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Environmentalism

Barking, Surely?

Heather Mills McCartney has urged people to drink milk from rats and dogs to help save the planet.

At Speakers Corner in Hyde Park, central London, she said: "There are many other kinds of milk available. Why don\’t we try drinking rats\’ milk and dogs\’ milk?"

Errm, how about this one? We\’ve bred, over the past few thousands of years, certain animals to be efficient at milk production. Cows, goats, sheep, camels….not only have we bred for volume of milk production but also for length of lactation: the production of milk carries on far past the weaning of the infants.

Another thing: how many rats would you need to provide the same volume of milk that a cow does? Err, if I\’m reading this right it\’s 8 grammes per day (1 gramme per pup with an 8 pup litter). Again, if I\’m reading this right then a cow produces 7,000 kg of milk in a year (I\’m sure that milk production figures vary wildly but that\’s the first figure I found). That\’s near enough 20 kg per day (actually slightly higher for the period of lactation but still….).

So, to produce the same volume of milk we either need one cow (plus associated calf) of we need 2,500 rats plus their associated litters.

Errm, average weight of cow, 1,400 lbs.

Weight of female rat, 200 grammes. Or fo 2,500, 500 kg, or 1,100 lbs.

Hmm. Now that does surprise me, that the total weight of rats is lower than that of a cow for the same volume of milk production. And no, I\’m not going to try and compare the feed requirements.

Still got that little problem of how to milk 2,500 of them twice a day though, eh?

Bansturbation at the Supermarket!

Manager at register 3 please! We have a one eyed Scot bansturbating in public!

The plastic bag should disappear from the high street, Gordon Brown has indicated.

The Prime Minister announced that he would like to "eliminate" single-use plastic bags from Britain as well as the flimsy paper equivalent.

Disgusting when people do such ugly things in public, ain\’t it?

Mr Brown\’s proposal goes against the advice of the Waste and Resources Action Programme, the Government\’s own advisers, which warned that a bag tax in Ireland led to the use of more plastic.

So it\’s not actually effective either? Oh, well done there, well done!

 

Pay As You Throw

We\’re given some costs on this new pay as you throw scheme for domestic waste:

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that start-up costs for pay-as-you-throw schemes will be up £200,000 per council, with annual running costs between £200,000 and £500,000. If the schemes were rolled out across Britain, Defra says they could cost up to £60 million a year on average but with potential savings of up to £200?million from low waste costs.

As ever, there is no estimate for the greatest cost in the scheme. The cost of the households in actually sorting their waste. A few months back I phoned Defra and asked them what in fact was their estimate for the time it would take to sort materials so as to comply with the recycling schemes.

They said they didn\’t have one. Which is odd, because an American study (done in Seattle) showed that for purely domestic non-food waste it took 15 minutes per household per week. Include garden and food waste and it rose to 45 minutes or so. 24 million households and an average wage for the country of £9 an hour and you get costs from the time spent preparing for such a recycling system at £2,8 billion to £8.4 billion.

Now I agree that pay as you throw is only part of it, it isn\’t the whole sorting and recycling thing itself, but then again it is indeed part of the whole same movement. What the supporters of changes in the way that rubbish is dealt with is need to is show that the benefits of the new system are greater than the costs: and none of them are even including that £3 to £8 billion number in their calculations. Presumably because they know that if they do they cannot show a benefit over such a large cost.The entire monstrosity of a plan is simply going to make us all poorer by billions of pounds.

That\’s why no one is willing to provide accurate figures as to the costs and or the benefits.

 

Recycling

It is a hugely subjective matter, for instance, at which point the lines representing “not wasting the Earth’s resources” and “not wasting everyone else’s time” finally intersect.

Around the time that recycling wsa based on the near religious idea that all resources are worth saving except your time.

The Low Carbon Kid Part II

This actually rather worries me. This bloke actually works as a news editor for Defra: thus he\’s influencing how the Beast of Government actually views these things:

Renewable energy will, by contrast and by definition, last forever. Oh yes, and it\’s free.

You what? Free energy? What is he drivelling about?

 

An Environmental Dictatorship

That does appear to be what is being suggested:

In a nutshell, the point is that to commit at the top level to sustainable development, you need to put on what the Low Carbon Kid (ie me) calls sustainable development spectacles, so everything you see and do is filtered through this way of seeing, which is, of necessity, holistic and all encompassing.

Every single act of government must filter through this lens to avoid inadvertently countering the overall aim.

Ministers cannot do this without special training. Civil servants, who have been in post for years, or who have Oxbridge legal backgrounds, cannot be expected to do it either.

Just hand over the power to me and people who think like me and everything will be OK!

