Monday, April 30, 2007

"Footprint" stupidity

Herbert Girardet taught planners about the human footprint idea when he estimated that London's footprint was 125 times its surface area, or about three hectares per person - an estimate that he says today was half what it should be. Girardet has been active in the environmental movement for more than 30 years, making documentary films and working with the United Nations and the New Economics Foundation to draw attention to the depletion of natural resources (1).

I took issue with Girardet's human footprint idea last year. In his account book for London he has two columns, one headed `inputs' (oxygen, water, food and so on) and the second headed `wastes' (including CO2, SO2 and NOx). What happened to the positive output of cities: the industrial goods, the farm equipment and fertilisers, the iPods, Channel 4 documentaries and Anya Hindmarch bags? These do not feature in the estimation of the human footprint. The very concept of the human footprint abstracts from humankind's positive, productive side, and reduces all output to pollution or waste (2).

Missing out the productive side of human output leads to a miscalculation of the human footprint. That is because although the input of consumer goods does indeed increase, so too does resource productivity. Or to put that in ordinary language, we get more from less. That is especially true of land. With the application of science to agriculture, grain yields increase, which has meant that even though we consume more year on year, the area under the plough has been decreasing since 1981. Far from being under pressure, more land is being freed up all the time. In area terms, that means the human footprint is actually shrinking (3).

The original idea of the human footprint is taken from two related concepts: sustainability and carrying capacity. `Sustainability' refers to the limits on non-renewable resources. It was first used about Halibut stocks in the Pacific that were being fished by Japanese and American fleets (4). `Carrying capacity' is the land's capacity to carry more or less people. It was first used by the colonial authorities in Northern Rhodesia to warn against population growth among black Africans - a particular concern of the white settlers (5). In both cases the mean-spirited interest in limits arose because those resources were the prize in a social conflict. That you could farm fish, or that settlers and natives did not need to fight over land, was beyond the terms of the debate.

The impact of the visualisation of the human footprint in Channel 4's documentary is remarkable. What surprises us is the scale of the human endeavour. It is a kind of solipsism not to understand that human beings really are very productive indeed. In the 1940s it was common for documentary filmmakers to show work processes that create the goods we consume. But the loss of interest in working life means that we rarely see `how milk gets to your doorstep' (or supermarket) today. Instead we see the reverse side - how the rubbish piles up in the landfill.

The paradox is that people's lives are secured by enlarging their ecological footprint, not reducing it. The greater the metabolism between man and nature, the larger are human possibilities, and therefore security increases. Resource efficiency does not come from limiting industry, but from expanding it.


Anti-malarial bed nets: the $10 insult

Giving nets rather than DDT to Africans sends a powerfully paternalistic message: `You can hide from disease, but you cannot eradicate it.' And mosquitoes don't bite during the day, of course

These days there is a special `day' for just about everything. So you can be forgiven if you missed that yesterday was Africa Malaria Day. Not Malaria Day, you will notice, but Africa Malaria Day. The reason it is called Africa Malaria Day is because in the developed West malaria no longer poses much of a problem. Southern Mediterranean countries, such as Italy, where hot and humid conditions would normally be a fertile breeding ground for malarial mosquitoes, have been malaria-free for more than 60 years (1). Yet the tool that rooted out malaria in the developed world - the mosquito-bashing pesticide DDT - is not considered fit for Africa today. So this Africa Malaria Day we were all encouraged to buy an African a bed net as the next best (environmentally-friendly) thing.

Buying a bed net might make you - and the celebrities who endorse the bed net campaign - feel good about yourselves. But it also sends a powerful message to Africans about their place in the scheme of things: that is, at the bottom, where the most they can hope for is to put a charity-donated flimsy shield between them and their harsh environment, rather than to transform their environment.

