Saturday, October 26, 2019

Czech entomologist on ecology, climate panic

PL Jakub Vosáhlo's interview with Dr Martin Konvička, an entomologist and the president of the Czech Islamic Republic

Assoc Prof Martin Konvička as you don't know him (he's primarily famous as a warrior against Islam): in recent years, Nature was primarily demolished by the EU climate policies, irresponsible charlatanry involving the climate, and mad experiments with the landscape.

AN INTERVIEW: After his activity addressing the migration and the clash of civilizations, Martin Konvička recently talked about the fashionable war on the climate change. And he clearly has something to say about the issue as an Associate Professor of biology and a respected expert, especially in science of insects (and yes, butterflies). He unmasks some devil's glitches with the ongoing campaign to plant trees or the risk of the forced transition to the "green" technologies. In the interview for the, he also hints at the reasons why so many scientists, often questionable scientists, jumped on the climate research bandwagon in recent years.

Last Saturday, we were celebrating "Tree Day" and it seemed very intense this time. For example, several members of the Czech government were seen in front of the TV cameras while planting trees. "To plant a tree" is a slogan of our era which should save the planet from the excessive CO2. How do you see these efforts from the perspective of a biologist?

I see it as a malicious exploitation of people's good hearts for potentially dangerous acts. Which deserves an explanation.

When understood at the planetary level – Nature is much more than a forest. There exist whole biomes (an expert's term for the climatically conditioned landscape types) where the number of trees is low, they are scarce, and sometimes substituted by bushes or vegetation based on the grass or herb species. All kinds such as forest steppes, savannas, steppes, or semideserts. The catch is that even in these types of wild nature, we may find specific flora and even some characteristic fauna. If we change all these landscape types by planting trees (e.g. by using some species from other continents that are capable of withstanding more challenging conditions), we may endanger the specific plant and animals – or even drive them to extinction. For the nearest region with such a type of nature, we don't have to go far, it's the European Mediterranean region where many of us go for summer holidays. In spite of the hype, deforestation hasn't ruined the region. It has always been a mosaic with shrubbery, slopes with grass, and sparse forests which are maintained by pasturing herbivores. And it has always hosted a whole spectrum of unique species that don't live elsewhere in the world, the so-called endemic species. These days, the nature of that region is threatened by the decreasing opportunity for pasture which is amplified by reforestation efforts, e.g. the planting of the Australian eucalypti. The benefits for the climate are questionable because a greater number of trees means a higher risk of wildfires. On the other hand, the loss of the local biodiversity is unquestionable.

When we move from the exotic realms to our homeland, we see an analogous problem. Our land lies in the strip of the deciduous forests of the temperate zone but the natural scientists have long abandoned the idea that when it was still "wild", it used to be covered by shadowy deep forests. There are two reasons. First, in such a wild state, there have been many large animals such as the European bisons, aurochs, or horses that would never allow the transition to full-blown forests. Second, most of our region's biodiversity doesn't live in deep forests but they depended on the looser semi-forest park landscape. There is a good reason why people aesthetically prefer this landscape over others, it reminds them of the landscape in which most of the human evolution has taken place. The cultural landscape of the times before the industrial revolution was also a park-type landscape. It was exploiting animals such as horses or cattle – domesticated descendants of their ancient wild forms. Dense forests with equally spaced trees are as recent as from the 18th century when forestry was founded as a new industry responding to the fuel crisis of that epoch. Monotonic deep forests are biologically poor but also unstable, especially if they're composed of inappropriate species (typically spruces at low altitudes). The fact that many of these forests are deteriorating these days, after just 2-3 generations of their existence, can't be fully blamed on the drought and the bark beetle. Nature is punishing us for mistaken decisions that were made a long time ago.

When we want to plant the trees, we should know which ones and where. When the reforestation of the "forcefully mined" (or "calamitous") forests is the issue, we should stop the suicidal spruce-engineering because it's a path to new calamities. When we talk about the plantation outside the forest, we must be even more careful. New trees belong next to the paths in the fields, to the pasture fields, and they are good as separators of the infinite fields from each other. They don't belong to wet meadows in the valleys or blossoming slopes with flowers that are nicely illuminated by the Sun. Why? Those are the leftovers of the ancient park landscape that used to make our homeland so beautiful and lively a long time ago.

