Author Archive: Henricus Peters

Playing (Australian) politics : Al Gore attacks Tony Abbott’s refusal to link bushfires with climate change

From the Guardian

Tony Abbott’s insistence that bushfires aren’t linked to climate change is like the tobacco industry claiming smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, Nobel laureate Al Gore says.

In light of the New South Wales bushfire disaster, the former US vice-president says the prime minister’s comment that bushfires are a function of life in Australia and nothing to do with climate change reminds him of politicians in the US who received support from tobacco companies, and who then publicly argued the companies’ cause.

“For 40 years the tobacco companies were able to persuade pliant politicians within their grip to tell the public what they wanted them to tell them, and for 40 years the tragedy continued,” Gore told ABC TV’s 7.30 program from Los Angeles on Wednesday night.

“Bushfires can occur naturally and do, but the science shows clearly that when the temperature goes up and when the vegetation and soils dry out, then wildfires become more pervasive and more dangerous.

“That’s not me saying it, that’s what the scientific community says.”

Gore said it was a political fact of life that politicians and commercial enterprise colluded to achieve goals after he was asked if there was a conspiracy between polluters and politicians.

“I don’t think it’s a commercial conspiracy. I think it’s a political fact of life,” he said. “It certainly is in my country. In the United States, our democracy has been hacked.

“Special interests control decisions too frequently. You saw it in our recent fiscal and debt crisis.

“The energy companies, coal companies and oil companies particularly, have prevented the Congress of the United States from doing anything meaningful so far, to stop the climate crisis.”

The Nobel laureate said Australia’s new Direct Action strategy was not workable.

“The meaningful way to resolve this crisis is to put a price on carbon and in Australia’s case, to keep a price on carbon,” he said.

He argues the price needs to be at an effective level with the market sending accurate signals so that renewable systems of energy are encouraged.

Top scientist Sir Mark Walport urges climate change deniers to give in

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The Government’s chief scientific advisor has challenged climate sceptics to drop their denial of global warming in the face of overwhelming evidence that it poses “an extremely important threat to us”.

Sir Mark Walport said a section of the general public was increasingly doubtful about the existence of climate change and mankind’s responsibility for it in the face of the global economic downturn, sceptical media coverage and “climate fatigue”.

“The [climate sceptics] discussion misses the point, that there is a right answer to the question of whether the climate is changing and whether there is a significant human cause to that,” Sir Mark told The Independent.

“This is not something on which human beings can vote, it’s not your opinion that matters, it is actually the truth of it, there is a correct answer. While there are many questions we can vote on, this is not one,” he added.

“What makes this easy for a chief scientist is that so much rigorous work has gone on around the globe to get an agreed statement on the basis of extremely rigorous science….Clearly climate change is an extremely important threat to us,” Sir Mark said.

He said it was “obviously completely ridiculous” to deal with the reality of climate change by denying the science.

Asked if last week’s report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggested that global warming posed a significant threat, Sir Mark said: “It’s a very significant challenge, that would be obvious to anyone I think.”

Sir Mark declined to comment on Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s response to the IPCC report, but his reading of it is clearly at odds with Mr Paterson’s.

Mr Paterson said this week that “People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries…I see this report as something we need to take seriously but I am relieved it is not as catastrophic in its forecast as we had been led to believe early on. What it is saying is that it is something we can adapt to over time, and we are very good as a race at adapting.”

Sir Mark cited recent research by the UK Energy Research Centre as evidence that, while the bulk of the public believed in man-made climate change, there is growing minority scepticism. The proportion of people who do not believe in climate change has more than quadrupled since 2005, from 4 per cent to 19 per cent, the research shows.

He called on his fellow scientists to communicate the science more clearly, a task he admitted was extremely difficult given the huge complexity of the climate.

Owen Paterson and badger cull must be ‘scientific’

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Dame Helen Ghosh raised concerns over changes in the estimates of the badger population and the lengthening of the culls.

From The GuardianThe National Trust has written to the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, questioning the “scientific rigour and credibility” of the controversial badger culls in England.

The Trust’s director-general, Dame Helen Ghosh, who was the permanent secretary at the environment department until 2010, requested assurances that “high standards of scientific rigour in the conduct and analysis of these pilot culls” were being upheld.

Also on Monday, rock musician and leading opponent of the cull Brian May issued a call for Paterson to resign, claiming he had failed to meet the public’s expectation of “honesty and transparency”.

