What a glorious delusion

Complex societies have collapsed many times before. It has not always been a bad thing. As James C Scott points out in his fascinating book, Against the Grain, when centralised power began to collapse, through epidemics, crop failure, floods, soil erosion or the self-destructive perversities of government, its corralled subjects would take the chance to flee. In many cases they joined the “barbarians”. This so-called secondary primitivism, Scott notes, “may well have been experienced as a marked improvement in safety, nutrition and social order. Becoming a barbarian was often a bid to improve one’s lot.” The dark ages that inexorably followed the glory and grandeur of the state may, in that era, have been the best times to be alive.

That’s like saying the Black Death was a good thing. Sure, living standards improved in the wake. As 60% of the previous population survived to enjoy 100% of the capital of the society. Great, so being a free living barbarian is fun.

If you survive, if you don’t count the experience of those who don’t.

Innumeracy in journalism

China’s ban on importing millions of tonnes of plastic waste is already causing a build up of rubbish at recycling plants around the UK, experts have warned.

The decision, which means that half a billion tons of the toxic substance could be burned in Britain rather than exported is predicted to bring chaos for councils in the weeks ahead.

Not that people have to know this of course. But it is useful for a journalist to have a rough idea of relative numbers and sizes. Plastics consumption (or, perhaps, use then throw away) is of the order of 300 million tonnes a year globally.

It’s really not likely at all that we’ll end up burning 500 million tonnes in the UK alone.

Also, plastics aren’t toxic, that’s rather the point of them. Their combustion products, if not combusted properly, can be, but it is very much the point of plastics that they don’t in fact poison us.

Simon Ellin, chief executive of the UK Recycling Association, said his members had already seen lower grade plastics piling up and warned urgent action was needed.

“You can already see the impact if you walk round some of our members’ yards,” he said.

“Plastic is building up and if you were to go around those yards in a couple of months’ time the situation would be even worse.”

The leaders of the UK’s recycling industry admitted that they have “no idea” how to cope as China’s policy came into force on January 1.

But on to the much more important point. There’s no use for this stuff, is there? That’s why it’s piling up.

So, why in fuck are we recycling it?

Yes

We know the answer here:

Government to investigate whether wood-burning stoves damage people’s health

It’s really not a question we’re unsure of the answer of.

Of course, that they damage the health of those who use them doesn’t mean anything at all, no reason for action at least. That they damage the health of those downwind of them might well be though.

This is fun

A jackal has been found in France for the first time, alarming farmers campaigning for tougher measures to curb the growing wolf population and troubled by the arrival of another canine predator.

Jackals are smaller than wolves and less likely to attack sheep, according to conservationists, but farmers fear that they will kill lambs and poultry.

A ‘camera trap’, activated by a motion sensor, captured an image of a golden jackal in Savoy near France’s eastern border with Switzerland. The species, the size of large fox, is normally found in south-eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, but its range has started expanding north and west in recent years. Like wolves, which returned to France in the 1990s, the jackal has crossed the Alps.

The thing is, that expansion is generally into areas without wolves. For they are competing for much the same niche. More wolves means fewer golden jackals…..

Why not just frack Lancashire?

Britain has emerged as the unlikely first recipient of gas from a sanctioned Russian project after fears of a winter supply crisis drove prices close to five year highs.

Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the £20bn Yamal project on Russia’s northern coastline last week. Shortly after, British wholesale gas prices soared to four-year highs when a crucial North Sea pipeline was put out of action by a crack and a distribution hub in Austria was hit by an explosion.

Now a deal has been struck to bring the debut cargo from Yamal to the Isle of Grain import terminal via a specially built ice-breaking tanker by the end of the month.

Err, yes, this might well happen

The shutdown of the North Sea’s most important oil and gas pipeline system on Monday was compounded by an explosion at a major processing facility in Austria, which is the main point of entry for Russian gas into 
Europe.

