random thoughts to oil the mind

Tag: Environment

Fishing the planet dry, by saving the dolphins

Feeding the dolphins

There are some pretty banal programmes on television at times, such is the role it plays, but Animal Park – Wild on the West Coast really caught my eye today. It served up the job of a nature programme from California, but it was a real eye opener to some of the ludicrous crap that gets spewed out, and of course funded, in the name of environmentalism. One segment showed how they looked after a sealion with some neurological disease, to the extent of giving the animal an MRI scan, ascertaining it wasn’t going to survive, and then putting it down. If anyone could explain the point of all that to me, I’d be impressed.

Yet the clip which really boiled my noodle was the one which showed how they were exercising bottlenosed dolphins in captivity, in order to measure their heart rates, and ultimately determine how many calories they needed whilst at rest and whilst active. They were then going to use this information to work out how many fish the animals required, and then pass this important information on to the fisheries in the region, essentially intimating that fisheries would be restricted or closed based on the feeding requirements of the dolphins. It really is amazing at times how random ‘research’ can become. It would seem that as long as those cute little dolphins get enough to eat, no one particularly gives a rat’s arse about whether the ecosystem at large is suffering as a result of fishing policies. Plus, you can bet a pretty penny that with all the statistical horse shit they would have to utilise to make any sense out of those pretty useless collections of figures, there will be little correlation between what they would have to tell the fisheries and reality!

Biofuels: Oil for Votes?

Where your next tankload is coming from?

Just where is the EU going with its agricultural policy? With the European Commission endorsing a plan to up the previous goal of a 5.75% market share for biofuels in the overall transport fuel supply by 2012, to 10% by 2020, one has to wonder which part of the EU’s goals is being pushed hardest. From the EU website:

The EU is supporting biofuels with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, boosting the decarbonisation of transport fuels, diversifying fuel supply sources, offering new income opportunities in rural areas and developing long-term replacements for fossil fuel.

Certainly all of these goals would be furthered by such a move by the EU, but which has prompted this raising of targets despite the estimate that most member states will not even achieve the original goal. As a long-term replacement for fossil fuels, the biofuels movement would appear to be unsustainable. Whilst it does offer a new ‘energy farmer’ role to those particularly in the developing world, the biofuels movement will likely set back the move towards sustainable agriculture, and has the potential through furthering intensive farming and monoculture techniques of causing greater environmental damage than the potential harms of global warming. 1If these are indeed caused by carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Technically the move may ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions, at least insofar as it prevents the further introduction of carbon deposits in fossil fuels from being added to the atmospheric carbon cycle, yet at the moment many biofuels in the market are so inefficient as to be net pollutants. 2And quite what is meant by ‘the decarbonisation of transport fuels’ is best left to the PR people.

All of which leaves the diversification of fuel supply sources. For the greatest efficiency, there is little doubt that biofuels should be burned in power stations rather than mobile internal combustion engines, yet that would appear to be only a secondary aim of this directive. Perhaps the recent EU spats with Russia offer a greater clue to the hasty attempts to diversify fuel supply sources, and leading the charge in this regard is Sweden. Their aim, to make Sweden an oil free society, and to break their dependence upon it by 2020, may seem outlandish. But it is not motivated by the fear that oil is running out.

In the earth’s interior there are very extensive coal-based energy resources, from methane hydrates deep in the oceans and in northerly permafrost areas to unexploited deposits of oil sands and shale oils. The superficial deposits of coal, oil and gas that man makes use of today are the tip of the planet’s enormous energy pyramid. Thus, oil will never run out, neither in a theoretical nor a practical sense.

Sweden’s aims are very similar to those of the EU:

  1. To reduce Sweden’s climate impact.
  2. To secure Sweden’s supply of energy in the long term.
  3. To become a leading nation in the development of new technology for sustainable use of energy and more efficient use of energy.
  4. To strengthen our international economic competitiveness.
  5. To use and develop the energy resources from forests and fields, “Sweden’s green gold”. 3Making Sweden an OIL-FREE Society, Commission on Oil Independence, 21 June 2006, p. 11. Highlights added.

It would appear then that the true aim of this EU directive has less to with cleaning up the economy through greater reliance on renewable energies, than an attempt to reduce the EU’s heavy reliance on the volatile world oil market. Burning (inefficient) biofuels in combustion engines is not an answer to carbon emissions, long or short term. Will logic intervene and see support for the use of biofuels as petroleum replacements decline? Or will the EU continue to intervene in the hopes that the big buzzwords climate change will allow them to push through seemingly popular policies, ultimately in the name of power politics?

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1. If these are indeed caused by carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
2. And quite what is meant by ‘the decarbonisation of transport fuels’ is best left to the PR people.
3. Making Sweden an OIL-FREE Society, Commission on Oil Independence, 21 June 2006, p. 11. Highlights added.

