Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Getting the message straight...

All through my upbringing, I've had an interest in ecology: both of my parents worked at one point for Marwell Zoological Park in one admin capacity or another, which meant many trips in that direction. Their passion for this sort of thing inspired a similar one in myself, so perhaps it was only natural that I fell in love with someone whose interest in ecology is perhaps the central fact of her life. This has, in turn, enriched my knowledge of the subject no end, and revived my interest in all (well, most) things ecology.

Which brings me to the reason for this post: Green.TV, "a web TV channel dedicated to the environment". Awesome, and a great idea to increase education and awareness of these vitally important issues. The first video I watched (subscribing through the video podcast medium) was "How Far South For Winter Migrants?" which highlights the impact of climate change on birds migrating to the UK over the winter for the milder weather we enjoy (thanks to the North Atlantic Drift, or the Gulf Stream, or both - I forget). They come here to escape the harsh winter weather elsewhere, such as the Arctic and northern Europe.

Climate change is meaning wetter, milder winters, and many species of bird normally seen migrating to the UK for winter are apparently wintering in Germany or Holland (for example). They are adjusting to the change in climate, and "some things are going to lose out and some things are going to benefit ... we haven't identified the winners and losers because we're still involved in trying to understand climate change ourselves". The talk is being given at the London Wetlands Centre, and one point that is made is that the two hundred wigeon currently using the wetlands as winter quarters will likely no longer frequent their establishment.

Watch the video. Because it is at this point that we get what is known as a non sequitur (Latin - "does not follow"). The premise is that wigeon will likely stop frequenting the London Wetlands Centre during the winter months. The conclusion is "we've got to get a handle on it now; we've got to recycle, preserve ... everything that we can. We've just got to live a different lifestyle."

Um, no. Firstly, let me just say that I'm 100% behind the campaign for lifestyle change, recycling, sustainable forests, biofuel (but not the stuff that they're felling rain forests for) and all the rest. But what you have in this video is a very poorly put-together argument. So wigeon won't be wintering at the London Wetlands Centre... This is hardly the most compelling argument I've heard for making the public change the way they live their lives. Come to think of it, it's one of the least compelling arguments I've heard for anything. So the birds spend the winter somewhere else; they presumably had to do that before the London Wetlands were "created" anyway. There seems to be a hidden assumption here that because they're not spending the winter over here their very survival is threatened - but in the same video it states that the birds are adapting to the climate change by simply modifying their migrations. Just because they're not here, doesn't mean they're dead.

Furthermore, even if we see an overwhelming response to the call for a change in lifestyle, this won't change an awful lot. It is my understanding that doing so is far from futile, but at best will basically constitute damage limitation. The climate is changing (it would likely be doing so without our interference, but it is almost certain that we have exacerbated the situation), and we cannot reverse it. Damage limitation is the best we can hope for, but that is no reason not to try. What it does mean, however, is that his damned wigeon are not likely to return any time soon. Changing your lifestyle will not mean that in a few years' or decades' time, the world will be back to "normal". This point is rarely stressed enough, probably out of fear that people will fail to see the value of damage limitation.

Anyway, my basic point is that, by all means create these great resources for education on the intertubes, but please make them convincing to more than the most credulous of audiences. Anyone with half a brain who is opposed to the ideology can point to the multifarious flaws in these arguments and use them to say that the entire cause is flawed. Let's please not give them that opportunity. Let's start making educational material that contains logically coherent arguments.

If you're wondering where the political-themed post has disappeared to, I was fully intending to simply leave this blog alone for a while and work on my essays, and make notes on the political issue I'd found. But then I listened to the Russell Brand podcast and watched this green.tv video, and I just had to post about them. So much for my estimate of once a week being ambitious. I have 7 or so more of these green.tv videos yet to watch, so there may well be another which stirs me to post about that issue. The political post will hopefully be up within a week.

Until then.

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