Monday, August 28, 2006


Britain has had one of the most volatile climates on earth with up to 10 ice ages forcing early settlers into exile, leaving the land uninhabited for periods of up to 110,000 years, researchers have found. A study - led by the Natural History Museum - of 700,000 years of human attempts to settle in Britain found that the Gulf Stream, which keeps the British Isles warm, kept collapsing, plunging them into Arctic cold. The lurches from temperate to freezing sometimes took as little as 10 years, says Professor Chris Stringer, head of human origins in the museum's paleontology department, in a new book, Homo Britannicus, to be published in October.

After the last ice age humans returned to Britain only 11,500 years ago. Stringer said: "We might think that the roots of the British people lie deep in British soil but they can be traced back less than 12,000 years, far more shallow than those of our continental neighbours."

His book summarises the findings of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain (AHOB) project, a six-year study of thousands of artefacts and other remains left behind by prehistoric man during successive colonisations. Thirty archeologists, paleontologists and geologists from institutes across the country worked together to construct a detailed calendar of early humans' arrivals and departures.

They concluded that the present temperate climate is an anomaly and steamy heat or bitter cold are far more typical. Stringer said: "We have evidence that between 500,000 and 12,000 years ago humans were only in Britain for about 20% of the time. Between 180,000 and 70,000 years ago Britain was abandoned, completely empty of people." Such findings imply a major rewriting of British prehistory. It has long been known that climatic changes forced early humans out of Britain but not so many times.

There were other surprises, too. Until recently it was thought that the first humans arrived in southern Europe about 800,000 years ago but that none made it to Britain until 500,000 years ago. But Stringer says: "We have remarkable new evidence from East Anglia showing that humans arrived here 700,000 years ago, earlier than anyone believed. They lived in an environment with a balmy climate like that of southern Europe."

Their stay was, however, not destined to last because about 470,000 years ago a huge ice cap spread across northern Europe, reaching the outskirts of what is now north London. That glaciation was to be the first of many. By the time it receded, about 400,000 years ago, Neanderthals had evolved in Europe and it was they who recolonised Britain.

However, they too were driven out when the ice returned 380,000 years ago, a pattern that was to be repeated many times. The most prolonged and enigmatic evacuation of Britain began with a new ice age that peaked about 140,000 years ago. When it finished, about 20,000 years later, many animals quickly returned to Britain, including deer, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and hyenas - but no humans. They remained absent for more than 100,000 years, says Stringer.

Eventually, about 60,000 years ago, Neanderthals did return to Britain, only to become extinct 30,000 years later. Modern humans have proved better than Neanderthals at withstanding climatic changes but they, too, were driven back from Britain as a mile-thick ice-cap built up over Scotland 25,000 years ago, returning only 10,000 years later. The last ice age began 13,000 years ago and lasted 1,500 years.


Should Coke Be Banned in India?

Several provinces in India have recently banned sale of Coca Cola and Pepsi. The reason: they are claimed to contain a higher level of pesticides than is acceptable in Europe. It is as if the cola companies have been adding pesticides to poison Indians.

Here is the story. The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a top non-governmental organization, has been in the forefront of the environmental movement in India. When CSE came into existence, smoky chimneys were shown around India - in propaganda and educational material - as a sign of development. How could a factory be in operation if it was not sprinting towards growth taking the nation with it? How could it be sprinting if it was not spewing black soot? In short, India needed environmental education, and CSE did a fabulous job of providing it. Unfortunately, many activist institutions like these have a tendency to lose track completely, particularly when the original founders have passed away and the limousine-liberals have taken over.

Somewhere down the line, CSE intuitively realized that making the poor aware of real environmental concerns was politically incorrect: tell the poor about the dangers of burning wood in tiny one-room houses and the poor would fight for much greener, cheaper, and healthier gas and electricity. Consequently, big power plants would need to be set up. For sure, these plants would produce a lot of pollution, but nothing compared to the gross pollution from burning wood in all those millions of one-room houses, not counting an unnecessary destruction of forests.

But being pro-development is suicidal for activist organizations! They survive on the lethargic pseudo-intellectualism of those who have no interest or capacity to understand a situation in any real detail. Alas, it is such people who have mostly hijacked the environmental and charity organizations in the West. Pro-development activism would be at odds with warm-hearted Western environmentalism. And this would mean that tons of money that flow to organizations like CSE would dry up.

Conveniently, CSE dumped its basic purpose of working for the environment and the poor - and started to work against them, instead.

In the past, whenever we traveled, we made sure we knew someone wherever we went, to ensure that we had access to relatively safe food and water. Serious sicknesses from water-borne diseases are very common in India, as any one who has ever been there would attest. When multinational companies brought bottled water to India, they took it to the furthest of places, even hundreds of miles from decent roads. They made it possible for people like me to travel and be confident we wouldn't die from water poisoning and that we had access to packaged food products. Pepsi and Coca Cola set up distribution systems in India, literally in months, something that is a supreme case of efficiency and human capabilities. As a businessman, I am still amazed.

