20/4/02
Hi Folks,
This weeks feature is part of a lecture by Matt Ridley which is on the web site www.onlineopinion.com.au or click here There are a number of other interesting views on there including one from yours truly.

Jane has just tidied up our other web site about our property Barcoorah (they get a bit untidy if you don`t keep them undated) so if you want to look at it, the address is www.geocities.com/barcoorah or click here

(1) Property rights and water trading message from MDBC
(2) GM Carp project questioned
(3) Enviro 2002 speaker says Global warming is affecting Australia
(4) Global warming survey
(5) Lawyers raise concern over Kyoto
(6) NSW Catchment Blueprints set targets of up to 65% retention rates
(7) DEMOCRATS condemn 1080 Baiting Campaign
(8) GAB FESTS and impractical solutions - Judith McGeorge
(9) Qld Land protection Act flawed
(10) Nuclear Desalination
(11) Desalination for the Eyre Peninsula
(12) Murry Darling Basin group "Irrigators Incorporated" call for public benefits test
(13) Irradiation Questioned by Senator Len Harris
(14) TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT: THE CASE FOR OPTIMISM
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(1) Property rights and water trading message from MDBC

The Murray Darling Basin Commission will look at the costs and benefits of restoring environmental flows of 350, 750 and 1500 gigalitres a year. The Ministerial Council has also agreed in principle to measures costing almost $160 million over seven years, to make the best use of the water that's currently available. The Council will undertake a community engagement strategy, starting on July 1st, to get public input into the issues surrounding environmental flows. Then the aim is to make a final decision on the future of the Murray in October next year. Federal Environment Minister, Dr David Kemp says that until the issue of compensation and reform is sorted out, it'll be difficult for any of the proposals to gain widespread support. "I believe that issue has to be ironed out before we can successfully implement these options, and that puts considerable challenge before each of the states to work together with the Commonwealth, and particularly in the Murray Darling Basin with the Commission, to ensure that we are moving towards greater uniformity in this regard." Tim Fischer of the ACF believes compensation must be addressed for those effected by the increased flows, he says this will be a very very expensive process, but no more expensive than the alternative... letting the river system die.

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(2) GM Carp project questioned

The Murray Darling Basin Comission has decided to back the CSIRO's research into carp control. Researchers say we could be just seven years away from a solution that could reduce their numbers by up to 95 per cent. The solution involves releasing millions of genetically modified carp into the Murray Darling system. Will Australians allow that to happen -even to save the river? Dr Nick Bax of CSIROs research centre for introduced marine pests says yes, it's a project which has massive benefits for the environment whilst Bob Phelps of the Gene Ethics network questions whether all the potential risks have been studied.

* Bob McFarland, who has harvested 143,000 carp in recent years to produce his "charlie carp" fertiliser, says this is an amusing situation where a lot of money is going to be invested to MAYBE reduce a pest species in 7 years time. Even if they are reduced by 95% for a time, the remaining ones can still have up to 1,000,000 eggs per female per year. In effect the carp will still remain in river sytems and be able to breed up according to the ecological niche it fills. And it will have been at a huge cost to the taxpayer. Unless EVERY female is made infertile, or produces infertile offspring, the carp population will still survive and still compete aggressively with the native fish.

Bob considers private enterprise can do a better job by CONTINUALLY harvesting the carp, and reduce the population to a certain level, while returning a benefit to the community (fertilizer & jobs) at no cost to the taxpayer.

In my view only by introducing a predator or another fish that out competes the carp, will eradication be possible (e.g. the competative exclusion principle) - but of course, that may cause further problems for the native fish. We also have to remember that by releasing millions of GM carp, these too will still compete with the native fish while they remain alive.

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3) Enviro 2002 speaker says Global warming is affecting Australia

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ccording to one delegate from the International Water Association, global warming is already increasing salinity and the frequency of floods and droughts. Mark Beuhler is from Southern California and has been speaking at Enviro 2002, the country's biggest ever conference on the environment. He says, farming land in semi-arid countries like Australia is particularly vulnerable to global warming.

