Monday, 21 May 2007

Pollinators under threat and Jenga theory of biodiversity.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Bulletin, Highlights for 2006 includes a review of endangered species that are important as pollinators. The materialist justification for conserving wildlife -- for reasons such as production of medicines from rainforest plants -- is used commonly enough, but it is relatively unusual to see an article focusing on pollinators. And yet without pollinators hundreds of plant species might be endangered, including crops.

What is often not fully appreciated by the general public, is that many plants are reliant on only a very few species of insects, birds or mammals as pollinators; in some cases only a single species.

This brings me back to the Jenga theory of biodiversity conservation. Once you start removing the pieces from the Jenga tower of biodiversity, you can carry on removing individual pieces for quite a long time. And we have been doing so. But there comes a point where removing one more piece, even from somewhere near the top, can cause total collapse. And we don't know how near we are to that point. But I have little doubt, knowing how many of the pieces are missing, or rather now so rare as to be effectively missing, that collapse is a real prospect. In fact to take the analogy a step further, for every hundred or so pieces of biodiversity we remove from the Jenga tower, we are replacing them with a single piece made of lead, representing a load of extra humans, or cows. Or chickens. Or pigs. Or fields of oilseed rape etc etc etc. Thus making the Jenga tower incredibly unstable. The end result is unequivocally predictable.

And the human population, and its demand for increased animal production, is barely mentioned; and many of the aid agencies trying to wipe out poverty in the tropics don't even have policies on birth control.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

The Rape of East Anglia

The weekend before last was one of glorious sunshine, with evenings almost as warm as June. But I and thousands of others could not really totally enjoy it without resorting to drugs.

This is because East Anglia (and many other parts of the UK for all I know) is awash with oilseed rape. And this gives me severe respiratory problesms, as I am a chronic hayfever sufferer. So I have to take expensive, prescription drugs. So what is the real cost of this subsidised crop?

The Government is encouraging and subsidising farmers to grow huge quantities, in order to promote 'renewable' sources of energy -- biodiesel. But what are the true energy costs of growing and processing oilseed rape? The huge quantities of pesticides, and herbicides associated with growing the vast monocultures that now sweep across the landscape. The loss of biodiversity, already reduced to less than that of a supermerket car park; both are relatively easy to measure. And should be.

But what are the health costs? And is it right that I, and thousands of others, should have to resort to taking drugs, in order to be able to carry out a normal day's work, so that agri-business can ruin even more of the countryside?

It is claimed that rape does not actually cause hayfever, but only affects those with multiple sensitivity. Like me. But whereas normally I suffer from hayfever in a relatively mild form, come the season of the rape flowering, I am suffering from breathing difficulties and streaming eyes, and have to dose myself with steroids in order to work.

I have seen papers demonstrating that biofuels, such as biodiesel from rape, are energy efficient -- but these never take into account the fact that in order to grow them, land has to be taken out of food production, and that the food then has to be produced in other parts of the world and imported, with all the associated energy costs.

Any other thoughts?

Bio-ethanol, and mass starvation

The US, at long last has finally decided that it has to produce renewable energy. And it has also realised that the huge grain surplus it produces is a good source of bio-ethanol. President Bush in his State of the Union address set a production goal for 2017 of 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels. That will need one hell of a lot of grain -- and it has been pointed out that the impact of this one the world's poorest countries will be devastating. This is because the world's food aid programmes generally have fixed budgets, consequently if the US grain surplus dwindles, the market price of what's left will go through the roof, and the funds available to supple the grain to the world's poorest countries will not be sufficient.

And the knock-on does not stop there. If the US finds a ready market for its grain surpluses, and the UK starts growing more and more rapeseed, this will mean that the developed world will import more cheap food from developing countries. Overall this will undoubtedly push world food prices up. The increase will have very little impact on the wealthy nations of the world, where the cost of food is a negligible proportion of the day to day living costs. But in the poorest countries it will be devastating -- forcing millions into starvation.

And this is all without even considering the ecological consequences, of converting more marginal lands in the tropics for intensive agriculture, its use of pesticides, water for irrigations, etc etc etc.
As ever, politicians and economists look at short-term fixes, with little regard for long-term solutions.