Tagged: Bruce Wark

Those ill-informed osprey — feedback

cat-kills-bird

On Sunday, I posted a short iPhone video of an osprey nest next to an 800 kw wind turbine at River John, Nova Scotia, to make the tongue-in-cheek point that someone forgot to tell the osprey about the perils of infrasound and shadow flicker. The point was tongue-in-cheek in the sense that I have no way of knowing whether young birds successfully fledged from the nest, but serious in the sense that I think health arguments against wind turbines are largely spurious.

Bruce Wark, former reporter, CBC radio producer, and King’s journalism professor, thinks I overlooked the most obvious threat wind farms pose for Osprey and other birds:

Here’s an excerpt from a scientific abstract based on a study by K. Shawn Smallwood in the peer-reviewed publication Wildlife Society Bulletin: “I estimated 888,000 bat and 573,000 bird fatalities/year (including 83,000 raptor fatalities) at 51,630 megawatt (MW) of installed wind-energy capacity in the United States in 2012. As wind energy continues to expand, there is urgent need to improve fatality monitoring methods, especially in the implementation of detection trials, which should be more realistically incorporated into routine monitoring.”

These numbers sound shocking. Indeed, I think they are presented in a contextless way* that insures they will shock. But they are actually surprisingly low, especially for birds. He estimates 573,000 bird fatalities for year based on an installed capacity of 51,630 megawatt (MW) If we assume 1 MW/turbine, the average turbine kills about 10 birds a year.

Whenever you hear numbers like this, it’s always useful to ask, “compared to what?”

Compared to what energy sources? The large array of windows on the south side of my passive solar house kills more than 10 birds a year. More to the point, the coal-fired power plants in Nova Scotia that could be displaced by wind power destroy bird habitat, cause deleterious climate change, and release pollutants that must impact mortality among birds with their supercharged respiratory systems. Gas does the same, only less so (or possibly less so, depending on methane leakage during production and transmission). Hydro dams destroy wildlife (including bird) habitat.

Compared to what other causes of human-assisted bird mortality? In a paper published in the journal Nature,** Peter Marra of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C., estimates that domestic and feral cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds per year, along with 6.9 billion to 20.7 billion wild mammals per year in the US alone.

Taking the median of Marra’s ranges, we can say that US cats, feral and domestic, kill about 2.4 billion birds and 12.4 billion birds per year. Marra estimates the US cat population at 114 million, so each cat kills an average 21 birds per year—making a cat twice as lethal as a wind turbine (without even counting the 101 mammals an average bird cat kills per year).

Wark was kind enough to respond to these points:

In my Coast cover piece on wind, I stayed away from birds and bats because, as you point out, the relative numbers are low especially compared to cats. I concede that point. However, the reason I responded to you is that you were trying to use the osprey nest video to make a questionable point, i.e. that noise and flicker must not be as big a problem as wind turbine opponents claim because an osprey had built its nest near one of them. A more telling point from the opponents’ perspective is that the osprey risks flying into the turning blades as it navigates around the turbines near the nest.

I think where you and I would agree is that we consume too much electricity and that there is no environmentally costless way of producing large amounts of it. People pin their hopes on wind and hydro because they’re supposedly “clean and green” and so, the reasoning goes, if we could only kick our dirty coal habit and use wind and water instead, we’d be able to “save” the planet without having to cut our consumption too much. It’s the same reasoning environmentalists use when they contribute to various “save the planet funds” to offset their addiction to air travel. As I see it, the problems involved in cutting consumption are compounded by the fact that our economy depends on it so we’re caught on a treadmill where household spending fuels growth, jobs and all the other hallmarks of “prosperity.”

I do agree with Wark that there is no costless way of producing large amounts of energy, but the environmental cost of producing it with coal dwarfs the cost of doing so with wind, hydro, solar, nuclear, and probably outstrips that of doing it with gas. If it is true that we face planetary disaster owing to human induced climate change, then it is irresponsible to dwell of what are really NIMBY objections in disguise.

* This comment applies only to the abstract of Smallwood’s paper. Unfortunately, the Wildlife Society Bulletin follows the increasingly common and lamentable practice of putting the full text of its studies behind a paywall. It’s possible that, in the full text, Smallwood contextualizes the numbers that seem so sensational in the abstract.

