Posts Tagged ‘environment’

“Animal conservation” in zoos is anti-evolutionary and probably immoral

February 27, 2014

The case of Marius the giraffe murdered recently at Copenhagen Zoo has led to more attention to the function of zoos, their supposed “conservation” efforts and their breed-and-cull policies. There is an aura of “goodness” around “animal conservation” which is quite unjustified. As practised today, animal conservation in zoos is anti-evolutionary and borders on the immoral.

I enjoy visiting some zoos (though there are many which are merely collections of psychotic animals) and I enjoyed taking my children to some zoos. It was primarily for entertainment and – as with all entertainment – offered some opportunities for learning. But I cannot subscribe to the politically correct notion that zoos are places where some animal species are being “saved” from extinction. At best they are places where some species, which are on the verge of extinction because they have failed to adapt or evolve to cope with their environments, are frozen into an artificial existence in quite unsuitable habitats for the purpose of entertaining visitors. Such species are not helped to change – genetically or otherwise – to be able to survive by themselves in a changing world. Conservation is taken be a “good thing” but consists only of preserving the animals and their current genes. If left to themselves they would still fail to survive. The animals are bred and over-bred such that healthy specimens must then be culled. That is stagnation not evolution. Zoos are just places for human entertainment and very little else – and there is nothing wrong with that. But they do not deserve any halo of “goodness” for their “conservation”.

To truly help a species to survive requires helping them to breed and evolve such that their survival characteristics are improved. But “conservation” today consists of creating living fossils which are incapable of surviving without human intervention. It is taking a frozen snap-shot of the species and its genes. That is fundamentally anti-evolutionary. I have written on this theme before (Genetic adaptation not stagnating conservation is the way to help threatened species),

Conservation – as stagnation – is not sustainable.  Trying to prevent change is a futile exercise. It is change which is the fundamental characteristic of life. It is managing change and even designing change which is a particular strength of the human species. It is human ingenuity at work. It is time to give thought to how we can help the species around us evolve into the neo-species which can cope with the changes which are inevitable.

This BBC article today only reinforces my view that so-called “animal conservation” in zoos is just show business and has nothing whatever to do with helping endangered species to survive.

How many healthy animals do zoos put down?

When Copenhagen Zoo put down a healthy male giraffe earlier this month, much of the world was horrified. But those in the know say it’s quite normal – a fate that befalls thousands of zoo animals across Europe every year. ….. 

It’s often hard to get any information, but the 340 zoos that belong to the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) must sign up to the organisation’s various breeding programmes, and for each species in the programme there is a studbook – a kind of inventory which records every animal’s birth, genetic make-up, and death.

EAZA does not publish these records or advertise the number of healthy animals that have been culled, but executive director Dr Leslie Dickie estimates that somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 animals are “management-euthanised” in European zoos in any given year. …… 

…….. Four German zookeepers were also prosecuted in 2010 for culling three tiger cubs at Magdeburg Zoo “without reasonable cause” (though the EAZA judged the step “entirely reasonable and scientifically valid“). ….

… The EAZA Yearbook 2007/2008 (the latest publicly available edition) states clearly that a “breed and cull” policy should be followed for some animals, like the pygmy hippopotamus.

Surpluses are a problem with a number of species, including monkeys and baboons, it notes. ….



Genetic adaptation – not stagnating conservation – is the way to help threatened species

October 26, 2013

If the big cats, or elephants or giraffes or pandas want to survive into the distant future they need to evolve. The changes taking place in their environment and in their loss of habitat are happening too fast for natural selection to throw up the genetic changes needed for long term survival. As long as humans remain the dominant species in their environment they will need to come to terms with that – genetically. Conventional conservation efforts are fundamentally flawed. They are backwards looking. They try to preserve these species – as they are – in artificially protected habitats which are frozen in time, which remain unchanged while the world around them changes. Conservation attempts to freeze these species and thereby lock them into the non-viable position they have found themselves in. This is not going to help them to continue into the future, except as an unsuccessful species. It is paradoxical that unsuccessful species are subject to conservation efforts and successful species get labelled as pests.