* In our view Global warming is now getting blamed for just about everything. If the records of Australia`s great drought of the late 1890`s and early 1900`s were publicised as todays weather, just about every conference speaker would claim it as undoubtable evidence for global warming, yet it happened well before any of the so called greenhouse gas levels began to rise. It will be interesting to see if there are any fair minded scientists or commentators which allow for "static" such as the occassional great drought in their considerations of "normal weather patterns".
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(4) Global warming survey

Anna Reynolds from the Climate Action Network says "Few Australians believe “greenhouse sceptics” who maintain climate change is not a real concern and most would be prepared to pay more for fuel and in taxes for greenhouse gas abatement measures, according to a new social research report."

The national social research report into community attitudes about climate change is the first of its kind to be available to the public and was undertaken by international research firm Taylor Nelson Sofres. The report, commissioned by the Climate Action Network Australia (CANA), draws on representative polling (1000 Australians), poll analysis and focus group research.

The key findings of the report are:

- 58% of Australians thinks we should accept climate change refugees, such as those from the Pacific Island of Tuvalu, who approached the Australian Government about this issue last year.

- 64% of the Australian community would you be happy to pay higher prices for fuel if a proportion of the tax were spent developing non polluting alternative transport fuels and public transport.

- 77% of the Australian community believe that the Government should be planning the phase-out of coal power stations in Australia over the next 20 years and replacing them with renewable energy and gas power stations.

- 63% of the community believe the Government should introduce new laws to ensure people become more energy efficient.

- there is little difference between the results at a socio-economic and demographic level.

* As Anna Reynolds mentions in passing, this is a survey mostly about the community`s BELIEFS. It would be interesting to see the results if the same 1000 people were surveyed with questions along the following lines.
Q: How high has the sea level risen at the Island of Tuvala, (one report I saw said it was about a metre)
Q: How high has the sea level risen on the neighbouring east coast of Australia.(about 1 millimetre)
Q: Does this discrepancy have an explanation? (Tuvala could be sinking)
Q: Could Australia`s small sea level rise be from normal fluctations?
Q: What do you make of the 160 year old sea level mark in Tasmania which shows the sea level was 34 cms higher than today in the 1860`s?   http://landholders.tripod.com/id112.htm  for more info)
Q: From your knowledge of the facts, are you certain higher levels of "greenhouse gases" effect sea levels or are you uncertain?

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(5) Lawyers raise concern over Kyoto

Ross Blair from McKean & Park (lawyers & Consultants ) have written to the Weekly Times saying there is no Govt grand plan to exempt beef, dairy and sheep producers from paying for their livestock gas emissions. (At least $90 per cow & $5 per sheep per year)
Richard Eckard (DNRE) said Dairy farmers would have to plant 25% of their property to trees to negate paying the tax, but once the trees matured, then another 25% of their property would have to be planted.
Ross Blair believes these industries are being given bad advice to "wait & see" what happens with the issue (politically).

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(6) NSW Catchment Blueprints set targets of up to 65% retention rates


Landholders across NSW are being pressurred to accept vegetation retention rates of
up to 65 % with the release of the governments position on vegetation, under new catchment plans. This is in contrast to Landholders views that 15% retention rates are a reasonable level


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(7) DEMOCRATS condemn 1080 Baiting Campaign


The Democrats have condemned the planned aerial 1080 baiting campaign to combat Queensland's wild dog population. Environment spokesperson Andrew Bartlett says it's an extreme measure in response to pastoral concerns. He's concerned about the impact on native animals, citing evidence from the United States that 1080 can actually result in an increase in populations of targeted species. But Jan Oliver, Director of the Wildlife Preservation Society supports a 1080 baiting campaign.

* It is obvious Andrew Bartlett has never been out in the pastoral areas for too long to make such comments, maybe the following story is close to his view.

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(7) GAB FESTS and impractical solutions - Judith McGeorge

Dear Leon & Jane- this is pertinent to gab fests and impractical
"solutions" -empire building by bureaucracies surely must peak sometime!!

regards Judith McGeorge

A few years ago, the Sierra Club and the United States Forest Service
(USFS) were presenting an alternative to Wyoming ranchers for
controlling the coyote population. It seemed that, after years of the ranchers
using the tried and true methods of shooting and/or trapping the predators,
the tree-huggers had a "more humane" solution. What they proposed was for
the animals to be captured alive, the males castrated, then let loose
again..and the population would be controlled.

