Of the three announced national carbon targets I’ve heard of lately, two are arithmetically worse than Kyoto targets, and one is technically worse. The latter is Australia’s target, already discussed here.

The others are the recent US announcement, and the recent China announcement.

The US announcement was for a 17% cut, which sounds a bit better than the Kyoto US commitment (or non-commitment, as it turned out) of 7%. But it’s not really better, because it’s on 2005 levels, where as Kyoto was based on 1990. As it turns out, the US target, compared to 1990 levels is only about 5.5%, so it’s worse than the Kyoto target, and it’s 8 years later.

China’s announcement was for 40%, which sounds pretty good (and ok, since they didn’t have a target for Kyoto, it’s not really technically logical to call it worse), BUT. China’s target is relative to GDP. And China has a phenomenally high GDP growth rate, that 40% grows less meaningful every year. Even if China’s growth rate was close to average, like 3%, that 40 percent would be more or less nothing by 2020. China’s growth rate isn’t average though, it’s massive – 9% in 2008.

I’ve started collating ruses like these on envirowiki. If you know of any others, please edit that page and add them


This is in response to a discussion about population control and climate change on an e-list I’m on. In particular, it’s in response to a line by a mate, Jono:

it’s not the number of people that is important, but rather the power of the argument. Population control arguments need to be challenged wherever they occur, because they turn the climate movement into a war against human rights rather than for human rights.

Population control doesn’t have to infringe human rights. Some of the best ways of reducing the rate of population change are PRO-human rights: accessible education, equality in power relations between men and women, access to contraceptives, the aged pension.

Population is inseperable from environmental impact – if the population is low, but consumption per capita is very high, then you have a problem. If you have a really high population with small per-capita footprint, you still have a problem. At the moment, it’s obvious that the current global average per capita footprint is too high for the current population. The UN predicts 9 billion people by 2050, (150% of current population), which means that for us to have the same over all impact by then, we will need to have reduced our average percapita footprint to 2/3 of what it is now. To put this in perspective, current Australian GDP per capita is US$40-50,000, globally it’s about $10,000, so we’d have to reduce our footprints to about 15% of what it is now. That sounds doable, but that doesn’t take into account that we have to REDUCE our over-all impact, not keep it steady. (I realise I’m only talking about averages, but I think median figures would likely show even greater disparity).

There’s no reason why population control has to happen in the third world. It doesn’t matter where it happens. In fact, it’s probably better that it happens in the rich minority world, ’cause one less person here is heaps more impact reduction than the same person in the minority world. And that could potentially mean we have more room for refugees (not that population is the barrier now).

Ultimately, it’s about how you do it. Of course there’s plenty of fucked up ways to control populations. But the same can be said for any problem (Green Dictatorship, anyone?). We definitely shouldn’t be supporting any kind of punishment/penalties for people who feel the need to have more kids, but we should definitely encourage any positive measures that would help to slow down population rates, and oppose those that do the opposite (like Costello’s ” one for Mum, one for Dad, and one for the Country” – ugh… how would you feel to find out you were the one for the country?)

Seems to me that reducing populations and rates of change should definitely be a part of any broad climate campaign. We just have to make it abundantly clear how we mean to go about it – ethically and compassionately.

For anyone even vaguely involved in the world of blogs and climate change, logical fallacies are a familiar thing. The straw man, the appeal to authority, ad hominem attacks, the biased sample/cherrypicking, and many more are all used by both sides of the argument, to a greater or lesser degree.

On the side of climate scientists/environmentalists (Yes, I know that some won’t agree with my lumping those two groups together – it’s a crass generalisation, and it makes my case looks stronger (I am an environmental activist studying science), however it is true in the majority of cases) one of the arguments that comes up quite often is this:

Denier: “why should I trust the science – it’s biased/has vested interests/goes against my religion/philosophy.”

Greenie/scientist: “Why should you trust science? Look around you. You enjoy watching television, don’t you? And you’re using a computer right now, and I bet you drive a car. Science brought you those things.”