Much of the rapid change to the environments for these species is a consequence of the success of humanity as a species. Trying to keep a species unchanged and stagnating in a changing world seems to me to be irresponsible. And creating  little protected bubbles of habitat – whether in a reserve or a zoo can only be a short term measure. Domesticated animals are at little risk of extinction as long as humans thrive. Their success is inextricably linked with the human species and they have been adapted genetically to be what they are today. They are not allowed to breed freely or indiscriminately and that is the genetic price they pay. But their survival is assured – at least as long as humans thrive and maybe even beyond.

‘There are many more “urbanised” species which have through a natural – but environmentally coerced or forced – selection adapted genetically to have the traits which allow them to be successful in  the human-dominated environments they find themselves in. Foxes, bears, wolves, badgers and even the polar bears of Churchill have evolved and adapted to survive in human dominated environments. But they generally live surreptitious lives in the shadow of man. They have not found a sustainable position  as yet. An increasing number of birds have adapted their behaviour (presumably also by genetic changes) to take advantage of human behaviour. They have learned to live in and around our cities, to take advantage of our agricultural and harvesting habits and to use our waste streams as their food source. Even in the water, there are fish species which succeed because of the changes brought about by man. Many insects – be they cockroaches or spiders or mosquitoes, or termites – now know how to take advantage of man-made environments. At the microbial or viral level, species are not much concerned by the changes wrought by humans and continue their merry way.

Now in this new age of DNA analysis and intentional selection of genes I think it is time for Conservation to move away from merely trying to “freeze” species in an artificially protected environment and to move into a pro-active phase where humans actually help threatened species to continue into the future. This does not mean that the neo-species that appear must necessarily be domesticated or in the service of humans but it does mean that they must share the same habitat and be able to co-exist. If they require a specialised habitat which is likely to disappear or change due to man or for any other reason, they are destined to eventually go extinct. Putting such species into zoos or other artificially maintained or otherwise protected habitats only preserves an obsolete species in a temporary environment. Conventional conservation as it is practiced today goes down that route. And while it may provide a short term method for preserving the genes of such species, it is in an unsustainable form. It is a method which does no real service to such species.

Instead of trying to recreate the woolly mammoth for an environment which is totally unsuitable or of making futile attempts to preserve habitats for elephants so that they continue “unchanged”, it would be better if we considered how elephants – or the big cats – could be assisted along the evolutionary path such that they could find a natural and sustainable place in the brave new world that they now inhabit. For example, if neo-elephants were helped to evolve genetically such that their propensity to wander over very large areas reduced, or if they preferred certain kinds of trees and bushes and left others alone, or where their wanderings were more discerning and not as damaging to human crops, then herds of neo-elephants could find a sustainable place by the side of humanity.

Perhaps Siberian neo-tigers could be evolved genetically to help herd reindeer and develop a mutually beneficial partnership with man. An occasional reindeer kill would then be quite acceptable. It would be so much more contructive if neo-wolves were helped not to stagnate genetically, but instead to evolve the behavioural characteristics that allowed them to find a way of co-existing with humans and human flocks of sheep. The idea of neo-dolphins who communicate with man and have a herding behaviour in the oceans which benefit both humans and themselves has long been a subject of science fiction. Our nearest primate cousins have to be helped to move on and not to stagnate into extinction. The pace of environmental change is much too fast for natural selection to throw up the individuals capable of survival. Instead a natural deselection of individuals incapable of surviving is taking place. Neo-gorillas and neo-chimpanzees will not appear without human intervention.

Conservation – as stagnation – is not sustainable.  Trying to prevent change is a futile exercise. It is change which is the fundamental characteristic of life. It is managing change and even designing change which is a particular strength of the human species. It is human ingenuity at work. It is time to give thought to how we can help the species around us evolve into the neo-species which can cope with the changes which are inevitable.

