The politics of environmental destruction

22 10 2019

C_SE 409521698 Paul Ehrlich Lecture Event - Eventbrite2

You’d think I’d get tired of this, wouldn’t you? Alas, the fight does wear me down, but I must persist.

My good friend and colleague, the legendary Professor Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, as well as his equally legendary wife, Anne, will be joining us in Adelaide for a brief visit during their annual southern migration.

Apart from just catching up over a few good bottles of wine (oh, do those two enjoy fine wines!), we have the immense privilege of having Paul appear at two events while he’s in town.

I’m really only going to be talking about the second of the two events (the first is a Science Meets Parliament gig with me and many others at the South Australia Parliament on 12 November): a grand, public lecture and Q&A session held at Flinders University on Wednesday, 13 November.

Haven’t heard of Paul? Where have you been hiding? If by some miracle you haven’t, here’s a brief bio:

Paul Ehrlich is Bing Professor of Population Studies Emeritus, President of the Center for Conservation Biology, Department of Biology, Stanford University and Adjunct Professor, University of Technology, Sydney. He does research in population biology (includes ecology, evolutionary biology, behavior, and human ecology and cultural evolution). Ehrlich has carried out field, laboratory and theoretical research on a wide array of problems ranging from the dynamics and genetics of insect populations, studies of the ecological and evolutionary interactions of plants and herbivores, and the behavioral ecology of birds and reef fishes, to experimental studies of the effects of crowding on human beings and studies of cultural evolution, especially the evolution of norms. He is President of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere and is author and coauthor of more than 1100 scientific papers and articles in the popular press and over 40 books. He is best known to his efforts to alert the public to the many intertwined drivers that are pushing humanity toward a collapse of civilization – especially overpopulation, overconsumption by the rich, and lack of economic, racial, and gender equity. Ehrlich is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Entomological Society and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, and a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.  He is a Foreign Member of the Royal Society, an Honorary Member of the British Ecological Society and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society.  Among his many other honours are the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Crafoord Prize in Population Biology and the Conservation of Biological Diversity (an explicit replacement for the Nobel Prize); a MacArthur Prize Fellowship; the Volvo Environment Prize; UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize; the Heinz Award for the Environment; the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement; the Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences; the Blue Planet Prize;  the Eminent Ecologist award of the Ecological Society of America, the Margalef Prize in Ecology and Environmental Sciences, and the BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Ecology and Conservation Biology. Prof Ehrlich has appeared as a guest on more than 1000 TV and radio programs; he also was a correspondent for NBC News. He has given many hundreds of public lectures in the past 50 years.

I hope your jaw just dropped.

Read the rest of this entry »





You’re not even remotely concerned enough

31 08 2012

I’ve just returned from a 6-week trip to the United States and I am now dealing with the intensity of things left undone for so long [sigh]. But that trip was interesting for many reasons. First, and as I’ve already posted, I finished a book with Paul Ehrlich that will be out sometime early in 2013 (but I won’t deal with that here). I also attended an interesting, if slightly confusing, conference on ecosystem services. And finally, I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Barnosky in person, and we decided that we should definitely collaborate on a few things.

Another thing that struck me – and this happens no matter how often I visit the U.S., is just how completely insane that country’s politics are. The extremist, libertarian, plutotheocratic bullshit spewed by the far right to the detriment of the very people who support them is enough to make you vomit. And this startling and thoroughly backward world-view is now starting to penetrate more and more into Australian society and politics. From an environmental perspective, it’s a continuation of a downhill slide that started with Reagan’s destruction of environmentalism in the U.S., and Joh Bjelke-Petersen‘s war on the environment in Australia, and will only continue to get worse.

Of course, the main victim of reason in all these polemic politics is that we are doing next to nothing to mitigate horrendous climate disruption. Only yesterday, George Monbiot was lamenting (nay, pleading) that our governments are doing practically nil to avoid what can only be described as the greatest threat to our way of life since the World War II – in fact, the War and its associated holocaust is small bikkies compared to what awaits us.