In America, Africa Malaria Day was big this year. The First Lady, Laura Bush, has been heading a campaign to encourage every American to donate $10 to buy an anti-malarial bed net for an African child through the charities Nothing But Nets and Malaria No More. International celebrities have also been marshalled to help spread awareness about the cause. At the suggestion of screenwriter Richard Curtis (of Comic Relief and Love, Actually fame), music mogul Simon Fuller allowed campaigners to ask for contributions on two episodes of his hit show American Idol. Titled `Idol Gives Back', the shows featured celebrities such as pop star Gwen Stefani and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen pleading for money to help charities supporting the victims of Hurricane Katrina and to purchase anti-malarial nets for African kids.

The economist Professor Jeffrey Sachs outlined his own case for anti-malarial nets in a poetic article for Time magazine titled `The $10 solution': `Listen for a moment to the beautiful and dignified voices of Africa's mothers. Despite their burdens of poverty and hunger, they will tell you not of their endless toil but of their hopes for their children. But softly, ever so softly, they will also recount the children they have lost, claimed by a sudden fever, children who died in their arms as they were carried in a desperate half-day's journey by foot from the village to the nearest clinic.' This, says Sachs, is `the ineffable sadness of malaria'. `Another African child has died of malaria since you started reading this article', he writes. `Perhaps two million children in all will succumb this year.' (2)

That millions die from malaria in the developing world every year is an obscenity - especially when we know that DDT has a very high success rate in obliterating mosquitoes. Will bed nets stop the scourge of malaria? Sachs, like Laura Bush, like Richard Curtis (whose `Red Nose Day' appeals on British TV earlier this year were also saturated with calls from celebs for more anti-malarial nets for Africa), argues that in order to cure Africa's malaria problem, `We should bring forth armies of Red Cross volunteers to distribute bed nets and to offer village-based training for tens of thousands of villages across Africa.'

Many in the developed world are no doubt greatly concerned about disease in Africa. But if we did swamp Africa with nets, how many children (not to mention adults) would be saved? According to Sachs, every 100 nets save the life of one African child a year. However, every net has to be replaced after four years, because the pesticides wear out, rendering the net useless. So sending a net to Africa is a $10 dollar `solution' that eventually wears out and which doesn't actually kill off malarial mosquitoes, instead just keeping them at bay (hopefully).

There is a reason why the West is no longer infested with malarial insects and why deaths from malaria are virtually zero. It's because over half a century ago we sprayed everything down with DDT. DDT is not very popular nowadays; it has become an anathema to environmentalists. In the Sixties and Seventies, various environmentalists raised concerns about the impact of DDT on wildlife. In her 1962 book Silent Spring, Rachel Carson claimed that DDT harmed birds of prey and their eggs.

Following intense lobbying, DDT was banned in America in 1972 by the Environment Protection Agency and its use was severely restricted in Europe. This had a big impact on its use in countries in Latin America and Africa. And all of this happened despite the fact that, as the campaign group Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM) points out, where heavy use of DDT in agricultural settings did occasionally cause harm to birds of prey, that harm subsequently `proved reversible', and `after 50 years of study there is not one replicated study that shows any harm to humans at all'.

Indeed, last year the World Health Organisation (WHO) `reversed a 30-year policy by endorsing the use of DDT for malaria control' (3). WHO explained that there is no health risk for humans from DDT. Dennis Avery of AFM estimates that, `The absence of DDT has led to the needless deaths of at least 30million people from malaria and yellow fever in the tropics' (4). Dr Roger Bate, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and former chairman of AFM, tells me that although bed nets can help in combating malaria, `if they rip or if you don't go to bed early enough or if you get up in the night, you can get bitten'. Bate favours Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) with DDT. `The fixation on nets stems from opposition to IRS', he says.

Although African countries tended to make DDT their first choice in fighting malaria, many of them discontinued DDT-use because some aid agency funding was made contingent on their adoption of other, more environmentally friendly sprays. According to BBC News: `South Africa was one country that switched, but it had to return to DDT at the beginning of [the 2000s] after mosquitoes developed resistance to the substitute compounds.' Arata Kochi, director of WHO's Global Malaria Programme, says that `of the dozen insecticides WHO has approved as safe for house-spraying, the most effective is DDT' (5).

