Wednesday, March 08, 2006


This week something happened that seems to me to epitomise our times. In a shopping mall I passed a shopper carrying two of those green bags that proclaim the owner's environmental values. Our eyes met and I gave her a vague nod of approval, as you do. Once in the car park, she leapt into a super-sized Toyota LandCruiser and roared off. Choking in the exhaust fumes, I reflected on the increasing contradiction between the values we proclaim and the lives we lead. In the world of identity politics, consistency is out: beliefs are adopted like moral fashion statements. We insist on our right to have everything. Now.

Women crave the career and the children, men demand internet porn plus family values, everyone wants to be green but live as they damn well like. I know that by no means has all idealism become tainted like this, but it seems to me to be on the increase.

Once upon a time, hypocrisy was the homage vice paid to virtue. This required a certain connection between the word and the deed. You could tell the world you cared for the environment, or you could drive a massive, energy-guzzling pollute-mobile. But not both. Not at the same time, anyway. If you did, other people tended not to take you seriously. We seem to have moved on, or maybe backwards. In the years before the Reformation, the wealthy could buy indulgences from the church to take care of their sins. Maybe that's what those green bags represent for the shopper I saw - sort of moral carbon sinks.

I'm not sure how we got here, but it seems associated with a declining interest in facts. Possibly we are now so overwhelmed by information we've given up trying to arrange it logically, and just cling to any strands of meaning we find emotionally congenial. But the facts should still matter.

Jared Diamond's book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, is the most critically and commercially successful serious book in Australia at the moment. Diamond visited our shores last year and it's no exaggeration to say we fawned on him. He was invited to give a Deakin Lecture and addressed crowds at prestigious venues around the country. The Sunday Telegraph called Collapse "a work of great importance from one of the world's great thinkers". In The Age, Tim Flannery said it was "probably the most important book you'll ever read".

Since then, the book has had a deep effect on many readers, and is referred to as evidence that Australia is going to hell in a handcart. So it might surprise you to learn that its Australian chapter is so riddled with major factual errors as to make nonsense of Diamond's conclusions. In a detailed review, biologist Jennifer Marohasy, of the Institute of Public Affairs, concluded it is "full of factually incorrect information". The review in this newspaper last March by Peter Christoff, vice-president of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said the Australian chapter has a "deep litter of factual inaccuracies which then makes one doubt the rest of the book". (Although, somewhat strangely, the rest of the review was positive and Christoff urged people to send the book to the Prime Minister.)

Diamond's office did not respond to several requests last month for him to discuss these serious problems with his critics on Radio National. It's inconceivable that a writer could survive and flourish in the face of this sort of criticism unless the audience simply didn't care about facts any more. Welcome to the new world of public debate, where anything goes, as long as it's the latest thing. The very concept of hypocrisy is, like, so yesterday.

Maybe it needs to be renovated. Maybe, for example, we should ask the advocates of urban consolidation - which involves forcing most new families to live in concrete boxes next to railway lines in outer suburbs - where they themselves live. (Most I've met are childless and live in trendy inner-city flats, or are older people on generous blocks in established suburbs.)

Then there's immigration, supported so long and so unctuously by the educated middle classes. As I've noted before, the overcrowding, infrastructure inadequacy and job competition brought about by immigration (or government failure to cope with it) generally occur lower down the social scale and in distant parts of the city; meanwhile immigrants provide the migration enthusiasts with a servant class of gardeners, cleaners, dishwashers, and so on. As for opposing mandatory detention, it's a lot easier if unidentified illegal immigrants are unlikely to settle in a street near you.

The good news is that sometimes hypocrisy curls up and dies by itself. For years, many in the eastern suburbs sneered at shopping malls. Apparently their external ugliness outweighed their benefits, which were (merely) that they brought ordinary Australians a shopping variety, quality and amenity previously the preserve of the rich. Some good news: since the new Westfield opened in Bondi Junction, eastern suburbs criticism of malls has disappeared.

But moral vanity still flourishes. My favourite example at the moment is the environmentalists in fashionable suburbs who disparage McMansions for using energy-wasting air-conditioning. The fact that it's five or more degrees hotter out west in summer doesn't seem to concern the critics in places such as Waverley. But then, it's easy to occupy the moral high ground when it gets ocean breezes.



To estimate the various overall ownership costs of hybrids, CR picked six current models that we've tested and totaled their major costs and savings over the first five years, the longest period for which reliable data on all the cost components are available. Five years is also a typical period of car ownership. We did the same thing for each model's closest all-gasoline-powered equivalent and compared the two. We assumed the vehicles were purchased in California, the leading market for hybrid sales.

After factoring in federal tax credits and fuel savings that are based on gas prices rising to $3 and then $4 a gallon, our calculations show that the most cost-effective hybrids, the Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius, still cost $3,700 and $5,250 more than their all-gas peers after five years. Models with the highest cost difference--the Honda Accord Hybrid, Lexus RX400h, and Toyota Highlander Hybrid Limited--ranged from $10,250 to $13,300 more. Here's a rundown of our findings:

Fuel savings: $700 to $3,300. The fuel savings you'll see depends less on a hybrid's overall mpg than on how much better it is than competitive vehicles. In our study, the Escape Hybrid, Prius, and Lexus RX400h provide the most fuel savings, although the smaller Prius gets 44 mpg and the Escape and RX400h SUVs only 26 and 23 mpg, respectively. The smallest fuel savings comes from the Honda Accord Hybrid because its 25 mpg is only 2 mpg better than the V6 Accord EX's.

