Friday, 30 September 2016

Relatives face extinction

There are seven species of great ape and four of these are close to extinction. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classes the Eastern Gorilla, Western Gorilla, Bornean Orangutan and Sumatran Orangutan as Critically Endangered. That's one step short of extinct in the wild.

Another two - the Chimpanzee and Bonobo - are merely Endangered. 

The seventh great ape - Homo Sapiens - is increasingly numerous though whether our current numbers can be sustained is another matter.

The IUCN estimates the total number of chimps as 170,000 to 300,000 so there are more people in Enfield than there are chimps in the whole world. It estimates the number of bonobos at 30,000 to 50,000 so there are probably more children in Enfield than there are bonobos in the world.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Goodbye Jumbo?

Forest elephants could be nearly extinct in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) - the country that once held the largest population of this subspecies. A major study published in 2013 found that:
  • Between 2002 and 2011 the number of forest elephants in the DRC fell by 62% and the area occupied by the elephants shrank by about 30%.
  • Forest elephants have "likely declined to extremely low density over 75% of their potential
  • About 95% of DRC’s forests are likely to be almost empty of elephants."
  • [This] indicates a decline of more than 80% in less than 25 years which more than meets the Red Book criteria for listing a species as Critically Endangered.
  • Large losses also occurred in Gabon - the country where the majority of forest elephants now live.
These declines are due, above all, to poaching - itself encouraged by the absence of law
enforcement and poor governance (including corruption). But the increasing human population and physical infrastructure, such as roads, are also significant.

A simple extrapolation would have made the species extinct in the DRC by 2015! Of course, that didn't happen  - or not yet - though poachers have continued to kill elephants.

The most effective remedial action is to end the trade in poached ivory. But a more recent study has shown that even if poaching stopped tomorrow, the forest elephants would not recover their numbers for many decades. Indeed, given the other factors it's highly unlikely that they ever will.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Dissappearing ice and gulls

The Arctic ice has now passed its annual minimum and scientists expect ice cover to increase as winter arrives. The minimum was 1.60 million square miles and ties with 2007 as the second lowest extent on record.

Last week Arctic scientist Peter Wadhams told New Scientist "... the trend is so strongly downwards that in one, two or three more years, I expect ... that there will be less than a million square kilometres of sea ice remaining in September ... in one, two or three more years." Of course, one million is just a number - further shrinkage is inevitable.

The effects are already apparent. The same issue of New Scientist reported the rapid decline in populations of Ivory Gulls off Greenland and Svalbard. According to Kyle Elliott at McGill University in Montreal. “... if the ice disappears – they’re not going to be able to survive.”

Wilderness lost

Australian researchers have found that about one tenth of the world's wilderness has been lost in the last twenty years. The lost area is over 3 million square kilometers and the losses have been greatest in South America (30%) and Africa (14%).

This is, unhappily, not a surprise. It's one of a series of recent studies that shows the increasing human dominance of the planet. Indeed, it's one of the less pessimistic. Taking the crude numbers it implies that some wilderness will last 200 years.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The need for evidence

Sense About Science is conducting a campaign in favour of evidence-based policy making. They asked members of the public to say why evidence is important to them. Here's what I wrote:
Elected politicians are expected to claim total knowledge when seeking election. Any such claim falls somewhere between optimism and dishonesty but after a time politicians come to believe their own words. Attention to evidence is needed as a corrective to this 'optimism'.

But it's also essential if we want policies to work - ie achieve their stated goals. There are almost always conflicting opinions about the likely effects of a policy but an opinion is what you have when you lack knowledge. So to have the best chance of working policies need to be based on the best possible understanding of the situation. That requires evidence and sometimes trials of several policies to see what works.

This is demanding. it requires what Russell called humility in the face of the universe. To attend to the facts and not to ones own prejudices. It also requires a kind of political courage. To be willing to say to the public and the press "Actually, we don't know what would work best - but we are determined to find out!"

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

How Green is Meridian Water? Travel

Meridian Water is Enfield's flagship development.

Here's my view on the green credentials of its travel provision - based on the published Masterplan.

