Tag Archives: Biodiversity

How Not to ‘Save the World’

Some months ago, a senior academic and I talked as we drove the many hours to the project site. He was informing me on his views regarding invasive species, some of which I thought were questionable.

To clarify, I bluntly asked, “What do you think we should do with weeds?”

He replied, with all the authority that he could muster, “Get rid of them.”

I didn’t pursue the conversation any further at that point. I knew from experience that the tone was one baiting me into a debate. I’m usually all for a debate, where I see value. In this case however, the individual is one who likes the fight more than a resolution and I’m not really one for that.

It’s a nice idea to remove weeds and certainly not impossible… as long as you throw enough money at the problem. This is where the environmental debate fails all the time.

It could be in discussions regarding invasive species management, limiting the impact of pollution or even climate change. Whatever the subject, for the most part, we can eventually achieve the currently unthinkable if only we wish to drain enough resources into it.

Those who fall prey to sci-fi resolution to problems, starting the discussion not unlike an Arthur C. Clark story, imagining the problem is soon to be resolve and the discussion should be about what this means for us, just like the environmental romantic, are victims to the results, without object rational on how to reach them.

An excellent example in Australia is the olive. How much money should we spend on managing olives in natural landscapes when the recruitment of these comes from dedicated plantation? I once refused to buy Australian olives for this reason, but is such a protest of any value?

Am I giving up?

This isn’t to be confused with environmental defeatism that Bjørn Lomborg tries to pass off as realism.

Let’s put it this way; it’s not impossible to rebuild your house to correct all the problems, but can you really afford to do so, or does it make more sense to allocate some of your money to repair what you have?

The olive is an assimilated immigrant to Australia. It has its place now in the local culture and environment (is that cringing I hear?).

To this realisation we have two general options that have their relative expenses; we could “get rid of it”, which would close down the industry and outlaw all trees in backyards and public parks as well; or, we give it a citizenship, acknowledging it as a productive food source well suited to Australia in a warming climate.

The former would require a major PR campaign and many years of eradication and monitoring. The latter would likely see us not managing it as a weed, but rather as new competition to endemic species with the aim of promoting biodiversity which would include this new “local”. This would require effort and research.

Paved in good intentions

Environmental discourse has been plagued with romanticism or an unrealistic impression of “indestructibility” ever since the notion that it was a topic worth discussing became established.

The worst part is not that those who discuss environmental management most passionately are the most likely to fall into such a trap while those least likely will typically reject concern altogether, but rather that there is this line drawn in the sand between both extremes.

Either your hopelessly infatuated with a resilient (or fragile) Earth or concede that such musings are little more than a “liberal conspiracy”.

Where is the possibility to even start to discuss the place of the “Australian olive” for instance, in such an absurd and naïve situation?

To Get rid of it?

Over the last century, the Australian government and landholders has spent countless hours and dollars in management of the rabbit. This has included a 1700km rabbit-proof fence (build between 1901-07), two different viruses, warren destruction, chemical control and even explosives (read more here). Even while the most recent virus was having its greatest impact (1998-2003) the management cost for feral rabbits was estimated to be around $1 million (more here).

Yet, I see bunnies throughout Melbourne and right up to central NSW on a daily basis.

Yes, something must be done and our efforts have had an impact, but how much really? We can’t rebuild the house, but equally, electrical tape over the tap isn’t going to stop the leak.

Out with the old

The olive and the rabbit are not good comparisons. Olives will forever spread while they are being farmed where ol’ bugs just has a thing for breeding prolifically.

The point is that the current attitudes and strategies do not reflect the realistic capacities of management options and beneficial outcomes. I’m tired of the blanket eradication message where the reality continually fails to meet the target. I’m just as tired of the dismissal scoffs of the other side of the discussion.

We need approach species management with fresh eyes and very likely, different goals. The promotion of biodiversity would be an excellent target. The promotion of productive ecosystems which thrive while providing services to urban landscapes would be another one.

In short, there is nothing ignoble in rethinking our relationship with other life and in designing ecosystems with which our landscapes actively interact. To be absolutely frank, there is no other multi-cellular organism as invasive as ourselves, but at least we have the capacity to promote ecosystems, rather than out compete all else until we are the last one standing should we choose to.

We need a new dialogue willing to step back, compromise or actively engage where it is needed, without unrealistic ideation or denial. This will start with an internal look on ourselves and our place within ecosystems.


About Moth
Situated in Victoria, Australia, I have a background in ecology, atmospheric / meteorological monitoring and analysis as well as web / graphic design. On New Anthropocene, my main interest is scientific accuracy and arguing for sound policies so that we can hope to obtain the best quality lives for our species. My work is entirely my own and does not reflect that of my employer nor does it endorse a particular political party. Please read my full statement for further information.

Dead-Head Denialism: Challenging “Sceptics” of Climate Change to Fluoridation is Zombie Warfare

It has been a while since I’ve commented on much in the way of climate science and the denial movement. Although aware of the recent noise regarding the supposed “proof” of the unfounded “scare” regarding anthropogenic climate change, citing Otto et al (2013) or foaming bile in reply to the Cook et al (2013) study illustrating that experts within relevant fields of science simply do not share the popular “scepticism” and, in fact, have moved beyond proving it – simply taking it for granted – I’ve chosen to say nothing. (see reflections on each, here and here respectively)

Why?

