Despite news to the contrary, many people are still panicking about human’s destructive influence over their surroundings. The World Wildlife Fund is fueling the hysteria with its Living Planet Report, which claims that half the animal species have disappeared in the past 40 years. This claim, and the report as a whole, should be taken with a lot of skepticism.
First of all, this paper has no scientific authority. A look at the first 10 pages of results in Google shows no publication of the paper in a scientific journal. In other words, the report hasn’t been submitted to the peer-review process, the (imperfect) way to validate scientific research. Also, of the some 115 people cited as reviewers, 65 are WWF members and 21 others are from non-profit organizations (sometimes in direct relationship with the WWF) that have a clear interest in the catastrophic conclusions of the report. I don’t brush people’s expertise aside, but the apparent conflict of interest with the report’s premise makes the neutrality of their review unclear.
Second, the report itself abuses catastrophic words. Just to give a few examples, “threat” and its derivatives appears 53 times, “footprint” 419 times, “sustainable” 106 times and “protection” 111 times. This is not science, it’s propaganda. A scientific report would merely take the facts, analyze them and see if they correspond to the formulated hypothesis. If they don’t then the conclusion disproves the hypothesis.
The WWF report doesn’t do this at all. In fact, it merely parrots the same gloom and doom predictions we’ve been hearing since Thomas Malthus, the early 19th-century economist who said that populations increased more than wealth, causing catastrophes of all sorts. And like other doomsayers, the WWF is very likely to be wrong again.
Indeed, the “footprint” they and other environmentalists love to use is just a snapshot. It shows that we “consume” 1.5 planet Earths as of right now and it will keep increasing ceteris paribus (everything remaining the same). Of course, ceteris paribus can’t happen since the human mind keeps finding new ways of consuming better.
The older among you will probably remember the two oil shocks and how much gas prices increased as a result of supply shocks from the Arab world. Notwithstanding heavy government regulation on oil production, this has convinced U.S. carmakers to offer a better product since fuel-efficient Japanese cars were overtaking the market. And they basically have; five of the 13 best-selling cars are made in Japan and are quite fuel-efficient.
Furthermore, thanks again to the human mind, we either find new natural resource deposits as their prices increase – oil sand and offshore oil are unprofitable below a certain threshold – or we learn to do without the said resource.
Both can be illustrated with the case of copper. It was believed that we would run out of the metal because of the massive phone infrastructure that was being built. But as demand for copper increased, so did its price, pushing people to find new deposits that had become profitable as a result. But later on, something extraordinary happened: Fiber optic. As a result, telecommunication can now do without copper.
Finally, if everything that is said in the World Wildlife Fund report is true, then it’s actually a call to increase capitalism. Indeed, if species are declining at the alarming rate the WWF claims (it’s very highly questionable), then only strictly enforced property rights can saved the remaining animals.
After all, cows, cats, dogs, pigs and other domesticated animals are far from being extinguished because they are “private property”. The same principle also applies to the scimitar oryx, the black rhinoceros and even fish stocks. They are all better-preserved since people involved in their preservations have a strong self-interest to do it because their livelihood depends on it.
Just like farmers raising cows and pigs, people raising oryx and rhinos do everything they can to preserve their stocks so they can make lots of money out of them. Therefore, they make sure that hunting is controlled, that the animal’s environment is healthy and that poaching is kept to a minimum.
The same cannot be said about other wild animals. Since no one owns them, no one has any interest in preserving them. Therefore, in order to make a profit, it’s better to kill as many as possible before others do it. That explains the extreme depletion of fish stocks worldwide.
In short, the WWF report will not make history. It has no scientific value, it’s a self-congratulating document and it uses a wholly unscientific vocabulary. After Glaciergate, this advocacy group should learn to be more humble and learn about science rather than propaganda.
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