No. It didn’t.

Science is not technology, and technology is not science. The two are separate, although closely linked.

Science relies on certain technologies, such as microscopes, rulers and protractors, test tubes, and for more complex calculations, computers, etc. It does NOT rely on technologies like television, or the internal combustion engine, although these can make it easier.

Likewise, technology relies on science, but it also relies on the values of the individuals and societies building it, the resources that are available, and of course, the technology required to build it.

How about this:

Denier: “why should I trust the science – it’s biased/has vested interests/goes against my religion/philosophy.”

Greenie/scientist: “Why should you trust science? Think about this: The atom bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, engineered viruses, toxic toys, and television advertising. Science brought you those things.”

The point is that Technology isn’t brought to you by science. technology is brought to you by humans. True, the scientific understanding is a limiting factor on the technology available, but this does not mean that the technology will become available as the science advances.

Science, in it’s purest form, is just the pursuit of knowledge. More knowledge is, as far as I can work out, never a bad thing. Technology can go either way, and depends on the values of those designing it. Conflating the two is potentially a very dangerous thing to do, and even in cases where it’s safe,  to do so is still a logical fallacy.

There’s a long list of logical fallacies here:, but I don’t think this one features there. Perhaps it’s some kind of cause/effect fallacy. Perhaps it should be called the “Science for the Good/Bad life”.

The following is a discussion from #swig on – the Semantic Web Interest Group. It’s logged here if you don’t believe me: Edited slightly for clarity.

I think the semantic web is an extremely useful tool, but as I mention down the bottom, I probably would have agreed with Francis Bacon that cutting up animals in the name of science was a good thing at the time. For the record, I don’t believe this.

Reading the comment first might help.

naught101: check

naught101: my comment down the bottom, would love feedback from anyone here

bengee: simplification is a feature, not really a problem

bengee: URIs and triples reduce the complexity to a level that computers can do useful things with it

bengee: e.g. <#product> :rating “***”; :rating “****”; :rating “**”. what might seem contradictory to you may be very useful to an app

naught101: na, I wasn’t talking about that kind of information bengee

naught101: Say philosophy for instance… let me find a nice quote

naught101: Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.

naught101: * Cree Indian Proverb

naught101: Obviously a computer could use this sentence, but would it be able to use it a a way useful to humans?

naught101: Obviously it’s not TRUE, as most of us already know we can’t eat money

bengee: <#only1> a :CreeIndianProverb; rdf:value “Only when…” .

bengee: that triple could be useful for programs that list proverbs

naught101: yeah, sure, but that’s triplification ABOUT the proverb, not about the information contained within the proverb

bengee: well, then you have to increase the granularity if your app wants to provide richer functionality

naught101: how do you mean?

bengee: extract more triples from the human-readable text

naught101: but what triples could you extract from a one-sentance text that has no quantitative truth, but which holds more qualitative truth than many many paragraphs of, say, a science text book?

bengee: exactly

naught101: huh?

bengee: you may misunderstand what the semweb is mainly for

naught101: sure, that’s a true sentence 🙂

bengee: it’s not for implementing automated philosophers, or compete with humans with respect to intelligence

bengee: well, OWL folks might disagree with me here 😉

bengee: the more rewarding approach (IMHO) is to think about use cases that semweb tech *can* enable/simplify, not to think hard about things that are near-impossible for computers in general

naught101: I agree. but I’m not talking about what the semantic web should be

naught101: I’m talking about possible problems with what it currently is

naught101: I mean, I don’t want bite-sized chunks of information taking over the world of ideas

naught101: I think the philospohy or the public is degraded enough without chopping it into bits even more

bengee: oh, semweb tech can clearly improve the distribution and discovery of ideas

bengee: just like the web did

naught101: but it could also hide them

naught101: I don’t think the ‘web did, neccesarily

bengee: you just google’d WRT, no?

naught101: correct

naught101: I don’t think finding an accronym compares to finding meaning in life.

