Greenwashing: corporate tree planting generates goodwill but may sometimes harm the planet



File 20180924 85773 b469v3.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Missing the wood for the trees.
iDraw/Shutterstock

Benjamin Neimark, Lancaster University

Trees do a lot more for us than you probably think. Their roots prevent soil from eroding, their canopies provide shade and their leaves decompose into nutrients for crops, which feed livestock. Trees provide homes for a diverse range of wildlife and tree crops, such as coffee, rubber, and hardwoods, support countless livelihoods and entire economies. Trees also mark boundaries and hold immense spiritual, cultural and social value for smallholder communities around the world.

In the 1980s, charities proposed planting more trees to halt “desertification” in the Sahara Desert. This involved “afforestation” – planting trees where they had not grown for a while and “reforestation” – replacing recently lost tree cover.

Today the idea is growing strong, and an array of private companies from adult website Pornhub (yes, Pornhub) to clothing brand Ten Tree are using trees as a marketing tool.




Read more:
Pornhub has planted a few more trees, but don’t pretend it’s being responsible


Saving face or saving forests?

Businesses can offset their environmental impact by planting trees or supporting other forms of habitat restoration, so as to “pay off” the damage they cause locally. As climate change escalates, trees are in vogue for their potential to soak up the carbon dioxide we keep putting in the atmosphere.

The United Nations (UN) has even adopted a scheme for offering local communities and governments some sort of financial payout for saving trees from deforestation. This “economy of repair” has been adopted by some of the largest companies in their commitments to corporate social responsibility. One such programme is the Green Belt Movement – a Kenyan conservation NGO started by the late professor and Nobel Prize recipient Wangari Maathai.

Tree planting around the Sahara Desert has overwhelmingly relied on local efforts rather than businesses.
Niels Polderman/Shutterstock

Maathai’s original mission was to empower local people, particularly women, to overcome inequality through leading forest restoration and resisting the expanding Sahara Desert. Despite the involvement of charities and businesses, research has suggested that in programmes like these, it is farmers and local people, not companies, which make the biggest contributions to planting new trees. Since local people also inherit responsibility for them, it’s important that projects devised by outside parties are planned and executed wisely, and in the community’s interest.




Read more:
Africa’s got plans for a Great Green Wall: why the idea needs a rethink


While some may argue that tree planting is a win-win for the environment whoever does it, offsetting is just another way of corporate greenwashing. Environmental damage in one place cannot somehow be fixed by repairing habitats elsewhere, sometimes on the other side of the world.

Here are some of the ways in which indiscriminate tree planting can cause more harm than good.

Plantations are not forests

Diverse forests are often cleared for agricultural production or industrial use, and replaced by uniform stands of the same species selected because of their ability to grow fast.

Tropical forests in some cases take up to 65 years to regrow and their diversity cannot be replicated by a monoculture of reforested plots.

Ecologically illiterate

Reforestation and afforestation schemes must decide which species are appropriate to plant – native or exotic, multi-purpose or fast growing, naturally regenerating forests or managed plantations. Sometimes the wrong species are selected and Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) is one such poor choice.

Eucalyptus is usually chosen because it is fast growing and economically valuable. Yet, it is exotic to many places it is now planted and requires lots of water, which drains the water table and competes with native crops.

In Europe, replacing broad-leafed native oak trees with faster growing conifers has meant that forest cover on the continent is 10% greater than it was before the industrial revolution. However, the new trees are not as good at trapping carbon but do trap heat more efficiently, contributing to global warming. Clearly, tree planting without due caution can do more harm than good.

Trees need care – lots of it

Tree species take a long time to grow and need continual care. However, tree planting schemes usually “plant and go” –- meaning they do not put resources into managing the trees after they are placed into the ground. Young trees are particularly vulnerable to disease and competition for light and nutrients and if not cared for, will eventually die.

Newly planted tree saplings may need three to five years of frequent watering to survive.
A3pfamily/Shutterstock

Trees are political

Trees planted by states or private donors may choose sites without consulting local communities, ignoring any of their customary land rights and management regimes. This locally-owned land may be in fallow or have different economic, cultural or spiritual uses.