Stunning credentials, don\’t you think?

David Thorpe is a freelance environmental journalist and a news editor for Defra\’s Energy, Resource, Sustainable and Environmental Management magazine.

He runs a blog, The Low Carbon Kid, and won a national competiton as a children\’s author with his novel Hybrids, published last May by HarperCollins.

 

As an example of his thinking:

Basically economic growth and sustainability are incompatible.

Now that will be a shock to the massed ranks of economists around the globe. That there are certain forms of economic activity which are not sustainable is not a shock: but that economic growth and sustainability are incompatible will be. Doesn\’t he know that technology is one of the drivers of growth?

 

Farmers\’ Markets

I am a nasty, nasty man, for I admit that I find these sorts of stories terribly, terribly amusing:

Farmers markets have become so popular – there are estimated to be about 550 across the UK – that there are concerns they are becoming victims of their own success. The argument is that if they get too big they lose what many feel they are all about: an opportunity for small-scale producers to sell goods produced nearby.

Just as the supporters of Farmers\’ Markets insisted, there is indeed a taste for good quality, locally produced food. Excellent, they worked that out and have built a system which provides exactly that. Might not be my cup of tea but so what, if it increases the consumer surplus of others then a damn good thing say I.

But that taste seems to be quite large, so much so that it looks as if it might turn into a real, large, industry. Horrors!

But then, how do they think the supermarkets, against which they see themselves rebelling, got so large in the first place. By, err, supplying what people wanted to buy, wasn\’t it?

Lester Brown Says Something Sensible!

I know, something of a shock, but:

Lester Brown, president of the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute thinktank, said: "The competition for grain between the world\’s 800 million motorists, who want to maintain their mobility, and its 2 billion poorest people, who are simply trying to survive, is emerging as an epic issue."

Last year, he said, US farmers distorted the world market for cereals by growing 14m tonnes, or 20% of the whole maize crop, for ethanol for vehicles. This took millions of hectares of land out of food production and nearly doubled the price of maize. Mr Bush this year called for steep rises in ethanol production as part of plans to reduce petrol demand by 20% by 2017.

The corn to ethanol program really is insane. Unfortunately, the rest of the article is rubbish:

Empty shelves in Caracas. Food riots in West Bengal and Mexico. Warnings of hunger in Jamaica, Nepal, the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa. Soaring prices for basic foods are beginning to lead to political instability, with governments being forced to step in to artificially control the cost of bread, maize, rice and dairy products.

In Caracas at least, we know what th problem is.  There are shortages because the government has stepped in to artifically control the price….if you price something below cost then it will not be available.

Experts describe various scenarios for the precarious food supply balance in coming years. An optimistic version would see markets automatically readjust to shortages, as higher prices make it more profitable once again to grow crops for people rather than cars.

Unfortunately, we can only expect them to do that, markets to work, if people don\’t try to control the prices. Oh, and get rid of the absurd imposition of requirements for biofuels. This isn\’t, in fact, a crisis caused by markets. It\’s one caused by idiot politicians. Hang them and the markets will indeed sort it out.

 

50 Things to Save the Planet

Just a couple of them:

Tony Juniper says we should scrap environmentally destructive “free” trade agreements in favour of ‘a new sustainable trade agreement’.

Given that the case for free trade, when you take the nation state out of it, simply collapses to the case for market exchange, d\’ye think our Tony is hankering after something a little less than sensible?

Population growth – it’s environmentalists’ elephant in the room. But we ignore it at our peril, says Nick Reeves. ‘Global population is now six billion and is projected to be 11 billion by 2050. Scratch the surface of any environmental problem and it reveals population growth, and the way we live our lives, as the root cause. The need for a population policy has never been more urgent. While governments continue to see big populations as an indicator of economic strength, with a place at the top table of the UN guaranteed, the population problem will escalate and lead to environmental catastrophe.’

Err, that 11 billion and rising comes from projections of a world where we reduce trade, reduce globalisation. The peak at 9 billion then falling comes from a world in which we increase trade, increase wealth, increase globalisation. Nick and Tony appear to be arguing at cross purposes here, don\’t they?

And how about this for a novel idea from David Boyle – local, city and regional currencies. ‘They mean we use resources more efficiently,’ he says – something people have already started doing in Totnes.

Beg pardon? How does that work? If the currencies are exchangable, then it makes no difference (only the minor incovenience of the exchange itself) and if they\’re not exchangable then we\’ve just insisted that each locality is self-supporting: see above about trade and population.

Not, I think, the most convincing of proposals.