After the incidents, wholesale gas prices hit their highest level for six years, rising by more than 50pc in the space of 24 hours, raising fears that the increase will be passed on to customers.

You know what? The people who will shout loudest about this intermittency will be those who insist that our entire energy system should be intermittent.

Can’t you just see Caroline Lucas practicing in front of the mirror already?

Cheap food reduces war

This paper provides evidence of the long-run effects of a permanent increase in agricultural productivity on conflict. We construct a newly digitized and geo-referenced dataset of battles in Europe, the Near East and North Africa covering the period between 1400 and 1900 CE. For variation in permanent improvements in agricultural productivity, we exploit the introduction of potatoes from the Americas to the Old World after the Columbian Exchange. We find that the introduction of potatoes permanently reduced conflict for roughly two centuries. The results are driven by a reduction in civil conflicts.

As has been noted about Hitler’s Lebensraum. If German agricultural productivity had risen from 1920 to 1940 by the amount it did between 1950 and 1970 there would have been no point – no economic point at least – in invading eastwards, would there?

So, Greenies, arguing that we should all eat more expensive and land hungry organic food. Why is it that you want to invade Poland?

Ms. Lucas misunderstands

We know that infinite economic growth simply isn’t compatible with a planet of finite resources, and we also know that the treatment of environmental concerns as “externalities” in pursuit of never-ending GDP increases is incredibly damaging.

We don’t deliberately treat environmental concerns as being something outside our area of concern. Instead, we note that GDP, and other market based measures, don’t capture externalities very well – that’s actually what the word means, that these righteous and just concerns are external to market processes.

We then try to shoehorn them into our decision making process as best we can, there are entire libraries stocked with discussions of this very point. Usually, by adding the price of them to those market processes.

This is absolutely super about Tesla’s battery

The world’s biggest battery was officially launched in Australia on Friday, a day after the Elon Musk-driven project was powered up early to meet demand amid a bout of hot weather, officials said.

Musk’s Tesla built the Powerpack system, which can provide electricity for more than 30,000 homes, to ease South Australia’s energy woes after the state was hit with a total blackout in 2016 following an “unprecedented” storm.

The maverick billionaire earlier this year offered on Twitter to build the battery farm, and completed it last week to narrowly beat his self-imposed deadline of having it ready in 100 days.

“South Australia is now leading the world in dispatchable renewable energy, delivered to homes and businesses 24/7,” state Premier Jay Weatherill said Friday at the launch to coincide with the first day of summer.

“This is history in the making.”

No, really excellent.

1) We see how well it all works. Does this size of battery actually truly aid in smoothing power dispatch?

2) We see how much it costs.

3) Such costs and effectiveness will no be incorporated into all financial estimates of intermittent power generation sources, won’t they?

We must elect a new people

At my suggestion, the school invited the charity Living Streets to come in and enthuse the children about walking or cycling to school. I attended the first assembly, at which one of their organisers spoke. She was lively, funny and captivating. With the help of a giant puppet, and the promise of badges if they joined in, the children went wild for her and for the cause. The school, led by its committed headteacher, has done everything it can to support the scheme.

For a few weeks, it worked. Everyone noticed the difference. No longer were cars mounting the pavement – and almost mounting each other – outside the gates. The children were using their legs, and families were talking to each other on the way. But the cars have crept back in, and now, though the clever and catchy programme continues, we’re almost back where we started: school begins and ends under a cloud.

Humans, eh?

Seriously folks, stop worrying about pissant little nonsenses

After the war on plastic bags and packaging, waste experts have a new target in their sights – till receipts.
UK supermarkets issue more than 26,000 miles of them every week – enough to stretch round the world, and most of them are thrown straight in the bin.
Recycling experts say the problem is exacerbated by stores that print out additional offers along with the legally required receipt.

So, a small consideration of the importance of this.