Because it’s the same damned nonsense that proliferated the internet when I started blogging.

The “Sceptics”

The self-titled “sceptics” illustrate their denialism in this continual rejection of the standing body of evidence. The loathed consensus is nothing more than the body of relevant human knowledge which illustrates that our emissions include gases that have a greenhouse effect and those gases are in concentrations great enough to increase the energy load within our atmospheric reservoir, changing our global climate.

The “sceptics” pretend to be reasonable – stating that all they want is sufficient proof for the position – but then reject the available body of scientific evidence and consensus (not simply two sides to the same coin, but effectively, the same thing). Yet, they up and down jump hysterically whenever they catch a whiff of a paper that sounds like it supports their position. That is not scepticism; that’s denial of the potential that one’s position could be wrong.

They don’t wait for sufficient evidence of any position, but instead for their favoured position to be proven right. And just like the creationists, they’ll have to wait for the second coming which will never happen.

The Dead-Heads

On zombies and denial, I came upon a great article by Readfearn, in which he links to a recent publication of the American Behavioral Scientist devoted entirely to the climate change denialism phenomena, which I’ve since been reading.

It all comes back to the same point; denialism, regardless of the subject matter, from climate change or evolution to what I’ve recently challenged – water fluoridation – such positions, that is, a rejection of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, are simply symptomatic of deeper ideological biases.

Creationists understand that they need creation to validate their faith (the most honest of the Abrahamic followers). The anti-vax, anti-fluoridation and even the anti-wind farmers all share a fear in the unknown; “they are exposing us to something – it must be a trap!”

And climate change feeds on many, be it, free market ideologies, fear of imposing governmental input, generational differences that rub people up the wrong way etc.

As such, correcting the wrongs, as we tend to attempt within media, is like wiping the puss without fixing the infection. Or burying the zombie still intact.

This is why the zombies exist; we fail to realise that you must lob off the dead brain within (no Mad Monckton, I’m not suggesting you should be killed – it is a metaphor).

All humans are susceptible to such leanings. We all want to think we have a good handle on the workings of the world and often don’t take too kindly when core principles of this are shattered. It’s easier to go on believing in our core values / beliefs and instead to shoot the messenger, than take the time to reflect on ourselves, admit to personal fault and adapt.

Deniers keep on denying not because they are deniers, but because they are human; individuals with certain principles that make sense to them.

Sceptics will change and can remove themselves from personal attachment to ideas where they need to, but there are far fewer of them than anyone of us is likely to admit.

So, what is the answer?

Change is a slower moving creature than we wish it were.  I have no doubt the deniers of climate change, evolution, anti-vaccination etc will exist beyond my life span. The same will be for individuals and groups opposed to same-sex rights, as do exist pockets of racists and sexists today, even within generally progressive states.

However, to challenge them with any potency, it isn’t enough to expose their denial. In fact, it’ll have little to no effect on the very people one aims the effort at.

Rather, the best approach must be to work instead on the core values leading the charge. If you promote the scientific accuracy of evolution, your primary focus must be the Book of Genesis. Without that, there is no justification for creation.

If it is one of the “they are exposing us to…” mobs, you need to refer to epidemiology as well as get to the root of “they” and the motivations of this entity. For instance, the anti-fluoridation crowd suggest fluoridation is marketing. However, one of the primary benefits pointed out by WHO, alongside the obvious health benefits, is its cheapness. Where are the fat fluoride barons?? These are very much a secret enemy conspiracy ideations.

With climate change, in reality, the question is clearly pointed at how well the free-market ideology can sustain human activity. One doesn’t need to look at climate change, but can look at the accelerated need for primary resources, increasing waste production, the rate of population growth and environmental degradation (from where many goods and services are derived); each one of them is essential to the free-market currently promoted. The nine planetary boundaries highlighted by Rockström et al (2009) are all negatively impacted by our current economic objectives.

Zombies die when you remove the dead head driving the drooling creature aimed solely at bringing everyone down. The dead head in this case is the thoughtless ideological principles driving denial against overwhelming contrary evidence. These outdated memes are the undead that really need to be challenged.

Boom and Bust: The Bigger the Boom, the bigger the BOOM

I’ve been saying this for some time now. Australia, as well known, is a boom and bust cycle country. It isn’t alone with this cycle either.

As we venture further into an unmanaged Anthropocene (as I truly believe we will need to shift from the illusion of stewards to outright engineers) these cycles are likely to become more pronounced. That is, bigger wets and harder dries.

The wets however provide the biggest threats for our more dangerous periods.

We have just had two exceptionally wet years and not only has our primary food industry enjoyed it, so too has our native and invasive flora… and then the next dry period came alone. Like all well adapted species, this wild flora did what it could only do; cut its overheads and downsize, that is, die back. This leads to fuel.