That Organic Food Thing

Something that\’s occured to me over this report on organic foods. As Peter Melchett tells us:

In addition, we now know that many chemicals that a plant produces to help it fight off insects and diseases are the same chemicals that nutritionists reckon are essential for good human health. Spraying a non-organic crop with chemicals to protect it from insects and disease means the plant doesn\’t need to activate its own self-defence mechanisms, and the chemicals which would naturally be present in the plant, and from which human health actually benefits, are not there.

Right, OK, that\’s what leads to the increase in flavinoids which we\’re all now told make us healthier. But as is said, these flavinoids are in fact the plants producing their own pesticides.

So the argument in favour of organic is now that it contains more pesticides than conventionally farmed produce?

Organic Food Better For You!

I have to say that I\’m still on the fence over this report that organic vegetables are better for you. Yes, if the facts change I will change my mind but until I can actually read the report itself (I\’ve not found it online as yet) then I\’ll continue to fence sit. However, that won\’t stop me from insisting that Peter Melchett is talking the most arrogant nonsense.

But it\’s not that surprising if you know that in the period since the second world war there has been a massive decline in the nutrients in the food we eat. The decline has been so serious that you would have to have eaten 10 tomatoes in 1991 to get the same level of copper as you would have got from one tomato in 1940. Between 1940 and 1991, apples lost 66% of their iron, broccoli lost 75% of its calcium, and in news that would dismay Popeye, even spinach lost 60% of its iron.

Right, and we know that such micro-nutrients in the soil are a scarce resource. We\’re told so often enough, after all. So what you\’re saying is that modern farming methods are vastly more efficient at turning these scarce resources into food than older farming methods? Good, tehnology advances then.

In the case of wildlife, we know from a number of major scientific reviews that organic farms in general have about 50% more wildlife and 30% more species.

Right, so organic farms are more inefficient then? As a farm is a place to grow food for human consumption, having more species (ie those we don\’t eat) and more wildlife (ie, what we don\’t eat) is direct evidence that the land is being used inefficiently for the production of food for human consumption.

Government research shows that organic farms employ about 30% more people than non-organic farms.

Jesu C. This is a cost of organic farming, not a benefit. "Creating jobs" and employing more people to do something than is necessary means that we become poorer! We loose whatever else it is that those people would have produced if they weren\’t weeding the peas by hand!

In addition, we now know that many chemicals that a plant produces to help it fight off insects and diseases are the same chemicals that nutritionists reckon are essential for good human health. Spraying a non-organic crop with chemicals to protect it from insects and disease means the plant doesn\’t need to activate its own self-defence mechanisms, and the chemicals which would naturally be present in the plant, and from which human health actually benefits, are not there.

Now this is the bit about organic farming that I\’m prepared to believe. That flavinoids are indeed the plant\’s natural chemical defenders, that (some of them at least) have been found to be beneficial to human health and that the non-use of pesticides means that the organic plants produce more of them. The one thing I do want to know about though, from this recently announced research, is whether the same varieties were actually planted in the organic and conventional fields. Anyone know the answer to that?

It is not surprising that food grown more slowly, with less stress to produce the maximum yield, in more natural conditions, is likely to have higher levels of beneficial minerals and nutrients.

Umm, Peter laddie? You\’ve just claimed above that the presence of these beneficial nutrients is in fact because of the increased stress upon the growing plants! The immune systems are turned on because they\’re not protected by pesticides! One or t\’other please, but not both!

It really should be a simple matter for the non-organic food producers to acknowledge that their cheaper food inevitably delivers fewer benefits, both to the environment and to human beings. That wouldn\’t be unusual for cheaper products.

As, by bringing price into it we have something of a further problem. Say that the increase in nutrients is 20%. Say that the price is 30% higher ^(just examples). That means that the cheaper food is actually better: for we get more nutrients in total for our buck. Your statement is equivalent to stating that a Ford Fiesta is worse than a Bentley, something which is true, but when we add in the price constraint, Fiestas are in fact better for the vast majority of people than Bentleys are.

As Professor Leifert says, the differences between organic and non-organic fruit and vegetables are so marked that organic produce would help increase the nutrient intake of people not eating the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Nope, we\’re still on that pesky price thing. Got to, got to, remember that. What we\’reinterested in is not the nutrient content of a tomato, but the nutrient\’s we can buy for a £. That\’s the bit you still haven\’t quite shown to be better, that we get more nutirients for our scarce resource.

Yet More Bloody Recycling!

Still, no one is actually asking the correct question:

The Government has been slammed by MPs for failing to respond quickly enough to an EU directive which set tough targets on the amount of waste that can be sent to landfill.

If it misses its targets the UK, which sent 18m tonnes of waste to landfill in 2003-2004, will have to pay fines to the European Commission which could total £180m per year.