Beetles reduce methane production from cowpats

August 22, 2013

Leaving aside all the extraneous nonsense about global warming and cattle flatulence – which was not actually studied at all – this paper by an intrepid Finnish researcher does address the effect of dung beetles on methane production in dung. Perhaps someday it will not be necessary to wrap-up otherwise good research in a “global warming” cloak just to ensure publication or funding or both

 Penttilä A, Slade EM, Simojoki A, Riutta T, Minkkinen K, and Roslin T. (2013) Quantifying Beetle-Mediated Effects on Gas Fluxes from Dung Pats. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71454. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071454

Abstract: Agriculture is one of the largest contributors of the anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) responsible for global warming. Measurements of gas fluxes from dung pats suggest that dung is a source of GHGs, but whether these emissions are modified by arthropods has not been studied. A closed chamber system was used to measure the fluxes of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) from dung pats with and without dung beetles on a grass sward. The presence of dung beetles significantly affected the fluxes of GHGs from dung pats. Most importantly, fresh dung pats emitted higher amounts of CO2 and lower amounts of CH4 per day in the presence than absence of beetles. Emissions of N2O showed a distinct peak three weeks after the start of the experiment – a pattern detected only in the presence of beetles. When summed over the main grazing season (June–July), total emissions of CH4proved significantly lower, and total emissions of N2O significantly higher in the presence than absence of beetles. While clearly conditional on the experimental conditions, the patterns observed here reveal a potential impact of dung beetles on gas fluxes realized at a small spatial scale, and thereby suggest that arthropods may have an overall effect on gas fluxes from agriculture. Dissecting the exact mechanisms behind these effects, mapping out the range of conditions under which they occur, and quantifying effect sizes under variable environmental conditions emerge as key priorities for further research.

Dung beetles like Aphodius pedellus may aerate cow pats- Drawing of beetle by Kari Heliövaara

From EurekAlert:

Atte Penttilä, who undertook the study for his Masters, explains: “Cow pats offer a prime food for a large number of organisms. In fact, there are probably as many beetle species living in dung as there are bird species on this planet.”

Of the dung beetles living in Northern Europe, most spend their entire lives within the dung pats. “We believe that these beetles exert much of their impact by simply digging around in the dung. Methane is primarily born under anaerobic conditions, and the tunneling by beetles seems to aerate the pats. This will have a major impact on how carbon escapes from cow pats into the atmosphere.”

“You see, the important thing here is not just how much carbon is released” explains Tomas Roslin, head of the research team. “The question is rather in what form it is released. If carbon is first taken up by plants as carbon dioxide, then emitted in the same format by the cows eating the plants, then the effect of plants passing through cattle will be small in terms of global warming. But if in the process the same carbon is converted from carbon dioxide to methane – a gas with a much higher impact on climate – it is then that we need to worry.”

“If the beetles can keep those methane emissions down, well then we should obviously thank them – and make sure to include them in our calculations of overall climatic effects of dairy and beef farming.”


Clean air legislation reinstated the global warming suppressed by industrial pollution

August 20, 2013

A fascinating post at WUWT:

The story so far;

  1. The earth was warming naturally after the Little Ice Age (1350 – 1850).
  2. Along came the industrial revolution. Dust and aerosol pollution covered large parts of the earth and blocked out the Sun. This caused a gradually increasing suppression of the global warming that was occurring as the industrialisation of the world proceeded. This suppression reached a maximum during the 1970’s.
  3. Then came clean air legislation around the world, cleaned up the atmosphere and the Earth basked in the sunlight again.

Global warming was rediscovered.

And now as the LIA temperature recovery is coming to a natural end, global temperatures will decrease again.

Well it is a settled science after all.

Shocker: Global warming may simply be an artifact of clean air laws


Figure 1 from Wild et al 2012 showing radiation balance differences due to aerosols (via WUWT)


Disaster looms! Sea level may rise 5 cm by 2100

July 5, 2013

Sea levels in the past have been 10 m higher than today and 150 m lower than today.

Alarmism will have us believe that +5 cm ±15 cm in sea level that may actually happen by 2100 will threaten the very existence of humanity!

