Quotulatiousness

January 8, 2018

Forests in the olden days

Filed under: Britain, Environment, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Lindybeige
Published on 20 Apr 2016

Forests and woodland in the ancient and medieval worlds didn’t look the way they show in the movies.
Support me on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/Lindybeige

More archaeology videos here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list…

I visited a local wildlife sanctuary based in a wood. In order to attract birds, they left the woods unmanaged, so that the undergrowth and rotting falling trees afforded good habitat for insects and ground-nesting birds. I talk about a few things, including climax vegetation, the burning of woods by hunter-gatherers, the medieval practices of coppicing and pollarding, and the way a modern managed woodland (the sort that you almost always see in the movies) looks neither like a heavily-managed medieval wood nor a wilderness unmanaged wood.

Lindybeige: a channel of archaeology, ancient and medieval warfare, rants, swing dance, travelogues, evolution, and whatever else occurs to me to make.

March 30, 2017

QotD: “Scientific” forestry

Filed under: Environment, Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Seeing Like A State is the book G.K. Chesterton would have written if he had gone into economic history instead of literature. Since he didn’t, James Scott had to write it a century later. The wait was worth it.

Scott starts with the story of “scientific forestry” in 18th century Prussia. Enlightenment rationalists noticed that peasants were just cutting down whatever trees happened to grow in the forests, like a chump. They came up with a better idea: clear all the forests and replace them by planting identical copies of Norway spruce (the highest-lumber-yield-per-unit-time tree) in an evenly-spaced rectangular grid. Then you could just walk in with an axe one day and chop down like a zillion trees an hour and have more timber than you could possibly ever want.

This went poorly. The impoverished ecosystem couldn’t support the game animals and medicinal herbs that sustained the surrounding peasant villages, and they suffered an economic collapse. The endless rows of identical trees were a perfect breeding ground for plant diseases and forest fires. And the complex ecological processes that sustained the soil stopped working, so after a generation the Norway spruces grew stunted and malnourished. Yet for some reason, everyone involved got promoted, and “scientific forestry” spread across Europe and the world.

And this pattern repeats with suspicious regularity across history, not just in biological systems but also in social ones.

Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Seeing Like a State”, Slate Star Codex, 2017-03-16.

April 24, 2015

Framing every conservation issue in terms of “extinction” is counter-productive

Filed under: Environment, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Stewart Brand wants us to stop presenting so many conservation concerns in the headline-grabbing “Fluffy Bunnies At Risk!” format:

The way the public hears about conservation issues is nearly always in the mode of ‘[Beloved Animal] Threatened With Extinction’. That makes for electrifying headlines, but it misdirects concern. The loss of whole species is not the leading problem in conservation. The leading problem is the decline in wild animal populations, sometimes to a radical degree, often diminishing the health of whole ecosystems.

Viewing every conservation issue through the lens of extinction threat is simplistic and usually irrelevant. Worse, it introduces an emotional charge that makes the problem seem cosmic and overwhelming rather than local and solvable. It’s as if the entire field of human medicine were treated solely as a matter of death prevention. Every session with a doctor would begin: ‘Well, you’re dying. Let’s see if we can do anything to slow that down a little.’

Medicine is about health. So is conservation. And as with medicine, the trends for conservation in this century are looking bright. We are re-enriching some ecosystems we once depleted and slowing the depletion of others. Before I explain how we are doing that, let me spell out how exaggerated the focus on extinction has become and how it distorts the public perception of conservation.

Many now assume that we are in the midst of a human-caused ‘Sixth Mass Extinction’ to rival the one that killed off the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. But we’re not. The five historic mass extinctions eliminated 70 per cent or more of all species in a relatively short time. That is not going on now. ‘If all currently threatened species were to go extinct in a few centuries and that rate continued,’ began a recent Nature magazine introduction to a survey of wildlife losses, ‘the sixth mass extinction could come in a couple of centuries or a few millennia.’

The fossil record shows that biodiversity in the world has been increasing dramatically for 200 million years and is likely to continue. The two mass extinctions in that period (at 201 million and 66 million years ago) slowed the trend only temporarily. Genera are the next taxonomic level up from species and are easier to detect in fossils. The Phanerozoic is the 540-million-year period in which animal life has proliferated. Chart created by and courtesy of University of Chicago paleontologists J. John Sepkoski, Jr. and David M. Raup.