Blundering into planting in these places may exacerbate tensions over land tenure, spreading disinterest in tree care and stewardship. Dispossessed locals may move to existing forests and clear land for food production. Tenure rights over trees are also not always owned by whole households either, but divided between gender. Planting trees and asking questions later may sow tensions over land ownership for long after the project departs.

It’s no surprise that trees are on the green economy agenda, but this does not necessarily mean that planting them is “green” or helpful for social harmony. Allowing trees to regrow naturally is not always effective either, as trees are unlikely to survive on their own. Community involvement is therefore crucial.

This means real consultation over site and species selection, property rights over the trees, their products, and the land they grow in and who takes on the labour to keep the trees alive after they are planted. If companies are serious about planting trees then they need to care about the communities that live with them and not just their own reputations.The Conversation

Benjamin Neimark, Senior Lecturer, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Spending time alone in nature is good for your mental and emotional health



File 20180529 80633 loc9im.jpeg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Hiking the Savage River Loop in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska.
Lian Law/NPS

Brad Daniel, Montreat College; Andrew Bobilya, Western Carolina University, and Ken Kalisch, Montreat College

Today Americans live in a world that thrives on being busy, productive and overscheduled. Further, they have developed the technological means to be constantly connected to others and to vast options for information and entertainment through social media. For many, smartphones demand their attention day and night with constant notifications.

As a result, naturally occurring periods of solitude and silence that were once commonplace have been squeezed out of their lives. Music, reality TV shows, YouTube, video games, tweeting and texting are displacing quiet and solitary spaces. Silence and solitude are increasingly viewed as “dead” or “unproductive” time, and being alone makes many Americans uncomfortable and anxious.

But while some equate solitude with loneliness, there is a big difference between being lonely and being alone. The latter is essential for mental health and effective leadership.

We study and teach outdoor education and related fields at several colleges and organizations in North Carolina, through and with other scholars at 2nd Nature TREC, LLC, a training, research, education and consulting firm. We became interested in the broader implications of alone time after studying intentionally designed solitude experiences during wilderness programs, such as those run by Outward Bound. Our findings reveal that time alone in nature is beneficial for many participants in a variety of ways, and is something they wish they had more of in their daily life.

On an average day in 2015, individuals aged 15 and over spent more than half of their leisure time watching TV.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans Time Use Survey

Reflection and challenge

We have conducted research for almost two decades on Outward Bound and undergraduate wilderness programs at Montreat College in North Carolina and Wheaton College in Illinois. For each program, we studied participants’ experiences using multiple methods, including written surveys, focus group interviews, one-on-one interviews and field notes. In some cases, we asked subjects years later to look back and reflect on how the programs had affected them. Among other questions, our research looked at participant perceptions of the value of solo time outdoors.

Our studies showed that people who took part in these programs benefited both from the outdoor settings and from the experience of being alone. These findings build on previous research that has clearly demonstrated the value of spending time in nature.

Scholars in fields including wilderness therapy and environmental psychology have shown that time outdoors benefits our lives in many ways. It has a therapeutic effect, relieves stress and restores attention. Alone time in nature can have a calming effect on the mind because it occurs in beautiful, natural and inspirational settings.

Spending time in city parks like Audubon Park in New Orleans provides some of the same benefits as time in wilderness areas, including reduced stress levels and increased energy levels.
InSapphoWeTrust, CC BY-SA

Nature also provides challenges that spur individuals to creative problem-solving and increased self-confidence. For example, some find that being alone in the outdoors, particularly at night, is a challenging situation. Mental, physical and emotional challenges in moderation encourage personal growth that is manifested in an increased comfort with one’s self in the absence of others.

Being alone also can have great value. It can allow issues to surface that people spend energy holding at bay, and offer an opportunity to clarify thoughts, hopes, dreams and desires. It provides time and space for people to step back, evaluate their lives and learn from their experiences. Spending time this way prepares them to re-engage with their community relationships and full work schedules.