This was ACTUALLY proposed to the Wyoming Wool and Sheep Grower's
association by the Sierra Club and USFS. Well, all the ranchers
thought about this amazing idea for a couple of minutes.

Finally, an old boy in the back stood up, kicked his hat back
and said, "Son, I don't think you understand the problem.
These coyotes ain't f...in' our sheep, they're eatin' em."

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(9) Qld Land protection Act flawed

Qld L
andholders could soon be forced to remove Buffel grass, leucaena, even livestock in areas adjacent to conservation zones under the State Government's new Land Protection legislation.

* Dennis Fahey (Torrens Creek, Qld) has just received a bit of paper work from beauracracy citing how landholders such as himself are now not eligible for NHT assistance to help control "weeds of national significance" that have come in from a neighbouring national park - It would seem national parks are allowed to infect neighbours with weeds (with no penalties to the managers of the conservation areas) but should landholders have as much as a highly competative grass species (non weeds) on their land which borders a conservation area, they could be subject to penalties.


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(10) Nuclear Desalination

A retired scientist at Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula believes he holds the answer to the region's water crisis which could be applied elsewhere in Australia. Professor Henk De Bruin, formerly of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, believes the answer is nuclear power. He believes ultimately Australia will have to use nucleur power to avoid CO2 emmissions and depletion of fossil fuels. He has been working on the concept of nuclear deslination since the late 1960s and says its already in operation around the world most recently in India. "Nuclear power CAN be dangerous, but like all those things, they've been worked on for many, many years, they've got double insulation...it is well protected, there are well over 2,000 nuclear power stations in the world...I've been working in the nuclear industry since 1958, I've worked in reactors many times and I'm still alive, it is exagerated, it's a bleeding heart story."

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(11) Desalination for the Eyre Peninsula


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company which has proposed to set up a 500 kilometre pipeline to desalinate sea water for Kalgoorlie in Western Australia believes desalination is the best option for the Eyre Peninsula. United Utilities Australia is currently working on the master plan for SA Water which has highlighted desalination at the Todd Reservoir as the best option. The company believes it would put an end to Eyre Peninsula's water crisis. Just one or two dollars a day is all the average person would be expected to pay for high quality, desalinated water. Graham Dooley, says his company is prepared to set up a desalination plant without government help. "We've offered, to the West Australian government, to build a monsterous desalination plant on the Great Australian Bight at Esperence and pipe the water 500 kilometres to Kalgoorlie".


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(12) Murry Darling Basin group "Irrigators Incorporated" call for public benefits test

For the first time irrigators from the four states in the Murray Darling Basin have united, calling for a public benefits test before any more environmental flows are released into Australia's largest river system. The recently formed Irrigators Incorporated claims to represent 30,000 farmers in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Irrigators Incorporated Chairman Lawrie Arthur says environmental flows are not the only way to improve the health of the river system. "If we want a water wetland it doesn't mean we have to run a flood down the river to get the water into the wetland, there are other ways to do it. I live on a beautiful part of the river here, at the moment I'm looking at the Edward River, it's a beautiful river and we want to keep it that way. But we also need to recognize that we have western agriculture on this old continent and we feed a lot of people."

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(13) Irradiation Questioned

Senator Len Harris has sent an email raising doubts over the increasing push for food to be irradiated (treated with radiation) to delay ripening and eliminate pests and diseases.

Irradiation destroys insects, moulds, fungi and pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses. Foods treated with irradiation are described as the 'foods that lasts forever'. For example, irradiated strawberries have a shelf life of 14 days or more compared to a shelf life of 3 days for non-irradiated strawberries.
More than 40 countries have approved irradiation for different foods. Irradiation of herbs, spices and herbal teas was recently approved by the Australia New Zealand Food Authority.