The correct one being, not how are we going to reach these targets, but why are we trying to reach these targets? Why did we ever sign up to such and EU stricture?

Biodegradable municipal waste, such as food, vegetation and paper disposed of in landfill does not decompose naturally because of the lack of oxygen and instead generates methane, a greenhouse gas about 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. The methane produced by landfill accounts for roughly 3 per cent of the United Kingdom\’s total production of climate changing gases.

And under the 2004 Landfill Act all new landfills (whether we recycle future waste or not will have no effect on what is already in the ground, of course) collect this gas and convert it to CO2. Quite how much of it is collected is an issue: I\’ve seen 85% (from an installer of such systems) and 75% (a recent comment here from a supporter of recycling) but is is something which we\’ve already addressed in another way.

And we also do not have accurate figures in the emissions of the various recycling processes. Wormeries, for example, are said to emit NO2, a greenhouse gas nearly 300 times more powerful than CO2. So much of it in fact, that the NO2 and CH4 emissions of wormeries and landfill respectively have the same CO2-e effect. But we collect and convert (some of) the CH4 and do not (and cannot) collect the NO2. So wormeries are worse for climate change than landfill.

So why are we trying to have more wormeries and fewer landfills?

Has the entire debate been taken over by ill-informed morons?*

 

* It\’s being run by bureaucrats and politicians, so of course, the answer is yes.

Melanie Reid on Population

Gaaah! More nonsense on population!

Surely it wouldn’t take too much effort to design some kind of similar global incentive scheme for the world’s most populous nations – with all the proper safeguards, of course, and done with willing participation? I rather warm to the idea of Global NonBaby Awards (GNBA), paid annually if you have remained pregnancy-free, and available to women of every race, religion and skin colour in the world.

Once Western governments realised their survival was at stake and they couldn’t afford not to fund the GNBA they would find the money (who knows, it might even stop them fighting pointless wars). A special GNBA global population task force could administer it, with free contraception to back it up. Payments would be made to both individual women and to governments, which would have the felicitous effect of controlling population, giving women choice, and lifting them out of poverty.

Look, contraception is not the answer to the rise in population. It is indeed the mechanism by which women can exercise their choices, yes, but first you need to change the choice before anyone is going to make use of it. That is, you need to change desired fertility before you change actual fertility. And the research shows that 90% of changes in fertility come from changes in desired, only 10% from access to contraception.

Further, we also know what changes desired fertility: wealth. Wealth in its true meaning of course, longer life spans, lower child mortality. These in turn lead to women being regarded as more than simple breeding machines (one more that\’s very important here, lowering maternal mortality, the risks of child birth) and thus opening up education, literacy to them. These in turn, raise the opportunity cost of having many children: while the changes in death rates lower the opportunity cost of having few children.

Which leads us to the question of how do we create wealth? That, actually, we do know. It\’s the division of labour, the specialisation, brought about by material exchange. When this happens across national borders we call this trade.

The answer, at root, to the "problem" of overpopulation is increased globalisation. For when the poor are rich as we are, then their fertility levels will be as ours, below replacement rate.

Insane Environmentalist of the Day

Err, please, can someone tell me what this nutter is on about?

Whether it turns out to be He-3, solar energy, or some as yet unknown technology that draws humanity back to the moon, there\’s an irony here. In 1968, Apollo 8 brought back the first shimmering image of an "Earthrise" as seen from the moon. Four years later, Apollo 17 came home with the famous whole Earth picture. These new views of our fragile, heartbreakingly isolated planet are often credited with having helped to kickstart the environmental movement – even with having changed the way we see ourselves as a species.

At present, nations are forbidden under international treaty from making territorial claims to the moon, but the same has hitherto been true of Antarctica, of which the UK government is trying to claim a chunk. Earth\’s sister has played a role in teaching us to value our environment: how extraordinary to think that the next giant leap for the environmental movement might be a campaign to stop state-sponsored mining companies chomping her up in glorious privacy, a quarter of a million miles from our ravaged home.

Mining up there for our energy will reduce the damage we do here mining for our energy. No?

Or is he worried we\’ll deplete the soup mines and wipe out the Clangers?

Another Environmental Report

Grrr.

The speed at which mankind has used the Earth’s resources over the past 20 years has put “humanity’s very survival” at risk, a study involving 1,400 scientists has concluded.

No, that isn\’t what is beiong said. Rather, that the use of environmental services is greater than capacity. We are not talking about "resources" such as fuels, ores, metals. We are talking about the ability of the environment to supply us with services….like clean water, like recycle CO2.