Putting it together: The outdoor solo

Participants in programmed wilderness expeditions often experience a component known as “Solo,” a time of intentional solitude lasting approximately 24-72 hours. Extensive research has been conducted on solitude in the outdoors because many wilderness education programs have embraced the educational value of solitude and silence.

Solo often emerges as one of the most significant parts of wilderness programs, for a variety of reasons. Alone time creates a contrasting experience to normal living that enriches people mentally, physically and emotionally. As they examine themselves in relation to nature, others, and in some cases, God, people become more attuned to the important matters in their lives and in the world of which they are part.

Solo, an integral part of Outward Bound wilderness trips, can last from a few hours to 72 hours. The experience is designed to give participants an opportunity to reflect on their own thoughts and critically analyze their actions and decisions.

Solitary reflection enhances recognition and appreciation of key personal relationships, encourages reorganization of life priorities, and increases appreciation for alone time, silence, and reflection. People learn lessons they want to transfer to their daily living, because they have had the opportunity to clarify, evaluate and redirect themselves by setting goals for the future.

For some participants, time alone outdoors provides opportunity to consider the spiritual and/or religious dimension of life. Reflective time, especially in nature, often enhances spiritual awareness and makes people feel closer to God. Further, it encourages their increased faith and trust in God. This often occurs through providing ample opportunities for prayer, meditation, fasting, Scripture-reading, journaling and reflection time.

Retreating to lead

As Thomas Carlyle has written, “In (solitary) silence, great things fashion themselves together.” Whether these escapes are called alone time, solitude or Solo, it seems clear that humans experience many benefits when they retreat from the “rat race” to a place apart and gather their thoughts in quietness.

The ConversationIn order to live and lead effectively, it is important to be intentional about taking the time for solitary reflection. Otherwise, gaps in schedules will always fill up, and even people with the best intentions may never fully realize the life-giving value of being alone.

Brad Daniel, Professor of Outdoor Education, Montreat College; Andrew Bobilya, Associate Professor and Program Director of Parks and Recreation Management, Western Carolina University, and Ken Kalisch, Associate Professor of Outdoor Education, Montreat College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Good signage in national parks can save lives. Here’s how to do it right



File 20180321 165564 1oc9lor.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Young men and overseas tourists are particularly at risk.
flickr/andrea castelli, CC BY-SA

Pascal Scherrer, Southern Cross University and Betty Weiler, Southern Cross University

Every time we hear of the tragic death of a visitor in one of Australia’s spectacular national parks, there is cause for reflection on how we communicate safety messages in nature.

Our study, published in the Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism, reviewed some of the signs in national parks in Queensland and Victoria; we also interviewed rangers and park managers.




Read more:
Our national parks need visitors to survive


Outdoor recreation inherently comes with risk but there are ways to reduce it without wrapping people up in cotton wool.

One of the simplest ways is to critically examine the way we design safety signs to ensure that visitors actually read them, connect with the message, and accept that this warning does really apply to them.

Our findings help to show why and how particular signs are effective at communicating safety messages – and what not to do.

To be effective a sign should, among other things:

  • be easy to notice
  • be easy to understand
  • use colours that stand out from the background
  • include languages other than English
  • include graphics and the traditional “no” symbol of a red circle with a line through it
  • avoid crowding too many messages into one spot.

Young men and international tourists at risk

Millions of visitors access and enjoy Australia’s vast network of protected areas safely every year.

Park managers want locals and tourists to visit natural areas – it is good for health and well-being, the economy and society. Visitors to parks are also more likely to support national parks. Effective communication of safety information for visitors to national parks is essential, particularly where the potential consequences of mishaps are severe.

Visitor ignoring warning sign to ‘get a better shot’.
Author supplied

We know from previous research that certain groups, such as young men and international tourists, are particularly at risk – too often with tragic and sometimes expensive consequences.

Some park agencies are actively targeting high-risk groups at specific sites, as this example shows.

A signed aimed at high-risk visitor group (18-30 year old males) and complementing traditional approaches to safety signage.
Author supplied

The focus is to tell the story of past tragedies to get across the message that the risk is real and relevant to them.

