Sounds crazy series summary #1

Well in a blink we have reached double figures in the Alloporus ‘Sounds Crazy’ series and, as the headlines suggest, we have covered wild craziness territory.

There is plenty of lunacy out there, especially in the unfathomable worlds of policy, planning and bureaucracy.

The series could run for many more episodes without the need to hire expensive Hollywood writers. This in itself is odd. It’s crazy that we are so crazy.

It got me thinking about why.

I get the human need to be busy and that this overrides any logic of what we are busy at. Add the need to be seen to be busy and we can explain away many a craziness. In the extreme we have the lap dog ‘being seen’ in a $300 Louis Vuitton collar as Monsieur Vuitton laughs all the way to the bank.

I also understand the fear that drives illogical policies that ensure there will be enough people to buy white goods [baby bonus, policy choice] and puts business opportunity above all else [Waiting for the road to dry out, Where to build a house]. The economic growth spiral is as consuming as a black hole and we will struggle to break free of its gravitational pull so long as we keep reproducing at 9,000 an hour.

Reluctantly I understand the fear that drives obsession with human safety [Hidden hazards in the back yard]. Survival is a base instinct after all.

I even accept ostrich behavior [Wild planet] because sometimes we need denial as a handy way to make things go away. We are far more courageous when we pretend there are no sharks in the water.

Then there is the inertia that emerges when we create institutions and the pedantry that they generate [Count your beans].

Only now my tolerance is stretched.

I get the logic of becoming stuck just because there are more than a handful of people involved. This makes sense for force of personality can only hold so much sway. It takes a big ego or considerable oratory skill to sway the crowd.  But this constraint of and by the many should not be an excuse. Some of the craziness of institutions is the craziest of all.

It seems that craziness is in part inevitable [because we all have fear and cannot do without institutions] and in part our choice. We seem to want to be ‘a bit nuts’ — and not just for some light relief — for some part of us may want it.

The latest Alloporus website adventure is Ask Alloporus where environmental issues are explained [including some of the crazy ones]. Most pages on the site conclude with some ‘pragmatology’, our attempt to both invent a new word and provide some pragmatic understanding of the environmental issue.

Yet even this sounds crazy. Why should we expect that some pragmatism can help the craziness go away?

Here are the links to the Sounds Crazy series to date…

  1. Where to build a house
  2. Waiting for the road to dry out
  3. Baby bonus
  4. Logging of native forests
  5. Carbon price forecasts
  6. Policy choice
  7. Hidden hazards in the backyard
  8. Wild Planet: North America
  9. Bandwidth
  10. Pest control means getting on with it

Sounds Crazy #10 | Pest control means getting on with it

DeerFeral animals are pests in large parts of rural Australia. The list of culprits is long with foxes, cats, feral dogs, goats, rabbits, pigs, deer, and camels all causing problems for farmers and conservationists alike. In production terms the cost is estimated at billions of dollars a year.

Not surprisingly there are pest control programs all over the country with poison baits, mustering, hunting, trapping and a host of other control tactics in place.

In 2005 some scientists became curious to see if any of these control programs actually made a difference.

They interviewed as many of the pest control organisers as they could in all the states and territories for control programs that had a conservation focus. They established that the majority of over a thousand programs they identified, 68% in fact, had no form of monitoring in place at all. The pest control teams did not know how many pests they had removed or what had happened to the species or habitats the pests were affecting.

In short they were operating blind.

Now a pilot in Papua New Guinea on a stormy afternoon, if he had any sense, wouldn’t take off. Flying blind is dangerous.

Except that the only immediate danger in pest control is to the pests. The operators simply get on with control. Indeed the researchers found that there was some monitoring of person days spent tracking, numbers of baits released, and helicopter logbooks full of hours mustering sufficient to show that the job was being done — but nothing on the outcome.

After habitat loss, pests and weeds are the next most significant threat to biodiversity in Australia. In many places they are the main cause of biodiversity loss and attempts at control make sense.

What is crazy is to have no idea if control measures have made a difference. We have no idea if they are worth all the effort.

Perhaps it is that distinctly human trait where being seen to do the right thing is just as important as doing it.

Sounds crazy to me.

Google Scholar can link you to the original research

Reddiex B, et al (2006) Control of pest mammals for biodiversity protection in Australia. I. Patterns of control and monitoring. Wildlife Research 33, 691–709

Reddiex B. & Forsyth D.M. (2006) Control of pest mammals for biodiversity protection in Australia. II. Reliability of knowledge Wildlife Research 33, 711–717

Sounds Crazy #8 | Wild Planet: North America

Fallow DeerWe all know that Sir David Attenborough has cornered the media market on all things natural history. Especially his TV shows that shine with balanced content, unique delivery and cutting edge camera and sound, all combined expertly to let nature show off.

So anyone trying to compete has to find another way.

We have had the ‘awww, so cute’ approach with every second shot a frolicking offspring of something furry. These shows inevitably spill over into ‘animals are so like us’ commentary to anthropomorphize the world and make us all feel safe and special.

Then we have the ‘OMG its so scary’ take. In this version the world is wild with sharks, lions and venomous biting creatures tugging at the dual thrill of fear and courage in the face of it. This is pretty easy stuff to sell given our innate and now everyday aversion to anything not wrapped in plastic. Nature cannot be anything other than scary from the inside of a McMansion.

Wild Planet: North America is a new natural history series that went to free-to-air in Australia recently. The first episode had more than enough cute and cuddlies with images showing but not telling us that bear cubs are still oh so lovable when they ‘smile’ [don’t get me started].