When food is irradiated with radioactive gamma sources, the molecular structure of the food is broken up and free radicals are formed. The free radicals react with the food to create new chemical substances called radiolytic products. Some are known carcinogens (e.g.: benzene in irradiated beef). Others are completely unique to the radiation process and their effect on human health is unknown. Little is understood about the massive and random rearrangement of the molecular structure of the proteins, fats, carbohydrates, enzymes and residual chemicals in irradiated food.

Exposing food to radiation causes essential vitamin and nutrient loss, and the process kills beneficial bacteria that warn consumers when food has gone bad. Irradiation severely damages most vitamins, particularly A,C,D,E and K.

* As with all new technologies, detailed scientific work should be done before any approval is given, especially where new substances may be produced.

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Satelite Television idea Progresses - first teleconference on 28th April

I have been continuing to phone people to chat about the whole communications idea and quite a number of people are prepared to be a part of a team to work on getting the satelite television meetings (and complementary communications ) up and running.
Trevor Meares (Qld) has given us a contact to assist with very cheap telephone conferencing.
If you are interested in being part of the team let us know. The first teleconference will be on sunday evening 28th April at 7pm EST.
This meeting will be to set out an overall goal and a possible step by step plan.
To ensure the idea does not come unstuck, two principles have been suggested which are
(1) To have a structure that ensures maximum grass roots influence
(2) To avoid having a debt

Personally, I`d like to think we could set up the whole structure so that it can be run by people working from home on computers and telephones etc. That way anyone on a farm with some spare hours, could hold a position. - Leon Ashby

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And finally the first half of a lecture titled

(14) TECHNOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT: THE CASE FOR OPTIMISM

presented at the Prince Philip Lecture on 8 March 2001 by Matt Ridley ( author of 'Genome'. and Chairman of the International Centre for Life).

I want to make three main points. First, we are habitually too pessimistic about the environment. Second, the invention of new technology is not necessarily a threat to the environment; rather it is usually the best hope of environmental improvement. And third, pessimism about new technology and the environment can itself be harmful.

I am not saying that every environmental trend in every place and at every time is benign; there are plenty of things that are getting worse. Nor am I saying that technology cannot have bad environmental side effects. It can. What I am saying is that we often overlook how many environmental features are improving; and even more we overlook how those improvements are caused by new technology.

I realise that even to make these mild claims is highly unfashionable. Indeed, they are so against the conventional wisdom that they might be termed heresy. I know what happens to heretics: my ancestral relation, Bishop Nicholas Ridley, was burnt at the stake in Oxford for his views. I use the term heresy deliberately: showing your concern for the environment has become one of the superstitions and dogmas of our age. To bring reason to bear on it is considered bad form.

In good faith

It was a faith I used to believe in. I joined Friends of the Earth. I had that old red and yellow 'Atomik-kraft nein danke!' sticker on the bumper of my first car. I was a true product of the 1970s, and right into the late 1980s I regarded myself as a mainstream environmentalist, if not by then an active one. I still regard myself as an environmentalist but I often find myself in almost diametrical disagreement with most of those who professionally use that title. I don't remember exactly what changed my mind but one influence was the work of two American economists whom I encountered when living in Washington in the late 1980s - Julian Simon and Aaron Wildavsky, now sadly both dead.

Julian Simon was a man obsessed with statistics. He was never caught out with an unchecked fact. Laboriously he compiled thousands of graphs and charts to demonstrate his belief that the world was getting better not worse. He discovered, of course, that facts are much less persuasive than the fire-and-brimstone sermons used by those he was arguing against. Pessimism just makes better box office than optimism. For centuries we have taken doom mongers more seriously than starry-eyed optimists. It just seems to be in our nature. It is no more realistic to ask greens to stop being apocalyptic than it was to ask a 16th century puritan to stop preaching hellfire and damnation.

Yet, for centuries the doom mongers have been wrong. Look at the statistics: life expectancy increasing, deaths from hunger falling, medical treatment improving, age-corrected cancer mortality declining, air quality improving almost everywhere, water quality improving in most rivers and lakes, rate of loss of tropical rain forest falling rapidly, net loss of land to desert now officially zero, energy use per unit of GDP falling rapidly, and so on. Most things are getting better most of the time.