I’m unconvinced that the future will be unliveable; we will acknowledge our role to date already as geo-engineers and will take corrective or at the very least “band-aid” measures to persist. A large part of this will be the need to recognise the full meaning of the “boom” period.

It spells fuel for the next dry period. It also spells mass carbon movement from locked biological banks to happy go lucky free agents out to blanket our atmosphere just that little bit more.

Carbon is plant food, as Lord Monckton and his fellows may say, but they ignored the other side of the story and right now, south eastern Australia is feeling it first hand.

ABC has a link to an up-to-date map of fires across NSW for anyone who may be interest or could make use of it.

As We Sit and Wait for Political Action on Climate Change

Many of us comment merited scepticism regarding the global political will to address our economic woes, immoral species loss and unmitigated climate change.

All are symptoms of where progress over recent decades has led us. Arguably, it is a stale mate position that trickle feeds resources in growing exponential quantities as the given group becomes more defined by privilege.

In short, many of us realise that human activity, in its current fashion, cannot continue and we as a collective sit fixated, like the rabbit lost in the fast approaching headlights…

So how do we change?

I’ve spent a little time on this subject lately and I truly believe the battle starts with values. The committed sceptics on any given topic has a set of clearly defined and articulated values. They are nothing special, radical or perverse. They are simple messages that each one of them can agree on. Remove the illogical conclusions drawn on important subjects, such as climate change, the messages are, for the most part, the same as those most people would agree on.

Conversely, the values provided largely in the pop-media and from various activism groups, whether truthful or not, do seem self-righteous, radical and unfamiliar. Talk to many vegans and passionate vegetarians, for instance, and you will soon catch the whiff of, “I’m better than you, because I demonstrate that I care (or because I’m healthier etc).”

Whether or not this is the case, “environmentalist” topics comes across or are deliberately smeared like this in any of the dank and murky corners. Look at Jo Nova’s handbooks for instance.

The story playing out in essence is just a larger version of Easter Island, yet with one crowd concerned about cutting down the last forest and the local chieftain concerned only about having the biggest stone statue (today, the statue has been replaced with the suburban house and SUV).

Yet, we should never stop talking about our values, which are in fact largely about shoring up a future that will give our children and their own the best chance of fulfilment. It is about putting a rich wonderful world on “lay-buy,” and paying a little bit for it each day so that eventually it is our gift to them. Our basic “grassroots” values are key and ought to be the things that matter to every one of us, spoken in an ordinary way.

Next, it is unlikely we will see the types of changes that are needed to avoid the worst of expected biodiversity loss and climate change waiting for the global leaders to do anything constructive. Politically, we are still obsessed with the notion that growth will solve all our problems, which seems to be at odds with the last four years economically and far longer when we look at our resource bank.

So what do we do?

I see real potential in the “open” spectrum. Within the information era, the open shareware, wiki / forum styled developments, I find to be interesting. While people worry about the accuracy of knowledge in such arenas this is something I think is not worth much concern (see below). I like how they seem to happen organically. Where people are given access to communicate, communities develop and trade begins.

I believe we have the tools freely available at hand to circumvent the traditional leaders and providers. Think of Earth Hour and how easily an idea of that nature can travel around the globe in the modern age. There’s no reason why spatially irrelevant communities cannot coordinate such activities, trade ideas, shortcuts, improvements and values in the same way.

It needn’t be windbags like myself or the committed sceptics commenting on life and you, the reader, simply reading. Communities do not work like that.

Change doesn’t start with the individual. Neither does it start with our leaders – at least not anymore. I believe it will be communities working together, based not on location, but shared values, which will nudge us in the right direction.

* My blog is but a small example of this fact. It is little different historically that people shared their ideas with whomever may be listening. Today, the audience is just larger. But so too is the pool of critics. Lies used to have the advantage, but with the speed of a good search engine and global access to premium resource bases (such as online scientific journals), this edge is slowly eroding. With greater access, it is likely more difficult that unmerited and unqualified assumptions will be taken seriously. It will be; back up your claims with facts or be fed to the trolls.

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The Great Murray River: The Real Tragedy of the Commons

The horizon stretches out before me, flat but for a few clusters of trees. The baked soil makes the horizon dance beneath the hot sun.

It is an arid environment and yet, before my feet spreads out an artificial wetland, complete with ibis, herons, egrets, plovers and ducks. Some of these wetland plots are void of all life, but for the rice shoots, due to air cannons sporadically setting off to scare all other life away.

Around the region, it is not uncommon to find aging signs tied to posts and trees along the roads, warning anyone who cares to listen that without water, we have no farms. I cannot help but feel that I am witnessing a real example of the tragedy of the commons. No story of cowboys feeding stock on a shared land required for, in Australia, we have real farmers on one real waterway.

Some readers will remember that, under the chapter “Nothing is Wasted” in The Human Island, I discussed the heated response to the Murray Darling Plan in agricultural communities across the waterway. Memories of that time flooded back as I stand over this man-made wetland.