naught101: (if I sound like I’m attacking the semantic web, I’m not, I’m just exploring ideas)

bengee: yeah, don’t think I can contribute too much here, sorry.

naught101: no worries 🙂

naught101: I see it something like baconian/descartian science. it’s useful for finding out the little bits of information, but it’s not particularly useful for figuring out the interrelationships, or looking at the information holistically

naught101: I mean, for example, the semantic web can take information from a wikipedia article, but it couldn’t write a wikipedia article

kjetilkWork: right

kjetilkWork: I don’t think it is a very significant goal of the semweb to produce that kind of information

kjetilkWork: we have a billion people out there that can do that much better

bengee: the semweb can be a great aid in helping you write the article, though

naught101: sure, but thinking of the possibility the semantic web a large part of the web should probably include thinking about what it can’t do, and how to not impede that work

kjetilkWork: rather than the AI world of natural language analysis to reason and infere relation, I think the semweb is much more about using the collective intelligence of all its users, i.e. real intelligence

naught101: bengee: yes, it could. it could also be a hinderance (information overload)

naught101: kjetilkWork: good. I like that. I just hope we’re collectively intelligent, and not collectively stupid 🙂

kjetilkWork: well, that’s what it means to me, at least

kjetilkWork: hehe, yeah

kjetilkWork: I think semweb can help us be collectively intelligent rather than stupid, though… 🙂

naught101: I haven’t got that far yet

naught101: 🙂


You argue that the major defining factor of population size is food limits. Australia (to give an example), currently has a birthrate less than 2 births per woman. We have an overall annual immigration, so our population is growing, but if we had no immigration, our population would be decreasing. Australia is a fairly affluent country: plenty of food, people are educated, well supported with social services, and generally feel secure. They don’t need the added security of a large family (I don’t claim that this is causal, but believe it may have some impact). This seems proof that it is at least possible to disconnect population growth from food supply (and then be able to decrease food supply due to decreased demand). You answered this in response to Q&A 122: “the country has traversed the “demographic trap” and gotten through the growth phase of the population dynamics”.

Obviously, as you have pointed out, there’s plenty of food in the world, and if it were (able to be) shared out equitably, then no-one would starve. This being so, wouldn’t the best course of action be, after figuring out the relevant system dynamics, to attempt to give those in the highest population growth areas the same security we in the affluent, and low-population growth, minority world have? This might include immediate food aid for a period or, preferably, some kind of “food asylum”, which might lead to an immediate population spike, but a combined approach of social support services and education, seems like a population growth control method that is more than equitable, just might work, and doesn’t seem like a “sci-fi fantasy”, as you label other birth control schemes.

As an aside, what do you think of permaculture? Seems like a way of at least starting to break the food lockup, and something that doesn’t rely on some kind of fascist revolution.

(This was originally posted on the guestbook)

I just finished reading Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael for the second time (I previously downloaded the audio-book, which was amazing, but I think the book is slightly better). If you haven’t read it, read it. I’d say it’d be life-changing for anyone wants to do something about the state of the environment but don’t know where to start. For the ones how have already started, it’s perhaps even more recommended. That said, the rest of this post won’t make sense unless you already have read the book.

Ishmael answers a lot of questions for me – primarily the one that goes “if this isn’t the right way, then what is?”. But of course the answer isn’t final, it isn’t an end point, it’s just an opening. It’s another method of looking at things, and realising how much could change. Which basically means that it brings up more questions than it answers. (more…)

In wanting to create a new society, I have a few obvious “core” values (quote marks due to our ex-prime minister’s bastardisation of the word in the phrase “core promises”) .

These consist of:

  • Best practice environmentalism (not best as in better than everyone else, but best as in as good as possible).
  • Autonomy/self governance for groups and individuals
  • Freedom of information

In that order. These are fairly solid for me, and I won’t really bother discussing why in this piece. I think that the second point is basically my ideal for best practice social organisation.

So how to go about the third? I think the internet might be the answer. (more…)

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