Friday, May 10, 2019

Biodiversity threat won’t be tackled by alarmist biologist hype and dismantling capitalism

The recent total absurdity about loss of species (Scientists warn 1 million species threatened with extinction) seems to have got far more attention than it deserves so the rational counterblast below by BY MATT RIDLEY is very welcome

Driven perhaps by envy at the attention that climate change is getting, and ambition to set up a great new intergovernmental body that can fly scientists to mega-conferences, biologists have gone into overdrive on the subject of biodiversity this week.

They are right that there is a lot wrong with the world’s wildlife, that we can do much more to conserve, enhance and recover it, but much of the coverage in the media, and many of the pronouncements of Sir Bob Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), are frankly weird.

The threat to biodiversity is not new, not necessarily accelerating, mostly not caused by economic growth or prosperity, nor by climate change, and won’t be reversed by retreating into organic self-sufficiency. Here’s a few gentle correctives.

Much of the human destruction of biodiversity happened a long time ago

Species extinction rates of mammals and birds peaked in the 19th century (mostly because of ships taking rats to islands). The last extinction of a breeding bird species in Europe was the Great Auk, in 1844. Thousands of years ago, stone-age hunter-gatherers caused megafaunal mass extinctions on North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar with no help from modern technology or capitalism. That’s not to say extinctions don’t still happen but by far the biggest cause is still invasive alien species, especially on islands: it’s chytrid fungi that have killed off many frogs and toads, avian malaria that has killed off many of Hawaii’s honeycreepers, and so on.

This is a specific problem that can be tackled and reversed, but it will take technology and science and money, not retreating into self-sufficiency and eating beans. The eradication of rats on South Georgia island [And Australia's Macquarie Island] was a fine example of doing this right, with helicopters, GPS and a lot of science.

We’ve been here before. In 1981, the ecologist Paul Ehrlich predicted that 50% of all species would be extinct by 2005. In fact, about 1.4% of bird and mammal species, which are both easier to document than smaller creatures and more vulnerable to extinction, have gone extinct so far in several centuries.

The idea that “western values”, or “capitalism”, are the problem is wrong

On the whole what really diminishes biodiversity is a large but poor population trying to live off the land. As countries get richer and join the market economy they generally reverse deforestation, slow species loss and reverse some species declines. Countries like Bangladesh are now rich enough to be reforesting, not deforesting, and this is happening all over the world. Most of this is natural forest, not plantations. As for wildlife, think of all the species that have returned to abundance in Britain: otters, ospreys, sea eagles, kites, cranes, beavers, deer and more. Why are wolves increasing all around the world, lions decreasing and tigers now holding steady? Basically, because wolves are in rich countries, lions in poor countries and tigers in middle income countries. Prosperity is the solution not the problem.

Nothing would kill off nature faster than trying to live off it. When an African villager gets rich enough to buy food in a shop rather than seek bushmeat in the forest, that’s a win for wildlife. Ditto if he or she can afford gas for cooking rather than cutting wood. The more we can urbanise and the more we can increase our use of intensive farming and fossil fuels, the less we will need to clear forests for either food or fuel.

Intensive farming spares land for nature

It’s been calculated that if today’s population were to be fed using the mainly organic yields of 1960, we would have to farm 82% of the world’s land, whereas actually we farm about 38%. Thanks to fertilisers, tractors, genetics and pesticides, we now need 68% less land to produce a given quantity if food than we did in 1960. That’s a good thing. Most sensible conservationists now realise that “land sparing” is the right approach – intensive farming plus land set aside, rather than inefficient farming with some nature in the fields. Professor Andrew Balmford of Cambridge University led a team that did thorough research showing that this is the better approach not just for land use but for other environmental issues too: they found that organic dairy farms cause at least 30% more soil loss, and take up twice as much land, as conventional dairy farming for the same amount of milk produced, for example.