In a previous post I asked for:

  1. Green space within walking distance.
  2. Good walking and cycling routes to shops, entertainment, etc.
  3. Accessible routes for people with nobility problems. - ??
  4. Good public transport connections.
There are green spaces on three sides of Meridian Water and it looks easy to walk to them. The site offers good opportunities for recreational walking and cycling - notably up the Lea Valley and into the Lea Valley Park.

If you want to cycle to actually get somewhere it's on National Cycle Network route 1 which runs north-south through the Valley and not far from the north end of Cycle Superhighway 1 which gives access to the City. There's a greenway to Edmonton Green and, though less clearly, there will be cycle lanes along the North Circular in both directions.

The public transport picture looks good. We're told that "most of the site is presently within a 5-10 minute walk of a bus stop" and the new Angel Road station will be close. (And there will be buses for those who need them). There will be four trains per hour (each way I assume) from Angel Road travelling to Stratford,Cambridge and Liverpool Street and connecting with the West Anglia Main Line and the Victoria Line. We must hope that the additional station capacity and services will be enough to make train travel a pleasant experience.

Drivers will get the doubtful privilege of joining traffic jams on the North Circular and Meridian Way - though they will be able to escape onto the M25 if they choose their times well.

Overall I think the travel facilities will be excellent.

How Green is Meridian Water? Housing

Meridian Water is Enfield's flagship development. It's supposed to deliver 10,000 homes and 16,000 jobs. And, being on brownfield land, it leaves the Green Belt untouched.

I've studied the Masterplan, approved in July 2013, and I'll apply the criteria in my last post.

Of course, I can only comment on the document. As with many other schemes what we get eventually may be very different. And here the experience of the Council's approach to providing a 'community hub' at the Ritz Parade is fairly discouraging.

And because is a complex scheme I'm going to make this several posts, starting with the central issue - housing.

The Masterplan refers to "5,000 new homes" though more recent Council statements have claimed 10,000. I attended an exhibition on the scheme last year but came away more confused about the numbers.

You can get some idea of the intended residents by looking at the list of travel connections: Heathrow, Stansted and City airports and Cambridge, Stratford and Canary Wharf. It's clear that the focus is on jet-setting bankers and entrepreneurs.

We need more homes, especially for those who can't afford decent homes. Developments are supposed to provide 40% 'affordable' homes but this is a distraction because developers generally find ways to avoid providing so many and more because most so-called affordable homes are not affordable by people on average pay.

In my view this problem is insoluble if numbers continue to rise. It is certainly not soluble without some serious creativity about the interplay between population, housing, finance and benefits. And that probably needs a new national policy - or several!

So, while we work on the broader issue, we can ask for 50% affordable homes. It won't solve the problem but at least those 50% won't be luxury flats for offshore investors!

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Consilience: A Philosophy for Green Politics

It surprises me that I've only now read Edward O Wilson's book Consilience. The unity of knowledge. It was, after all, published in 1998!

In Consilience Wilson takes an uncompromising position on the superiority of the scientific method to other ways of establishing knowledge. This is a strong claim but one that I entirely accept. Science, unlike appeals to authority, personal revelation or popular opinion gives us knowledge that we can safely rely one. Or at least it does so more often then  the others!

Wilson then argues that the areas of study not usually seen as part of science - from literature and the arts to ethics - should both adopt similar methods and seek consistency - which he calls consilience - with the findings of physical science. There's is much to be said for this. Anyone who has read what passes for scholarship in, say, cultural studies, will recognise the need for a strong dose of scientific scepticism. And if I cannot, in the end, agree with all his claims, especially about ethics, I do think he's much more right than wrong.

He also makes a claim for the relevance of science to politics (page 313 et seq of the Abacus paperback). His distinctive position here is to insist that politics - the use of power in society - should be understood within a scientific account of what is possible given the resources we have. This leads him to a fairly conventional account of the planetary crisis. 

But the framing of politics as subordinate to the environment is profoundly correct and important. It requires, at once, a longer, wider and deeper view than is available from mainstream politics. It requires, in short, a Green, ecological approach to politics.