Azara Blog: May 2012 archive complete

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Date published: 2012/05/16

Latest end of the world report from the Zoological Society of London (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Environmentalists say leaders at June's Rio+20 summit must urgently step up nature protection, as a report confirms a 30% decline in wildlife since 1970.

The Living Planet Report combines data on more than 9,000 populations of animals across the world.

Rio+20 is billed as a chance for world leaders to put global society on a sustainable path.

But the report's main authors, WWF, say progress on nature protection and climate change is "glacial".

"The Rio+20 conference is an opportunity for the world to get serious about the need for development to be made sustainable," said David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK.

"We need to elevate the sense of urgency, and I think this is ultimately not only about our lives but the legacy we leave for future generations."

The Living Planet Report uses data on trends seen in various species across the world, compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Further analysis from the Global Footprint Network aims to calculate how sustainable our global society is in terms of its overall ecological footprint - a composite measure of issues such as fossil fuel burning, use of cropland to grow food, and consumption of wood and wild-caught fish.

For this edition of the report, ZSL has examined more species (2,600) and more populations of those species (9,014) than ever before.

Overall, these populations show a decline of about 30% since 1970 - the same figure as in the last edition, published two years ago.

Tropical species show a decline of more than 60%, while in temperate regions there has been an average recovery of about 30%.

The worst affected species are those in tropical lakes rivers, whose numbers have fallen by 70% since 1970.

The director of the ZSL's Institute of Zoology, Professor Tim Blackburn, likened the figures to a stock market of the natural world.

"There would be panic of the FTSE index showed a decline like this," he said.

"Nature is more important than money. Humanity can live without money, but we can't live without nature and the essential services it provides."

It is unfortunate that an NGO like the WWF is allowed to be an author on such a report, since they have an agenda to advance and so their impartiality is suspect.

The BBC points out that temperate regions have actually had an increase in the "health" of their ecosystems and it is tropical regions where there is a problem. This is because most of the rich countries are in temperate regions, and rich countries have successfully exported much of their pollution, their emissions and other ecological problems to poor countries. This is because NGOs like WWF and the Sierra Club have successfully protected ecosystems in rich countries, and so have endangered ecosystems in poor countries (the production of goods has to go somewhere). Unfortunately ecosystems in the tropics (much of which is inhabited by poor countries) are much more valuable than ecosystems in the temperate regions.

The comment by Blackburn that "humanity can live without money" is bizarre. It would be interesting to see if he could live without money (so no wealth and no income, and given that he is a professor he earns quite a lot). Or perhaps he just wants all of humanity to go back to living in caves.

Cycling lobbies become hysterical over cycling survey (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Survey results that showed 57 per cent of cyclists admitted to jumping red lights have been criticised by campaigners.

The survey of 1,600 people by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) also found 73 per cent of cyclists rode on the pavement, but the methodology and the way the results were presented were questioned last night.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign said it had asked the IAM for clarification on the questionnaire, which was carried out online.

In the survey 1.9 per cent of cyclists said they jumped red lights "frequently", 11.8 per cent "sometimes", and 24.6 per cent "rarely".

A further 19.1 per cent said they had jumped red lights "once or twice", while 42.7 per cent said they had never jumped a red light.

The main reason for jumping red lights, given by 38 per cent of cyclists, was that it was safer to get ahead of other traffic and 43 per cent said they would be less likely to jump lights if vehicle stop lines which left space for cyclists were more strongly enforced.

Ninety-four per cent of cyclists said they had seen drivers cross an advance stop line.

However, the survey also found 31.8 per cent of motorists who do not cycle admitted to jumping red lights, as did 21.3 per cent of drivers who do cycle.

Cyclists who rode on pavements said they did so because of poor cycle paths and busy junctions.

Nobody would have paid this non-story any attention except that the UK cycling lobbies went into a hysterical frenzy at the report. Indeed, one Guardian journalist even broke the embargo on reporting the story because he deemed it to be of such importance, which says rather more about the warped world view of the journalist than it does of anything else. (There are plenty of real stories in the world that need reporting.)

All online surveys are bogus, in particular they do not take random samples. This is just one of zillions of such surveys pumped out every day. They are done simply to give some free publicity to the organisation that carried it out, and/or to promote its lobbying efforts. The media, desperate for stories, regularly comply and give free publicity, especially if the alleged outcome of the survey happens to support the prejudices of the media organisation. The problem here is that the outcome did not support the prejudices of the Guardian, where cyclists are treated as saints (and the Evening News is just jumping on the bandwagon). If an online (and therefore bogus) survey had shown that some Guardian pet prejudice was allegedly validated, you can bet that no story would have pointed out that it was bogus.

There was even some claim that drivers might have responded and so biased the survey to make cyclists look bad. Well, cycling lobbies might regularly bias surveys (and plenty of surveys done in Cambridge are biased by cyclists because cyclists are middle class and the surveys are biased towards the middle class because mainly they respond). So perhaps they are reflecting their own behaviour on the people they regard as their enemies (drivers). But the evidence here is rather thin, since only 1.9 percent of the respondents claimed they jumped red lights "frequently", and significant responses from drivers would have made that figure much higher.

No, the real point is that cyclists are not saints. And there are plenty of reasons to jump red lights. For example, many lights are vehicle activated and in the middle of the night you would be rather stupid to wait for some car to show up rather than just cycle on through. The question is not whether there is jumping of red lights, but whether it is dangerous to have done so in a particular circumstance. Unfortunately this is way beyond the thinking capability of the average sanctimonious middle class journalist.