Doing more with less

A favourite nostrum of many environmentalists is that you cannot have infinite growth with finite resources. But this is plain wrong, because economic growth comes from doing more with less. So if I invent a new car engine that gets twice as many miles per gallon, I’ve caused economic growth but we’ll use less fuel. Likewise if I increase the yield of a crop, I need less land and probably less fuel too. This “growth as shrinkage” happens all the time: think how much smaller mobile phones are than they once were.

The fact that species are recovering is ignored by the media

The BBC used a humpback whale song to illustrate species under threat of extinction. Humpback whales were down to a few thousand in the 1960s and listed as “endangered”. In 1996 as the population grew, they were downgraded to “vulnerable”. In 2008 as they became numerous, they were downgraded again to “least concern”. Today there are 80,000 of them, they are back to pre-exploitation densities in many parts of the world, and groups of up to 200 are sometimes seen feeding together, a success unimaginable when I was young. The same is true of many previously exploited species such as fur seals, elephant seals, king penguins and more.

For some reason, environmental activists hate talking about the success stories of conservationists in saving species, recovering their populations and reintroducing them to the wild. They prefer to dwell on the threats. This brings more publicity and donations, but it also spreads a counsel of despair, leaving many ordinary people feeling helpless, rather than engaged. It’s time for an honest debate about what we can do to save wildlife, rather than a Private Fraser cry of “we’re all doomed”.


Rideshare cars worsen congestion, says study

One of the early promises of the ride-hailing era ushered in by Uber and Lyft was that the new entrants would complement public transit, reduce car ownership and help alleviate congestion.

But a new study on San Francisco has found the opposite may be in fact be true: far from reducing traffic, the companies increased delays by 40 per cent as commuters ditched buses or walking for mobile-app summoned rides.

Published in Science Advances, the study went back to 2010, before the advent of so-called transportation network companies (TNCs), and compared journey times and road conditions with 2016, they year they became a common sighting.

San Francisco, where Lyft and Uber are headquartered, grew from 805,000 inhabitants to 876,000 during that period, as 150,000 jobs were added and the road network updated.

The authors, from the University of Kentucky and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA), accounted for these changes via a computer model that asked: what would things look like if ride-hailing companies had not come on the scene?

Greg Erhardt, an assistant professor of engineering at the university, said his team had found “some substitution” from private cars to TNCs as well as a slight increase in carpooling.

“But the net effect is that two-thirds of TNCs are new cars added to the roadway, that would otherwise not be present,” he said.

They also found that weekday vehicle hours of delay -- defined as the difference in travel time in congested versus free-flowconditions -- increased by 62 per cent between 2010 and 2016.

By contrast, in the simulated model without ride-hailing companies, delays went up by only 22 per cent -- meaning that theTNCs were responsible for 40 per cent of the increase.

Deadheading and disruption

The findings were challenged by Lyft, which said the study had failed to account for increased freight and commercial deliveries-- an area in which Amazon and others have aggressively expanded in recent years, as well as tourism growth.

“Lyft is actively working with cities on solutions backed by years of economic and engineering research, such as comprehensive congestion pricing and proven infrastructure investment,” the company said in a statement noting its investments in shared rides and bikes.

Uber called for more widespread congestion charging, arguing that “while studies disagree on causes for congestion, almost everyone agrees on the solution.”

The study comes as rideshare drivers in major US cities were set to stage a series of strikes ahead of Uber’s keenly anticipated Wall Street debut. Lyft went public in March.

Proponents of ridesharing often use the argument that the majority of journeys take place at non-peak times, such as when people have gone for a night out and are returning home from bars.

But the study found peaks occurring at 7am and 8am and then again around 5pm and 6pm.

Among the cars’ most disruptive activities on traffic flow were kerbside pick-ups and drop-offs, especially on major arterial roads, it found.

Another notable effect was so-called “deadheading,” which Erhardt explained as driving around in search of the next customer. “It doesn’t serve a purpose in terms of transporting a person. So that’s purely an addition to traffic.”

Data scraping

The study relied on background traffic speed from GPS data obtained from a commercial vendor, but when the researchers approached the companies to share their own trip data, they were denied access.