And this is the most stressing part – even people who choose to use their brains and accept that we have an immense, global problem on our hands generally are not even remotely concerned enough. Read the rest of this entry »





Degraded States of Ausmerica

20 08 2012

You might remember that I’ve been in California for several weeks now. The principal reason for my visit was to finish a book that Paul Ehrlich and I started last year. So, without the major distractions of everyday university life, I’ve spent much of my time lately at Stanford University in a little office next to Paul’s trying to finish (I also attended a conference in Portland, Oregon).

Yesterday, we wrote the last few paragraphs. A giant gorilla has now lumbered its way off my back.

So. What is the book about, you might ask? I can’t give away too many details, but I will give a few teasers. The book is called, at least for now, ‘Oz & US’, which is a bit of a play of words. In the book we contrast the environmental histories, current state of affairs, and likely futures of our respective nations. It’s written in a popular style so that non-specialists can learn a little something about how bad the environment has become in our two countries.

At first glance, one might wonder why we chose to contrast the U.S. and Australia – they are quite different beasts, indeed. Their histories are immensely different, from the aboriginal populations, through to European colonisation (timing and drivers), biological (including agricultural) productivities, carrying capacities, population sizes and politics. But these differences belie too many convergences in the environmental states of each nation – we now both have increasingly degraded environments, we have both pushed the boundaries of our carrying capacities, and our environmental politics are in a shambles. In other words, despite having started with completely different conditions, our toll on nature’s life-support systems is now remarkably similar.

And anyone who knows Paul and me will appreciate that the book is completely irreverent. We have taken off the gloves in preparation for a bare-knuckle fight with the plutocrats and theocrats now threatening the lives of our grandchildren. We pull no punches here. Read the rest of this entry »





They always whinge about the maths

18 11 2010

If you don’t know what a differential equation is, you are not a scientist” – Hugh Possingham 2009

At the end of 2009 I highlighted a new book edited by good mates Navjot Sodhi and Paul Ehrlich, Conservation Biology for All, in which Barry Brook and I had written a chapter. Now, despite my vested interest, I thought (and still think) that it was one of the best books on conservation biology yet published, and the subsequent reviews appear to be validating my subjective opinion.

I’ve given snippets of the book’s contents, from Paul Ehrlich‘s editorial on the human population’s rising negative influences on biodiversity, to a more detailed synopsis of our chapter, The Conservation Biologist’s Toolbox, and I’ve reproduced a review printed in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

The latest review by Nicole Gross-Camp of the University of East Anglia published in Ecology is no less flattering – in fact, it is the most flattering to date. So this is by no means a whinge about a whinge; rather, consider it an academic lament followed by a query. First, the review:

Reaching higher in conservation

If a book could receive a standing ovation—this one is a candidate. Sodhi and Ehrlich have created a comprehensive introduction to conservation biology that is accessible intellectually, and financially, to a broad audience—indeed it is Conservation biology for all. The book is divided into 16 chapters that can stand alone and are complementary when read in sequence. The authors make excellent use of cross citations of chapters, a useful and often overlooked feature in texts of this nature. In the introductory chapter, Sodhi and Ehrlich eloquently summarize the gravity of the conservation crisis and still retain an optimistic outlook that encourages the reader to continue. I particularly found their recognition of population growth, consumption, and ethics in the conservation arena refreshing and a step toward what will likely become the next major issues of discussion and research in the conservation field. Read the rest of this entry »





The Amazing Paul (Mc)Ehrlich

15 11 2010

© CJA Bradshaw

A few years ago when I first wrote about Paul Ehrlich in our book, Tropical Conservation Biology, I quickly became impressed. His track record is, without any exaggeration, truly awe-inspiring. With over 1000 articles published and almost 50 books, the man has been a scientific writing machine for his entire career. He’s also highly influential in the socio-political sphere, and counts among his close friends some of the most politically and scientifically powerful people on the planet. In a word, he’s easily among the world’s greatest living scientists.

Remember, this was my opinion all before I actually met the man. Travelling through central California last year, I was lucky enough to be invited by Paul’s close colleague, Gretchen Daily, to give a talk at their Stanford University lab. It was fortunate that Paul was about at the time and not off promoting his new book or traipsing through the mountains of Colorado chasing butterflies.