In the Ecoletter Journal, you recently wrote an extensive study claiming that Czechia is surely experiencing warming. What are the main implications that this process will bring us?

You're asking difficult questions. While the proofs available to us, the natural scientists, that some warming has taken place are numerous (the most persuasive ones are the changing habitats of species of plants and animals as well as the timing of the natural phenomena such as the bird migration or blossoming of flowers), no responsible person will tell you what will happen next year, 10 years from now, or in 100 years. There exist certain IPCC models (The Inter-governmental Panel for Climate Change) but those are sensitive to the accuracy of the input parameters that simply aren't precise. All of them assume a simple relationship between the "planetary climate" and the concentration of the so-called greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – which is an assumed condition that may be correct or incorrect. In practice, they try to predict the planet-wide climate for many years in advance. Whoever has trouble with the local weather predictions for the next week, must have her own (skeptical) opinion about that.

Even if we trusted the IPCC models, the climate involves a pile of feedback mechanisms that are completely unknown to us. One example: The warming due to fossil fuels will shorten the heating season – and therefore reduce the consumption of the fossil fuels! A more complex and widely discussed example: At the end of every interglacial (and we're living inside one of those), the oceanic currents weakened because the seas warmed too much. This has paradoxically cooled the Northern oceans which caused a fast increase of the ice sheets and the jump towards a new ice age! The rising sea level is being discussed often, too. That may occur when the polar ice melts and it may be a problem for the people living near the coasts. However, the warming also seems to bring wetter conditions for the areas around the tropics (of Cancer/Capricorn), i.e. a green Sahara – and more hospitable conditions in the Northern areas. We can't even rule out the end of the interglacial. The timing could allow it. The greenhouse gases could help to delay the new ice age – or not.

We simply do not know what will happen. We only know one thing, namely that the climate will keep on changing because it's been changing since the Earth became the Earth. To build the ecological policies on a single scenario (that there will be a monotonic warming) is an irresponsible charlatanry.

You have also mentioned that some demands by the climate warriors make sense while others don't. Can you please summarize it for us?

The text above hopefully makes it clear that we need those moves that will help, or at least that won't hurt, in any conceivable scenario of the climate change. On the contrary, something that hurts for all feasible scenarios is counterproductive.

Let's realize why the climate change – something completely natural because the climate is a dynamical system – makes the people worried. It's not those several added or subtracted degrees Celsius of temperature. It's not because of the longer or shorter winter. We are afraid that this time, the climate change takes place on an overpopulated, politically tense, and sometimes "overmilked" planet. A planet with monocultures, intensive agriculture, decreasing reservoirs of natural resources and drink water, and plagued by shortage of room for the flora and fauna. We don't need to fight against the climate because it is (most likely) nonsensical, we need to fix the landscape, nature, the condition of the forests, soils, and waters. When it's done, the climate may do whatever it wants – we won't even feel it.

If you allow me to be specific: Wrong are all the decisions that require new energy costs without providing us with adequate benefits. I mean biofuels, forests of wind turbines, new dams... but also the forced transition to new technologies, especially those that make us dependent on resources whose mining is beyond our control. Electric cars are an example. They don't save any energy (which is physically impossible!) but they have to be newly produced instead of allowing the people to keep on using classical cars for a few more years. Next, no policies should lead to the rising wealth inequality, they shouldn't threaten the poorest classes. Our nationwide examples include new and new "ecological certificates" (which are increasing the housing prices and rents), a global example is the biofuel gold fever (it has reduced the availability of food in the poorest countries). Finally, we should avoid social engineering experiments such as the reduction of meat consumption because they are translated to mad experimentation with the landscape at the continental level.

The Moldau Horseshoe near Solenice

Positive policies are all those that diversify our usage of the landscape. It means: It is a good idea to grow forests that are composed of the locally adequate and resilient tree species instead of monocultures. To restore the small marshlands, to liquidate unnecessary drainage structures, to return rivers and creeks that were moved to pipes back into the open space, to restore the meandering or wiggly banks of the other rivers and creeks. To reduce the area of the agricultural blocks of soil, to divide them by balks, biostrips, and alleys. To diversify the farming, to return to the balance of the plant and animal industry, and to use this change to obtain natural fertilizers that will replace a part of the industrial ones. To look for ways to do the business in the most nature-like farming: I see huge reserves in the food industry but also in hunting and fishing. To diversify activities economically – to support local producers, family farms and firms, considerate forms of tourism. Similar policies shouldn't be made just at the big scale but also at the small scale – when people care about the municipal greenery and gardens. It's clear to me that some of it will require a complete revolution in the subsidy policies but even a reevaluation of the current dogmas about the free trade. We should freely trade but if something deserves an ecological tax, it's the transportation of food and fodder across the continents when they may be produced locally.

