: : : If it is true, I am prepared to argue that levelling the rain forests for beef production is more valuable than keeping them for some other purpose.
: : Depends on what the 'other purpose' is. The megaflora produce a significant chunk of the world's oxygen, as well as acting as stabilisers on world and local climate. Without the megafloras' effect on climate, the atmospheric warming caused by industrial society is greatly accelerated; in addition, tropical forests serve as 'carbon sinks' - they absorb carbon dioxide and thus keep the most common greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.
: Well, of course the science behind global warming theory is highly suspect, accepted by only a very small (but, oh so very vocal) minority of meteorologists
Well, that's untrue to start with.
Where do I start?
Global warming is absolutely rock solid as a theory; the question is whether human influence is causing a 'runaway greenhouse effect' on the planet Earth. No-one, not even the odder and more hardened sceptics like Fred Singer, would deny that global warming is a mechanism whereby planetary warming can happen.
Secondly, the current model of man-made global warming is accepted as true by well over 90% of scientists in relevant fields; in a recent petition, 143 of the 155 Nobel Laureates alive today signed a petition to the effect that they felt the evidence for global warming was so strong as to be incontrovertible.
The major meteorological, geophysical and climate organisations have all voiced their support of the greenhouse theory; check the U.N. World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Hadley Climate Research Centre on the subject.
Read this post I made on 24/12/99 on the subject; the science is so well-researched that the heads of those organisations are prepared to put their reputations (and thus their academic careers) to it.
If anything, the noisy minority are the Global Climate Coalition; a small group of scientists funded by the motor and car industries. However, the GCC is dying; in recent months, Shell, Chrysler and Ford have all stopped their funding of it...
: and, even if one accepts it, one still has to prove that global warming would be a bad thing.
OK. Do you see as a good thing the following?;
Increased spread of vector-borne disease like malaria and trypsomaniasis and malaria and dengue fever.
Increased incidence and severity of 'extreme weather' conditions (the US now gets hit by an average of 33% more hurricanes as it did 30 years ago.)
Crop failures and desertification of arable land in places like the Midwest.
An estimated $50 trillion bill to counter the land loss due to sea level rises over the next 70 years (if you don't want to say byebye to low-lying land like the Netherlands and Manhattan and Florida) - not to mention compensation to nations like the Kiribati Islands which will cease to exist and resettlement of hundreds of millions of refugees - Bangladesh is saying that if predictions are accurate, it alone will have some 20 million environmental refugees.
I can (of course) provide names and citations for all of these statements; I have the evidence - if you can accept such fundamentalist Green sources as the Red Cross, the UN, and the government of Bangladesh...
It is worth noting that environmental disasters caused more refugees in 1998 than all other causes combined - 58% of refugees were fleeing extreme climate events; check the 1999 World Disaster Report.
: : For example, the Indonesian peat bogs and rainforests in Kalimantan contain enough stored carbon to increase the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide by an estimated 16%; putting this carbon back into the atmosphere causes an accelerated rate of global warming and thus increases the repair bill caused by extreme weather events like the flooding of Mozambique and Hurricane Mitch.
: It has simply not been proven that global warming even happens as a result of human activity,
The evidence is felt to be pretty conclusive by the scientific community.
: nor has it been proven that global warming (assuming it exists in spite of the plain evidence that, in fact, the globe has been cooling)
Actually, if you check the data, you will see that the global mean surface temperature has risen 0.5 degrees C since the 1970s.
At least, that's on the planet Earth; it may be different on your planet.
: was the cause of flooding and hurricanes.
Maxwell's theory of gases and the Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution are pretty solid science also; and the last time I looked, nitrogen, oxygen and carbon dioxide were gases.
: This is a purely ideologically motivated assertion given a ring of authority by your use of scientific-sounding buzzwords.
Look, if I really wanted to blind you with science, I'd start going on about SAR, inversion layers, grey-body signatures and biomass albedos. I've got a bloody university degree in the subject. I'm actually using the bare minimum of buzzwords here.
: You should be ashamed.
I should be ashamed of your ignorance?
: : As such, the benefit of making a quick buck in the short term can be outweighed by the cost of cleaning up the consequences.
: : In addition, a comparatively small amount of people benefit from cattle ranching; but nearly everyone suffers either directly or indirectly from the environmental cost of such activities; floods and mudslides don't limit themselves to hitting cattle ranchers.
: Floods and mudslides are the direct result of cattle ranching? Please show me the evidence. Seriously, I will happily go read anything you'll point me towards.
I explained it previously here - go read.
Basically, by taking trees out (which have huge root systems) and replacing them with grasses (which don't), you remove a lot of the resilience the soil has to being blown away.
: And also, only a small minority benefits from cattle ranching? Um... what?? Last I checked, the world had not yet converted to vegetarianism.
We're talking fiscal benefits here; but if you want to talk food patterns, the world is largely vegetarian; for the simple fact that they can't afford much meat.
Back to the fiscal bit; the practice of ranching involves comparatively few people; unlike vegetable production, which tends to be more efficient in terms of resources and scalable in logistics.
In resource terms, meat costs 35 times as much to produce as vegetables.
: : The benefits are private; but the costs are public.
: Nice slogan.
Thankyou; it goes for a lot of industry.
Part of the tragedy of the commons is that pollution as part of the running of one business affects everyone, regardless of whether they support it or not.
So, even if you're opposed to the incineration of petrochemical waste and the spraying of organophosphate herbicides, if you eat meat, you're going to be overdosing on PCBs; because the pollution gets everywhere.
(One hamburger contains on average 50 times the recommended daily maximum intake of PCBs, according to the 1994 FDA reassessment of the toxicity of PCBs.)
: : Part of the problem lies in the idea that humans can ever 'own' land; the whole idea that parts of the Earth can be 'private property' is fundamentally unsound; as you can't really assign any meaningful criteria of 'ownership' to a tract of land.
: Why on earth not?
O.K. - what do you define as 'ownership'? - what makes ownership different from, say, borrowing, or 'looking after' something.
You can't take it with you, you can't destroy it and you can't really alter it in any fundamental way.
A more accurate term to use with regard to our relationship to Earth is stewardship; we are the dominant species at the current time.
: We seem to have done so fairly well since, oh, the beginning of history.
The Earth is roughly 4 billion years old.
We've done comparatively well for 2.5 x 10-6 of the Earth's existence.
Heck, even the dinosaurs managed a few hundred times longer than that.
And in the years since World War I, we have converted over half the Earth's useful mineral resources into useless and non-recycleable forms.
: Problem is, the criteria of ownership has usually been unjust, it being assigned to kings and the like based on appeals to religion, etc.
Is the tyranny of capital any more kind? - it assigns things to people who have money; people who need food the most are typically those with no money, because they've spent it to buy food previously.
To quote a famous example;
"The high prices will have a regulating influence, as nothing is more calculated to attract supplies, and especially from America.... Do not encourage the idea of prohibiting exports (from Ireland): perfect Free Trade is the right course. Nothing ought to be done for the West of Ireland which might send prices, already high, still higher for people who, unlike the inhabitants of the West Coast of Ireland, have to depend on their own exertions."
(Said by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1847 in response to why England was doing nothing at all to help the millions of starving Irish.)
(B.Sc., Department of Space and Climate Physics, University College London, 1996)