Of course, risk is part of the attraction for some park-goers. But every visitor needs to know what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour, and how to take responsibility for their own safety.

Thinking carefully about how we design signs to get safety messages across effectively is an important part of managing risk in national parks and natural areas generally.

Making signs noticeable and easy to comprehend

Based on our analysis of research findings both within and outside park settings, we developed checklists to help park managers assess how effectively their signs communicate risk to national park visitors.

We tested these “best practice principles” checklists at several sites with two Australian national parks agencies. The process proved valuable in strengthening current safety sign policy and practice.

For example, the following sign meets the criteria for being “noticeable” and “easy to comprehend”.

This is an exemplary sign.
QPWS

Limit the number of messages per sign

Park authorities often need to communicate a lot of information at once to park goers. However, this can be done by using clever graphics and limiting the number of messages per sign. It’s also important to put warning signs close to the risky site, not simply warning people when they enter the park.

The example below shows how having multiple signs grouped together can make it hard for users to get the key messages, even if they are driving at low speed. It is all too easy to drive past and ignore the signs altogether.

Information overload.
Author supplied

Our study also highlights that good safety signs can support and complement the dedication and personal responsibility of frontline park staff. Serious incidents can have a direct effect on staff personally, and on the reputation of certain sites, particularly in the eyes of local emergency service workers.

Safety signage will be more effective if embedded in a coordinated risk-management system.

Activities in nature will always carry some risks and some people will choose to engage in unsafe activities despite knowing better. Accidents will continue to occur.

That said, our best practice principles for signage help park managers to do the best they can to make visitors fully aware of the risks while preserving the integrity of the natural site.

They also have direct applications to other nature-based visitor sites. Signs can help address issues such as the recent incidents with kangaroos at Morisset Hospital near Sydney, where visitors were feeding the animals carrots to get a close-up picture.




Read more:
Tweet all about it – people in parks feel more positive


What we still need to know

We have a poor understanding of what makes different types of people (such as those with different cultural backgrounds and experience levels, or people responding to peer pressure) misunderstand or ignore safety warnings.

Best practice signage is already in place at many high-risk park sites. As park visitation continues to increase and visitor profiles change, we need more research on what can help persuade at-risk visitors to read and act on safety messages.

It is time to invest in targeted research on this issue, including trialling and evaluating more innovative and persuasive communication techniques.


The ConversationThis article and research was co-authored by Rob Saunders, an independent consultant focused on park and recreation strategy, planning and effective communication.

Pascal Scherrer, Senior Lecturer, School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University and Betty Weiler, Professor, School of Business and Tourism, Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Eat locals: swapping sheep and cows for kangaroos and camels could help our environment


Euan Ritchie, Deakin University and Adam Munn, UNSW Australia

We may be what we eat, but our dietary choices also affect the health of the environment, and farmers’ back pockets.

Energy and water use, native habitat cut down for crops and grazing, and emissions that exacerbate climate change, are just some of the profound effects agriculture has on Earth. And, there are more and more mouths to feed.

Perversely, both starvation and obesity are severe health issues across the world. With agriculture confronted by economic and environmental uncertainties, society faces enormous challenges.

But challenges also offer great opportunities. Drastically rethinking what we eat, and where and how food is produced, could help our health, the planet, and our farming businesses.

That means eating fewer sheep and cows, and more kangaroos, feral animals, and insects.

Unsustainable farming

Australia’s rangelands – the drier regions of the country predominantly used for livestock and grazing – cover about 80% of the country. They are often in poor condition and economically unviable. In part, this is due to the fact we still farm many animals, mostly in ways that are unsuited to the Australian climate and environment.

Hard-hoofed animals contribute to soil compaction and erosion, and have even been linked to the spread of the invasive cane toad. But the environmental impact of intensive stock farming extends much further.

Continuing to farm using a European-derived, intensive system is a recipe for land degradation and environmental collapse, especially with the compounding impacts of climate change (severe weather events, more frequent and intense droughts, and fires).

