seen as a market opportunity that was disconnected from goings-on in the material atmosphere. This disconnection can be seen as the culmination of a long process of conceptually disintegrating economy from the material atmosphere that began with the dismantling of the atmospheric resource concept.

Article

The Development of Fish Stocks and Fisheries in the Baltic Sea Since the Last Glaciation  

Henrik Svedäng

The fish fauna of the Baltic Sea reflects its 9 KY history of Arctic and temperate conditions and is a mixture of species that have invaded from the Atlantic and the continental watersheds. In spite of the challenging environmental conditions, such as low salinity in the entire Baltic Sea and varying temperature conditions, limiting the possibilities for successful reproduction, the number of species is comparably high. Except for the Baltic Ice Lake and certain stages of the cold Yoldia Sea and freshwater Ancylus Lake, the fish fauna of the Baltic Sea, as recorded by archaeological and historical notes, has to a large extent remained unchanged. Some freshwater and cold-water species such as Arctic char may have disappeared while others, such as fourhorned sculpin and eelpout, have adapted and persist as “ice age relicts.” There are few viable introductions of novel species; the round goby may be the most conspicuous invasive species. The extinction rate is still low; the loss of sturgeon and the common skate within the HELCOM (the Helsinki Commission) area is due to fishing, and, for the riverine sturgeon, due to damming. Since the formation of the Baltic Sea, fishing has played an essential role in supplying coastal settlements and their hinterlands and in trading. The archaeological and historical records have indicated fishing conducted with varying intensity using different methods. Herring fishing has been a significant economic driver from the Middle Ages onward. Recent archaeological findings indicate that organized fishing was established at the outer archipelagos along the present Swedish east coast on predominately herring and cod archipelagos for self-sufficiency shortly before or during the Viking Age, and later to engage in barter. The fact that the cod abundance has sometimes been sufficient for letting cod fishing be the most important fishery in the northern Baltic Proper alongside the fishery on herring may indicate that the eastern cod stock had relatively high productivity even when the Baltic Sea was significantly less eutrophic than it has been since the mid-20th century. This preindustrial variability in cod abundance suggests that climatic changes leading to changes in inflows of oceanic water may have affected salinity levels in the Baltic Sea. Fisheries show substantial variability, especially over the last century. Fish production may have increased due to nutrient enrichment of the Baltic Sea. Higher yields have also been obtained due to higher fishing intensity and technological changes. Fishing has, therefore, become a major driver in shaping fish stocks. The eutrophication of the Baltic Sea, leading to higher primary productivity and increasing water temperature and reductions in ice cover, may have led to changes in ecosystem structure and productivity. It should be underscored that such changes may also be amplified by the increasing fishing pressure on the cornerstone species such as herring, leading to significant disruptions in the food web.

Article

Radical Perspectives on Climate Change: From Critical Theory to Eco-Marxism and Beyond  

Alf Hornborg

Since the late 1980s, a number of radical theorists have increasingly addressed the relation between capitalism and environmental degradation, including climate change. Many environmentalists and ecosocialists have criticized classical Marxist theory for celebrating the intensification of technological productivity and ignoring environmental issues. Responding to such charges, some “ecological Marxists” have intended to show that the theoretical framework conceived by Marx and Engels is attuned to ecological concerns. In reviewing their classical texts, however, they have inadvertently exposed fundamental obstacles to articulating a consistent materialist account of political economy. A central obstacle is the incompatibility of a materialist theory of value with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Entropy Law. Whether focusing on inputs of labor power or energy, such a theory of value contradicts the entropic or dissipative character of any production process. Whereas so-called Western Marxism has refrained from considering biophysical nature, eco-Marxists such as Paul Burkett and John Bellamy Foster have attempted to reconcile Marxian value theory and thermodynamics. However, as the increase of economic exchange-value through production correlates positively with entropy, the Marxist labor theory of value is as unable as mainstream economics to align itself with the laws of thermodynamics. The interaction of cultural valuation and biophysical processes illustrates why social and natural aspects of economic processes must be analytically distinguished. “Social” aspects are those which are contingent on and generated by symbolic communication. The process of global warming, largely driven by the entropic emissions of fossil-fueled technology, has both natural and social aspects. Climate change has become an increasingly prominent concern in eco-Marxist literature. Its origins have been traced by Andreas Malm to the turn to fossil energy in early industrial Britain. To indicate how global warming is connected to the incentives of industrial capitalists, he coined the concept of the Capitalocene for our current era. The concept has also been used by Jason W. Moore, who emphasizes the ecological dimension of the capitalist world-system. While Moore’s global perspective is important, his adoption of a posthumanist approach has led him to unconditionally abandon all nature/society distinctions, which has met critique from Foster, Malm, and other eco-Marxists. A radically materialist understanding of global warming since the Industrial Revolution would recognize the accumulation of fossil-fueled technology in wealthier parts of the world-system as resulting from ecologically unequal exchange. Such asymmetric resource transfers, orchestrated but also obscured by market prices, simultaneously aggravate global inequalities and greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change. A transdisciplinary analysis of the climate crisis would focus on how incentives prompted by the artifact of all-purpose money generate a global social metabolism conducive to rising emissions and the uneven accumulation of technological infrastructure.