** The full text of Marra’s paper is likewise behind a paywall.

 

 

Messaged up the ass – feedback

In response to my post on the Dexter government’s obsessive management of routine government communications, Bruce Wark writes:

When I arrived in Nova Scotia in October, 1986 as CBC Radio’s National Reporter for the Maritimes, I found that the Nova Scotia government’s public relations system was generally third rate. I had just come from six years covering the Ontario legislature and was used to dealing every day with a professional civil service and public relations officers who provided accurate information quickly and efficiently. In fact, I realized  during my years at Queen’s Park that the Conservatives’ decision to create a professional (and de-politicized) civil service was one of the main reasons they held power continuously in Ontario for 42 years. Journalists and the public trusted government information.
The establishment of Communications Nova Scotia in 1996 represented a big step forward. Over the years, I have found CNS officers (many of them former journalists) to be efficient and trustworthy providing unbiased information even when they suspected that the journalist receiving it might be building a case against government policies. Ultimately, the public judges both those policies and the journalists who report on them. The basis for that public judgment has to be accurate and timely information untainted, as much as possible, by partisan government spin and filtered though professional communications officers who are not forced to run everything by a centralized political authority.
That said, I do have mixed feelings about professionalized, government public relations. Governments which provide accurate information quickly and on deadline will, all things being equal, tend to receive favourable coverage from journalists because government PR makes their jobs easier. On the other hand, governments which put obstacles in journalists’ way and try to spin them to death will eventually pay a price for their attempts to message reporters up the ass. The provincial NDP and the federal Alliance-Conservatives ignore this at their peril. Your commentary and Paul MacLeod’s reporting is an early warning to the neophyte, political boffins at NDP central.

When I arrived in Nova Scotia in October, 1986, as CBC Radio’s National Reporter for the Maritimes, I found the Nova Scotia government’s public relations system third rate. I had just come from six years covering the Ontario legislature and was used to dealing every day with a professional civil service and public relations officers who provided accurate information quickly and efficiently. In fact, I realized  during my years at Queen’s Park that the Conservatives’ decision to create a professional (and de-politicized) civil service was one of the main reasons they held power continuously in Ontario for 42 years. Journalists and the public trusted government information.

The establishment of Communications Nova Scotia in 1996 represented a big step forward. Over the years, I have found CNS officers (many of them former journalists) to be efficient and trustworthy providing unbiased information even when they suspected that the journalist receiving it might be building a case against government policies. Ultimately, the public judges both those policies and the journalists who report on them. The basis for that public judgment has to be accurate and timely information untainted, as much as possible, by partisan government spin and filtered though professional communications officers who are not forced to run everything by a centralized political authority….

Governments which put obstacles in journalists’ way and try to spin them to death will eventually pay a price for their attempts to message reporters up the ass. The provincial NDP and the federal Alliance-Conservatives ignore this at their peril. Your commentary and Paul MacLeod’s reporting is an early warning to the neophyte, political boffins at NDP central.

This is a matter of degree. There’s nothing wrong with a government trying to insure consistency in the way it communicates with the public, but when this effort reaches the point where everything must to be cleared with a Central Committee, it’s unhealthy for a democracy.

The media shares some responsibility, given how reporters pounce on a politician or official who deviates even slightly from party or government line. In pouncing, reporters don the mantle of heretic-fighters and orthodoxy-enforcers, with the unwelcome effect of sanitizing political discourse.

As Michael Kinsley purportedly remarked, “A gaffe is when you tell the truth.” That is, it’s not a gaffe when a politician lies but when a politician unguardedly says what she really thinks. Neither the media nor the premier’s office should make it their business to punish such truthfulness.

After sending the words above to Contrarian, Wark’s indignation apparently continued to rise. At week’s end, he emailed the premier’s press secretary, saying:

[L]et me tell you straight up that this issue is not about media convenience or efficiency. It’s about the right to factual, public information from the civil service, untainted by partisan political spin.

Snap your finger, Bill — feedback

Bruce Wark, writing from an HRM neighborhood where the ban on overnight parking is not enforced, critiques my critique of the ban:

[Y]ou use “reasonable accommodation” as though you have proved it. It is as though you are saying that your assertion in the first paragraph is sufficient to support what you’re saying in the second. The rules of logic say that he who asserts must prove. Furthermore, your assertion that “traffic tsar” Ken Reashor “evinces no interest in reasonable accommodation” is a neat, but logically unconvincing way of first, labelling Reashor as a Russian dictator, then glossing over necessary proof by using the verb “evinces.” Where has Reashor evinced this lack of interest? What did he actually say and to whom? Did you talk to him yourself?