Put in blunt terms, DDT is proven to be successful in the fight against malarial mosquitoes, and the environmentalist campaign against DDT has proved disastrous for millions of Africans. And now some of the same campaigners are telling Africans that they should combat malaria with bed nets instead. However, as well as being far more unreliable than a large-scale and targeted pesticide-spraying campaign - because, as Bate points out, people in Africa do not spend all their time in bed hiding from the world - the whole concept of using pesticide-soaked nineteenth-century colonial-style net curtains is regressive. What it effectively says to Africans is that you cannot eradicate disease, you can only protect yourself from it. You cannot change the world outside your front door - a world that consists of far too much disease and poverty - but you can put up a barrier, albeit a sometimes unreliable one, between you and that world.

The symbolism of the bed nets is striking - the focus is on protection from hardship rather than on getting rid of that hardship, as many of us in the developed world have done. The idea that Africans must hide behind a charity-bought veil for their whole lives, rather than buying a tank full of DDT and killing the pests that threaten to kill them, is inherently patronising. Like the buy-a-goat-for-Christmas schemes, the `insecticide-impregnated bed net' scheme is helping to ensure that Africa's development remains retarded, while allowing we in the comfortable West to feel good about having Done Something.

Fundamentally, the net-based scheme to save the children of Africa won't work. DDT, on the other hand, might. The charity nets are not a $10 solution; they're a $10 insult.


We're not to blame, says expert

The United States' leading hurricane forecaster says global ocean currents, not human-produced carbon dioxide, are responsible for global warming. William Gray, a Colorado State University researcher, also said the Earth may begin to cool on its own in five to 10 years. Speaking to a group of Republican MPs, Dr Gray had harsh words for researchers and politicians who said man-made greenhouse gases were responsible for global warming. "They are blaming it all on humans, which is crazy," he said. "We're not the cause of it."

Dr Gray said in the past 40 years the number of serious hurricanes making landfall on the US Atlantic coast had declined even though carbon dioxide levels had risen. He said increasing levels of carbon dioxide would not produce more, or stronger, hurricanes.

Dr Gray, 77, has long criticised the theory that heat-trapping gases generated by human activity are causing the world to warm. Earlier this month, he dubbed former US vice-president and 2000 Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore "a gross alarmist" for making the Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, which helped focus media attention on global warming.

Yesterday, Dr Gray said that politics and research into global warming had created "almost an industry" that had frightened the public and overwhelmed dissenting voices. He said research arguing that humans were causing global warming was "mush" based on unreliable computer models that could not possibly take into account the hundreds of factors that influenced the weather. He said little-understood ocean currents were behind a decades-long warming cycle, and disputed assertions that greenhouse gases could raise global temperatures as much as some scientists predicted. "There's no way that doubling CO2 is going to cause that amount of warming," he said. Dr Gray also said warming and cooling trends could not go on indefinitely and believed temperatures were beginning to level out after a very warm year in 1998.


The "Green" Vanity Fair

The cover of this month's Vanity Fair shows Leonardo DiCaprio standing on a glacier lagoon in Iceland alongside Knut, that cute polar bear cub from Berlin Zoo. The two celebrities (Knut has his own blog and TV show; the other one's an actor) did not actually meet each other, much less travel together for their `photo shoot' in Iceland. Rather they were brought together by the magic of photoshop, with Knut superimposed on to a shot of Leo on a glacier. Re-arranging imagery to create a certain impression might look stylish on the front cover of a magazine. However, it doesn't bode well for the magazine's contents.

On the inside cover, Vanity Fair declares `yes, we know, there are no polar bears in Iceland' - yet it justifies its photo-shopped fiction of Leo and the cub on an Icelandic glacier by arguing: `If current trends continue, there won't be any [polar bears] in Canada either.' Er, okay. Leaving aside the fact that some researchers say that polar bear numbers are actually quite healthy these days, how a photoshopped pic from Iceland is supposed to raise awareness about events in Canada is anyone's guess. Couldn't Vanity Fair be said to have created a convenient untruth with its latest front cover?