What is always getting worse, apparently, is the future. Predictions remain pessimistic. Remember acid rain and how it was going to destroy forests all across Europe and North America? By 1986, the UN reported that 23% of all trees in Europe were moderately or severely damaged by acid rain. What happened? They recovered. The biomass stock of European forests actually increased during the 1980s. The damage all but disappeared. Forests did not decline; they thrived. Ditto in North America: 'There is no evidence of a general or unusual decline of forests in the United States or Canada due to acid rain,' concluded the official, independent study.

Scare tactics <BR>
Yet did you read this in the press? Again and again, we find that the initial scare is given far more coverage than the later climb-down. H.L. Mencken once said: 'The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed - and hence clamorous to be led to safetv - bv menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary'.

Incidentally, not everybody got everything wrong. One quotation from the 1970s was actually rather prophetic.

'Who knows what will be the next [environmental concern] to attract public attention? Perhaps it will be the problems of changing world climate'. That was written by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh in 1977.

The fact that so many past predictions were wrong should give us pause for thought about global warming. Even if the models of predicted climate change prove accurate (and given the accuracy of two-day weather forecasts, I have my doubts about 100 year climate forecasts), there is a massive bias towards pessimism in the reporting of its likely effects. Buried in Nature magazine recently was a report that rising temperatures around Heard Island in the Antarctic Ocean have resulted in dramatic increases in the numbers of breeding animals: king penguins are up from three pairs in 1947 to 25,000 pairs today, Heard Island cormorants are back from the brink of extinction and far seals now number 28,000 pairs. Imagine how much coverage would have been given to the story if those trends were in the other direction.

I'm not saying global warming will not bring some bad results for conservation or for human-kind. I'm just saying it will also bring some good results and people are not nearly so interested in studying or reporting them. The mother of all howlers was the prediction of future scarcity of resources in the 1970s. The view that the oil, the food and the minerals were going to run out shortly was not confined to cranks. It was something we almost all believed. The Club of Rome, which published Limits to Growth in 1970 said total global oil reserves amounted to 550 billion barrels. 'We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade', said President Jimmy Carter. Sure enough, between 1970 and 1990 the world indeed used 600 billion barrels of oil. So, according to the Club of Rome, reserves should have been overdrawn by 50 billion barrels by 1990. In fact, by 1990 unexploited reserves amounted to 900 billion barrels - not counting the tar shales.

The Club of Rome made similarly wrong predictions about natural gas, silver, tin, uranium, aluminium, copper, lead and zinc. In every case, it said finite reserves of these minerals were approaching exhaustion and prices would rise steeply. In every case except tin, known reserves have actually grown since the report; in some cases they have quadrupled.

Food fact-finding

The record of mis-predicted food supplies is even worse. Paul Ehrlich wrote in 1968: 'The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death'. And his book was a bestseller. He was not alone. Lester Brown of the World-watch Institute began predicting that population would soon outstrip food production in 1973 and still does so. He's in the papers every time there is a temporary increase in wheat prices. So far he has been wrong for 28 years. The facts on world food production are startling for those who have only heard the doomsayers' views. Since 1961, the population of the world has more than doubled, but food production has increased even faster. As a result, food production per head has risen by over 20% since 1961. Nor is this improvement confined to rich countries. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, calories consumed per capita per day are 27% higher in the third world than they were in 1963. Incidentally, both Lester Brown and Paul Ehrlich were given genius awards by the Mac-Arthur Foundation.

Global 2000 was a report to the president of the United States written in 1980 by a committee of the great and the good. It predicted that population would increase faster than world food production, so that food prices would rise by between 35% and 115% by the year 2000, Instead the world food commodity index fell by 55%.

Why are these Malthusian predictions so spectacularly wrong? After all, resources are limited and at some point we will surely run out of them. We optimists have been compared to the man who said 'So far so good' as he fell past the tenth floor of the skyscraper. The answer brings me to the second part of my argument: the invention of technology. Julian Simon argued, and I believe we need to start taking him seriously, that almost no resource is actually finite. He used to say that, 'Resources come out of people's minds more than out of the ground or air'. He meant that everything we use, whether it is food or oil or copper or clean water, can be made more abundant by applying ingenuity to its extraction and use. And that is what we keep doing. By plant breeding, we make agricultural land a more productive resource. By inventing offshore drilling we discover reserves of gas we did not think were there. By inventing fibre-optic cables, we replace copper cables. In all cases, the size of the resource depends on the technology used to exploit it.