The fossil record shows that biodiversity in the world has been increasing dramatically for 200 million years and is likely to continue. The two mass extinctions in that period (at 201 million and 66 million years ago) slowed the trend only temporarily. Genera are the next taxonomic level up from species and are easier to detect in fossils. The Phanerozoic is the 540-million-year period in which animal life has proliferated. Chart created by and courtesy of University of Chicago paleontologists J. John Sepkoski, Jr. and David M. Raup.

The range of dates in that statement reflects profound uncertainty about the current rate of extinction. Estimates vary a hundred-fold – from 0.01 per cent to 1 per cent of species being lost per decade. The phrase ‘all currently threatened species’ comes from the indispensable IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), which maintains the Red List of endangered species. Its most recent report shows that of the 1.5 million identified species, and 76,199 studied by IUCN scientists, some 23,214 are deemed threatened with extinction. So, if all of those went extinct in the next few centuries, and the rate of extinction that killed them kept right on for hundreds or thousands of years more, then we might be at the beginning of a human-caused Sixth Mass Extinction.

August 20, 2012

The butterflies of doom

Filed under: Environment, Media, Science, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:57

In The Register, Lewis Page tries to round up the varied results of some recent biodiversity/climate change reports:

A volley of studies into the likely effects of climate change on various animal species — and thus on biodiversity worldwide — have come out in the last few days. The headliner, examining butterflies in Massachusetts, seems to indicate that rising temperatures are having powerful ecological effects: but another pair of studies showed that other factors may be more powerful than warming, and yet another appears to indicate that dangers are being overblown.

[. . .]

“For most butterfly species, climate change seems to be a stronger change-agent than habitat loss. Protecting habitat remains a key management strategy, and that may help some butterfly species. However, for many others, habitat protection will not mitigate the impacts of warming,” comments study author and Harvard postdoc Greg Breed.

Open and shut, then — the warming seen from the 1980s to the turn of the century has already seriously affected butterflies, and projected future warming will surely mean more serious consequences. Many people, indeed, have not hesitated to link recent severe weather events in the States to global warming — despite a refutation of this idea from no less a body than the IPCC. But as it is well known to all followers of pop-science coverage that just one butterfly beating — or not beating — its wings can have major effects on the weather in the northeastern United States, it seems only reasonable to suggest that the invading Zabulon Skippers, apparently wafted into Massachusetts by global warming, are responsible for recent storms, floods, heatwaves etc.

[. . .]

Or, in summary, scientists don’t really know what will happen to any given species in future.

“Taken together, these two studies indicate that many species have been responding to recent climate change, yet the complexities of a species’ ecological needs and their responses to habitat modification by humans can result in unanticipated responses,” says Steven Beissinger, professor at UC Berkeley and senior boffin on both studies. “This makes it very challenging for scientists to project how species will respond to future climate change.”

Yet another recent study announced in the past week goes still further, suggesting that the danger to Earth’s biodiversity posed by rising temperatures has been exaggerated.

October 21, 2010

Biodiversity the new “climate change”?

Filed under: Environment, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:50

James Delingpole points to the successor to global warming/climate change as the cause of the decade:

And so it begins. With all the shamelessness of a Goldman Sachser trading in his middle-aged wife for a hot, pouting twentysomething called Ivanka, the green movement is ditching “Climate Change”. The newer, younger, sexier model’s name? Biodiversity.

When I say shameless, I’m talking so amoral it makes the Whore of Babylon look like Mother Theresa; so flagrant it makes Al Gore’s, ahem, alleged drunken “Love poodle” assault on the Portland Masseuse look like an especially delicate passage from Andreas Capellanus’s The Art of Courtly Love.

[. . .]

Suddenly it becomes clear why they kept Pachauri on at the IPCC. Because the IPCC simply doesn’t matter any more. Sure it will go on, churning out Assessment Report after Assessment Report, bringing pots of money to the usual gang of bent scientists prepared to act as lead authors. But the world’s mainstream media — especially all those environment correspondents who so lovingly transcribe the press releases of Greenpeace and the WWF as if they were holy writ — will have moved on, according to the dictates of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) fashionable crise du jour.

“Never mind ‘Climate Change’,” they’ll say to themselves. “Our readers and viewers aren’t really so into that now all the winters seem to have got so very cold. Biodiversity, that’s the thing.”

Powered by WordPress