So, 80 metres long till rolls, 20 of them, weight 5 kg (that includes the packaging I assume but why worry?). There are 1,600 metres to a mile. 5 kg of till rolls is thus one mile. That means the shops are using 130 tonnes of paper per week, or some 7,000 tonnes a year, as till rolls.

Paper and board consumption appears to be some 9 million tonnes a year for the UK.

So, this particular story is people worrying about 0.07% of UK paper consumption. A goodly part of which, probably the majority, is a legal requirement.

Waste specialist Business Waste found that

Seriously people, fuck off.

Again, the misuse of “despite”

Despite a national hunting ban, the attitude to bears has become increasingly hostile, with some remote villagers taking matters into their own hands

As is so often true it should be “because.”

Then, last October, the Romanian government made a surprise decision to ban the hunting of bears and other large carnivores altogether. The environmental minister, Cristiana Pașca Palmer, a newly appointed, avowedly progressive politician largely at odds with her political surroundings, claimed that under European law “hunting for money was already illegal, but it was given a green light anyway.” The idea that hunting was acting to protect citizens from bears was, she claimed, just a cover for the hunting industry and based on nothing but pseudoscience. Conservationists across the world threw their hands together in applause.

Sure, nature is nice to have around but apex predators are indeed apex predators. And when there are two around, humans and bears, that second needs controlling in some manner. Or, obviously, the humans and their activities will be predated.

Well done to My Lord Melchett here, Oh very well done indeed My Lord.

No, not the Blackadder one, this is Peter Melchett of the Soil Association. He’s taken issue with something from yesterday and left this in the comments:

Peter Melchett
November 22, 2017 at 4:23 pm [Edit]
Tim Worstall says ‘to big up organic farming’ the Soil Association decided ‘to make up this stuff about a cocktail’ of pesticides. This week’s Conference at the Royal Society of Medicine heard presentations from scientists about recent (peer reviewed, published) scientific research. Papers cited include: Pettis, et al; 2013; PLOS ONE, 8 (7) 70182 ; and Traynor et al; Scientific Reports, 2016; 6: 33207 DOI: 10.1038/srep33207, which suggest that mixtures or ‘cocktails’ of pesticides present at well below the official regulatory level (the MRL) pose a risk, and that eating a succession of pesticides at well below the MRL can also pose previously unidentified risks (Ashauer et al; Environ. Sci. Technol., 2017, 51 (5), pp 3084–3092). No MRLs are set for mixtures or succession consumption, nor given the potential diversity of mixtures and successions, could they be. Given this, a scientist at the conference was asked what people should do, and he said the only way to minimise pesticide intake was to eat organic food.
Peter Melchett, Policy Director, Soil Association and organic farmer.

Hmm. Well, Pettis is here.

Recent declines in honey bee populations and increasing demand for insect-pollinated crops raise concerns about pollinator shortages. Pesticide exposure and pathogens may interact to have strong negative effects on managed honey bee colonies.

That’s not exactly about pesticide cocktails, is it? Rather more about the interaction between exposure and infestations with mites and the like.

Traynor is here.

This study measured part of the in-hive pesticide exposome by analyzing residues from live in-hive bees, stored pollen, and wax in migratory colonies over time and compared exposure to colony health.

Not really about cocktails either. Ashauer:

“The dose makes the poison”. This principle assumes that once a chemical is cleared out of the organism (toxicokinetic recovery), it no longer has any effect. However, it overlooks the other process of re-establishing homeostasis, toxicodynamic recovery, which can be fast or slow depending on the chemical. Therefore, when organisms are exposed to two toxicants in sequence, the toxicity can differ if their order is reversed.

Well, yes, if I’ve already fried my liver then booze will have a different effect than if I have the booze, recover, then fry. But then it’s not really cocktails, is it?