Starving stock in Julia Creek, Qld (1952).
Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 4413

Past and current agricultural practices have also profoundly altered our environment. It may be impossible to restore these lands to their original condition, so we must learn to operate in the new environment we’ve created.

More broadly, many experts have identified our meat consumption and intensive farming as a significant driver of global problems.

Treading lightly

To address these issues, we need a cultural shift away from intensive agriculture. The days of riding and relying on the sheep’s back, cattle’s hoof, or the more recent, and increasingly popular, chicken’s wing, may need to pass.

Native wildlife and some feral animals tread more lightly on the environment than intensively produced livestock do, and thus provide more sustainable options for food production on Australia’s arid lands. Kangaroos and goats place one-third of the pressure on grazing lands compared with sheep.

We already eat some of these animals, but could arguably eat more of them, including feral goats, camels, deer, rabbits, pigs, and buffalo, as well as native emus and kangaroos.

Camels are already on the menu.
Camel image from http://www.shutterstock.com

Yet more extreme proposals could include feral donkeys, cats, horses; and even cane toads. Horses are already consumed in Europe and cats in central Australia.

Eating more feral and native animals, and relying less on chicken, sheep, domestic pigs, and cattle would help meet ethical concerns too. Wild animals such as kangaroos are killed quickly, without the extended stress associated with industrialised farming, containment, and transportation to abattoirs.

And by harvesting sometimes overabundant wild native animals (such as kangaroos) and feral species, we may be able to reduce their impacts on ecosystems, which include overgrazing and damage to waterways.

An even greater leap would be to eat fewer four-limbed animals and more six-legged creatures. Insects are often high in protein and low in fat, and can be produced in large numbers, efficiently and quickly. They are already consumed in large numbers in some regions, including Asia.

Evidence that a market for such a food revolution exists is that shops are already popping up selling mealworm flour, ant seasoning salt, and cricket protein powder, among other delicacies.

A six-legged diet is even better.
Insect image from http://www.shutterstock.com

Boom and bust

Thanks to Australia’s variable climate, swinging between drought and flood, many farms are also tied to a boom-and-bust cycle of debt and credit.

As the climate becomes increasingly unpredictable, this economic strategy must be detrimental to the farmers, and is shown by many farm buy-backs or sell-offs.

It makes sense to use species that are naturally more resilient and able to respond to boom-and-bust cycles. Kangaroos and other species can forage on our ancient and typically nutrient-poor soils without the need for nutritional supplements (such as salt licks), and are physiologically more efficient at conserving water. This could lead to a more sustainable supply of food and income for farmers, without the dizzying economic highs but also without the inevitable prolonged and despairing lows.

Future-proofing

To be clear, we are not suggesting completely replacing livestock, but diversifying and tailoring enterprises to better suit Australia’s environment.

To support more diverse agricultural enterprises we will need to overcome many obstacles, such as licences to hunt, what we’re comfortable consuming, and land use regulation. But we shouldn’t shy away from these challenges. There are tremendous opportunities for rural, regional and Indigenous communities, and indeed cities too.

We need a more diverse mix of meat to adapt to the pressures of a growing population and climate change. Supermarket aisles that display beef, chicken, pork and lamb, alongside kangaroo, camel, deer, goat, and insects, could be just what the environmental, health and economic doctors ordered.

The Conversation

Euan Ritchie, Senior Lecturer in Ecology, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University and Adam Munn, Adjunct lecturer, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Big game: banning trophy hunting could do more harm than good


Corey Bradshaw and Enrico Di Minin, University of Helsinki

Furious debate around the role of trophy hunting in conservation raged in 2015, after the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, and a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia. Together, these two incidents triggered vocal appeals to ban trophy hunting throughout Africa.

While to most people (including us) this might seem like an abhorrent way to generate money, we argue in a new paper that trophy hunting, if done sustainably, can be an important tool in the conservationist’s toolbox.

Widespread condemnation

In July 2015 American dentist Walter James Palmer shot and killed a male lion called Cecil with a hunting bow and arrow, sparking a storm of outrage. Cecil was a favourite of tourists visiting Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe.

