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Only global poverty can save the planet, insists WWF - and the ESA!

Windfarms for all, but without using steel or concrete

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Analysis Extremist green campaigning group WWF - endorsed by no less a body than the European Space Agency - has stated that economic growth should be abandoned, that citizens of the world's wealthy nations should prepare for poverty and that all the human race's energy should be produced as renewable electricity within 38 years from now.

Most astonishingly of all, the green hardliners demand that the enormous numbers of wind farms, tidal barriers and solar powerplants required under their plans should somehow be built while at the same time severely rationing supplies of concrete, steel, copper and glass.

The WWF presents these demands in its just-issued Living Planet Report for 2012. It's a remarkable document, not least for the fact that it is formally endorsed for the first time by the European Space Agency (ESA) - an organisation which would cease to exist in any meaningful form if the document's recommendations were to be carried out.

The report is also unusual in that it seeks to set policy on economics and energy, but doesn't anywhere give any figures expressed in units of energy (watt-hours, joules etc) or currency (dollars, euros or what have you). Instead the WWF activists prefer to base their argument on various indices invented either by themselves or by other international non- or quasi-governmental organisations.

For instance one key figure used in the report is the Living Planet Index, invented by the WWF, which apparently shows "trends in the overall state of global biodiversity".

It does this by examining the number of individuals (or sometimes pairs) in various local populations of 2,688 selected species - of vertebrates only. Every two years WWF changes what species and populations are included, in large numbers: and anyone would acknowledge that a limited, localised picture of a couple of thousand vertebrate-only species is an utterly minuscule, extremely selective pinpoint on the picture of all the Earth's life.

Nonetheless WWF think that their LPI number offers conclusive proof that "biodiversity has decreased globally".

This is bad, because:

Biodiversity is vital for human health and livelihoods ...

All human activities make use of ecosystem services – but can also put pressure on the biodiversity that supports these systems.

If that's not enough for you, the document is liberally spattered with case studies showing how various animal populations have plunged. For instance there are now many fewer wild tigers than there were in 1970, which is plainly a bad thing for human health and livelihoods.

The report then assumes that global resources in general are limited, which is easily achieved by measuring them in terms of "biocapacity" expressed in hectares of Earth surface, and further stipulating that no resources can come from beyond Earth (which seems an odd idea for a major space agency to endorse, but there). WWF goes on to assign numbers showing how much of these hectare-resources everyone is using, their "ecological footprint".

In these terms, the only people on Earth who are living within their means are those in the poorest nations - their "footprint" exactly matches the "biocapacity" in their countries (doubtless a coincidence) offering a picture of the sort of life all human beings could aspire to in a WWF-run world. Middle-income nations use more "biocapacity" than they actually have, and high-income ones - all the ones where you as a Register reader are most likely to live - use nearly twice as many eco-resources as they produce.

What does this mean?

The Earth’s natural capital – biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services – is limited ...

Human demands on the planet exceed supply.

The WWF eco-nomists also argue that human beings actually don't - or anyway, shouldn't - want to get richer, as people getting rich means economic growth and that (regardless of what all world governments and almost all economists think, especially right now) is a Bad Thing as it leads to consumer demand which leads to resources and energy being used.

"We need to measure success beyond GDP," says WWF, an argument they've made before. In particular the organisation argues that "human development" or the still-flakier metric "inequality adjusted human development" is a far better one than GDP per capita. (One may note that under the normal HDI (Human Development Index) it is better to live in Ireland, Hong Kong, Israel, Korea, Slovenia, Spain, Italy or the Czech Republic than in the UK.)

As the green hardliners note:

In countries with a low level of development, [HDI] development level is independent of per capita [ecological] Footprint.

As development increases beyond a certain level, so does per person Footprint — eventually to the point where small gains in development come at the cost of very large Footprint increases.

Or, paraphrased, provided that development and consumption are both miserably low, you can achieve some development without noticeably increasing consumption. Of course only a cynic would suggest that the very design of the "human development" index - whether adjusted for inequality or not - ensures that there will come a point where only tiny increases in development can be achieved no matter the resources used. This is because the Human Development is on a scale from zero to 1, with 1 being unachievable.

It's not just resources that are limited, in the WWF's view: human potential itself is up against a hard limit beyond which the race cannot ever advance. Even progress thus far, as seen in the wealthy nations, has been achieved only by an unfair and wasteful over-use of precious resources: we rich Westerners are already beyond the practical limits that humans should ever aspire to achieve in terms of health, wealth - and even of education.

That's not economics - that's religion. And not very nice religion either.

All this is followed up with some standard rehashing of the standard carbon-driven apocalypse arguments, so setting the stage for WWF's policy agenda. Some of it is relatively uncontroversial: creation of nature reserves, efforts to control overfishing, efforts to ease deforestation.

But then we get onto the big stuff. First up, there must be an "immediate focus" on "drastically shrinking the ecological footprint of high income populations".

That means you, Reg reader: you are to accept a massively lower standard of living, in order to reduce your "footprint" to match your nation's "biocapacity". Then you'll have to take another cut, because your nation - being rich - has more "biocapacity" than a poor country does (despite their claim that planetary resources are finite, WWF acknowledges that new "biocapacity" can be created in the form of cropland, forests etc), but this should be shared with the poorer lands under "equitable resource governance".

That means less heating when it's cold - no cooling at all, probably, when it's hot. It means sharply limited hot water: so dirtier clothes, dirtier bedding and a dirtier you - which will be nice as you will also have to live in a smaller home and travel almost exclusively on crowded buses or trains along with similar smelly fellow eco-citizens. Food will be scarcer and realistically much less nutritious (milk for kids will be a luxury, let alone meat, fruit, coffee, that sort of stuff. Get ready to eat a lot of turnips, if you're a Brit.)

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