What happens up-stream plays a roll on what happens down-stream. In effect, these farmers are evaporating away wealth stripped away from periodic wetlands and farming communities from the Riverland all the way down to the Lower Lakes solely to grow a subtropical crop on the arid inland of New South Wales. They could do this due simply to the rule; first come, first served.

I have been privileged to have travelled and to work alongside the most of the length of the great River Murray. I have been involved in air quality concerns resulting from the dry Lower Lakes blowing acidic dust around the struggling communities. I have worked alongside individuals measuring pollution due to industrial, residential and agricultural run-off as well as from the icon house boats that drift along the river system. My previous research focused on the productivity of the floodplains to fringing mallee lands while my current work places me in the Murrumbidgee region, further up-stream.

Even more personally, my father was born in Murray Bridge.

More than many Aussies, I have been lucky not to just know the Murray, but to follow the river from the Great Dividing Range all the way to the ocean mouth and to have studied alongside it and appreciate the rich biota at every bend.

Standing over the evaporating pool, after years of appreciation of the hardship at the tail-end, I could not help but shake my head. States and individuals prove that they are not capable of managing the river system properly as independent entities across the river. Gluttonous behaviour follows an inappropriate selfishness wherever the resource first finds itself. Rice fields in the arid inland are iconic to this fact.

We are likely to experience climatic conditions we simply cannot adequately predict to any great certainty simply because they are not what we knew of the Holocene as we push the climate deeper into the Anthropocene. We, along the Murray, may know a wetter future, with the biggest impact being from inundation of housing on the floodplains. More likely, the Australian “boom and bust” cycle will become more prominent and we will need to plan conservatively in how we utilise common resources. Even in the wetter years, we may not be able to excuse rice and cotton crops with any ethical conviction.

Productivity and, more importantly, what we hope to achieve from productivity – prosperity – will need to result from management of vital resources holistically and not based on border boundaries. Moreover, we need to increasingly maximise our return from limited resources and, in the case of our only major river system, this must mean agricultural practices demanding high water efficiency. The strong pull of water conservation down-stream needs to work against the flow and reach the users up-stream. A lot of progress has been made in South Australia to improve water efficiency that could make a difference up-stream.

The first that comes to mind is covering channels to limit evaporation. Another; no crops that require the creation of a wetland. Apart from the ridiculous amount of water loss, the activity creates methane – a further driver taking us away from the stability that favoured our move from hunter-gathers to a point where you are now reading my musings via electrons on computers, tablets and even mobile phones.

I have no sympathy when I read the pleading call on the posters around this region. I have been lucky enough to see what farmers can do when they do not have much water to work with. These people are innovative not solely because of governmental regulations, but more so because other individuals – such as those behind the creation of the “No water, No farms” posters – whom have long taken large quantities of water to produce rice and cotton; water enough so as the Lower Lakes have at times no longer been lakes at all, but instead barren dust pools.

It has been the actions up-stream that have affected the lives and prosperity of communities and ecosystems down-stream. “No water” has been seriously contemplated along the tail-end of this common resource long before the slogan was planted all over the lucky up-stream region.

This river system illustrates a small real world tragedy of the commons. If this one little system cannot be managed properly, how can our global atmosphere?

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The Human Island has been revised!

In the lead up to the release of two more ebooks, I decided to revisit The Human Island as I was more or less happy with it, except that it did suffer from some grammatical errors and difficult wording. It helps also, because both new books will follow on from the basis I constructed within The Human Island.

For those new to New Anthro, The Human Island explores that very fact; islandisation of our species from ecological services so fundamental for the wealth of our species. Ecosystems trade material and energy. We exclude ecosystems and geological process only to do it at an increased expense. We would be immensely wealthier if we better integrated broader life to human activity. It’s that simple.

Some of it has been reworded, extended or reduced and I’m a lot happier with it now. With any luck I can convince my readers to get a free copy of it from Google Books to place on their readers or hold on their hard drives to read over at their leisure. It is formatted to suit readers. The following books will most likely also be available on the Google Books store and on Kobo, but more on that in the near future!

The Hypocrisy of Truthers

Over the past three years in providing a small effort to countering disinformation, a fairly robust feature has emerged from my observations of disinformers, both from direct observations and in the literature regarding their nature. The fundamental cognitive dissonance provides green pastures for a healthy, if not gluttonous hypocrisy.

I have discussed in one form or another patterns where, the accuser is in fact guilty of the accusation themselves.

The most laughable being that evolution is a religion in itself. Why is it supposed a religion? That’s because advocates are unflinching in their compulsion to its accuracy at explaining speciation and diversity; they will not give credence to an alternate explanation (one without real world evidence testable via critical methodology, mind you) – the idea of intelligent design… A religious idea. It is facetious to assume both rely on the same level of investigation and credible evidence so why should they be treated equal? Why should an unflinching promotion of hard evidence be subjected to such erroneous labels by adherents of a discredited hypothesis?

We have been too generous to many such adherents over the decades that promote flawed hypotheses and acted as though we were on the back-foot when charged by their hypocritical claims.

