Tagged with nature

Plastic Bags

Since I just claimed that plastic bags are good, in spite of their bad reputation, here is a video that goes through some numbers.

The only thing I can add is that the pollution aspect very much depends on where you are in the world. If that place has a working system of garbage collection and management, then it is very unlikely that a plastic bag ends up in the oceans. So maybe we should spend the money that plastic bans cost on helping poorer places improving their waste management to pollute less.

In any case, I'll happily continue to buy plastic bags, reuse them a few times before they become garbage bags. And pay the counterproductive tax that would rather have me buy something worse.



North Face, the outdoor clothing brand, apparently refused to sell to an oil company jackets with their logo on it. Which prompted this quite funny response, which shows that 90% of North Face's product line is made out of petroleum products.

I think it is fair to point out such hypocrisy, assuming that the story is indeed as told. Coming from the oil industry, the video of course makes it sound like a good thing to produce clothes out of oil based raw materials, thus #ThankYouNorthFace.

This could easily be spun into a campaign of shaming the company for that very fact. But that would be an example of well-meaning environmentalism gone bad, because contrary to energy production it is often much less resource intensive, and therefore environmentally friendly, to make things from plastic, compared to "organic" materials.

The prime example of this are plastic shopping bags that have been banned or taxed in many places after an outrage some year ago. Never mind that the paper bag that replaced it takes ten times more resources to produce and cannot have a second use as waste bag.

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Green Fundamentalism

From this book review:

Three hundred years ago, we burned wood for energy. Then there was coal and the steam engine, which gave us the Industrial Revolution. Then there was oil and gas, giving us cars and airplanes. Then there should have been nuclear fission and nanotech, letting you fit a lifetime's worth of energy in your pocket. Instead, we still drive much the same cars and airplanes, and climate change threatens to boil the Earth.

"Where is my Flying Car?", by J. Storrs Hall, is an attempt to answer that question. His answer is: the Great Stagnation was caused by energy usage flatlining, which was caused by our failure to switch to nuclear energy, which was caused by excessive regulation, which was caused by "green fundamentalism".

Counterfactuals are fun! I think I dismissed them too quickly as unknowable for a long time, but as with mot things, there can be better and worse arguments for how things could have turned out differently.

The environemntal movement is an interesting case, because what is considered good or bad in that context depends very much more on culture than on a problem solving strategy. The underlying conviction that human activity is inherently destructive leads to moralizing calls to give up things, that are not very effective. Whereas the obvious alternative is to improve technology to do more with less environmental impact. But that does not fit the narrative; to berate people and make them feel quilty lets one feel more morally superior and pure.

Would climate change never have become a problem, if the environmental movement would have empraced nuclear power instead of crippling it? No one knows for sure, but it certainly is interesting to think about.

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What Bird Or Plant Is That?

Have you heard of PlantNet and BirdNET? Their phone apps allow you to take a picture of a flow or plant, or record bird song, and instantly get an answer on what species it is.

They are not perfectly accurate and often give several probable choices, but very impressive and fun nonetheless. I especially like the visualization of the spectrum of bird songs, because I remember more easily how they look than from sound alone.

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More Activism

I was again planting forest today and I listen to podcasts while doing that. As a nice follow-up to yesterday, I very much enjoyed this one about ending factory farming for chickens.

Many insights into when it makes sense to antagonize and campaign against the people doing the things you consider bad, versus working with them to improve the situation. In this example, chicken farmers in the US are often stuck in a bad system that they do not approve of themselves, which opens the door for win-win situations.

Overall another great interview by @robertwiblin!

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Imagine what would happen if we had a magic wand that could solve climate change. Should we wave it?

Apparently, most people answer no. Mark Lynas and Yascha Mounk discuss why. Recommended 45 minutes to listen! Transcript available.

I agree with most of what they say, and like the idea of the new movement of ecomodernism. Finding pragmatic solutions to environmental problems and working on a positive vision of the future make so much more sense than trying to get people to reject the benefits of technological development.

Lynas' story about how he helped banning GMO in Europe and how he now thinks this was a mistake is a harrowing example of doing great harm with good intentions. I get chills when I imagine having to live with that. Luckily, I have never been sure enough about anything to become an activist.

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Feminist Eugenics

Eugenics is apparently making a comeback, for example with some Chinese Feminists (via). Maybe surprisingly, this is nothing new.

This is of course a very thorny issue. On the one hand it is an uncomfortable and seldom spoken about thruth, that women partially choose their parters for the expected quality of their offspring, that is for their genes. Quality can mean different things in different contexts and I see nothing morally wrong with this being a factor for someone, consciously or not. Who would want to deny the freedom of mate choice?

On the other hand, eugenics has a bad reputation, and righfully so with regard to forced sterilizations and the Nazi killings. If however, and that is a strong if, the benefits from selection could be achieved without actually harming anybody in the process, then the matter becomes quite different, I think. Embryos are already selected to some extent in IVF. And the potential upside is huge, especially with multiple iterations of selection. Once it becomes possible and cheaper, there will be strong incentives for parents to get smarter kids. And societies will probably benefit from it, if the ethical concerns can be solved.

If I remember correctly, this is also a topic in Blueprint by Robert Plomin, a book that I enjoyed last year and apprently forgot to write about.

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Pygmy Owlets


A 2017 picture of two young owls, click to enlarge. Also, make sure to check out r/Superbowl!

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When I encounter news like this I cannot help but think of Greenwashing. Giant corporations like Unilever and Nestlé committing a billion dollars to protect tropical forests can sound like buying a way out of bad press.

But then I tell myself to be less cynical and appreciate that these organizations have a huge lever to do less of [wrong thing] and more of [right thing] and that we do indeed want them to be incentivized in that direction. Being suspicious enough to dismiss any positive initiatives as marketing ploy, does the opposite. It makes everyone less likely to get out of the bad equilibrium of unsustainable exploitation on the one hand, and righteous environmentalists scolding them on the other.

So, kudos to everyone behind the LEAF coalition! May you have a good plan for achieving the most good with the money.

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Swedish blåsippa, German Leberblümchen, Wikipedia tells us the Common Hepatia is also called kidneywort or liverwort because people used to believe it treats disease in these organs.

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