And let’s remind ourselves what the Soil Associations’s original claim was, the one I was commenting upon:

The number of chemicals on supermarket vegetables has increased by up to 17 fold in 40 years, data shows, as the organic food industry and scientists have warned that consumers are exposed to a “toxic cocktail” of pesticides.
Figures released for the first time by the Soil Association, which certifies organic food, show the number of toxic chemicals found in onions, leeks, wheat and potatoes has been steadily increasing since the 1960s.

Well, yes, two studies on bees and one on a crustacean, all about direct exposure to pesticides and none specifically about a cocktail of them nor the effects of, is used as proof that a declining level of pesticides, but more varieties of them, upon supermarket vegetables is a threat to human health.

Up to a point Lord Copper, up to a point.

Given this, a scientist at the conference was asked what people should do, and he said the only way to minimise pesticide intake was to eat organic food.

Well, yes, when considering the cocktail of natural and man-made pesticides in food eating only organic will reduce your pesticide exposure by perhaps 0.1%, maybe 0.01%.

So, hands up all who believe My Lord Melchett is attempting to advance science here and how many think he’s the head of a trade union for organic farmers trying to big up the practice?

Well, no Mr Simms, not really

And the story of killing the goose that lays the golden egg in order to extract its riches, and finding nothing, stands as a parable for how we over-exploit the environment everywhere from our seas, to our forests, farms, fossil fuel extraction and more.

A rather more modern use of that tale might be to warn against killing the capitalism and markets which have made us rich enough to be able to care about the environment.

This is one of these things which might actually work

One of France’s oldest breeds of heavy horses, the Poitevin, may be saved from extinction if breeders succeed in convincing local authorities to draft them into service to pull dustbin carts.

Dozens of French towns and villages have already ditched dustbin lorries in favour of horses and carts as a greener way to collect household waste.

Dunno about greener – there’s probably more methane from those guts than there is CO2 from a lorry.

However, the breweries that retained horses on their drays did find that they appeared to be more cost effective up out to 4 miles from the brewery. Plus they were great advertising. Add in some little value, whatever you might want to think of, of “saving” the breed and you might well be onto an economic winner there.

I don’t say that’s true, only that it’s entirely possible. The biggest barrier I see to it in fact is being able to pay the people with that rare skill these days of being able to manage a team in harness.

Not a good omen

Britain’s much-maligned £3 million ($3.95 million) surf reef has hit a new low after a section of it washed ashore during Storm Brian this weekend.
A massive geotextile bag used to create the defunct artificial structure has been found strewn across Southbourne beach in Bournemouth, Dorset.

Yes, I know, different technology and all that. But it doesn’t bode well all the same for those offshore wind farms, the various tidal ducks and all the rest. The ocean is a pretty unforgiving environment.

In fact, as far as I know at least, the only long term structures we’ve ever managed to keep out there are lighthouses and oil rigs……both using up rather a lot of maintenance.

This is interesting

Bad news is always more newsworthy than good. The widely reported finding that insect abundance is down by 75 per cent in Germany over 27 years was big news, while, for example, the finding in May that ocean acidification is a lesser threat to corals than had been thought caused barely a ripple. The study, published in the leading journal Nature, found that corals’ ability to make skeletons is “largely independent of changes in seawater carbonate chemistry, and hence ocean acidification”. But good news is no news.

And bad news is big news. The German insect study, in a pay-to-publish journal, may indeed be a cause for concern, but its findings should be treated with caution, my professional biologist friends tell me. It did not actually compare the same sites over time. Indeed most locations were only sampled once, and the scientists used mathematical models to extract a tentative trend from the inconsistent sampling.

First time I’ve heard that that paper is anything less than pure and perfect science.

Anyone got more?

This is fascinating from George Monbiot

One study in Britain suggests that, if we stopped using animal products, everyone in Britain could be fed on just 3m of our 18.5m hectares of current farmland (or on 7m hectares if all our farming were organic).

I’ve never seen it put quite so bluntly. Organic requires more than twice the land of industrial farming.

Oh, and if we’re not using animal products then where the hell do we get the shit for fertiliser from?