The culls, aimed at curbing tuberculosis in cattle, have so far failed to kill the minimum number of badgers required in the six weeks allowed, despite the government reducing the initial estimated population. Natural England has already granted a three-week extension to the night-time shoots in the Somerset cull zone and is expected to rule on a proposed eight-week extension any day.

In her letter, Ghosh raised concerns over changes in the estimates of the badger population and the lengthening of the culls. “We are worried by uncertainties over and changes in the baseline badger population estimates. This dimension is fundamental,” she wrote.

Ghosh also expressed worry on “apparently now active discussion of other culling methods for any wider rollout, such as gassing and snaring: both have strong experimental evidence bases calling into question whether they can be humane.”

The National Trust’s preferred approach is vaccination and it has been testing badger vaccination at its own cost since 2011 on its Killerton Estate in Devon.

But the NT’s position until now has been that badger culling, conducted under very stringent criteria, could play a significant role in curbing the TB infections that saw 28,000 cattle slaughtered in 2012. NT’s executives have been preparing to defy a member’s resolution, being voted on at its annual general meeting on Saturday, that calls for a ban on badger culling on all 250,000 hectares of NT land.

Brian May has been an outspoken campaigner against the cull, and on Monday said questions remained unanswered about the changing badger population estimates.

May said: “The public has a right to expect honesty and transparency from its ministers. It appears that Mr Paterson, in his zeal to push ahead a highly questionable policy, has failed to meet these requirements. We believe that, if Owen Paterson cannot answer these questions of transparency, the prime minister must ask for his resignation.”

POLLUTION : Yachtsman describes horror at ‘dead’, rubbish strewn Pacific Ocean

From the Guardian : An Australpacific garbageian sailor has described parts of the Pacific Ocean as “dead” because of severe overfishing, with his vessel having to repeatedly swerve debris for thousands of kilometres on a journey from Australia to Japan.

Ivan MacFadyen told of his horror at the severe lack of marine life and copious amounts of rubbish witnessed on a yacht race between Melbourne and Osaka. He recently returned from the trip, which he previously completed 10 years ago.

“In 2003, I caught a fish every day,” he told Guardian Australia. “Ten years later to the day, sailing almost exactly the same course, I caught nothing. It started to strike me the closer we got to Japan that the ocean was dead.

“Normally when you are sailing a yacht, there are one or two pods of dolphins playing by the boat, or sharks, or turtles or whales. There are usually birds feeding by the boat. But there was none of that. I’ve been sailing for 35 years and it’s only when these things aren’t there that you notice them.

MacFadyen said that the lack of ocean life started at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, describing Queensland waters as “barren” and “unquestionably overfished”.

“We saw a boat come towards us and we thought they might be pirates, but they had bags and bags of fish,” he said. “We said ‘there’s only two of us, we can’t do anything with all that’ and they said ‘don’t worry, just throw it over the side’.

“There was around 100 large fish there. But it was valueless for them because they were after tuna and nothing else. They just trawled the whole ocean and everything other than tuna was bycatch.”

For the majority of the voyage to Japan, MacFadyen had to ensure that his yacht wasn’t holed by clumps of rubbish he said were “as large as a house”.

“There were fenders from ships, balls of net and telegraph poles with barnacles on them that were never going to sink,” he said. “There was nothing like that 10 years ago. I couldn’t believe it.

“We wouldn’t motor the boat at night due to the fear of something wrapping around the propeller. We’d only do that during the day with someone on lookout for garbage. When you stood on the deck and looked down you’d see the rubbish shimmering in the depths below, up to 20 metres under the water.

“We went onto the US and back again. We did 23,000 miles [37,000km] and I’d say 7,000 of those were in garbage. The boat is still damaged from it. We had to free the rudder of rubbish one night, which was scary. We were terrified of something ripping a hole in the boat.”

MacFadyen said that the trip had made him “very cranky” and has inspired him to encourage better monitoring of ocean rubbish to ensure governments’ anti-pollution policies are working.

“Humans are such a blight on the planet that we will just trash an area because it is out of sight most of the time,” he said. “It completely changed the way I look at things. I used to chuck rubbish away without thinking twice but there’s no way I will do that now.”

According to marine conservationists, overfishing is a global problem affecting nearly 90% of the world’s fisheries.

