Archive for Politics

Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush

To understand how individuals interact biologists use a branch of mathematics known as game theory, the central assumption of which is that entities (usually individuals) behave rationally; that is, they act in their own best interests in light of the available information about what others are doing. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s about maximizing one’s own success relative to that of others.

A famous example of the application of game theory to behaviour is the so-called Prisoner’s Dilemma. Imagine two suspects, held in separate cells. If they both stick with their story (loosely, “I dahn’t nah nuffin’ mate”) the authorities will have no evidence on which to convict and both will go free. Read the rest of this entry »

Rules that need be neither bent nor broken

Photo (c) Darren Hester

The UK Government’s Low Carbon Transition Plan, published in July this year, makes the case for the creation of 10,000 hectares of new woodland a year for the next fifteen years. And that’s just for England: Scotland already has a similar target. If achieved, the English contribution alone could draw an estimated 50 million tonnes out of the atmosphere by 2050.

Only it’s not really a target. It’s an aspiration, an altogether different thing. Read the rest of this entry »

REDDy for a change?

There was a fascinating meeting at the International Institute for Environment and Development last night. Professor Virgílio Viana, visiting fellow and director general of the Amazon Sustainability Foundation talked about the project he oversees in the Amazonas, the largest Brazilian Amazon state. A short summary of what he covered is in this video:

Viana’s presentation outlined the successes of the project, which has seen a switch in governmental policy from handing out free chainsaws towards a cultural value of seeing standing trees as being worth more than felled ones. Read the rest of this entry »

Greenwash, Ecobuild, Disclosure

Letting the train take the strainBit of a mixed bag this, and perhaps the title of this post is a little too sweeping, but then we’re feeling a little incensed by a recent article in the Independent. In a spectacularly poorly researched piece of dross, Simon Usborne and Helen Brown attempt to “face the facts many ecologists would rather ignore”.

There’s a grain of truth in some of them, such as the notion that food miles aren’t a bombproof proxy for the carbon footprint of a product. Indeed, we’ve touched on the same subject. Similarly, it’s true to say that an ancient woodland isn’t sequestering carbon at the same rate as a fast growing, young plantation of, say, eucalyptus trees. Read the rest of this entry »

The no-coal goal

Hopefully a thing of the past

Hopefully a thing of the past

In some parts of the world, tradition has it that naughty children find only a lump of coal in their Christmas stockings. They might not have presents to play with at Christmas, but at least the home fires will keep burning.

At Hogmanay, part of the Scottish tradition of first-footing (the first person to cross the threshold bringing luck, or ill-luck, to the household for the coming year) includes the presentation of a piece of coal to symbolize warmth.

And coal has hit the headlines this New Year. In an open letter to incoming US President Obama, Jim Hansen, head of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and wife Anniek stress both the urgency for action on climate change and the ineffectiveness of current policies. Read the rest of this entry »

Rock, paper, scissors

One of the least energy efficient buildings in Britain

One of the least energy efficient buildings in Britain

It’s been an interesting week. The All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group met at the House of Commons to discuss Reducing Emissons from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD). His Excellency Laleshwar Singh, High Commissioner for Guyana in the UK, was there to reiterate his country’s offer to protect their pristine rainforest from illegal logging and clearance in exchange for millions of pounds of UK and international assistance. The money, he said, would go towards increased security, development of research opportunities, ecotourism and “sustainable forestry”. Improving education, health and employment prospects for local people would also figure in the plan.

It sounded great (apart from that sustainable forestry bit, thrown in with an alarmingly casual wave of the arm), but then came the catch. Read the rest of this entry »