For instance, depending on his audience, Monckton can either focus on a warped perception of the evidence or more so on an all-out attack on reality, with strange and sinister plots of hidden socialists, Nazis and a UN run one world government. How on Earth did such a character entertain any serious reflection in any corner? His conspiracies are even enough to make Agents Mulder and Scully face palm!

His breed of disinformation is akin to the main players of Oreskes and Conway (2010); phobic of oppressive socialism that warps information and thus encourages broad scale naivety in the face of disparity, a loss of freedom and injustice to favour a few and yet their actions are exactly the same. They are disinformers whom propagate their ideas as though they were credible to the wider community (rather than testing them within relevant objective expert communities) which in turn stimulates paralysis on important issues, favouring a privileged few.

They are their own demons.

Of course, like their creationism counterparts, they too accuse their opponents of dogmatic devotion when their opponents will not afford weight to untested (or tested and proven wrong) hypotheses offered by the disinformers. The reply ought to be the same again.

Cognitive dissonance is key for many such individuals as it provides the mechanisms to maintain an idea, ideology and world view free from critical reflection. Rather than see the lapses mentioned above, they can even refute the existence of qualified experts with notions of corruption; “X” is true and scientists keep the fact out of their literature because they are elitists / socialists / etc.

You cannot reasonably debate with such an argument because it starts with a premise that requires a leap of faith. They assume a conspiracy without adequate credibility. This is why I continually draw back to the amazing absence of SourchWatch styled websites that expose such a corruption within the scientific community. There won’t be one because no such evidence exists in the real world.

Books, on the other hand, are a different matter entirely. If the Mayan calendar deserves a self, all forms of conspiracies, free from credible evidence can spill out from such places as well. If an author does not want to make a complete joke of themselves, they still need to tone it up. Take Donna Laframboise for instance.

The initial name her book was, Decoding the Climate Bible: Almost nothing you’ve heard about the UN’s uber report is true. Provocative and bold – leading one to assume she would critically review the content and find massive flaws in the science. When her book came out, it was called; The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert. Hardly as bold and in reviewing her presentation, I found it a long way off what she had originally set out to do. Rather than approach the science in any way, she instead attacked the messengers.

The truth is, there is no genuine conspiracy, only crackpot conspiracy theories patched together to fashion an explanation as to why empirical reality fails to meet up with wishful expectations.  We in turn play a role by taking them seriously; we make them mainstream.

I’ve been reflecting lately and wondering what the finally step may be for denialists of anthropogenic climate change and environmental degradation when the world simply fails to return to conditions we have prospered from within the Holocene and when species loss can no longer be ignored; when deniers have no option but to finally reject their delusions or literally blind themselves. I’m convinced the final step will be deflection:

“We knew climate change was occurring due to our release of greenhouse emissions. We knew all along. You would have to be an idiot to think pumping gigatonnes of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere wouldn’t have an effect!

“We only argued so hard because the problem became so damn politicised! After the fall of Communism the socialists needed something else to cling on to – that was when environmental science started to find problems with human activities.

“We would have acted, had there been a genuine movement to protect biodiversity and atmospheric chemistry, but there never was. We didn’t act because the socialists stole our opportunity to act.”

I bet something along that nature will arise eventually, forming yet another level of conspiracy theory based upon an ongoing detachment from reality.

We live in a progressive world. One that aspires for prosperity, democracy; personal freedoms. It is completely at odds to the claims being made by disinformers and the contrarian fans, but essential hypocrisy to ensure one does not reflect too hard on their own actions or inactions as the world degrades around them.

PETA: When Ideological Myopia Undoes ‘the Cause’

I spend a lot of time attacking the ideologies of what could be loosely termed strongly conservatives. Far less of my posts have targeted another group which too deserves as much criticism.

I, for one, thank Greenpeace for their activities in pursuing whaling operations. Not so much from an emotional view point, but from the view of preserving genetic diversity. Harvesting of the oceans is almost entirely unsustainable and until we can appropriately farm sea life sustainably (if it will ever be possible) I will not support fisheries on any level.

That said, their destruction of a CSIRO GM crop was a pathetic, emotionally fuelled gesture that will have no positive effect to their cause (unless they are simply attention seekers). Likewise, Nature recently published a news article about PETA activities to pressure the transporters of research animals.

Firstly, I do not support animal testing of cosmetic materials, but that said, this too is an emotionally fuelled gesture based more on an extreme ideology which contradicts the benefits such people have been able to enjoy in the modern age.

Animal testing is fundamental for safe medicines. It’s not enough to test the effects on living tissue (as psychological effects cannot be tested on non-conscious material), nor is it ethical to test directly on people*. Likewise, many such tests require certain genes to be present (or absent) to understand the relevant effects. This again requires fully formed animals of some sort.

Without such testing, it would have taken far longer for there to be conclusive evidence (at least, within the public arena) of the detrimental effects of cigarettes on our species; indeed the carcinogenic and otherwise poisonous properties of many materials that have (and still do) surround us.

The resulting data we have obtained for such testing has greatly improved the quality of human life and our understanding of ecology and animal behaviour (essential for conservation). Further testing will only increase our understanding of the brain, toxins, improved medicines, genetics, ecology and animal behaviour.

