Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Speaking of Bizarre Statistical Claims

The ever-reliable BBC runs a headline claiming that world wildlife populations have declined by 52% in the last forty years.

I find that rather incredible, but, of course, my observations are based on North American wildlife, like deer and coyotes.  Our wildlife populations have experience manifold increases in my lifetime, perhaps a little less so in the last forty years, though when I came back to Missouri after a decade in Texas, it seemed that I saw more deer more often than I did in the '70s and early '80s.

There is no doubt that habitat destruction, as a function of growing human populations, in tropical regions of the world has been adverse to species such as elephants and the big cats. 

The London Zoological Society has created a new "Living Planet Index" to track wildlife populations.  The methodology sounds a little fuzzy, but it is filtered through the sparse, pickled gray matter of journalists, so we shouldn't jump to conclusions. 

The society's report, in conjunction with the pressure group WWF, says humans are cutting down trees more quickly than they can re-grow, harvesting more fish than the oceans can re-stock, pumping water from rivers and aquifers faster than rainfall can replenish them, and emitting more carbon than oceans and forests can absorb.
All of that is undoubtedly true in some regions.  Well, except for the "carbon" bravo sierra.  There are a lot of humans on the planet, but I'm old enough to clearly remember 1970 when we were all going to be dead from overpopulation in five years.  Soylent Green, which I saw in the theater -- perhaps not the ideal date movie, was released in 1973 and set in 2022 -- eight years from now.

Totalitarian regimes killed multiplied millions in the 20th Century in the name of economic enlightenment and progress.  My guess is that the next big kill-off of humans by starvation and disease will be in the name of saving the planet.  While I rather wish sometimes there were fewer people on earth -- especially when I'm stuck in traffic somewhere -- I am not comfortable enabling the UN or some other body of do-gooders to get involved in controlling development, exploitation, and allocation of resources.

These kinds of articles all seem aimed at dwellers in the urban and suburban areas of the First World.  One can imagine youthful whites in Europe and North America reading this on their iPhones while sipping a seven-dollar frappĂ© in their selvedge jeans and thinking how awful it is that those dark people are allowed to destroy the idyllic rainforests at the behest of evil corporations.    

I don't want a world where the only tigers are in the zoo, and the key to saving tigers is saving habitat.  I also very much do not want to kill a couple hundred million Indians to achieve that goal.  I'm not so sure the elites in academia, government, and the corporate world share my reservations.  

We must credit the BBC for giving space to dissenting voices.  The co-director of the United Kingdom's National Centre for Statistical Ecology is Stephen Buckland.  "Statistical Ecology" -- I like that.  Buckland sounds a note of sanity:

"It is clear that declines are occurring, and at a more rapid rate in tropical areas with high diversity than in temperate areas where much of our diversity was lost long ago.
"But there is the question in the Living PIanet Index of why some populations are monitored when others are not. Those in decline are perhaps of greater interest, and hence more likely to be monitored, than those that are stable or increasing. For practical reasons, populations that are more impacted by man are more easily monitored.
"Further, the quality of the data is highly variable from one population to another, and some population trends are likely to be biased. So is there a decline? Certainly. Are animal numbers around 52% lower than 40 years ago? Probably not."

Emphasis added. 


  1. I saw that yesterday. Yeah, something screwy with their calulations. Around here, there are lots of game animals. Funny though, the deer I have been seeing daily all summer have dissappeared. Bow season starts Saturday.

    Anyhow, as a ute, I would worry myself about these things, being suburban kid and a member of the National Wildlife Federation. But as I grow older I have realized that the only way to stop the decline is to have horrible die-offs of humans. And that is not an acceptable solution. So, you just accept the fact that this is going to happen.

  2. It's possible that we could find better ways to handle the environment, but some of these creatures just need a lot of undisturbed room, and there isn't much we can do about that.

    My local deer haven't started getting spooky yet. They are completely safe from me until the temperature gets down closer to freezing. I would rather freeze on the stand than skin out a deer in warm weather. They smell bad enough as it is.

    By the way, my wife is threatening to shoot my pet gray fox. He (or she) was standing in the driveway when we came home after dark a few nights ago. She claims that's what she is smelling around her trees and shrubs.

    He was really hitting my compost pile when I was dumping excess melons. He cleaned up some apple scraps, too. Grays love fruit.

  3. Haven't seen foxes for a few months but a couple of years ago we had a couple that were hanging around the house. By the way, I actually SAW a coyote a few weeks ago.

    It was a Sunday morning around 11:00 and a pair of them were yowling just behind one of the sheep pastures in the creek bed. My wife called me back from the shop, she was standing ouside and handed me the 12ga with 00 buck and I walked towards the noise in my white t-shirt and shorts (but I had a cammo ball cap). Anyhow, I was able to sneak up on one to the point that I got a shot, maybe 60 yards, then it ran towards me and I got off another shot. If I were serious I would have taken the Enfield but it was kind of a spur of the moment thing. Did I hit it? It sure didn't act hit. Anyhow, things have been a bit quieter around here.

  4. Cool. It would be a very holey pattern at that range, but at least they know you're armed.