They were forced then to rely on a method of data scraping developed by Northeastern University that uses the companies’ publicapps to learn about vehicle movements.

Elliot Martin, a research engineer at the University of California Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Centre, who was not connected to the study, said its methodology was rigorous.

“I think that they did a good job of trying to draw comparisons, to look at what would have happened in a world where TNCs didn’t exist versus where they did exist,” he said, adding the methodology was the “best available” given the amount of information.

Despite the findings, ride-hailing isn’t all bad, said co-author Joe Castiglione of the SFCTA.

“They are providing services like helping people move around in the evening when transit isn’t great, or assisting the visually impaired,” he said.

The trick, he said, was to determine “how (to) manage the positive benefits without the negative externalities” through newpolicies like congestion pricing or kerbside regulation.


Fossil-Foolish at the BBC

Overheard on the BBC News Channel’s “Beyond 100 Days” programme yesterday:

"Christian Fraser: You know, yesterday I was on the south coast in Brighton, Katty, and I was looking out to sea at the wind turbines which were turning at quite a rate of knots yesterday in the wind. And I was wondering how much impact those sort of new technologies have – and today I came in to quite an interesting statistic. So the UK, right now, is in its fifth consecutive day of powering the National Grid without any coal. So since Wednesday night, there’s been no coal-fired power in the UK – it’s mostly gas and renewable energy. And that’s the longest time the UK has gone being powered without coal since the Industrial Revolution. So this is – you know, this is a stat that shows wind power is not something we aspire to, it’s not something that might be useful one day, it is making a difference now, and it shows that if we do change, we can make quite a sizeable difference."

Where to start… Maybe at the Gridwatch website, which was indeed – a few minutes ago, anyway – showing coal at 0% but also nuclear at 19.63%, CCGT at 59.65% and wind at 7.42%.  So a more accurate summary might be “mostly gas and nuclear energy”.


The Ice Melt Myth

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (, ice currently covers six million square miles, or one-tenth the Land area on Earth, about the area of South America.

Floating ice, or sea ice, alternately called pack ice at the North and South Poles, covers 6% of the ocean’s surface (, an area similar to North America. The most important measure of ice is its thickness.

The United States Geologic Survey estimates the total ice on Earth weighs 28 million Gigatons (a billion tons). Antarctica and Greenland combined represent 99% of all ice on Earth.

The remaining one percent is in glaciers, ice sheets, and sea ice. Antarctica can exceed three miles in thickness and Greenland one mile.

But the Antarctic is the coldest place on Earth.

At calculations show the temperature would have to rise 54 degrees Fahrenheit to start the warming of that ice cap.

The geologic record provides a perspective on how climate impacts the quantity of ice on Earth. They have encompassed every extreme. Some 800 million years ago the planet was almost entirely encased in ice (Rafferty, J.P. Cryogenics Period).

Since then there have been many extended periods when there has been no ice present. As recently as three million years ago sea levels are believed to have been 165 feet higher than today.

While ice covered a third of the entire planet during the last ice age, when sea levels were 400 feet lower, allowing ancient peoples to cross the Siberian Land Bridge to populate North America.

Al Gore predicted in 2007 that by 2013 the Arctic Ocean would be completely ice-free. In the summer of 2012, ice levels did reach all-time lows in the Arctic.

Emboldened by this report, Australian Professor Chris Turney launched an expedition in December of 2013 to prove that the Antarctic Sea Ice was also undergoing catastrophic melting only to have his ship trapped in sea ice such that it could not even be rescued by modern ice-breakers.

The Professor should have known that a more accurate estimate of sea ice can be had from satellite images taken every day at the Poles since 1981.

These images show that between summer and winter, regardless of the degree of summer melting, the sea ice completely recovers to its original size the winter before for almost every year since the pictures were taken.

The sea ice has been stubbornly resistant to Al Gore’s predictions. In fact, the average annual coverage of sea ice has been essentially the same since satellite observations began in 1981.

However, that has not stopped global warming advocates and even government agencies from cherry picking the data to mislead the public.

Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro has been the poster child for land-based melting supposed to be caused by Global Warming.

It did lose half of its ice cover between 1880 and 1936 before the major use of fossil fuels and only 30% more in the past 80 years.

However, the temperature at its peak has not risen at any time during these years above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit).

The melting has been due to deforestation and the dry air rising to the mountain top causing the ice to turn directly into water vapor—a process called sublimation.

Melting glaciers are another topic of warming alarmists. Indeed they can choose to point to some that are actually melting, ignoring those that are growing or remaining stable.

Why the differences? They are largely dependent on whether over periods of time more snow falls than ice melts or the reverse. They are a great place to cherry pick data.

The solution to public fear about ice melting and sea level rising is simply using common sense.


Australia: ‘Green tape’ strangling infrastructure

Delayed environmental approvals for mining and rail projects are ­expected to contribute to a significant downturn in major infrastructure projects in Queensland.

The peak body representing Queensland’s infrastructure sector has forecast that after two years of increasing major project expenditure, the state is facing a decrease of 24 per cent next year.

The Infrastructure Association of Queensland’s ­annual Spotlight report, released today, focuses on rail and mine projects in the Galilee Basin. But it says the downturn would be even more pronounced if the federal Brisbane-to-Melbourne inland rail project and Adani’s Carmichael mine in central Queensland faced further ­delays with approvals.

IAQ chief executive Steve Abson said investors were turning away from Queensland because of perceived political instability, particularly around “red and green tape”. “By Queensland’s boom-and-bust standards, the (downturn) is not unusual, but the problem is it gets worse if we don’t have the bilateral agreement for inland rail and it doesn’t get moving through approvals,” he said.

“It also gets worse if Adani don’t get their approvals. If you’re already having a downturn, the last thing you want is for projects earmarked to be delayed.”

Adani was last week dealt another blow by the Palaszczuk government when the Department of Environment and Science rejected its plan to manage populations of the endangered black-throated finch. The Indian mining company is also awaiting approval of its critical groundwater management plan.

Mr Abson said the lack of an agreement between the federal and Queensland governments on the inland rail project had ­hindered the Australian Rail Track Corporation in progressing its environmental impact statement.

“If we are faced with a decline in activity next year, then let’s do all we can to make the current projects that are shovel-ready get ­approval,” Mr Abson said.

“With projects like inland rail and the Galilee Basin mines (the government) should be finding ways to say ‘yes’ to those projects and not unreasonably holding them up.”

The IAQ’s report, which receives input from the government and major engineering and economic firms, considers all public and private engineering projects worth more than $50 million, excluding hospitals and schools, to outline the pipeline of programs under way or proposed. This year about $6 billion is being spent on projects, but that is expected to fall to less than $4.5bn next year.

That would drop by a further $500m if the inland rail and Adani mine projects are stalled.

Mr Abson said political instability and “backflips over projects” were driving national and inter­national investors away from Queensland.

“It’s difficult to see how all this carnage with Adani’s approvals that is going on right now is not going to have some kind of effect on investors’ view of Australia as an attractive destination,” Mr Abson said. “It is and will have an effect.”

Mr Abson said the public and private sectors traditionally shared about 50 per cent of the ­expenditure on major infrastructure projects in Queensland.

But a reduction in investment, partly fuelled by concerns over green and red tape, had seen that shift to 65 per cent government investment and 35 per cent from the private sector.



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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro has been the poster child for land-based melting supposed to be caused by Global Warming.

It did lose half of its ice cover between 1880 and 1936 before the major use of fossil fuels and only 30% more in the past 80 years.

Use of 1800's ice status is a method of hyping the melting of ice that had naturally grown larger during the Little Ice Age. When the LIA started the ice in many places would have started growing and would have continued until the end of the LIA developing a momentum that may have continued for years after the LIA ended before finally stopping and turning around, it would then take quite some time to come to a new state of equilibrium under a new climate warmth level.

Using ice levels in various locations for their hysterical hype usually just shows a form of cherry picking.