It\’s a very important distinction and one that I\’m suprised The Times does not make.

Eco-Wibble

Gaaah! When this sort of wibble turns up in The Telegraph then we know we\’re doomed:

So, where do we go from here? In the end, surely it is the job of the government and supermarkets, not the Soil Association, to work out what an acceptable level of food packaging is.

No it isn\’t you mad bint. It\’s your job to work out what an acceptable level of packaging is on the things that you buy! What is acceptable to you. Get that? You\’re the consumer, you make the choice!

The same applies to the "eco-footprint" of what we eat, and ensuring that farmers (in all countries) get a fair deal. That\’s not something that I, as a consumer, can easily influence when standing in front of the shelves.

Of course it bloody is something you can influence. Look, does this have to be described in Janet and John terms for you? Everyone in this game except you is trying to make money out of it. You are spending your money in order to maximise your utility. All those other people make money by pandering to whatever you think will maximise your utility. If you want less packaging? They\’ll provide it. You want local? They\’ll get it for you. You want organic? Ditto.

Look, why in fuck do you think that the shelves are groaning under the weight of organic products? Because you and millions like you buy them….the farmers, the supermarkets, make money out of providing what you\’re willing to flash the cash on. You are the only person they\’re trying to influence, it\’s your money they\’re tring to get ahold of and thus, you are the person in this whole system who actually has the influence.

I\’ll agree though that supermarkets do still sell products that don\’t meet your standards….that\’s because there\’s an awful lot of people who don\’t share your standards. Most of your fellow Britons could not give two hoots for your wibbles about food miles, eco-footprints and excess packaging. What you\’re actually saying here is that everyone should do as you say, not as they would wish. And that, my dear, is as useful a definition of food fascism as we\’re going to get.

Could you please bugger off to the Indy or the Groan, where you belong?

 

 

Choice Editing

Ooooh, lovely, here\’s the latest idea from the man who brought us food miles. "Choice Editing".

But the professor who, almost two decades ago, first coined the term "food miles" says that it is folly to present the notion that consumers hold all the cards, and instead argues for much more "choice-editing" by the major retailers. Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London and a prominent figure in Britain\’s food industry, questions why the consumer should be the one left in the supermarket aisle to agonise over complex issues such as animal welfare, carbon footprints, workers\’ rights and excessive packaging, often without any meaningful data on the label to inform their decision-making. Instead, he wants the retailers to take more responsibility by making most of these decisions on our behalf before the produce even reaches the shelves. Ideally, our only choice would be between "good" products, as opposed to worrying that we might be making a "bad" choice.

Translation: you\’re all too stupid to make the choices that I think you should so therefore you shouldn\’t be allowed to make the choice.

But if choice-editing is to be adopted, can we trust the editors? This is the shadow that looms over the whole concept. Lang says that this is where our elected representatives must be much bolder. "Yes, there has to be far more involvement and regulation by those in power."

And of course we can\’t trust business either, so politicians must make the choices for you. This is fascism, pure and simple: you will be allowed to have only what we, the powerful, think you should have.

Tell me, do they actually make a rotisserie large enough to stick a professor of food policy into? Fo the public\’s amusement, to be basted live outside Tesco\’s?

Protectionism, Protectionism!

Oh, how lovely. The Soil Association once again acts as the trade union for British organic farmers. It does so by insisting that farmers in other countries face higher costs:

Food air-freighted to Britain from developing countries will only bear an organic label in future if it can be shown that it was produced to fair trade standards as well as high environmental standards, the Soil Association said yesterday.

The new ethical standards, which are similar to those that apply to Fairtrade products, will demand that organic food producers in developing countries contribute substantially to the social needs of communities and workers, and guarantee wages and good working conditions.

There\’s nothing wrong with having fair trade standards, just as there\’s nothing wrong with having organic ones. If they make the consumer happier, well, that\’s the point of the whole economy anyway, to increase the happiness of the consumer.

But combining the two is not OK, it\’s protectionism in favour of the British farmer and against the foreign. Oh how liberal they are, making sure that the poor cannot compete with the rich!

For, of course, one of the competetive advantages that such poor places have is that labour is cheaper: and when you\’re growing organic vegetables, for example, labour can be one of your major costs on inputs. So, insist that the farmers pay higher prices for that labour than the local market insists upon and thus reduce their ability to compete. And all in the name of helping the poor eh, by driving the employers bankrupt. Clever scheme, eh? My how they must be hugging themselves with glee over at the Soil Association! A wealthy peer, owner outright of hundreds of acres of prime British farmland,  worth millions, gets protected from some runty peasant trying to scrape a living. And he\’ll be praised for it!