Forest of Dennis

A forest. Not Dennis’

A programme on the beeb yesterday dealing with Britain’s economy, entitled What’s Britain Worth? and hosted by Peter Snow and his son, featured a short interview with one of the nation’s wealthiest men, Felix Dennis. Aside from the rather astute observation he made about the wealthiest members of society (“They’re all shits!”), Dennis talked about the creation of his legacy, the self-named “Forest of Dennis”.

Dennis’ plan is to create a 25-30,000 acre broadleaf forest in the British Midlands. Buying up land, often under aliases, he estimates the project to cost in the region of £200-300 million of his private estate, plus an equal amount in donations over a period of years through a charitable foundation. Said to be the largest forest plantation in 500 years, as Dennis stated his reason for going ahead with this project beyond the simple ego-trip, is that in his happy financial position he is able to put capital behind an initiative like this which neither private finance nor government is prepared to do, and yet his gift to the community is something many can appreciate and all will benefit from 1If we take as gospel some basic assumptions about carbon trapping in reforestation, and the effects of CO2 on the climate. Whether the planting of forests can be seen as sustainable (it is only the outsourcing of agriculture which allows such reforestation initiatives) is yet to be seen.

As one of those “shits” of the upper echelons then, it might well be regarded that Dennis’ project is the result of an ego-trip from a man with no offspring or family to leave his millions to. Some cynics might even suggest it is an attempt to atone for his previous excesses of drugs, alcohol and women. And both might be true. But in the end this wayward form of philanthropy can do little harm and might do a fair bit of good. As for the forest’s name, as Dennis himself says, the forest will be known by what the people who walk there call it. Or perhaps it will stick, like an early 21st century Saltaire?

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1. If we take as gospel some basic assumptions about carbon trapping in reforestation, and the effects of CO2 on the climate. Whether the planting of forests can be seen as sustainable (it is only the outsourcing of agriculture which allows such reforestation initiatives) is yet to be seen

Whose National Trust is it Anyway?

A visit to Threave Gardens near Castle Douglas in Dumfriesshire, one of the National Trust for Scotland’s many well-kept properties in the south of Scotland. Beautiful weather, the height of the summer, and the chance to explore a well-kept garden and the fully restored Threave House. As the NTS website even offers:

Visit the Countryside Centre to find out more about the estate’s wildlife and conservation work before setting off to explore, perhaps to Threave Castle or the bird hides overlooking the River Dee and Black Park Marsh, a Special Protection Area for breeding waders and wintering wildfowl. If you’re lucky you may even see otters and osprey fishing in the river. Just make sure you leave enough time for a cup of tea and a slice of home-made cake.

Sound wonderful? A perfect day out for the family, wouldn’t you say? That is, until it comes to paying entrance fees. Bearing in mind the respectable discounts offered for families, simple admission to the gardens costs an impressive £5 per adult. Access to Threave House in addition (by guided tour only) brings the ticket price up to £9. In order to visit the nearby Threave Castle a further £3.50 need be added to the day’s toll.

Of course, these are more extreme price figures, and some people may even consider these prices to be good value. Indeed for families of the just the right proportions, the discounted family ticket prices offered by the Trust do make travelling with a family much more affordable. But that’s besides the basic principle. According to the National Trust’s annual review financial summary for 2005-2006, admission fees account for just £12.4 million of the £337.2 million total revenues – just under 4%. This proportion is not as low in the case of the NTS, but the figure begs the question: how can they be so low? The answer is simple; the prices are set to make the costs of membership all that more inviting. The National Trust boasts of membership exceeding 3.4 million. From the NTS’ website:

The National Trust for Scotland is the conservation charity that protects and promotes Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage for present and future generations to enjoy. With over 270,000 members it is the largest conservation charity in Scotland and it depends for its support on donations, legacies, grants and membership subscriptions.

That massive membership cries testament to the injustice of the National Trusts’ admission fees. Claiming to be an organisation run for the benefit of everyone, in truth the Trusts offer the preservation of the nation’s gardens, collections, stately homes, castles and sundry for the benefit of those who can afford the membership costs. In principle, through the National Trust Acts 1907-1971 which grant the singular right of the charities to hold lands in perpetuum, by declaring them inalienable, every member of the nation has paid their dues to the Trusts, by the foregoing of the inheritance taxes on National Trust lands which often directly precipitated their acquisition in the first place.

Whilst few would quibble with the way in which the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland conduct their business, the issue of funding is in need of some redress. The Trusts’ current position on admission fees actually limits access to certain sections of the public, for the sake of gaining increased revenues through membership fees. Although membership offers good value for money for the regular daytrippers, it does little to assuage the image of elitism the Trusts project to the poorer sections of society.

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