A new paper from Nils-Axel Mörner.


by Nils-Axel Mörner

ABSTRACT The history and development of our understanding of sea level changes is reviewed. Sea level research is multi-facetted and calls for integrated studies of a large number of parameters. Well established records indicate a post-LIA (1850–1950) sea level rise of 11 cm. During the same period of time, the Earth’s rate of rotation experienced a slowing down (deceleration) equivalent to a sea level rise of about 10 cm. Sea level changes during the last 40-50 years are subjected to major controversies. The methodology applied and the views claimed by the IPCC are challenged. For the last 40-50 years strong observational facts indicate virtually stable sea level conditions. The Earth’s rate of rotation records a mean acceleration from 1972 to 2012, contradicting all claims of a rapid global sea level rise, and instead suggests stable, to slightly falling, sea levels. Best estimates for future sea level changes up to the year 2100 are in the range of +5 cm ±15 cm.


The Green mantra of “No we can’t” is unsustainable

April 28, 2013

It is a bright, sunny Sunday morning and I refuse to allow Green predictions of impending doom dent my optimism.

The Greens – no doubt – mean well.

Earnest, self-righteous, Malthusian, smug, often sanctimonious but rarely rational, the Greens of today are always ready to tell others what to do and what is best for them. From being – once upon a time – a constructive movement with practical and laudable objectives of improving local environments, it has developed into an authoritarian, arrogant, dogmatic, semi-religious and mildly fascist ideology. It has been perverted by scenarios of catastrophe and subverted by delusions of grandiose global ambitions. It is more concerned with forbidding behaviour it considers undesirable and of coercing people to comply. It has forgotten that humanity is an integral and necessary part of the environment.

I take the view that our descendants will be smarter than we are, that human ingenuity will meet the challenges to come and that change is the essence of humanity. Adapting to change is what has powered human evolution and it is in designing the changes to come which will drive our future evolution. Stagnation and maintaining a status quo in the name of conservation is essentially backward looking and an abdication of responsibility. I prefer to focus on what to do and not on what others should not do.

We can’t keep increasing energy use – Yes we can

We can’t keep using nuclear power – Yes we can

We can’t keep using gas – Yes we can

We can’t keep burning coal – Yes we can

We can’t burn fossil fuels – Yes we can

We can’t feed the world’s population – Yes we can

We can’t eliminate war – Yes we can

We can’t eradicate poverty – Yes we can

We can’t fight disease – Yes we can

We can’t maintain growth – Yes we can

We can’t use gene modified crops – Yes we can

We can’t use stem cells – Yes we can

We can’t adapt – Yes we can

We can’t depend upon human ingenuity – Yes we can

Without change there is no time and all is stasis and dead. The essence of humanity lies in meeting the challenges of change and not in futile attempts to stop change.

Green is also the colour of decay.

Disconnect between man-made CO2 and atmospheric levels of CO2

April 28, 2013

The evidence grows that

  1. Temperature drives carbon dioxide, and 
  2. man made carbon dioxide is a minor contributor to carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere

Atmospheric verification of anthropogenic CO2emission trendsRoger J. Francey et al, Nature Climate Change 3, 520–524 (2013) doi:10.1038/nclimate1817

The Hockey Schtick reports:

A recent paper published in Nature Climate Change finds a disconnect between man-made CO2 and atmospheric levels of CO2, demonstrating that despite a sharp 25% increase in man-made CO2 emissions since 2003, the growth rate in atmospheric CO2 has slowed sharply since 2002/2003. The data shows that while the growth rate of man-made emissions was relatively stable from 1990-2003, the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 surged up to the record El Nino of 1997-1998. Conversely, growth in man-made emissions surged ~25% from 2003-2011, but the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 has flatlined since 1999 along with global temperatures. The data demonstrates temperature drives CO2 levels due to ocean outgassing, man-made CO2 does not drive temperature, and that man is not the primary cause of the rise in CO2 levels.