If you think that I omitted energy policy, then sure – it is surely right not to waste energy and to invest to clean sources such as nuclear energy. When you are longing for the landscape building at the large scale, then I am a defender of the missing components of the ecosystems, especially the large herbivores and carnivores, wherever it will be possible.

The attitude of some economists is that we shouldn't fight the climate change but adapt to it. Some of them are comparing the proposed fight with the utopian communist slogan, "let us command wind and rain". As you see it, may humans thwart these processes at all? And may it be achieved by the algorithms recommended by the green activists?

I must admit that I don't see a difference between the "fight" and "adaptation". Everything that I described in the previous paragraphs may be described as adaptation but it may also greatly influence the climate. For example, when dung is returned to the fields, it will make the fields keep more water. The return of the game to the currently unused places will remove huge areas with dying biomass that produces CO2 and methane every year. This is, globally speaking, a greater source of CO2 than the whole famous industrial economy. The current alarmist proposals (to stop eating meat, to plant the deep forests everywhere, to stop traveling, to abolish heating, lighting, and living) won't help anything.

We often hear apocalyptic statements that the current generation has destroyed the planet for their children. Let's clarify that. Has the state of the environment improved or worsened during the recent 30 years, for example? And what role has been played by the current generation relatively to the previous ones? Which of them was more careful or more reckless?

Here I choose to start "from Adam", namely from the expansion of our species from our African birthplace to all the world's continents – which is the history that started some 40,000 years ago and was completed by the voyages of the European explorers at the beginning of the modern history. One of the most far-reaching recent discoveries of ecology is the insight that the first real ecological catastrophe has taken place exactly in that interval of time. It was the mass eradication of the populations of big mammals. Those big animals that collided with the humans outside Africa have never seen a "monkey who was using fire and walking with huge sticks all over the world". So they became an easy prey. The mammoth, the mastodon, the steppe bison, several species of rhinos, American species of armadillos of the same size, and the elephant-sized land sloths – these are just appetizers before some 150 courses with species of big animals that were subjected to a Blitzkrieg by our ancestors. It's not just about our destruction of a source of meat. The loss of these animals has reformed the dynamics of ecosystems, nutrient cycles, frequency of fires, and other variables. Relatively to this massacre, the modern massacres – including the famous eradication of the North American bisons and the hunting of the marine mammals – is just a weak tea. Yes, our forefathers had more time for this kind of work, whole millenniums.

A Czech mottled cow

When we leap forward, the invention of agriculture meant the salvation for many organisms – five minutes before the midnight. Why? After a dangerous hiatus, the agriculture has revived the disruption of soil and the pasture of biomass, among other processes that could occur in the landscape again. Those used to be previously guaranteed by the hoofed animals – and their job was taken by the domesticated animals and the plows. We may also talk about the pressure on the soil, the gradual shrinking of the forests, the elimination of game in (then) so far relatively virgin regions (equatorial Africa). All those things were processes that are relatively reversible because the number of the people was low and there was enough room for everybody. The real problems only start with the population explosion of the recent 200 years. My father was learning from a textbook saying that there were 2 billion people, now we're approaching 8 billion people on Earth. This growth was accompanied by the increasing wealth, another pressure on the planetary resources. All these things culminated in the era of the technological optimism but also the arms races and post-colonial chaos of the 1950s and 1960s. In those times, really dangerous pesticides were overused, the acid rains were scheduled, much like the poisoned North American lakes and fishless rivers.

A paradox of the alarmists is that they are blaming the current generations – i.e. generations that started to turn the steering wheel of the devastation trend towards a better direction, at least in the rich countries. Look at the numbers and areas of the protected territories and national parks, at the shape of many endangered species, including predatory mammals and marine mammals, at the restarted growth of the area of forests in many regions of the world, and at the removal of sulfur from coal power plants. Or appreciate that countries that were poor yesterday, such as China and India, started to effectively protect Nature. Famines have disappeared from the world. If something is still wrong about the world in recent years, it's the continuing population explosion in Africa or the plundering of tropical forests at many places. But the general trends are much better than some 30 years ago.