Allegations that aspects of the hunt were done illegally added considerable fuel to the flames, although Palmer was not charged by the Zimbabwean government.

Likewise in May 2015, a Texan legally shot a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia, which also generated considerable online ire. The backlash ensued even though the male rhino was considered “surplus” to Namibia’s black rhino populations, and the US$350,000 generated from the managed hunt was to be re-invested in conservation. The US government has endorsed hunting of black rhinos by allowing a limited import of rhino trophies.

These highly politicised events are but a small component of a large industry in Africa worth more than US$215 million per year, “selling” iconic animals to (mainly foreign) hunters as a means of generating otherwise scarce funds.

It’s mostly about the money

Conserving biodiversity can be expensive. Generating money has become a central preoccupation of many environmental charities, conservation-minded individuals, government agencies and scientists. Making money for conservation in Africa is even more challenging, so we argue that trophy hunting should and could fill some of that gap.

The question of whether trophy hunting is ethically justifiable is a separate issue. While animal suffering can be minimised with good practice, the moral case for or against trophy hunting is a choice we must make as a society.

Beyond the ethical or moral issues, there are still many concerns about trophy hunting that currently limit its use as a conservation tool. One of the biggest problems is that the revenue it generates often goes to the private sector rather than distributing benefits to conservation and local communities.

It can also be difficult (but not impossible) to determine just how many animals can be sustainably killed. Some forms of trophy hunting have debatable value for conservation. For instance, “canned lion hunting”, where lions are bred and raised in captivity only to be shot in specially made enclosures, provides no incentive for conserving lions in the wild.

At the same time, opposing sustainable trophy hunting could end up being worse for species conservation. While revenue from wildlife sightseeing is good, in most cases effective conservation requires much more. Without more funding creating incentives to conserve wildlife, many natural habitats will be converted to farmland, which is generally much worse for native wildlife and the entire ecosystem.

Trophy hunting can also have a smaller carbon and infrastructure footprint than ecotourism because it requires fewer paying customers for the same amount of revenue. Trophy hunting can even generate higher revenue than the most successful ecotourism enterprises.

Hunting can lead to larger wildlife populations because they are specifically managed to keep numbers higher. Larger animal populations are more resilient to extinction, and hunters have an interest in their protection. This contrasts with ecotourism where the presence of only a few individual animals is sufficient to ensure that the expectations of many paying tourists are met.

Making trophy hunting work

To address some of the concerns about trophy hunting and to enhance its contribution to biodiversity conservation and the benefit to local people, we propose twelve minimum standards:

  • Mandatory levies should be imposed on trophy hunting operators by governments. These can be invested directly into trust funds for conservation and management.

  • Trophies from areas that help conservation and respect animal welfare should be certified and labelled.

  • Populations must be analysed to ensure that killing wildlife does not cause their numbers to fall.

  • Post-hunt sales of any part of the animals should be banned to minimise illegal wildlife trade.

  • Priority should be given to trophy hunting enterprises run (or leased) by local communities.

  • Trusts should be created to share benefits with local communities and promote long-term economic sustainability.

  • Mandatory scientific sampling of animals killed, including tissue for genetic analyses and teeth for age analysis, should be enforced.

  • Mandatory five-year (or more frequent) reviews of all animals hunted and detailed conservation plans should be submitted to government legislators before permits are extended.

  • There should be full public disclosure of all data collected.

  • Independent government observers should be placed randomly and without forewarning on trophy hunts as they happen.

  • Trophies must be confiscated and permits revoked when illegal practices are discovered.

  • Backup professional shooters and trackers should be present for all hunts to minimise welfare concerns.

Can developing nations implement these strategies?

Yes, they can, but only if the funding model is transparent and includes direct support from national governments, as well as mechanisms for oversight and regulation as we have outlined. Some form of regional and international cooperation might also be necessary to minimise the chance of corruption.

Without greater oversight, better governance, and management based on scientific evidence, we fear that the furore over trophy hunting will continue – to the detriment of biodiversity, hunters and local communities. Adopting our ideas could help avoid this.

