Thursday, 5 April 2012

Sometimes we get it so wrong

I was in a meeting with a major company the other day. As part of my day job I am involved in trying to get some ambitious pro-environment legislation passed. This business wanted to plug their new product, which is probably much better, but still not great. So as usual there is the discussion over whether we should accept the less-shit-but-still-worrying tech or hold the line and be purists. Usually you have to compromise at some point, even if only inside your own brain. The trouble is, that sometimes something happens that makes you think that we are approaching this from completely the wrong direction.

Yes, some of the technologies we were discussing are essential, and some are so useful that you would be either a kamikaze campaigner or a fool to deny we should try and find workable replacements for. But then there is silly string. As in stupid pink string from an aerosol. At some point in the meeting it transpired that one of the products we were debating on finding a less-shit alternative for was that essential of western civilization, party string. From a can.

Ah well, says the industry, they can't use green chemical A, because it might explode in little Richmond's face. Fair enough, I don't want that. So does this mean we should use the dubious chemical instead?... grumble grumble... I suppose so. Or maybe not. Call me a fanatic, but I don't think we need silly string at all. If we can't find an environmentally friendly way of making it, then perhaps we should let it slide into obscurity. Let it go. Above all, don't let it block the passage of more important changes.

The trouble is of course that there are so many useless but slightly fun things in the world that would have to go the way of the dodo if we used that logic that it is hard to know where to start. Plastic footballs, balloons, the toy spiders in Christmas crackers. Etc etc etc etc. To suggest in a policy meeting that something might actually be completely useless in the first place normally just draws amused stares or sympathetic smiles, followed by a reminder that these things do matter to the manufacturers of silly string, as though that is a good enough reason.

This is obviously just the tip of the iceberg, but to my mind it is a useful example of the need for those involved in the nitty gritty of the environmental struggle to appraise what it is we are really doing, and perhaps everyone, from policymakers to campaigners should be forced to take a step back and examine what we are actually arguing over.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Welsh Government cancels its badger cull, surely England must follow suit

I know this is old news now, but I am just saying a big 'hooray' that Wales has decided to cancel its proposed badger cull, and instead focus on combating TB in cattle through vaccination of badgers and farm hygiene measures. This is an excellent move, since there was no evidence at all that a cull would have been effective, and some evidence that it may have made bovine TB worse - not to mention nearly exterminating a protected species. The move also puts additional pressure on DEFRA to abandon is ridiculous and unscientific culling plan that will see farmers authorized to shoot badgers in the open at night time.

On a wider note, I hope that moves to vaccinate badgers will lead to a more serious appraisal of how we deal with the idea of vaccination in cattle. As I understand it cattle are culled if they have a reaction to TB test, which test for a response to TB antigens. Essentially what this shows is that they have been exposed to the disease at some point in their lives, and developed antibodies. Trouble is that most have no symptoms, so basically the odds are that in culling those with immune response but no symptoms, you are culling the most resistant members of the herd, those who might naturally fight off the disease. It is for this reason too that cattle cannot be vaccinated - because immunized animals will test positive in an anti-body test. Imagine a situation where you killed all those humans who tested positive for measles, but who never developed symptoms.. you are genetically selecting an increasingly vulnerable population...