Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Zombies and sensitivities

Iain Climie (New Scientist, Letters, 3/10/16) is right to emphasize the need for population reductions in the resource-greedy developed countries. But why does he think that we have difficulty "accepting our own entry in the obituary column" when this is, as my Chemistry teacher remarked, the only scientific law to which there are no known exceptions?
I don't believe that lust for immortality is the reason that we can't think clearly about population. In fact I see two reasons.

One reason is the 'zombie doctrine' that bigger is always better so a large population must be better than a smaller one. This doctrine helps to explain the political obsession with GDP - when GDP per head would make better sense (though measures of well-being would be better still.)
The other is the sensitivity over appearing to tell people how many children to have. But this is a mistake - a failure to distinguish between a need for discussion and a desire to give orders. An odd failure I think since most of the policies advocated to limit population, eg easier access to birth control, actually increase human freedom.

Heathrow - Beyond belief!

Last year's airport decision and Caroline's intervention the House cause me to look for the first time at the report of the Airports Commission. The treatment of CO2 emissions is fascinating - and appalling.

The main point of the new runway is of course to increase the amount of flying and the Commission accept that this will increase CO2 emissions over the next 20 years. After that, it says, increasing fuel efficiency will reduce emissions so that by 2050 they will nearly, but not quite, be down to 2025 levels.

Now everyone (including the Committee on Climate Change and successive Labour, Coalition and Tory governments) says that UK emissions have to fall dramatically over the next 40 years so here is what the Commission's Sustainability Report says (para 16.8):
"... it is important to remember that an expanded Heathrow under a Heathrow Airport Northwest Runway scheme would still be producing .... a majority, of total UK carbon from aviation: in 2050 the carbon emissions from departing flights at Heathrow would represent 54.6% of the UK total."
So that's official. All other activities must reduce their emissions more so that we can fly more.

The real causes of wildlife losses

Martin Hughes-Games (Why Planet Earth II should have been taxed, Guardian, 2/1/17) does well to deplore the appalling loss of wildlife in the last 40 years. See, for example, my posts on apes and wilderness.

But it is ridiculous to blame Attenborough's wonderful documentaries for this and little better to demand a special tax on wildlife programmes. The losses of habitats, creatures and species are due to forces much more powerful than TV programmes. They are due to the increasing numbers of people - us - and our ever increasing demands for land, energy and food, especially meat.

Innate factors account for some of this but much is due outdated nationalism and short-sighted commercialism. Nationalist politicians - themselves a growing breed! - see a large population as a mark of national vigour and a source of economic growth. They use the power of the state and the media to play on our emotions and if that fails they try to ban abortion and contraception.

Businesses seek their own growth by persuading us to be dissatisfied with our lives and, especially, our possessions and diets. They send us to the sales and our spending feeds the juggernaut that each year grabs more and more of the Earth's resources.
This is unsustainable. It will end.
The question is whether we can restrain the forces that demand insatiable growth before they trash the planet - and us with it. Unless we do, and soon, we can say goodbye to the beautiful wild things that Attenborough has documented.
And that requires politicians willing to say stop.