We hit it off immediately and it seemed became mates within the space of a few hours. I learnt then that he and his equally famous wife, Anne, were regular visitors to Australia and that he had a particular love affair going with many Australian wines. I invited him to come to Adelaide the following year, he agreed (and importantly, so did the director of the Environment Institute, Mike Young), and it came to pass. Read the rest of this entry »





One billion people still hungry

12 11 2010

 

overpopulationA few days ago, that printed mouthpiece of Murdoch’s News Corporation in Australia – The Australiani, attacked Paul Ehrlich with a spectacular piece of uninformed gibberish (‘Population bomb still a fizzer 40 years on‘) that we both feel compelled to contest.

The Australian, well-known for its ‘War on Science’, refused to give us the opportunity to respond officially in an Opinion Editorial, so we are compelled to fight back using the blogosphere and our collective networks (which, we might add, probably exceed the distribution of said newspaper). Frankly, it was no surprise that The Australian chose to ignore us.

The article in question was written by Oliver Marc Hartwich of the so-called ‘Centre for Independent Studies’, the hyper-conservative Australian propaganda machine reminiscent of the ultra-right wing American Enterprise Institute, made up of some of Australia’s most powerful business magnates and with no academic affiliation whatsoever. Anything vaguely left-of-centre and even remotely promoting environmental responsibility is considered a viable target.

Recently, we blew the whistle on an equally dangerous man and the institutes he represents – climate-denier Alan Oxley; he and the business interests he represents are responsible for more deforestation, biodiversity loss and financial inequity in South East Asia over the last few decades than almost any single group.

Now we turn our attention to expose the true colours of the Centre for Independent Studies and Mr. Hartwich. Read the rest of this entry »





The bomb is still ticking…

11 11 2010

Apologies for the silence over the last week – it’s been a whirlwind here with Paul Ehrlich visiting The University of Adelaide (amazing for a 78-year old man). In the meantime, Sharon Ede over at Post Growth wrote a great response to the LOLstralian‘s high-school effort to attack Paul a few days ago. Our response is coming shortly, but Sharon’s article is a great precursor.

More than forty years after its publication, the predictions made in Paul Ehrlich’s landmark book ‘The Population Bomb’ are still the subject of debate. Australian think-tank the Centre for Independent Studies (‘Population bomb still a fizzer 40 years on’, The Australian, 8 November, 2010), says Ehrlich’s warnings of dire consequences, including of mass starvation as a result of overpopulation, have not materialised:

“More than 40 years ago, American biologist Paul Ehrlich sketched a doomsday scenario for planet Earth in his book The Population Bomb…Since the publication of the book, the global population has nearly doubled but most of its gloomy predictions have not come true…”

By all means, let’s have a robust debate on population, both at the national and global level. Both are long overdue.

But let’s make it a sophisticated debate, grounded in the science we have available and a thorough understanding of all the issues in play.

According to the United Nations’ Population Division, the global population has increased from one billion in 1804 to over six billion in 2010.

It has taken most of human history to reach one billion people. It took just over a century to add the second billion.

The rate of population growth since then is such that it has taken only twelve years to add the most recent billion people.

The moderate UN scenario is for a population of 9 billion by 2050 – that’s within the lifetime of many of us. Read the rest of this entry »





Wolves masquerading as sheep: the fallout

29 10 2010

 


© New Zealand Films

 

Well, we’ve managed to stimulate quite a lively conversation after dropping the Open Letter about Scientific Credibility and the Conservation of Tropical Forests regarding the questionable tactics employed by Alan Oxley and his industrial lobbyist organisations.

Mr. Oxley has responded with vitriol, hand-waving, red herrings and straw men, and failed to address even a single one of our accusations. I am particularly amused by his insinuation that we, the proven scientists, don’t know what science is – but that he does.

Below I reproduce Mr. Oxley’s reaction to our original letter, followed by our response.

I’ll let you, the reader, decide who is most reasonable.

REACTION FROM ALAN OXLEY

There is too much pseudo-scientific hype today about environmentalism and forestry and not enough fact.

I put this double-barrelled question to the Group of 12 scientists who have rather laboriously wandered over the work of World Growth: What biodiversity is expressly protected by a global cessation of conversion of forest land to other purposes and how is that biodiversity scientifically measured? And let’s have some technical response, not political blather. Read the rest of this entry »





Yangtze River, colossal dams and famous scientists

23 10 2010

 


© CJA Bradshaw

 

Apologies for the silence over the last week – I’ve been a little preoccupied with some business in China. I’ll devote an entire post to my recent trip there (actually, I’m still there – Beijing to be precise), but I thought I’d just explain my absence and provide a little post to sate you until next week.