If any one of the PETA characters behind this movement have ever taken medicine (as opposed to the untested or tested-and-proven-not-to-work “alternative remedies”) to overcome an ailment (or to save their life), well, they are thus a hypocrite. They would expect such medicine to work and the only reason we have confidence of the abilities of such chemicals to do a certain job as well as knowing the side-effects is due to this process.

The same could be said about species conservation; behavioural ecology sometimes requires a sample group to be taken into the lab for behavioural as well as physiological studies. It’s also our work in genetics and population dynamics as well as animal testing which leads us to conclusions about gene pool and outbreeding coefficients. Saving the animals indeed means studying them.

It’s unlikely such actions will even do as PETA would like them to. Instead, other less favourable methods of transport will have to be considered – at the expense of the very animals PETA are trying to save.

From the Nature article;

In India, for example, the government’s National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), in Hyderabad, relies on Air India to ship specialized mouse strains to researchers and companies throughout the country. “From Hyderabad to Delhi by train would take more than 30 hours” and require an attendant, says Madan Chaturvedi, dean of life-sciences research at the University of Delhi. Without Air India transporting the animals, research at his institution “would definitely suffer”, he says.

Admittedly, it does serve as an ethical dilemma. If PETA genuinely stand for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, they would have more positive impact by working with researchers to set up a best practice policy. It would start with trying to eliminate needless animal testing where possible and then steps to ensure animals are handled appropriately. I wouldn’t be surprised if PETA learnt, through such an endeavour, that many researchers already act as ethically as possible.

Scientists are not the villains, riding on the back of some mutated rodent, out to take over the world that cartoons tend to portray. Believe it or not, they’re your average human, in a given profession, and like your average human they tend to be empathetic. They are not in the game to inflict cruelty for the sake of it.

Only through working with researcher can such groups truly understand what work is actually being done (rather than what the read in their pamphlets and understand from hear-say within their group) and work to ensure that important work is done to the highest ethical standards possible. Bullying others into a certain ideological framework will only lead to worsening the conditions of such animals and isolating such extreme ideologies even further… It’s counterproductive to mantra of PETA and hypocritical to the benefits its members enjoy in the modern world.

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* There isn’t a version of the reality that I’ve heard that would not exploit the vulnerable and unnecessarily threaten human life.

As another foot note; I suspect many fans of PETA and alike, whom reject any animal testing / food supply, would have rejoiced at the recent study, by Séralini et al. 2012 that suggested a link between tumours and GM foods. Of course, this conclusion could have only been drawn by animal testing (whether or not the implications indeed turn out to have the impact, or meaning, those now trumpeting its message – without reading the paper or relevant material surrounding it, some of which is summarised by Butler here as well as an illuminating editorial here – would hope it to have).

It’s not so black and white.

Elitism: the Ivory Tower and Mann on a Gold Plated Jet-ski

Musing further on my previous post, I’m drawn back again and again to the term (which I subjected to a footnote) “elitist”.

It’s a term we’re all too aware of; thrown like mud from the committed sceptical community. “Woe! How the elitist scientific community doth rent-seek at the expense of the common person and true scientific endeavour!”

We’ve all heard the claims about elitist scientists sitting loftily in ivory towers, too giddy with their privileged position to be aware of the terrible burden they place on the community that supports them. Of course, all this rhetoric is done without evidence or citation. We are simply expected to believe they pocket grant money and produce dodgy studies to perpetuate additional revenue.

It seems incredible that the global academic community is oblivious to such broadscale behaviour when falsehood of this nature should be fairly easy to detect. Why do we have no equivalent sites to Exxon Secrets to point out Michael Mann’s five sports cars and supersized home (oh, don’t forget that fur coat he’s always strutting in) or similar from the other “elitist” climate researcher?

That’s simple to answer: because it’s a myth.

Again, Tim Minchin’s works ring loud and clear, “Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation, so that belief can be preserved.”

It requires a suspension of higher faculties to maintain such an illusion.

Moreover, what does the term,” Elitist”, set on a hair trigger, actually mean?

Here’s some of the terms I found online;

“considered superior by others or by themselves, as in intellect, talent, power, weather, or position in society: elitist country clubbers who have theirs and don’t care about anybody else.” (from Dictionary.com)

“the belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.” (from the freedictionary.com)

“the belief that a society or system should be led by an elite: local government in the nineteenth century was the very essence of elitism” (from the online Oxford Dictionaries)

“the belief or attitude that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with a certain ancestry, intrinsic quality or worth, higher intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views on a matter are to be taken the most seriously or carry the most weight; whose views and/or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole; or whose extraordinary skills, abilities or wisdom render them especially fit to govern.” (from Wikipedia)

Wikipedia go on to summarise it further with;

“The term elitism, or the title elitist, are sometimes used by people who are (or claim to be) not a member of an elite organization. In politics, the terms are often used to describe people as being out of touch with the Average Joe. The implication is that the alleged elitist person or group thinks they are better than everyone else; and, therefore, put themselves before others. It could be seen as a synonym for snob. An elitist is not always seen as truly elite, but only privileged.”