Many decades of substantially subsidized pesticides and fertilizer have led to their heavy usage, completely polluting Indian water systems. You never see clear water in India. It comes in all kinds of colors and viscosities. It stinks of rot. You drink water from ponds that serve as bathing places for buffaloes, and rivers that get sewage discharge. Really, I would not be surprised if colas made from Indian water did contain pesticides. But who in his right mind would want Indian colas to adhere to European standards? At least these colas were made from filtered water and were reasonable well processed, something much healthier than what we had been accustomed to. Not everyone can afford imported mineral water from Switzerland and Canada.

But the crooked Indian politicians, after a news release from CSE, saw a cause and started banning the colas, bypassing the judiciary. (Really, I can imagine big money exchanging hands.) Instead of fighting CSE on moral grounds, Pepsi and Coca Cola challenged the position of CSE by saying that their colas did meet European standards. This way of working, unfortunately, is so much easier for the masses to digest. Also, the cola companies apparently used some Indian politicians to fight for reinstating the sale of their products. They even used the US government to pressure the Indian government to comply.

Two years ago, I wrote an article for the Fraser Institute on how McDonalds was making a significant contribution to India, on how they were challenging the caste system there by offering food with a smile to the lower castes, by making upper-caste employees clean the toilets, and by showing Indians that food did not need to be covered with flies. A Canadian national newspaper wanted me to write a more extensive story. I contacted the Indian offices of McDonalds, Pepsi, and Coke. To my surprise, they did not want to touch me, even with a barge pole.

The people who work there are not entrepreneurs. They have a tendency to accommodate and please the activists. They freely provide money for anti-development activism. They lobby with politicians. The world's hypocrisy continues and builds. No one here is fighting for the right causes. Apart from the saving grace that the companies are adding value to the society, it is a jamboree of politically correct, anti-development, guilty, and dishonest people - those who have no concept of how wealth is created. They have no interest in the environment or the poor. It is not misguided idealism; it is plain crookedness. Anyone who has ever been to India - someone with eyes and a heart and some sort of brain - would take no time to understand what I am saying.


Environmental what ifs

One of the most dangerous trends today, as far as our right to liberty is concerned, is the environmental movement. I am not talking about their worries, of which some are surely justified. But like so many zealous people, environmentalists tend, in the main, to urge greater government powers and invasion of individual rights, especially the right to private property, in support of dealing with their concerns. But if we think about this a bit, it becomes clear that the greatest friend of the environment, including endangered species, is the principle of private property rights. One way to appreciate this fact is by considering what would have happened if in the past the principle had been firmly adhered to.

For one, road building would have been curtailed. Indeed, all transportation that had expanded by leaps and bounds relied on the taking of private property, something that the U.S. Constitution permits if it concerns some public use. Had it been strictly implemented, the takings clause of the Constitution would never have permitted the violation of the right to private property since "public use," properly understood in a free country, means only whatever is required for the administration of the legal system, such as a court house or police -- or military -- station. Every other purpose would have had to be achieved without violating anyone's property rights.

This constraint would have required virtually all road and rail building, as well as all building of dams, sports stadiums and similar massive projects, to be carried out on a relatively smaller scale than what government sponsored projects that violate private property rights involve. Sure, some of them could have been carried out by the benign means of purchasing land from those who owned them. But the cost in many cases would have been prohibitive and would probably have induced those embarking on these projects to pursue alternatives.

Take, for example, the expansion of the use of the automobile and of airplanes. Without the government's power to take land so as to build, for example, the Interstate Highway system and huge airports, some alternative modes of transportation might have developed because entrepreneurs would have sought out less expensive ways to proceed with their projects.

Counterfactual history is always highly speculative but not impossible. It is often the stuff of science fiction, as when an author imagines what would have happened had Hitler won World War II or had we had to go without penicillin. In one's personal life, too, one can speculate, often enough, about what might have happened had one driven more carefully when one had an accident or stayed in school instead of rushed into family life.

The exercise I am recommending shouldn't be all that different from such "rational reconstruction." In other words, had the political system that held sway in a country been more strictly consistent with the principles of justice, including the principle of private property rights, we would probably not face many of the environmental problems we do face now.

Consider, as another case in point, pollution. One of the main causes of it is dumping -- manufacturing firms or even individuals disposing of their waste without respecting private property rights and legal authorities failing to step in when this happens. Those "negative externalities" that so many refer to as they badmouth capitalism would be, in fact, systematically prohibited in a fully free, capitalist economic system because they involve the violation of private property rights. Instead of reasoning on the basis of some pseudo-utilitarian calculation, according to which it is OK to violate our rights if only some great project is helped by it, a strict adherence to a system of individual rights would have served as a powerful restraint against irrational development, namely, development that encroached upon the rights of people who did not want the kind of development in question.

So what's the lesson here? I suggest that it is "better late than never." If one wishes to organize human communities sensibly and justly, respecting and protecting individual, including private property, rights is still the right approach.



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

Comments? Email me here. My Home Page is here or here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


No comments: