This blog now has a new linked Page for the weekly newsletter, “Something for the weekend”.
Here’s my survey of the week’s causes for optimism, and discussions of the optimism/pessimism gap. Also occasional debunkings of optimism/pessimism.
* In a new article, “Ban the Beef?”, Bjorn Lomborg fisks the recent surge in alarmist claims that we need a “huge reduction in meat-eating”…
[the claim is that] eliminating meat consumption could cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 50% or more. That’s massive. It’s also massively misleading.” [Because, according to the best research] “In a developed-country setting, the reality is that going entirely vegetarian for the rest of your life means reducing your emissions by about 2%.” [but] you could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by the exact same amount by spending $6 a year using the European emissions trading system – while eating anything you want.
* Kids love it when people close off streets to cars and vans. So do future parents, it seems, thus boosting the local birth-rate…
“In the Spanish city Pontevedra, a family-friendly ‘pedestrianization’ policy has helped increase the population of kids, despite the country’s low birth rates.” […] “Since pedestrianization started in 2000, the population of kids age 0 to 14 also increased by 8 percent in Pontevedra, compared to 3.2 percent in Galicia’s capital Santiago de Compostela and 2.4 percent in Vigo, the region’s economic hub.”
“Although rarely recognized, the environmental record of the United States is one of dramatically declining air pollution […] these achievements should be celebrated as a public policy success story […] This achievement was made possible by technological innovations and the prosperity afforded by economic growth and a free market economy […] The U.S. should help developing countries mirror America’s environmental success.”
* “Shining in the Rust Belt” of America…
“Kokomo, Indiana, is no paradise, but a working-class/creative-class synthesis has helped turn it around.”
* “East Africa is one of the fastest growing regions in the world”. According to the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa, at 6.2% economic growth expected in 2019… “the pace of change is one of the fastest in history” for Africa. Millions of the poorest people on the planet are being raised out of poverty, and many more will follow them.
* Robert Tombs in the latest issue of the UK’s venerable The Spectator magazine, on the emotional aspect of the elite’s declinist mindset…
“Part of our elite — political, administrative, diplomatic, intellectual — is still evidently possessed by a sense of national decline. Perhaps it is a convenient excuse for their own inadequacy. Whatever its explanation, ‘declinism’ seems to have become part of their emotional make-up” […] “Declinism seems impermeable to argument and evidence, and it makes its holders unwilling to see the world as it actually is, and our place in it. We are, just as for the last few hundred years, one of the half-dozen or so most powerful and richest states. Yet declinists cling stubbornly to their pessimism, as if they need Britain to be the failure they proclaim it.”
* “Regrowing Iceland’s Lost Forests”. This is just a government plan, at present, albeit now a modestly funded one. Iceland’s national forest service will first need to collect enough seeds from a suitable mix of native species, and then identify suitable soils for the new forests. Both tasks are easier said than done, in a terrain like Iceland.
* A “Northern Forest of 50 million trees to be planted between Liverpool and Hull” in the north of England. As in Iceland, it’s just a plan at present… but there’s an initial £5.7 million funding to start off the 120-mile forest, with an initial aim for the next few years of 11 million new additional tree plantings. The Forest, once grown, should also help prevent future floods and fires. Though it remains to be seen how much of the mostly upland Forest will be quick-growing monoculture ‘cash crop’, and how much of it will resemble the natural and varied long-term native woodland of the exemplar ‘National Forest’ located in the nearby Midlands.
* “In a sea of sad and cynical television programming, allegedly created for children, ‘SpongeBob Squarepants’ has been a hopeful island of good cheer. Its creator, Stephen Hillenburg, died on Monday at the age of 57 and left behind millions of grateful viewers.” ($ Wall Street Journal link, may be paywalled in some regions).
Enjoyed this post? There’s more at the ‘Something for the Weekend’ newsletter archive.
One can learn a lot from President Trump, if one ignores the knee-jerk ridicule that he braves from the Twitterati. Thanks to his recent remarks, I’m now aware of the value of forest raking in its three main varieties:
* manual subsistence raking;
* mechanised underbrush raking;
* the raking out of fire-breaks in forest fire emergencies.
Nothing to do with dinky little garden-rakes from the DIY store, which is what the leftists have been mistakenly howling about.
The paper “Effects of simulated historical tree litter raking on the understorey vegetation in a central European forest” (2015) has concise details on this ancient forest conservation and management practice…
Litter raking is a form of land use whereby large quantities of dead leaf biomass are collected from the forest ground using rakes, resulting in the removal of large quantities of nutrients from the forest and a mechanical disturbance of the top soil (Glatzel 1991; Gimmi et al. 2013). Subsistence litter raking was once a widespread activity in the woodlands of central Europe (Ebermayer 1876; Burgi 1999). […] litter raking persists in a few areas of southeast Europe, but is gradually disappearing (Carni et al. 2007; Silc et al. 2008).
According to the 2017 paper “A review of thinning effects on Scots pine stands” in the journal Forest Systems, it also still appears to be a common practice among commercial pine plantations in central Europe…
many Scots pine sites in Central Europe have been enhanced considerably through deposition, regeneration of soil after depletion and litter raking.
In parts of northern Europe, such as Poland, traditional forest raking continued into “the late 1960s and early 1970s”, with the rakings used as a free substitute for straw. Finland was the subject of pioneering studies of reviving forest raking, led by Lindohm in the 1980s though the practice is now frowned on for reducing nutrient levels in the soil. More recent studies such as “Litter-Raking Forests in SE Slovenia and in Croatia” (2008) have additional details of how the practice worked…
Farmers used to cut bracken and heather, and also raked leaves of trees at the site. Occasionally they also cut some trees. Litter was not always transported to the farm, farmers put it on a heap with a single tree as a support, and the tree often died back after litter was removed.
What is being raked out was “litter”, which in the UK means human trash such as candy wrappers — but of course here means the annual leaf, twig, fern, bark and needle debris that accumulates on the forest floor, and which if left unraked can seed itself up into a thick impenetrable tangle. A tangle that that would obscure valuable peasant forest-crops such as mushrooms, berries, roots and herbs, as well as inhibiting the hunting of animals. No berries, no bears.
Litter raking and underbrush removal of the traditional type must inevitably make forests less flammable. Otherwise you get a forest that then needs to be tackled with the sort of mechanised underbrush thinning that is detailed in “Resource and time analysis of forest undergrowth removal on the example of Finnish forests” (2016). There are reported to be around 500 such undergrowth removing machines at work, raking out the extensive Finnish forests, in any given week. These are in addition to the great many thinning harvesters that work to extract bio-fuel wood…
So, while traditional raking may have been abandoned due to lack of labourers, the diesel-driven mechanical equivalent is clearly ongoing (whatever the axe-grinding anti-Trump politicians might say). It’s true that the relatively damp boreal climate of Finland means that this extraction is not a primary fire suppression tool, but it does happen… and as such it may help diminish the severity of the major forest fires in summer.
What Mr. Trump actually said was, off the cuff at one of his press conferences with highly hostile journalists…
You’ve got to take care of the floors. You know the floors of the forest, very important. I was with the president of Finland and he said, ‘We have a much different… we’re a forest nation.’ He called it a forest nation, and they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things” [to prevent fire]”
But “raking” here obviously refers to the mechanically raking out of the underbrush, with things like excavator rakes and brush pullers, a mechanised activity which has necessarily replaced human subsistence raking of the forest floor. Both forms of raking are real things, both more or less effective against future fire. One form of raking used to happen in Finland, and another mechanised form still happens. It may now go by names such as “precommercial thinning”, but it appears to have much the same effect.
A third form of raking also happens during forest fires, when firemen “rake out” the undergrowth, something which Mr. Trump saw and described…
… they were raking areas where the fire was, right over there. And they’re raking [out] trees, little trees like this that are not trees, little bushes, that you could see are totally dry. And they’re raking them [out], they’re on fire. That should have been all raked out.
And President Trump is of course broadly right, as he usually is. Taking care of the forest floor is important, specifically preventing the build up of vast amounts of dry flammable underbrush in dry climates. In California, he is right that this underbrush has not been regularly raked out or been allowed to burn out in small fires, due to pressure from eco-worriers who wouldn’t know one end of a rake from the other, and this neglect has sustained the devastating fires there…
Trump correctly points to decades of mistakes by state and federal forest agencies that caused the woodlands to become overly dense and blanketed with highly flammable dead wood and underbrush.
The possibility that old-school traditional raking would help inhibit forest fire is now a moot point, anyway. America’s forests are now so huge and dense, compared to the 1920s, that the manpower needed for such hard year-round manual work no longer exists on a regular and affordable basis. It’s highly unlikely that a vast new New Deal programme will supply such workers. Robo hover-drones equipped with seedling-zapping lasers might be a modern equivalent, flitting through the forest, but don’t hold your breath on that.
On the other hand, it seems to me that manual annual ‘litter raking’ may have its place in future patchwork forests, such as those anticipated by advocates of rewilding on the urban margins. And rewilding is likely to be in that format: large-scale mash-ups of a patchwork of landscape types managed for ecosystem coherence, rather than dense dark blanket forest which we just ‘fence and forget’. In which case you’d get places where there are a couple of acres of privately owned trees, here and there, and in these mechanised underbrush thinning every five years may be undesirable either due to cost and/or wildlife disturbance. But it might be viable if established as an autonomous annual community-led tradition of ‘raking the wood’. Such raking out could even help balance out the ‘carbon fertilisation effect‘, by removing nutrients from the soil — such fertilization is not much of a problem in northern boreal forests, but may possibly become a problem in lower latitudes over time.
As the African population grows and requires work, forest raking may also be a practice to consider experimenting with in the drier forest regions of Africa, along with regular prescribed burning for wildlife and bio-regional coherence of the larger ecosystem.
My weekly “Something for the Weekend” newsletters are all now collected under their own WordPress tag category.
I find it’s increasingly difficult to search Google News / ‘Sort by date’ for broad news searches such as: future trends. It used to be possible. But Google News is currently saturated with questionable auto-blogs which pump out press-releases from companies which purport to sell dubious ‘market reports’ and stock investment opportunities. Every sector is covered with a report from hat-cleaning machines to salty nuts. Presumably the scam here is that if someone is stupid enough to try to buy a copy of the worthless market report, they’re a sure-fire ‘mark’ for a stocks-and-shares scam run from some boilerhouse telesales office in Whereisitagin. Some of the smaller U.S. town newspapers are also relaying the press releases. Even when one adds search modifiers such as: -“markets” -“earnings” -“scenario” -“strategies” -“outlook” -“ratio” it’s still nearly impossible to do the sort of broad-sweep search that used to be possible.
Optimism and causes for optimism, spotted in the media this week:
* Smashing capitalism: British exports hit a record high / UK’s National Living Wage increases are making SME jobs more fulfilling / U.S. Economy is booming… and “Labor Department puts unemployment at 17-year low”.
→ Smashing news, keep it up!
* Trump-tastic!: “American optimism about the next generation’s future is up seven points since 2016. According to a recent Gallup poll [sample size: 1,503 adults], about 6 in 10 Americans (61%) say it is very (18%) or somewhat (43%) likely that the next generation will have a better life than did their parents.” Gallup stated: “Americans are generally feeling optimistic about the direction of the economy, and recent Gallup polling suggests that Americans still think the American dream is alive.” A related Gallup poll asked women about how well they’re doing: “Fifty-three percent of American women say they’re thriving”.
→ My Google News search suggests this has been buried by the media since its release two days ago, as it has only been covered in about four news outlets. And one of those, still deep in Trump Denial Syndrome, feigned a perplexed air and asked: “Major mystery: Why are Americans suddenly so optimistic?”
* Taking waste for a spin: A new spinout company from the University of Oxford is “founded on technology that can turn waste from plastic, tyres and biomass into high quality transportation fuels and chemicals”.
→ Admittedly it’s only a new startup, but the technology involved is from a highly reputable university and it appears to be sound and scalable. There’s also good news this week of the discovery of new ways to extract the firmly-embedded plastics found in electronic waste such as old circuit boards.
→ The link is to is a very dense peer-reviewed science paper, but the paper is handily translated into plainer-English by the bovine boffins at The Cattle Site: “Our four-year study suggests that [multi-paddock] grazing can potentially offset greenhouse gas emissions [to the extent that] beef production could be a net carbon sink”. It appears that a few relatively simple and do-able changes in how we raise beef cattle can vastly reduce their various forms of greenhouse gas emission, and even make raising beef cattle into a carbon sink — while also cleaning up local fish streams. The McDonalds fast-food-chain appears to have jumped on this beefy new science, and are saying this week that… “By 2030, the company plans to work with suppliers and franchisees to cut emissions 36% compared to 2015, even as the chain grows.” Now if only they can do something similar for all the litter that their ignorant customers generate.
* Great steaming fools: “A History Lesson in Technological Optimism: Simon, Jevons, and Lardner”.
→ The Competitive Enterprise Institute looks back to the 1840s and finds much the same moaning and gloom about the steam engine as we later endured in the 1970s under Erlich et al, and with much the same effects. We can now see that… “Those who gave in to pessimism and fear did little more than inflict misery (and their own hot air) on the rest of humanity”.
Added to the sidebar: eVolo magazine. My carefully selected sidebar ‘Blogroll’ now has 61 links.