The problem has resulted on catch quotas being placed on many species of fish, although the exact extent of overfishing in Australia is slightly unclear.

Government fisheries data shows only bluefin tuna and the school shark are dangerously overfished in Australian waters. However, the Australian Marine Conservation Society’s guide to sustainable seafood places 26 species – including kingfish, snapper and tiger prawns – on a “red list” that should not be consumed due to their fragile status.

Pamela Allen, marine campaigner at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told Guardian Australia that there have been improvements in Australian fisheries in recent years but problems remain.

“The quota for bluefin tuna has just been increased by 10%, despite there being no evidence to justify this,” she said. “There are also issues in state fisheries — Queensland has no scientific observer system, for instance, and rely just on fishers’ logbooks for what they catch in sensitive areas such as the Great Barrier Reef.

“Trawling the ocean results in a high level of bycatch because it’s hard to be exact with what you’re catching when you’re dragging a gigantic net along the sea floor.

“People don’t realise that flake is shark and that sharks are threatened due to overfishing. There is no single sustainable source of shark in fisheries. Consumers have a choice every day to make a small difference.

“Fish is one of the last wild foods we eat, along with mushrooms, and we have to realise that once it has gone, it is gone. Governments and fishers are making some changes but they need to move more quickly or there won’t be any fish left.”

@NAEE_UK is concerned about the marine environment – and how badly we are treating it!

Attenborough: poorer countries are just as concerned about the environment

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The Guardian reports : Sir David Attenborough has said that people living in poorer countries are just as concerned about the environment as those in the developed world, and “exporting environmentalism” isn’t necessarily an “uphill struggle”.

The veteran broadcaster said ideas about protecting the natural world were not unwelcome in less developed nations – but added that wealthier countries should work to improve women’s rights around the world to bring down birth rates and avoid overpopulation.

Speaking at the Royal Geographical Society on Tuesday night at an event organised by conservation group Fauna and Flora International, Sir David, 87, said: “People who live close to the natural world don’t have romantic ideas about it, but they know about its welfare and care about its welfare, and will look after it given the chance.”

He cited a recent trip to an east African conservation centre for endangered turtles, where local people take captured turtles to be rehabilitated and released into the wild, as proof that environmental concerns are not solely the preserve of wealthy nations.

Sir David said one of the biggest threats to the natural world was overpopulation, and improving women’s rights around the world was the only effective way to bring birth rates down.

“I have little doubt that if we have the capacity to limit our birth rate, then we should consider doing that,” he said. “We have a finite environment – the planet. Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either a madman or an economist.

“Wherever women are literate and have political power, birth rates fall. That means those of us in developed countries should make sure those who don’t have those things get them. That is the one way populationgrowth will slow in a serious way.”

The event marked the 110th anniversary of Fauna and Flora International, which Sir David first joined in 1959. He has been vice-president of the society since 1979.

week in wildlife : A four-month old hawksbill turtle swims at Thousand Islands National Marine Park Sir David cited a recent trip to an east African conservation centre for endangered turtles. Photograph: Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images

In an interview with broadcaster and writer Libby Purves, he said he now felt it was his responsibility as an expert on the environment to be frank about his views on climate change.

Sir David described the moment he first understood climate change was driven by human activity while attending a lecture in the 1980s.

“The professor produced a series of graphs about the contents and changes in the atmosphere over the last 500 years plotted against the industrial revolution and changes in human population,” he said.

“You simply could not deny that a) the world was changing climatically and b) humans were involved in bringing that change about.”

He took issue with ideas that humans should protect nature simply because it might benefit us – such as the argument we should conserve the rainforest because it might yield a new species that could cure cancer.

“I can see why that’s a good practical reason for saving the rainforest, but it shouldn’t be the fundamental reason,” he said. “We should protect species not because it is affecting us, but because we have the stewardship of the planet. We are the only species that has dominated the planet.

“If you say ‘I will keep this and exterminate that’, I maintain that’s not a morally proper position. We don’t have the right to exterminate nature and manipulate it to that degree.”

Sir David also revealed to the 700-strong audience that he will travel to Borneo in the new year to begin shooting a TV series on the evolution of flight, following on from his recent BBC2 series, Rise of Animals: Triumph of the Vertebrates.

The series, which will take 12 months to produce, will chart the development of flight from its beginnings in insects, through the evolution of birds and ending with bats.

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