The narrative, however, was more about the courage and tenacity of nature that, even in the face of extreme hardship, always succeeds without any apparent effort — qualities that humans [or more specifically Americans] also possess in abundance.

Funny enough it was almost believable and I can hear the whoopin’ and hollarin’ along with backslapping and sounds of patriotic zeal bellowing from the lounge rooms of the mid-west even now.

So far so good, especially as some of the footage was excellent [camera technology really has made nature more accessible] and included plenty of unedited raw stuff made with tooth and claw.

Then came the crazy part.

The initially subliminal but in the end overt message of the first episode was that all this nature was out there on our doorstep, wild, untouched, and free. It was still all there doing its thing without threat or risk other than from the teeth of a mountain lion.

Of course I may be jumping the gun here and in fact the producers are softening us to make the punch line stark — nature is in great peril and we need to pay attention to it as we sprawl our cities and fields ever wider. Traditionally of course this ‘save the world’ message is saved for the final episode.

Only I couldn’t help thinking that actually they meant it.

Those who coughed up the cash [perhaps card carrying members of the tea party] really wanted the whoopin’ and zeal they engendered to feel secure. The images of wilderness and wildlife were permanent no matter what. We could go just outside our doorstep and capture such images any time we want — there is nothing we could do to ever lessen Mother Nature.

No need to worry folks, she is still wild and free, just like she has always been.

Now that really is crazy.

Got any ‘Sounds Crazy’ ideas?

The sounds crazy series on Alloporus has covered topics that bend logic out of shape and makes you wonder if the world is run by the insane…

Take a perusal at some of these and maybe see if you can come up with another, maybe something even crazier.

I am happy to take suggestions or a guest post.

Meantime here is more craziness from the most popular confused Confucius post for September…

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Sounds crazy #4 | Logging of native forests

Logged forest NSWIt is wise not to believe everything you read in the newspapers. Most of the time the stories are, at best, economical with the truth, spun faster than a flywheel, and sensationalized out of all recognition.

This week though I was taken by the “Hatchet job on native forest logging” headline in the Sun-Herald [18 May 2013].

The report claimed that the recently privatized Forestry Corporation of NSW was making an $8 million loss on revenue of $111 million from logging of native forest across NSW — equivalent to a $671 loss per hectare of trees cut.

If it is true that logging of native forest makes a financial loss then to continue such a destructive practice that was never fully able to account true environmental costs is madness. It would be stupidity that borders on negligence

The piece notes that plantation forestry is profitable [$32 million in 2010/11] and implied that the plantation estate effectively subsidizes the harvest of native forest.

Clearly the story is never just about profit. There are jobs at stake, impacts on rural economies to consider if production stopped, and significant flow on effects to the supply chain. Consumers would still want timber. Suppliers are likely to source their hardwood timber from overseas where controls of logging practices may not be as tight as they are in Australia.

And yet, operating the logging of native forest at a financial loss really does sound crazy.

Sounds Crazy #3 | Baby bonus

Newborn babyEvery hour of every day there are enough babies born to ensure that the global human population grows by 8,000 souls. In a week there are newborns enough to use up half a million disposable diapers a day. Human instinct to make more is a strong as ever. The net result is that we are not short of people.

Now lets switch the focus to one country, a developed one.

Around 22.6 million people call Australia home. Many of these people were born elsewhere or are the children of immigrants. Indeed Australia has a diverse populace and is justly proud of its multicultural tolerance. Most inner city primary schools can claim 20 or more first languages among their students, the result of a liberal immigration policy that has seen more than 7 million people arrive from all around the world since 1945.

Current immigration is around 180,000 per year. This rate ensures that the population grows and labour is available for economic activity.

Devotees of the economic growth gods would say this population growth is essential because people buy goods and services. It is hard to keep the economy moving when everyone has a house full of white goods. A growing population maintains demand for houses and fridges.

But if it is people that you want then there are many more around the world itching for a visa to enter Australia, many more than are granted permission. Some of them can’t wait and try to access the back door.

Most Australians see themselves as egalitarian, believing that people are people, apologizing for past intolerance of indigenous peoples, accepting of modern differences and building a society from people of many cultural backgrounds. And given a history of immigration and multiculturalism would accept the logic of immigration at rates sufficient to support economic growth

But here is the crazy thing. Government policy since 2002 has been to pay Australians to have babies.

It’s called the baby bonus and gives parents $5,000 per eligible child paid in 13 fortnightly instalments.

Why encourage, at significant cost to the taxpayer, more babies when we have so many already?

I wonder what you think the real reason is?

Sounds crazy #2 | Waiting for the road to dry out

wheel-stuck-in-mudIn the game parks of Africa the roads are often impassable after rain thanks to mud that appears in an instant when water is added to the deep vertisols. Not even a land cruiser can move through the thick, clingy goo. Game drives are suspended until the road dries out.

If vehicles do drive on the wet road before the soil is hard enough, deep ruts form that destroy the road for future use.

After a major flood a similar problem applies to paved roads. Water ponds, seep beneath the tarmac and in places the firm part now sits on a mushy underbelly.

It makes sense to let roads dry out and for potholes and cracks to be repaired before traffic tries again to pass along them.

Only what if transport is the key to a rural economy? The trucks must get moving again and quickly, or else the economy will suffer.

Woe betides a local politician who suggests that the trucks wait a day or two. Political expediency has the trucks moving as soon as the drivers can each the cab to turn on the ignition. They then crunch up and down the roads hugely multiplying the flood damage.

It would be far cheaper to compensate local businesses for a few days lost custom than it will be to repair the roads that have just been given extra damage. Instead we get those trucks moving right away.

Sounds crazy — but it is true.