The Conversation

Corey Bradshaw, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change and Enrico Di Minin, Researcher in Conservation Science, University of Helsinki

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

More research is good, but not if wind experts are told what to find


Will J Grant, Australian National University

It is said that the solution to the ills of democracy is more democracy, and the same goes for science too. Generally speaking, it’s never a problem to bring more science to bear on an issue.

In those terms, the interim report released last week by the Senate’s Select Committee on Wind Turbines appears entirely reasonable. Drawing on an earlier finding by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) that “the body of direct evidence” on the possible impacts of wind farms on human health is “small and of poor quality”, the Senate committee concluded that “independent, multi-disciplinary and high quality research into this field is an urgent priority”. And that’s not, on the face of it, a bad thing.

After all, what scientist worth their salt would reject the idea of doing more and better research on a possible problem? When the Senate Committee asks “why are there so many people who live in close proximity to wind turbines complaining of similar physiological and psychological symptoms?”, who would deny that it’s important and legitimate to try and find out the answer?

But here’s the thing. Research on this topic doesn’t exist in a political or economic vacuum. It is well established that renewable energy broadly, and wind turbines in particular, are matters of significant political debate.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott last week asserted that his intention when renegotiating the Renewable Energy Target was to “reduce the number of these things (wind turbines) that we are going to get in the future”, while his government is also considering appointing a “wind commissioner” to address complaints about the industry.

Meanwhile, key members of the Senate Committee – including John Madigan, David Leyonhjelm, Bob Day, Chris Back, and Matthew Canavan – have used their positions to speak stridently against wind energy. Against this backdrop, is it really possible to pause the world to undertake entirely neutral research?

Telling researchers how to research

There are allegations that suggest the Senate Committee is less interested in truly independent, high-quality research than its members might claim, and is instead recommending to the NHMRC the researchers whose work they would like to see included in future assessments.

Those allegations would seem to be supported by the following exchange from the committee’s hearings on Friday, between Senator Back and the NHMRC’s executive director for evidence, advice and governance, Samantha Robertson:

Back: Are you familiar with [Simon] Carlile and the work he does in neurophysiology?

Robertson: Not personally, no.

Back: Ok, [he is] at the University of Sydney, so perhaps I could urge that you do.

That is not what I would call independent, and nor do I think it is likely to lead to high-quality science. This is nothing to do with the quality of Carlile’s research, but rather the principle of scientific advice to government. It is the NHMRC’s job to select the most relevant science and present it to government, not the other way around.

But more importantly, when we’ve had inquiry after inquiry into this topic – with no rigorous scientific process finding any evidence of a human health impact – at what stage do we accept that calling for yet more research is likely to yield only diminishing returns, and that harassing the research community to keep going until it produces a different answer isn’t a great way to do science?

Uncertainty is the game

The Senate committee has called for the Commonwealth to create an “independent expert scientific committee on industrial sound”, responsible for providing research and advice to the environment minister on the impact on human health of audible noise (including low-frequency) and infrasound from wind turbines, and that this scientific committee develop measures for infrasound and noise that can feed into the governance of the wind turbine industry.

It has also recommended the Commonwealth impose a levy on wind turbine operators to fund the costs, both of the new scientific committee and of the proposed new wind commissioner.

Last year, when the Abbott government began renegotiating the Renewable Energy Target we learned a significant lesson in energy economics. Without any new policy announcement, and before the target had actually been reduced, investment in renewable energy in Australia fell off a cliff. Uncertainty, not hard financial facts, was enough to kill investment.

The continued call for research raised by the Senate committee fits well within this pattern. You don’t need to remove a policy to kill investment. You only need to make things uncertain.

The Conversation

Will J Grant is Researcher / Lecturer, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at Australian National University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Article: Vacations Are Good for Your Health


Just in case you didn’t know, the link below is to an article on vacations being good for your health. I’m almost back from my annual leave break and starting to bring the Blogs back online, as it were.

For more visit:
http://blog.travelworldpassport.com/vacations-are-good-for-your-health/