Let me offer a heretical idea – namely that the new devastation of nature only arrived along with the accelerating agricultural and "climatic" EU policies. I am thinking about the precisely prescribed quotas on the mowing of each hayfield or meadow, on the number of animals on each pasture field, and obviously the mandatory biofuels and the biomass processing, too. Suddenly the stringent hygienic regulations no longer apply here, the farming is being homogenized once again, the pressure on the soil has reappeared (we tended to have a surplus of arable land in the 1990s). These insane things are terrible because they are ironically being justified by ecology. In reality, they cause an ecological harm.

I recently read that a certain Dutch inventor found a way to clean the plastic trash from the bottom of the oceans. Do you see it as a proof that the "invisible hand" of the markets and research may find a solution in a better way than some central planning?

When the science and research are too centrally planned, it leads to the waste of resources and frauds: The assigned funds "must" be spent, you "have to" bring the promised product – even when it means to fudge the results. On the contrary, a complete freedom for the researcher leads the scientists to investigate bizarre things that are totally detached from the needs of the society. Some balance is needed. It clearly cannot be found but it must still be looked for.

The second approach to the environmental problems is the "activist" approach that is currently represented by the young generation that appears in the "school strikes for the climate". Those combine their interest in the environmental issues with a generational revolt. Which part is prevailing according to your observations?

I admit that when I observe the alarmists, I don't see a substantial generational revolt there. Look, they seem to be allied with the top-tier politicians in the EU and other Western countries, with the big media, with "celebrities" such as our poor starlet Ms Nora Fridrichová from "Dancing With the Stars"... and also with a part of the Academicians whose common trait often seems to be a weak scholarly output and perhaps an excessive enthusiasm for obtaining soft, because politically secured, grants. Using Jaroslav Hašek's slang, it may be said to be a "revolt within the limits of the law" or the phenomenon that my colleague Hampl calls "yellow fights", using a new-old term.

What I see there is my favorite topic – some emotional instability (in plain English, "hysteria"), and also some psycho-social submissiveness that is sometimes elevated to the level of self-destruction, so far thankfully just a verbal one. The first phenomenon belongs to the subjects probed by psychiatry and the reason tends to be an unhappy childhood. The second thing is totally alright by itself but when it combines with a perturbed personality, you obtain a toxic mix. It's no coincidence that the same topics are relevant for figuring out the medieval flagellants, children's crusaders, and sectarians of all flavors.

I should perhaps explain the following: They are rejecting (allegedly because they are modest) a plethora of things that make the human lives sort of more fun to live and that may be connected with the primates' dominance that is deeply fixated in our brains and that goes across the cultures and epochs. Hunting. Protein-rich food. Fashion. Minor everyday luxury (the plastic straw is a nice symbol of it). Independent mobility and speed (the movement against cars and flying). The readiness to fight for the place under the Sun. Instead of all these things, people are being offered immensely strange masochist exhibitions. Rolling bodies on the roads. Self-attachment (by chains, ritualized hanging, and dog-collars). Depersonalization (dancing performances with covered faces). Self-castration because what else is the talk about the refusal to bring new babies to the world?

It's probably no coincidence that young athletes, fans of outdoor activities, and people who genuinely live with Nature (fishers, hunters, foresters, zoologists, geologists) are rarely joining these trends. Also, it's no coincidence that these activists tend to be predominantly female.

If there is a generational revolt, it is a revolt against those who were the leaders of the protection of the Nature, landscape, or planet in the recent 50 years. It is sociologically understandable – the traditional conservationist and the climate alarmist are competing to get the same resources – but it is terribly sad. They have the required energy and that energy could be used to further improve Nature, the landscape, and the world we inhabit. But they are using the energy in a completely wrong way. I would say that the whole alleged revolt is being encouraged by malicious politicians and cynical corporations who want to distract the youth from genuine problems and their solutions. The young people are being abused and they don't want to admit this fact to themselves.

The activists are saying that they want to highlight the problem and to give some room to the scientists to invent something. Using your experience as a biologist – can scientists "fulfill the task" and quickly invent some solution demanded by those students?

I have just filled four letter papers worth of such meaningful solutions.

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