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Random Environment Facts

Many people hear useful information each day and later when it might be relevant (such as in a discussion with a political opponent) they might have forgotten that piece of information which might have allowed them to deliver a devastating riposte!

Yes, that used to happen to me until I started using my iPhone to its full capabilities. No, when I hear a useful tidbit I just pull out the phone and make a note of it. The notes are synchronised automatically to my computer and I just do a “tidy up” every now and then and file all the facts away in a file based on the subject area involved.

But many of these little gems have never been used, so I thought why not share them here with my blog readers? And why not start with something moderately controversial like environmentalism? So here they are, some of the contents of my “Environmentalism Random Facts” file which show that what many people believe isn’t necessarily true!

Fact number 1: The energy content of a fabric shopping bag is 130 times greater than that of a plastic supermarket bag. (source: unknown)

Commentary on fact 1: Many people think they are doing the environment a favour by using reusable fabric shopping bags, but this isn’t necessarily the case. A fabric bag involves (in manufacturing, transport, etc) 130 times more energy than a plastic single-use bag. So, if you shop once a week, you would need to have the fabric bag last almost 3 years to make it worthwhile.

Judging by how many of the fabric bags we use break, I’m not sure that many would attain this lifespan. Also, this assumes that the plastic bags aren’t re-used. We re-use ours for rubbish, etc, so that gives them a second life.

I’m not saying that plastic bags are more environmentally friendly that fabric but I am suggesting that the issue isn’t quite as straightforward as many people think.

Fact number 2: Within 50 to 100 years of the Maori (native New Zealanders) arriving in New Zealand the moa (a large flightless bird) was extinct. (source: RNZ podcast, Moa Flourished Through… 2012-08-08)

Fact number 3: The Pacific rat, which was introduced by Maori, caused more extinctions than any other mammal species. (source RNZ podcast, Part 2 the next extinction?)

Fact number 4: In New Zealand 34 species were made extinct by Maori, and just 15 by Europeans. Originally there where were 245 species, of which 174 were endemic. (source RNZ podcast, Part 2 the next extinction?)

Commentary on facts 2 to 4: Many people think that the arrival of Europeans was the greatest factor causing the extinction of native species. These facts show that (at least in New Zealand, but I expect also elsewhere) it is humans in general which are the problem.

Contrary to politically correct belief there is good reason to think that native human populations are no more “in touch with the land” or “integrated with nature” than anyone else.

Fact number 5: Less than 1% of the ocean is fully protected, and just 13% of the land area. (source: RNZ podcast, Managing Our Oceans, approx 2013-01-25)

Commentary on fact 5: Many people who are opposed to conservation claim that industries which exploit the environment (fishing, forestry, etc) are being blocked by excessive environmental protection and regulation. But the facts are that very little of the total area of the planet is fully protected.

Fact number 6: In the US acid rain was stopped by a government cap and trade scheme on sulphur dioxide emissions. Emissions are now 50% below what they were in 1980.

Commentary on fact 6: I often hear conservatives and libertarians claiming that government imposed cap and trade schemes can never work. If that is the case then how do they explain the apparent success of this one?

Note that I am not necessarily a proponent of these schemes myself – just look at the rather dismal failure of the current carbon trading scheme to see why – because they can often be easily manipulated by the exact people they are designed to control. But clearly they can work if they are set up correctly.

I think that any scheme is potentially open to abuse but I also think a carbon (or other pollutant) tax is a better choice. Whatever scheme is put in place the governments involved need to be committed to it and be prepared to stop cynical manipulation by those who will sacrifice the greater good of the planet for their own monetary profit.

Fact number 7: Over half of New Zealand’s recreational rivers are unsafe due to pollution. 52% of those monitored were rated poor or very poor and unsuitable swimming. This was mainly due to farming discharge. (RNZ Podcast 2012-10-17)

Fact number 8: In New Zealand 18,000 to 30,000 people per year contract water borne diseases. These are almost entirely related to pollution from dairy farming. (RNZ Podcast 2012-10-17)

Commentary on facts 7 and 8: There are two common myths which these facts contradict: first, that New Zealand is a “clean and green” country; and second, that farming is a safe and natural activity.

Many parts of New Zealand are clean and green, and some farmers are quite responsible about their farm’s effects on the environment. But as these figures show, neither of those statements are true in general. Dairying is the biggest source of pollution in New Zealand, and the country isn’t particularly clean or green in many places.

Farming is just another exploitative industry but obviously we need it. But it should be much more closely controlled to prevent farmers from destroying the environment just for their own profit. If farming can’t be carried out in an environmentally responsible way then it shouldn’t be carried out at all.

And the myth of our country being clean and green is both a carryover from the past and an invention of the tourism industry. Tourists can certainly visit many parts of the country and not see many signs of pollution, but they would need to stay away from intensive farming areas.

So those are some of my “random fact” highlights. The key feature of many of the facts I gather is that they show things are rarely as they seem, both because of political correctness and the propaganda power of the rich and powerful. I rarely believe what is presented on mainstream media so when I do hear more credible facts from experts I make sure I keep them somewhere safe!

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