Noted in passing 5th January 2013

January 5, 2013

Wildlife gallery from Greenland: Photo: Uri Golman

A stunning gallery of wildlife pictures from Greenland.

In the ever-changing world of the web and personal computing, a reminder of the MS wrist-watch and other 10 EPIC CES fails.

Science Fraud – Another web-site silenced by legal threats and the University of Regensburg has rescinded the doctorate of a dentist who had submitted a dissertation that was essentially that of her husband’s.

A new open-access paper in Earth System Dynamics showing that recent global warming is not statistically significantly related to anthropogenic forcing. Matt Ridley has 2 interesting pieces on how fossil fuels have actually greened the planet and how Europeans seem intent on making their future as bad as they can.

A new kidney transplantation racket revealed in India where the price of a kidney varies between Rs. 70,000 and 300,000 ($1,400 to $6,000). Indian Supreme Court reacts to over 2,200 deaths in clinical trials carried out by international pharmaceutical companies in India.

Some modern humans who live natural lifestyles in the forests of Earth still climb more or less like a chimpanzee and ‘Lucy’ could climb like chimpsJumping genes and horizontal gene transfer leads to the conclusion that cows are more closely related to snakes than to elephants!

Wallace’s letter to Darwin in 1864 doubting the assertion that the aristocracy are more beautiful than the middle-classes. Lead concentration in Greenland ice shows that when Rome fell there was a real reduction of industrial activity which lasted almost a millenium. It could be that climate change is not the great destroyer but is the great enabler and that many of the evolutionary developments of modern humans have been driven by natural – and rapid – climate change. Archaeological sleuthing sheds more light on the strange goings-on during the mutiny on the VOC Retourschip Batavia, in 1629.

COP18 in Doha: A convention of the cowardly in the “theatre of the absurd”

December 3, 2012

COP18 in Doha enters its second week and politicians are now arriving in droves. A small fortune has already been spent during the first week. But this is a gathering of an alarmist movement built on unprovable fears. Inevitably the greedy “groupies” gather (some 17,000 of them). A convention of the cowardly in the “theatre of the absurd”.

As The Economist puts it

NEVER let it be said that climate-change negotiators lack a sense of the absurd. Thousands of politicians, tree-huggers and journalists descended on Doha this week, adding their mite of hot air to the country that already has the world’s highest level of carbon emissions per head. The feeling of unreality is apt.  ……. The jamboree in Doha is the 18th UN climate-change summit, but the third since a landmark one at Copenhagen in 2009.

We shall see – and are seeing — new alarmist articles and press releases every day till the end of this week. But the fundamental problem is not so much the politics of alarmism connected with this one non-issue of climate change, but the fact that the once laudable environmental movement now resorts to the politics of fear. Courage is singularly lacking.

Courage is the subordination of fear to purpose. Today however with the politics of alarmism, fears dominate purpose. Inevitably these are fears which can never be disproved because they are forecasts of what lies a long way in the future. And the politics of fear generates its own greedy “groupies”

Once upon a time, the environmentalists were a courageous lot and were surely instrumental in the cleaning up of many areas from the effects of real pollution … But the simple virtues of keeping things clean and preventing disease and improving the standard of living for humans has given way to the more pompous and pretentious goals of preventing global warming (an unbridled arrogance), of maintaining bio-diversity (and why is this important?) and of preserving “scarce resources due to the “limits to growth”…  

… Inevitably the politics of alarmism are accompanied by the opportunists whose greed leads to all the scams surrounding environmental subsidies for renewable power or for carbon trading.

Tornadoes and forest fires drastically down – It must be global warming

September 27, 2012

The orthodoxy of the Temple of Climate Science have been busy this summer trying to link every “unusual” weather event to global warming. But every time I see a headline that some weather event has been the worst for 30 or 40 or 100 years, it only serves to  illustrate that the same weather events also occurred 30 or 40 or 100 years ago. And when weather events today are similar to events before 1950 then they can only be further indicators that they are not linked to carbon dioxide emissions.

Even the IPCC realises that weather is not climate.


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