For our study, we used CR's real-world fuel-economy figures, which are based on the driving style of a typical person in a mix of city and highway conditions. You can get better gas mileage, as many drivers do, by adjusting your driving style for optimum fuel economy (See our April 2006 report on how to get the most mileage from your fuel dollars).

Tax credits: $650 to $3,150. New federal tax credits can take some of the bite out of a hybrid's higher price. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2006, however, after each manufacturer sells 60,000 hybrid units, the credits are gradually phased out. This limit applies to each automaker's total hybrid sales, regardless of brand. Thus, the limit for Toyota/Lexus is only 60,000; the same is true for Ford/Mercury.

As we went to press, the Internal Revenue Service had not yet released its calculations, so we used estimates from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a Washington think tank. As with fuel savings, the tax credits vary a lot because they're based on the amount of hybrid power produced and how much better a model's gas mileage is compared with benchmarks for its class. Once the credits are phased out, hybrids will cost $650 to $3,150 more than our totals show.

Higher retail price: $4,000 to $8,800. A hybrid's higher price is understandable, considering its advanced technology and additional drive system. But some hybrid models, such as the Accord, Highlander, and RX400h, carry higher premiums because they're positioned as the top-of-the-line trim levels for their model line, providing extra engine performance and additional standard features. If these attributes aren't important to you, look for a hybrid with a lower markup.

The prices we used, provided by CR's Auto Price Service, reflect market realities. While a hybrid typically sells for close to its full retail price, you can usually buy the conventional models we studied for less: about 5 to 7 percent more than the CR Bottom Line Price. Conventional models are more likely to carry sales incentives.

Some automakers want to cut price premiums on hybrids. "We've said we want to sell 1 million hybrids a year by about 2012," says Dave Hermance, executive engineer for advanced-technology vehicles at Toyota. "To do that, we need to reduce the costs and thus reduce the MSRP premium by about $1,000."

John German, Honda's manager of environmental and energy analysis, says, "At current fuel prices, if we get their added cost down to $1,000 to $1,500, that's when hybrids will go mainstream." But he adds, "That's not going to happen anytime soon," estimating about 20 to 30 years. In the meantime, the higher price also increases related costs such as sales tax and finance charges, as shown in the chart.

More here


From Quaternary International, Article in Press, Corrected Proof. What this guy says is so counterfactual that he must be quite insane -- as must be the editors who accepted it for publication

The agricultural revolution as environmental catastrophe: Implications for health and lifestyle in the Holocene

By Clark Spencer Larsen


One of the most fundamental developments in the history of our species-and one having among the most profound impacts on landscapes and the people occupying them-was the domestication of plants and animals. In addition to altering landscapes around the globe from the terminal Pleistocene and early Holocene, the shift from foraging to farming resulted in negative and multiple consequences for human health. Study of human skeletal remains from archaeological contexts shows that the introduction of grains and other cultigens and the increase in their dietary focus resulted in a decline in health and alterations in activity and lifestyle. Although agriculture provided the economic basis for the rise of states and development of civilizations, the change in diet and acquisition of food resulted in a decline in quality of life for most human populations in the last 10,000 years. [What planet does this guy live on?]


6. Conclusions

Most of us are well aware of the dramatic changes in the Earth's landscapes as forests give way to agricultural land, and the resulting environmental degradation, loss of species, and other disasters (e.g., McKee, 2003). A common misperception is that prior to modern times, humans were much more concerned about managing their environment so as to avoid the problems that have surfaced in such a dramatic fashion in the 20th century. However, study of ancient landscapes in Mesoamerica, North America, and the Middle East shows evidence that earlier agriculturalists had profound impacts, highly negative in some areas, on the lands they exploited (see Abrams and Rue, 1988; Denevan, 1992; Kirch et al., 1992; Redman, 1999; Krech, 1999; Heckenberger et al., 2003). In the Mediterranean basin, for example, nearly all landscapes were degraded or otherwise transformed in dramatic ways (van der Leeuw, 1998). The analysis of the past reveals that the current threats to the landscape have their origins in the period of human history when plant domestication began 10,000 years (or so) ago. Finally, once the effects on Earth's climate by industrial-era human activities-the so-called greenhouse effect-were recognized, a number of workers assumed that it related to just the last couple of hundred years (e.g., Crutzen and Stoermer, 2000). However, new evidence of anamolous trends in CO2 and CH4 possibly owing to agricultural-related deforestation after about 8000 years ago, indicates that the negative impact involving greenhouse gases began soon after the start of agriculture (Ruddiman, 2003).