BBC has no clue about giving up US citizenship (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Facebook's co-founder Eduardo Saverin has renounced his US citizenship ahead of the company going public on Friday.

Brazilian-born Mr Saverin, 30, will avoid paying around $600m (£373m) in tax when he picks up his share of the site's stock offering.
He made the move to renounce his citizenship in September 2011.

However, his decision was only made public last week when the US Internal Revenue Service published a list of Americans giving up their citizenship.

Mr Saverin has lived in Singapore since 2009.
Mr Saverin holds 4% of the site's stock, the ownership of which is set to put his personal wealth at around $4bn (£2.5bn).

If he were to remain a US citizen, he would be liable for capital gains tax.

The BBC, along with most of the world's media, completely got the reporting for this story wrong. When you give up US citizenship the IRS levies a tax on your wealth at exit (above a threshold, which Saverin is way above). This will have included the Facebook shares. The only difference renouncing in September 2011 will make is that the valuation of these shares will have been lower relative to what it will be at flotation (by how much is up for Saverin's accountants and the IRS to argue over), so the capital gains will have been lower.

The real story here, which the BBC, along with most of the world's media, ignored, is that the US government, alone in the world, thinks that it has the right to tax US citizens no matter where they live. And the regulation of US citizens who live abroad is getting worse and worse, including, from 2013, the right to demand that foreign banks spy on US citizens. This is why more and more people are ditching their US citizenship. (The fact that the Republican Party has become a sect of lunatics has not helped.)

Date published: 2012/05/06

Lib Dems do badly in Cambridge local election (permanent blog link)

The Cambridge News says:

Cambridge MP Julian Huppert will keep calm and carry on after the Lib Dems lost control of the city council. Mr Huppert was "disappointed" fellow Lib Dems lost out to Labour.

He told the News: "There is no denying that these election results were disappointing and we lost some extremely hard working and talented councillors. I pay tribute to the work done over many years by Amanda Taylor, Neil McGovern and Salah Al Bander.

"But historically parties in power always do badly in local elections midway through their term in power and this election was no exception.

"However, we will continue to control the council with the mayor's casting vote, and so will be able to continue our work to improve Cambridge.

"We have a strong record in Cambridge which was recognised recently by the Centre for Cities report which put Cambridge among the top cities in the UK to lead the country out of recession. That has been achieved by strong leadership and robust policies on the ground."

As Huppert points out, the Lib Dems have not really lost power in Cambridge. That might happen next year, though.

Unfortunately, Huppert then loses the plot. Cambridge might be "among the top cities in the UK to lead the country out of recession" but that has nothing to do with the Lib Dems who run Cambridge. Cambridge is successful in spite of the Lib Dems (and the other politicians), not because of them. The Lib Dems in particular have not brought one job to Cambridge, and they seem to have no interest in attracting companies to move here.

More anti-GM vandalism threatened in the UK (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Scientists developing genetically modified wheat are asking campaigners not to ruin their experimental plots, but come in for a chat instead.

The trial at Rothamsted Research in Harpenden, Herts, uses wheat modified to deter aphids, an insect pest.

The protest group Take the Flour Back has vowed to "decontaminate" the site unless the research is halted.

The scientists say the GM plants could benefit the environment as they will reduce pesticide use.

"We appeal to you as environmentalists," they write in an open letter.

"Our GM wheat could, for future generations, substantially reduce the use of agricultural chemicals."

But the campaigners say the GM trial presents "a clear risk to British farming".

They argue that genes from the modified strain could spread into neighbouring fields, and that there has been no evaluation of whether foods made from the GM variety would be safe to eat.

They are planning a day of action on 27 May, trailed on their website as "a nice day out in the country, with picnics, music... and a decontamination".

The ridiculous vandals of "Take the Flour Back" should be sent straight to prison. Unfortunate they are academic middle class vandals, and so the UK justice system generally gives them a free pass to vandalise all they want. Hopefully this time the police will at least take appropriate action.

It is unbelievable that these vandals can say with a straight face: "there has been no evaluation of whether foods made from the GM variety would be safe to eat." Hmmm, possibly that could be because silly spoiled academic middle class vandals have trashed many field trials, at least in the UK. Of course in most of the rest of the world, aside from backwards Europe, there is plenty of evidence that GM food is as safe to eat as any other.

The Royal Society produces another vacuous report (permanent blog link)

The BBC says:

Over-consumption in rich countries and rapid population growth in the poorest both need to be tackled to put society on a sustainable path, a report says.

An expert group convened by the Royal Society spent nearly two years reading evidence and writing their report.

Firm recommendations include giving all women access to family planning, moving beyond GDP as the yardstick of economic health and reducing food waste.

The report will feed into preparations for the Rio+20 summit in June.

"This is an absolutely critical period for people and the planet, with profound changes for human health and wellbeing and the natural environment," said Sir John Sulston, the report's chairman.

Dear, oh dear, why does the Royal Society spend a lot of time and money compiling such a report, which just contains the most trite conclusions and could have been written at any time in the last forty or fifty years, and indeed has been by organisation after organisation, trumpeting the end of the world.

The claim that there is "over-consumption" by people in "rich" countries is always the first indication that a report should be ignored. The Fellows of the Royal Society might themselves be guilty of over-consumption, since they are all professorial grade (or soon will be), and so are vastly wealthier than the average UK citizen, but most ordinary people in Britain would be bemused to find out that the British ruling elite are dead keen to reduce the living standards of the citizens of their own country (and other "rich" countries).

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