Vanity Fair is one of the jewels in the crown of American journalism. It publishes sometimes very good investigative and commentary pieces, mainly written by those opposed to the current Bush administration. Yet its green issue feels less open-minded; it does not open up debate but rather declares a simplistic war of green words against the Bushies' perceived failure to follow the environmentalist line as laid down by the likes of Al Gore.

Rather than putting forward convincing arguments about climate change, and the action required to deal with it, Vanity Fair's green issue comes across as a conspiracy theory about the Bush administration. In a piece titled `Texas Chainsaw Management' by Robert F Kennedy Jr - which examines the `revolving door' between Washington and big business - there is little more than a summary of who has worked in which institution, when they worked there, and who they tried to influence. Drawing such links, without putting forth a convincing political argument against the activities of these various individuals and groups, smacks of lazy journalism and even conspiracy-mongering.

Editor Graydon Carter claims that the world's scientific community is now `in almost universal agreement that human activity is accelerating global warming'. He cites the Spring report by the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. However, there is much scientific disagreement over the rates of and effects of human activity on global warming, and over what we should do about warming. Indeed, the very concept of a `scientific universal agreement' is not in keeping with the traditional critical standards of science. As James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky have pointed out on spiked: `Science thrives on verification and falsifiability. Any consensus is always open to challenge - that is the spirit of the scientific method. Of course, there is a consensus that gravity exists and that the Earth is round. But in these cases we are talking about scientific principles that have been tested experimentally again and again over centuries. Climate science is not quite that definitive.' (See A man-made morality tale, by James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky.)

Carter argues that, on the question of climate change, the Bush presidency `has fallen so out of step with the rest of the Western world that it is nothing short of a national scandal'. He refers to the USA's refusal to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the way that European Union countries are doing. Yet there is no unity in carbon-cutting among EU nation states; some are behind and others are ahead in the big race to cut emissions. Moreover, Vanity Fair fails to ask any critical questions about why certain EU states might be more willing to cut emissions (and to make a big deal of it) than, say, America or China; perhaps it is the most sluggish and tired economies that make an issue of reducing their carbon use, whereas more dynamic economies are unwilling to make such promises.

Vanity Fair seems less interested in critically exploring the contemporary politics of climate change than in adopting a lofty greener-than-thou approach. It features photographs of and articles on the new `Global Citizens', including Hollywood environmental activists, organic food producers, green-minded musicians, Sir Nicholas Stern (the UK government's economic adviser and author of a recent major climate change report), Prince Charles (yes, American greens love our mad heir), a businesswoman who makes `non-toxic clothing', an `enlightened hotelier' (as opposed to all those unenlightened hoteliers), and a bloke who writes novels about people who `destroy the Florida he loves'. They look less like serious politicos and more like a modern version of The Beautiful People, or perhaps ladies-who-lunch - that is, rich people with time to kill who take up charity work to make themselves feel more fulfilled.

Vanity Fair's front-cover eco-star, DiCaprio, stars in the forthcoming global warming documentary The 11th Hour. The magazine gushes about the actor `stepping forward to take the baton from Al Gore', as if he is some kind of environmental president-in-waiting.

What makes the green issue seem so, well, arid, is the absence of any lively discussion of how humans might work together to deal with climate change and improve the world while they're at it. Instead the magazine gives the distinct impression that there are lots of greedy and `unenlightened' people out there and it is up to the likes of DiCaprio or members of the Kennedy clan or hoteliers with sustainable pillow cases (ie, the wealthy and sensible) to show us the errors of our ways. Not surprisingly, this does not make for a good read; it's all a bit like being hit over the head with a rolled-up magazine rather than actually reading one.

There is some serious content. In his article `Jungle Law', VF's international correspondent William Langewiesche details the legal fight by an Ecuadorian man on behalf of 30,000 Amazon settlers and indigenous people against Chevron, the billion-dollar global company that exploits oil and gas reserves in 35 countries. The article says that Texaco (bought by Chevron) spent 30 years spilling 17million gallons of oil into the Amazon river and despoiling 1,700 square miles of Amazon rainforest. Only the naive could be surprised that big multinationals exploit local people and often despoil nature in their efforts to mine for oil and gas. But who does it help when big business is presented as the destroyer of nature and local Amazonians are depicted as the guardians of nature? Is that what Vanity Fair and other green campaigners really want for certain communities in Latin America? That they should live forever in harmony with nature, and their societies remain underdeveloped, natural, organic, hard work, at risk from the elements.?