Coupled with these negative changes to the landscape was the decline in health and quality of life. Skeletal evidence indicates that these impacts on health were immediate-as soon as humans began to farm, health declines commenced due to population crowding, altered workloads, and increased nutritional deficiencies. In looking at different health indicators, there is variability. For example, some agriculturalists show far more skeletal evidence of iron deficiency anemia, and rice agriculturalists may be less prone to dental caries. Taken as a whole, farming was a mixed bag-it provided food for a growing world population, but with negative consequences for the health and wellbeing. These negative consequences have been largely ameliorated today in developed nations, made possible by advances in medical care, varied and nutritional diets, and stringent sanitation and water treatment laws. In the non-developed or developing world-the majority of population-the production and consumption of a limited number of plants continues to negatively impact millions of our species. At no other time in the history of our species has there been so much nutritional deficiency, crowd-related infections, infant mortality, and poor health generally. [Which is why life-expectancy has never been so high, I guess] The situation does not look like it will improve. In the next couple of decades, farmers globally will be called upon to provide food for nearly 8 billion people, representing nearly a 40% increase. Most of the growth in population will be in developing countries whose ability to produce the food necessary for the survival of all is diminishing (Gardner, 2004). Clearly, the change in how humans acquired food in a few centres 10,000 years ago has now engulfed much of the world in a profound way, arguably not for the better, either then or now.


A comment below from Steven Cochrane (

"Living to the ripe old age of 35 is an improvement in "quality of life" over living a relatively healthy life of 80 years? I think Mr. Clark Spencer Larsen needs to be released naked in the wilderness and told that he has to make his own tools, weapons, clothing, shelter and forage and hunt his food for just one month. If he is not killed and eaten by lions, wolves, bears or by falling off a cliff (oh yes, we do have all these things in western North America), he may find that our smallest antagonists in the summer months, mosquitoes and flies, will eat him alive and just before he passes out from the millions of bug bites, open sores and maggot infestation the coyotes will disembowel him and the last thing he will hear is the beautiful wild howl of coyotes happy for a good meal. Now that's quality of life!

All these fine people that think we should return to the "simple" lifestyle of our ancestors and "return to nature" have apparently never experienced that "simple" life style, or even thought it through to its ultimate conclusion; it's a short, hard life. So my solution to the problem is to round up all the environmentalists, anarchists, and movie stars and give them a taste of the "simple" life style, what's your pleasure rancher, farmer or cave man? Oh, there will be no modern technology available and no TV cameras; after all you can't make computer chips in your wood and mud hut or cave."


From CO2 Science Magazine, 1 March 2006

What will it take to feed five billion rice consumers in 2030? That is the question that plagues the mind of Gurdev S. Khush (2005) of the International Rice Research Institute in Metro Manila, Philippines. "According to various estimates," in his words, "we will have to produce 40% more rice by 2030 to satisfy the growing demand without affecting the resource base adversely," because, as he continues, "if we are not able to produce more rice from the existing land resources, land-hungry farmers will destroy forests and move into more fragile lands such as hillsides and wetlands with disastrous consequences for biodiversity and watersheds," echoing sentiments previously expressed by Wallace (2000), Tilman et al. (2001; 2002), Foley et al. (2005), and Green et al. (2005). Hence, as Khush puts it, the expected increase in the demand for food "will have to be met from less land, with less water, less labor and fewer chemicals."

How is it to be done?

Khush suggests a number of strategies for attacking the multifaceted problem, including conventional hybridization and selection procedures, ideotype breeding, hybrid breeding, wide hybridization and genetic engineering, all designed to increase the yield potential of rice. In addition, he emphasizes breeding for increased resistance to diseases and insect pests, as well as for enhanced abiotic stress tolerance, which is needed to withstand the negative impacts of drought, excess water, soil mineral deficiencies and toxicities, as well as unfavorable temperatures (both hot and cold).

We agree that all of these things are needed; however, as indicated by Tilman et al. (2001), "even the best available technologies, fully deployed, cannot prevent many of the forecasted problems." This was also the conclusion of Idso and Idso (2000), who acknowledged that "expected advances in agricultural technology and expertise will significantly increase the food production potential of many countries and regions," but who went on to note that these advances "will not increase production fast enough to meet the demands of the even faster-growing human population of the planet."

Fortunately, we have a strong ally in the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 concentration that may help us meet and surmount this daunting global challenge. Atmospheric CO2 enrichment, for example, has been demonstrated to significantly increase rice photosynthesis and biomass production (see our compilations of over 100 individual experimental results for photosynthesis and biomass responses of rice to CO2-enriched air in the Data section of our website). In addition, elevated CO2 concentrations have been shown to enhance the ability of rice to cope with both biotic and abiotic stresses (see Agriculture (Species - Rice) in our Subject Index). Hence, in addition to our purposeful directed efforts to increase rice yields in the years and decades to come, we will experience the unplanned help provided by the CO2 emissions that result from the burning of fossil fuels.

Working together, these two positive forces may help us meet the clear and present need to ramp up rice production to the degree required to adequately feed the world a mere quarter-century from now, and to do so without usurping all of the planet's available land and water resources and thereby consigning the bulk of "wild nature" to the ash heap of history. Without the help of both approaches, we will in all likelihood fail and, with the rest of the biosphere, suffer unimaginable negative consequences.


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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