It’s worth mentioning that I had the enlightening experience of travelling down the Yangtze River between Chongqing and Sandouping last week – this is the area that was flooded by the world’s largest hydro-electric project, the Three Gorges Dam. This is my fourth trip to China and I’ve usually come away with the adjective ‘big’ describing pretty much everything I see here (big agriculture, big population, big pollution, big hotels, big cities…); however, in this case, ‘big’ doesn’t even come close. It’s bloody massive, and the ecological devastation (not to mention the 1.3 million people it displaced) is hard to describe in words. Sure, there are beautiful bits left (see the accompanying photo), but most of the damage is under water and along the banks of the mighty (and now, a lot mightier) Yangtze River. Read the rest of this entry »





Every extra human means fewer animals

8 02 2010

© The Sun

As promised some time ago when I blogged about the imminent release of the book Conservation Biology for All (edited by Navjot Sodhi and Paul Ehrlich), I am now posting a few titbits from the book.

Today’s post is a blurb from Paul Ehrlich on the human population problem for conservation of biodiversity.

The size of the human population is approaching 7 billion people, and its most fundamental connection with conservation is simple: people compete with other animals., which unlike green plants cannot make their own food. At present Homo sapiens uses, coopts, or destroys close to half of all the food available to the rest of the animal kingdom. That means that, in essence, every human being added to the population means fewer individuals can be supported in the remaining fauna.

But human population growth does much more than simply cause a proportional decline in animal biodiversity – since as you know, we degrade nature in many ways besides competing with animals for food. Each additional person will have a disproportionate negative impact on biodiversity in general. The first farmers started farming the richest soils they could find and utilised the richest and most accessible resources first (Ehrlich & Ehrlich 2005). Now much of the soil that people first farmed has been eroded away or paved over, and agriculturalists increasingly are forced to turn to marginal land to grow more food.

Equally, deeper and poorer ore deposits must be mined and smelted today, water and petroleum must come from lower quality resources, deeper wells, or (for oil) from deep beneath the ocean and must be transported over longer distances, all at ever-greater environmental cost [my addition – this is exactly why we need to embrace the cheap, safe and carbon-free energy provided by nuclear energy].

The tasks of conservation biologists are made more difficult by human population growth, as is readily seen in the I=PAT equation (Holdren & Ehrlich 1974; Ehrlich & Ehrlich 1981). Impact (I) on biodiversity is not only a result of population size (P), but of that size multiplied by affluence (A) measured as per capita consumption, and that product multiplied by another factor (T), which summarises the technologies  and socio-political-economic arrangements to service that consumption. More people surrounding a rainforest reserve in a poor nation often means more individuals invading the reserve to gather firewood or bush meat. More poeple in a rich country may mean more off-road vehicles (ORVs) assulting the biota – especially if the ORV manufacturers are politically powerful and can succesfully fight bans on their use. As poor countries’ populations grow and segments of them become more affluent, demand rises for meat and automobiles, with domesticated animals competing with or devouring native biota, cars causing all sorts of assults on biodiversity, and both adding to climate disruption. Globally, as a growing population demands greater quantities of plastics, industrial chemicals, pesticides, fertilisers, cosmetics, and medicines, the toxification of the planet escalates, bringing frightening problems for organisms ranging from polar bears to frogs (to say nothing of people!).

In sum, population growth (along with escalating consumption and the use of environmentally malign technologies) is a major driver of the ongoing destruction of populations, species, and communities that is a salient feature of the Anthropocene. Humanity , as the dominant animal (Ehrlich & Ehrlich 2008), simply out competes other animals for the planet’s productivity, and often both plants and animals for its freshwater. While dealing with more limited problems, it therefore behoves every conservation biologist to put part of her time into restraining those drivers, including working to humanely lower [sic] birth rates until population growth stops and begins a slow decline twoard a sustainable size (Daily et al. 1994).

Incidentally, Paul Ehrlich is travelling to Adelaide this year (November 2010) for some high-profile talks and meetings. Stay tuned for coverage of the events.

CJA Bradshaw

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