Little mention is made of the scientific progress that has been made in environment clean-up technology - such as the new oil-spill clean-up skimmer, developed last year by scientists at the University of California-Santa Barbara, which removes nearly 100 per cent of the adhered oil with each rotation. Instead, in VF, spillages are looked upon as permanent blots on nature's landscape. These are in effect simplistic morality tales rather than serious investigations. There is a great deal to be said for Ecuadorians assuming more control over their natural resources and their lives, and improving their living standards in the process; yet in the eyes of many greens, indigenous peoples are the eternal victims of evil corporations and they need gracious and selfless campaigners from the West to highlight their plight and save them.

Myron Ebell, a global-warming sceptic who works at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), is the only contrary view included in VF's green issue. Yet even his points are neutered by the time you get to them. In his introduction to the magazine, editor Carter says that the sceptics' views are akin to the nonsense spouted by the Flat Earth Society. The interviewer of Ebell is said to have caught him in `full denial'; the d-word is used to depict the critics of the politics of climate change as sinners against a gospel truth. It's almost as if the magazine is showing off that it has had the `courage' to interview Ebell, while simultaneously telling readers that they don't have to read the interview because the guy is nuts.

A MORI poll in Britain at the end of last year found that 32 per cent of those surveyed knew little or nothing about the alleged threat of climate change, despite the fanfare of media coverage on the issue. It would seem that a lack of robust debate on the full spectrum of scientific and political issues around climate change has caused some people to switch off and think about other things instead. I doubt whether this celebrity-worshipping, self-congratulatory, unengaging, environmentalist-for-one-month issue of Vanity Fair will turn many readers back on to the debate about climate change.


Australia: The nuclear argument

With their usual adherence to high principle, the Left say that it is OK to mine uranium but not to use it!

Labor has attacked Prime Minister John Howard's plans for a nuclear energy industry in Australia, after its own national conference dumped a long-standing ban on new uranium mines. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's motion to scrap the 'no new mines' policy was passed by a slender 15 votes at the ALP national conference, with environment spokesman Peter Garret among those voting to maintain the ban.

But the move was overshadowed by Mr Howard's outlining of a future nuclear energy industry for Australia. Speaking at the Victorian Liberal Party conference, Mr Howard said Australia needed to rethink its energy production in the face of climate change, and the only feasible options were clean coal technology and nuclear power. "Part of the solution must be to admit the use, in years to come, of nuclear power," he said. "If we're fair dinkum about this climate change debate we have to open our minds to the use of nuclear power."

Shortly after the Labor conference vote Mr Garrett went on the offensive against Mr Howard's nuclear proposal. "He has plans for nuclear power plants to be dotted around this country," he said. "He's taking us down a road and a path which I think is very dangerous."

Mr Howard said the Government would invest in research on the setting up of a nuclear power industry while Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said legislative barriers would be removed. And Mr Macfarlane accused Labor of debating "last century's policy" on uranium mining.

Mr Garrett says he accepts the conference vote on uranium mines but others in the party are less happy. Some are angry with union leader and Federal candidate Bill Shorten, who linked the vote to support for Mr Rudd. "If you think that rolling the leader is a great idea then go ahead and vote for the Albanese-Garrett amendment," Mr Shorten told the debate. Critics of Mr Shorten say the tactic was immature, naive and damaging.

Western Australian Premier Alan Carpenter says there will be no uranium mining in his state while he was in government. "I don't feel under any pressure whatsoever," he said. "The West Australian economy is powering ahead, we've got the highest economic growth figures and the lowest unemployment figures, we don't desperately need for economic reasons or any other reasons to pursue uranium mining."



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 generally 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

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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