Substitution is especially important. If a resource becomes scarce, its price rises and substitutes are quickly found. Oil was first drilled in the 19th century because whale oil was getting expensive. Coal was first mined for industrial purposes because the 16th century British cast-iron industry was running short of wood. According to the latest theories, the reason agriculture was first invented in the Middle East 9,000 years ago was not because nobody had thought of it before but that wild game was getting scarce. Notice in all three cases that the invention of a substitute technology saved a so-called renewable, sustainable, natural resource by replacing it with a so called finite one. Whales, woods and wild game may be renewable, but they are much more easily exhausted than oil, coal or soil. After all, we now know that a few thousand people, armed with a simple stone tool kit, took just 300 years between 13,200 years ago and 12,900 years ago to wipe out all the mammoths and giant ground sloth in North America. Not much modem technology there.

Human invention

The Italian academic Cesare Marchetti has produced a wonderful graph which shows how humanity's source of primary power has gradually shifted from wood to coal to oil to gas during the last century and a half Each of these fuels is successively richer in hydrogen and poorer in carbon than its predecessor, so we seem to be moving towards using pure hydrogen. Presumably, we will be making it from water or natural gas with some kind of cheap electricity perhaps from nuclear power.

In other words, de-carbonisation of the world economy, accompanied by a shift from dirty to cleaner technologies, is occurring without any political direction. It is driven by human inventiveness. These kinds of ideas are derided by environmentalists as 'technical fixes'. They would much prefer that we cut CO 2 emissions at source. Yet actually it was technical fixes that saved the whales, the woods and the wild game before.

I predict that we will survive global warming and that we will do so no thanks to treaties, global energy policies, or consumer restraint. Instead we will de-carbonise our economy with new inventions. Inventions that the environmental movement will mostly oppose. For instance, the shift to natural gas in power generation was almost universally derided by greens as a dangerous move: the notorious 'dash for gas'. Why? Gas does not need men working underground in black tunnels; it does not spill and make slicks; it is the least carbon rich fossil fuel of all; it can be transported very cheaply in pipes; it can be burned in combined cycle turbines producing 20 or 30% more conversion efficiency than any other fuel. And, above all, it does not require the despoliation of the landscape with forests of hideous, uneconomic, unreliable, unecological, taxpayer-subsidised, concrete hungry, golden-eagle chopping wind turbines. To replace natural gas with solar, wind, hydro or tidal power, with their insatiable demands on large acreages of our precious landscapes, would not, in my view, be green.

Our precious landscape

This is the vast benefit of fossil fuels: that they spare the landscape. Because we have them, we don't need to cook over wood fires, to dam streams for water mills, to grow hay for bullocks to cart our goods to market. So despite 55 million people crammed into a small island we can afford to leave many of our woods for nature, our streams for fishing and our paddocks for horseyculture. To try to turn the clock back to the medieval pattern of local renewable energy in the name of sustainability would do more harm than good.

If this is true of power generation, it is doubly true of agriculture. We have heard a lot recently about the supposed drawbacks of intensive agriculture. Like intensive power production, so intensive agriculture spares the landscape. There is no doubt that the green revolution helped us to produce vastly more food from every acre than we could have dreamed about two generations ago: hybrid seeds, inorganic fertilisers, pesticides, irrigation and mechanisation. They are responsible for the failure of Lester Brown's and Paul Ehrlich's neoMalthusian predictions. They have fed the world with more and more food at less and less cost. As a result modern farming is less land-hungry than its predecessors. Hunter-gathering needs about 5,000 acres to support a human being in a temperate climate. Short fallow organic agriculture needs about ten acres. Intensive, conventional agriculture needs about one acre. Hydroponic, artificially- lit greenhouses can feed 1,000 people from an acre.

More next time

Cheers
Leon & Jane