It’s noteworthy that Wikipedia also rightly place Egalitarianism as contrary to Elitism – which is yet another panicked cry from the committed sceptic. “They’re planning to siphon money from the rich west to poor countries…” Go figure.

Basically, elitism is the belief in being better than others and using this belief to justify a desire to govern others. At first, it’s a far cry from the lofty ivory towers, wealth, sports cars and trophy wives that come to mind when one hears in media the nauseating “elitist” lament, yet it does deserve discussion.

It isn’t, after all, a far leap (of faith?) to conclude the suggestive measures to reduce the potential impact of climate change can be taken as being told what to do. However, the facts don’t line up with the delusion.

Have evil climate scientists learnt a trick or two from Palpatine of Star War? Dun dun da!

For instance, there has been committed effort to inform the wider global community of the potential ramifications of modifying concentrations of greenhouse gases longer than I’ve been alive, but trends in CO2 emissions have only increased over this time. Also, I must have overlooked the likes of Michael Mann or James Hansen bid for the presidential seat or papers that conclude that supreme power should be overturned to them until the crisis is over (not unlike Palpatine)… Hardly rich, powerful men are they?

The only way such a scenario makes sense is in the same way various medical bodies suggest a healthy lifestyle (ie. smoke-free, lean diet and exercise) is beneficial to us, which in turn results in various governing bodies utilising such evidence laden suggestions to curb incidence of avoidable tobacco and obesity related illness and death.

Do we hear similar claims over “elitist” doctors and medical bodies telling us what we can and can’t eat, drink and smoke through a manipulation of government? You bet we do, but we rightly identify such people as crackpots. Why should committed climate sceptics deserve anything but similar notoriety?

The only definition for “elite” that I found fitting was; “The best or most skilled members of a group” (from freedictionary.com)

Billy Connolly said it best, “If you wanted to know how to build a ship, you wouldn’t ask a marshmallow maker.”

In a similar fashion, if I had a faulty heart, I’d consult a cardiologist, not my barber. In fact, I’d hope to consult a damn good cardiologist – one with years of experience and an excellent track record – and not just some recent graduate. Likewise I would consult a mechanic about my car over a carpenter or climatologist or a meteorologist about climate change over a geologist, journalist, weatherman or a classic’s major.

Specialisation is an important function of our complex societies. It’s impossible for anyone to be an expert on everything, thus we all formulate our own skills package that allow us to function within a society that benefits from this diversity of skills. Some of us become elite in a narrow field of expertise. That’s how we have rovers undertaking sophisticate surveys on other worlds, keyhole surgery, nanotechnology and whatever else you care to mention from the modern era.

Some scientists in a given field are elite, but not elitist. Some scientists are clearly elitist as well – I could suggest a few who pretend to be experts in fields outside their area of research or others who explicitly state their work is “a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government.”

Relying on a hereditary peer title as authority on matters one has never really studied could also been seen as elitist in that it uses a “belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect [or] social status.”

In truth, the Ivory tower does exist as well as elitists. However, the term has been applied without evidence to individuals whose investigations of the natural world have led them to uncomfortable conclusions. The term has been used by individuals and think tanks who are clearly not sophisticated enough to present a valid case against the standing body of evidence. If anything, I suggest sideshows of this nature only expose the obvious fact that there is no valid case against anthropogenic climate change.

If there was, there are an abundance of committed sceptical outlets, online, in print and on screen as well as significant political paralysis allowing such information to become common knowledge. There is nothing to stop the “final nail in the coffin of anthropogenic climate change”. But for all the hype, slander and puppetry, a valid contrary case remains elusive. I’m fairly confident none will ever be forthcoming (however, I’d be grateful if it was).

Imposing Meaning: The Conflict Between Ideologies Masked as Reasoned Debate

Light in the absence of eyes, illuminates nothing. Visible forms are not inherent in the world, but are granted by the act of seeing. Events contain no meaning in themselves, only the meaning the mind imposes on them. Yet, the world endures…

As a teenager, I was obsessed with the animated series Æon Flux. The above is part of a quote that opened episode 5 of season 3, where Trevor Goodchild was having a ‘Hamlet moment’. It has been changed in a more recent release of the series.

It has stuck with me for close to twenty years now. Memorised. Hardwired.

Musing over it today, I see it differently than I did as a teenager. Perhaps less moved, but still as thought provoking.

While meaningful to the state of mind of the character, it is at once an illustration of the human ego and also desperately fatalistic.

Visible light is but a small region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some species, take for instance certain bee species, can see wavelengths outside this range. Perhaps on a much grander scale, infrared plays more influence over the universe…

More importantly, in reflecting the meaning of events, we hit the fatalistic note. It’s the mind that imposes meaning. Well, of course it is.

Meaning is, after all, the way a self-aware entity makes sense of the information it receives about the known universe surrounding it. Meaning is as important to the self-aware entity as is itself. It has to be. One cannot be self-aware without assigning meaning to the information that bombards for it is that information which leads to the persistence of the self-awareness (ie. staying alive).

