Overpopulation and the environment

It’s a weird feeling when you find people questioning something you would’ve thought was both obvious and widely accepted. That’s something that happened to me recently regarding the impact of human population on the environment, something we’ve been hearing is a problem from environmentalists for decades. That’s why I was surprised to read an article by Ketan Joshi talking about the problems in a recent film (which I haven’t seen) and being completely against the idea that we need to talk about population. In fact, he goes so far as to call population control “a cruel, evil and racist ideology.”

I had no idea how he had come to that conclusion, and I still don’t know how much of that was directed specifically at the film he was critiquing and how much was a general comment, but there was a Twitter thread by George Monbiot which is a good read and makes explicit a similar line of reasoning. His contention is that, although the majority of carbon emissions are by the, primarily white, ultra rich, people (particularly white people) prefer to blame population growth than the wealthy as it deflects responsibility from their own actions and that this is, intentionally or not, racist because those countries with the highest population growth rates have largely black or brown population. While I agree with several of his starting points, I think he makes several errors in reasoning as he builds upon them that undermines his conclusions and which I wish to address here. Continue reading

Ignorance Trumps science

One of the most frustrating things about hearing news about Donald Trump is the complete disconnect between the fantasy world in his head and the real world that we all live in. Most of the time, people like that are ridiculous but can be, more or less, ignored. With Trump it’s different because what he does has a large amount of influence.

Given what we know about climate change and the stakes, it’s extremely depressing to see Trump pulling the US out of the Paris climate change agreement, especially when all his reasons to do so seem to be nonsense. He is basically flying against all the climate science that we have and upsetting most of researchers in the process. Continue reading

Quicklinks: crows, climate and computers

There’s an interesting story about crows from the BBC (found via io9) about a girl who regularly feeds crows. That wouldn’t be so remarkable if the crows weren’t now giving her gifts in return. We probably shouldn’t be too surprised. Crows are highly intelligent and have long term memory of people. There are wild animals that can think and feel and reciprocate a person’s gifts. If people had more interactions with animals we would probably hear more such stories. At the moment they tend to be limited to pets.

One of my recent quicklink posts (well… December) mentioned both the need to reduce consumption of meat to reduce (drastically) our impact on climate change and the strong opposition that meets such proposals. In a heartening, though non-binding, move, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee have released their 2015 scientific report to the US Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services which explicitly mention reducing consumption of meat due to the effect on climate change. This is covered in Slate.

In the world of computing it seems like we are gradually winning the fight against unnecessary and invasive internet surveillance. Not necessarily because everyone has been convinced but because the people fighting surveillance are a cohesive movement. And then there’s also an interesting piece on how discussion about security vulnerabilities in code can be prevented laws. The main feeling of the article is frustration at how laws prevent important ethical discussions.

Quicklinks: Following up Islam and vegetarianism

About two months ago, I submitted a post about the open mosque in Cape Town that included a short bit on how the idea of takfir can make Islamic conflicts worse, specifically with regard to ISIS (or ISIL or IS or whatever it calls itself these days). There’s a guest post on The Friendly Atheist that addresses the same point but taking a slightly different angle, saying that when some Muslim groups say ISIS is not Islamic they are not necessarily saying they are not Muslims. I doubt either perspective is completely correct but I should at least share the information.

Going further back, to last December, I described my experiences at a writer’s workshop, including my dismay at recent trends showing an increase in global meat consumption. This dismay is now reinforced by a recent article in The Guardian (found via io9) which summarises a report showing that to avoid climate change it is necessary to reduce the global consumption of meat. It’s not just a minor issue.

The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined, but a worldwide survey by Ipsos MORI in the report finds twice as many people think transport is the bigger contributor to global warming.

It’s pointless getting an electric car or cycling to work without reducing meat consumption because you’ll be directing attention at the wrong problem. It’s like telling people to be careful because candles are a fire hazard but staying silent about a trend for indoor bonfires! Even when people do say or do something, the reaction to suggestions that meat consumption needs to be reduced are negative.

For example, see this discussion about the push back against meatless Mondays. Not only the objections often completely misguided but when you see complaints about how meatless Monday or stricter emissions standards are bad for the economy you know that that person has a completely short-sighted view of the world. Are short-term economics really going to take priority over long-term survival?