You acknowledge that “some car owners will neglect to remove their car during snowstorms.” Why is this not a problem? You go on to assert that “Reashor finds it convenient to punish the entire city.” But that begs the following question: If the parking ban is limited to periods when snow is actually being cleared, what incentive would car owners have to make alternate arrangements? Is it not possible that risking two or three $50 tickets would be cheaper than paying for four months of off-street parking? It’s not necessary for me to argue that car owners are necessarily irresponsible, only that they may be unrealistically optimistic about the number of snow storms in an unpredictable climate. Besides, if the snow does start to fall overnight, where are car owners supposed to move their vehicles if they haven’t already made alternative arrangements? We all know from experience that snow can fall unexpectedly overnight. So why is public safety necessarily a “specious claim” and what proof do you have for your assertion that “the real goal is bureaucratic convenience?”

Reashor is a “tzar” in the metaphorical sense that provincial legislation imunizes him from oversight by the council elected to run HRM. “Tzar” is a common, if irreverent, journalistic locution for unelected officials who exercise power without oversight. Reashor evinced no interest in a reasonable accommodation of the public’s desire for on-street parking on snow-free nights in the brief declaration he issued imposing the ban — a declaration I linked to in the original post. His declaration omits any reference the inconvenience it will cause the majority of law abiding citizens who do remove their cars from the streets during snow storms. It merely advances — without the proof Wark demands of me — a claim of public safety I find specious.

Claims of public safety trip lightly off the tongues of law enforcement and regulatory officials. The US Transportation Safety Board claims public safety requires the Halifax Seaport Market to keep its glorious harbor-facing doors closed at all times, and to surrender one-quarter of its floorspace whenever a cruise ship is in port. Toronto Police claim public safety required the use of massive force against protesters at last year’s G-20. The Canadian Air Transport Safety Authority claims public safety precludes citizens carrying standard tubes of toothpaste onto commercial airliners. The security zealots at the Nova Scotia Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal claim public safety demands I show photo ID before entering the Joe Howe Building. Stephen Harper thinks public safety demands throwing dope smokers in jail.

These claims have proliferated in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Invocation of “public safety” does not facilitate debate; It trumps debate, and it is rarely buttressed by any persuasive argument.

I do agree with Wark on one point: it is a problem when car owners fail to remove their cars from the streets during snow emergencies. Not a public safety calamity, but a problem. It makes snow plowing more difficult and less effective. Reashor has an interest in deterring this behaviour. My objection to his method is that it is disproportionate to the problem. It targets scores of innocent car owners for every miscreant; it makes no distinction between nights when snow plowing takes place and the far greater number of nights when it does not. Such a massive overreaction, IMHO, constitutes prima facie evidence of a lack of interest in reasonable accommodation.

If $50 fines are insufficient deterrent, and they may be, why not increase the fine, but apply it only to the scofflaws? Why not carry out frequent towing blitzes during and immediately after storms, and charge those towed for the full cost plus a punitive surcharge?

This touches on another aspect of the blanket ban. Fining the innocent generates windfall revenue for HRM, which may be why some city officials, and councillors from neighborhoods where it is not enforced, are happy to have a traffic tzar to blame for the system.

Farewell Constance

costasGone-fishin’ CBC Radio host Costas Halavrezos muses about his ego-lite broadcasting style on the veteran’s last Maritime Noon broadcast:

[A]s listeners, you’ve noticed I play my personal cards close to my chest. I don’t tell cute family anecdotes or talk about my favourite sports teams or what I had for breakfast, because I believe every second of broadcast time is precious, and well, the majority of you don’t get to communicate with other Maritimers every day like I do, so it’s best if I stay out of the way and free up the space.

This is but a variant of E.B. White’s famous advice to young writers in The Elements of Style: “Place yourself in the background. Write in a way that draws the reader’s attention to the sense and substance of the writing, rather than to the mood and temper of the author.” It’s a formula that made Costas was as comfortable and enduring as an old pair of slippers.

Via Bruce Wark.

Wark Principle defended (by Wark)

Bruce Wark, whose defense of the Dexter Government’s carbon subsidy came under attack here, points out that he is not the first to argue that governments should eschew taxing necessities (herein dubbed The Wark Principle):

Adam Smith, father of laissez-faire capitalism, was a strong proponent of it, both on moral and practical grounds. See for yourself.

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Contrarian’s submission to copycon

Contrarian’s submission to the National Consultation on Copyright focuses on an issue that has received little attention in the consultation, an area in which current Canadian law provides a striking lack of balance, an issue in which Canadian law is not decades but centuries out of date: the issue of Crown Copyright. To view the submission, please click the “read more” button. Read more »

CBC weather panic — feedback

After hectoring us for five days about Bill, a hurricane that was actually a tropical storm, the media took an only slightly more restrained approach to Danny, a weak tropical storm that actually appears to be a half-day rain shower. CBC still wrung its hands for much of the week, but didn’t cancel regular programs. Many contrarian readers responded to the hype, starting after the jump with CW.

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