This is an important note to my recent posts on values and science. The separation of personal values and scientific certainty is clearly an illusion, based on an impersonal (and functionally impractical) philosophy. All information that reaches each one of us must contain both objective and subjective meaning or else it would be rejected as meaningless. This seems a no-brainer, but in practice, we do separate meaning into pigeon holes as though there were functionally different categories, which in practice, there clearly are not.

I’d like to thank the author of Climate and Stuff for the post, Good God! This is realy scary stuff. In the post, the author highlights some of the points of the declaration on global warming from the Cornwall Alliance. While no surprises are to be found, they deserve reflection by anyone interested in the communication of increasing scientific certainty.

Here are a couple worth pointing out;

What we believe

1) We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory.  Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.

What we deny

1) We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.

Points 2 – 5 are also worthy of reflection and debate, however as they are hinged on these two points of belief and denial (I thank them for using that word) and are points rebutted elsewhere, at great length, I won’t bother here.

The first thing to note here is that the points quoted are clearly wrong. A casual look into species abundance over the industrial era demonstrates ecosystems are not robust, suited for human flourishing, they are self-evidently fragile to outside impacts, such as human induced degradation. So much so that Rockström et al (2009) places biodiversity loss as significantly more impacted by human activity than climate change, ocean acidity and a host of other variables. Left to their own devices, with ample range and resources, it has been demonstrated that ecosystems can be resilient (Fischer et al 2006), but this remains contradictory to the rest of the statements being made.

The core value being address in this declaration is that the earth and ecosystems are “created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence”. This is the meaning that many minds have imposed on the information they received.

Directly, it has nothing to do with climate change or biodiversity loss, but simply that the world is our divine playground in which we can do no wrong. Thus, errors such as those I’ve pointed out above miss the point of the declaration entirely. To say as much or to point out that “minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry” relates to more than 10 gigatonnes additional CO2 per year and can only be considered “miniscule” if unfairly balanced against Nitrogen and Oxygen (both of which play no role in the greenhouse effect) is translated to, “you are wrong about your core value; that is, your god”.

I am not certain about my reader, but I’m not here to challenge the religious faiths of other people. They can choose to believe any ancient mythology of their choosing. However, I don’t want their beliefs to be shoved onto me. Here is a clear example of faith based values doing just that; through the continuing paralysis on both biodiversity loss and climate change I am party to ideologies that amount to, “she’ll be right – God’s looking after us.”

I find such apparent dependency (assuming there is a god looking after us) infantile and degrading, especially when it is obvious the Raphus cucullatus (Dodo), the Thylacinus cynocephalus (Thylacine) and Rheobatrachus silus (Gastric-brooding frog) among others as well as the difference in ambient conditions between the earth and her satellite all stand as evidence to the contrary.

Hence such musings have not only exposed the core values of people such as those of the Cornwell Alliance, but also my own. At the root, I cannot help but feel I am being asked to relinquish a sense of control – thus meaning – to my life. I’m being asked to take a leap of faith that common-sense tells me is a bad move.

It’s easy to see how quickly such discussions can go astray.

While we may be addressing the science, in reality, we’ve walked into a debate over ideologies; in the meaning the mind imposes on events. How we avoid this, when such groups as the Cornwell Alliance explicitly thread their theology to certain views of the world (such as climate change and biodiversity loss), remains to be seen.

Personally, I won’t hold my breath on a superpower saving us from ourselves. I just can’t do it. History is too full of plague, famine, extinction and hardship that I can’t take solace in a higher force whom, we are told, sides with the victors. Likewise, in weaving their core values to a certain way of seeing the world,* it seems clear that such people are equally unlikely to budge.

So what remains? My suggestion would be to question. “What real world evidence do you have that ecosystems are robust and self-correcting?” or “How does extinction fit into this?” or “Climate has indeed changed over the millennia – but it has been too cold and too hot to support human life in a way that “flourishes” today, what if this occurs again?” for instance.

You would be unlikely to change their minds, true, but maybe, just maybe, the cracks might start forming between the evidence available and the contradictory meaning already imposed. Hopefully, at the very least, the poor marriage between the evidence and certain ideologies may lead groups such as the Cornwell Alliance to unpick the threads they’ve sowed between the two.  Maybe they will find a better match with governance – good stewardship of a wonderful world – as a divine practice over unquestioning dependence.

Who knows? It couldn’t hurt to try.

_________

*The Cornwell Alliance lists a number of signers with a scientific background. I have to admit, I feel the science teachers of these signers failed them. The most important lesson one should be taught in science is to be plastic with the evidence. We all have pet hypotheses, but all too often they eventually crash and burn. Even Newtonian physics can only go so far – falling to pieces on the very small or very fast scales. For a scientist to sign a declaration stating that the universe is set in one way, perfectly definable today, represents a lapse of understanding, that will look as silly in retrospect as a similar historical document would regarding the flatness of the earth or pivotal (and unchanging) position of the earth in space.