Unintended consequences

This is interesting. An environmental study published on Monday that suggests that tree-planting projects can be counterproductive.

It all comes down to the fact that new forests tend to be monocultures which tend to reduce biodiversity without achieving the same levels of carbon sequestration, habitat creation and erosion control as natural forests.

“If policies encouraging tree plantations are poorly designed or poorly implemented, there is a great risk not only of wasting public money, but also of leading to losses in both terrestrial carbon and biodiversity,” said Eric Lambin, a researcher at UCLouvain and Stanford.

Unintended consequences and all that.

The researchers suggest that, rather than planting new forests, measures should be implemented to help promote the restoration of natural ecosystems.

Addiction to prediction

Samanth Subramanian makes a good point:

Our societies are complex systems, turning on a host of visible and invisible axes. Predicting their behavior is, quite literally, the stuff of science fiction; only Hari Seldon, the psychohistorian in Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” novels, has managed to do it with any reasonable success. But he had the advantage of being a fictional character.

It’s always tempting to talk about “the new normal” and speculate about how the world will be different once all of this is over. I’ve done it myself often enough.

We should, however, keep in mind that we really don’t have much basis for extrapolating from the current situation, inertia is often underestimated, and any prediction probably says a lot more about the person making the prediction than anything else.

It strikes me that the problem with this sort of prediction is that it lazily assumes that things will work out however we want them to. As such, I think it would probably be worth spending a bit less time talking about how the world might look and a bit more time thinking about how the world should look.

Quote of the day: The baboon chorus

Large numbers of Tory MPs know that their job involves precious little beyond emitting low level growling noises at noon on Wednesdays to provide a sort of aural white noise masking effect for the blindingly obvious uselessness of the man they chose to be their leader.

Tom Peck explains why the UK’s virtual parliament has been deemed a failure and MPs absolutely must return to their benches after June.

The new normal

There have been plenty of discussions, both online and off, as to how the world will change in the wake of the current pandemic. And now the Walloon Minister for Mobility, Philippe Henry, has called for people to keep working from home after the lockdown ends because of the positive impact on traffic and on the climate.

As a result of the lockdowns, there is significantly less traffic on the roads due to a ban on unnecessary displacements, and pollution has gone down all over Europe. Henry wants this trend to continue. “If we reduce the number of cars on the road by 25%, there would be no more congestion,” he said, adding that it would help reduce CO2 emissions.

And bringing an end to congestion would be a very good thing indeed. Especially in Belgium which, being a small country, really doesn’t have the capacity for the amount of traffic that is normally on the roads.

I have to admit that for a long time, I was quite resistant to the idea of working from home. I like being able to leave the office and I can put the working day behind me. I am also influenced by the fact that when I last worked from home, the children were a lot younger, which tended to make things a bit difficult to say the least.

The boys are older now, and a lot less demanding, and I find that when I switch off my work laptop I am perfectly capable of completely switching off from work as well.

More generally, working from home for the past three weeks has brought home just how little I need to actually talk to any of my colleagues. There have been a couple of times where a face to face conversation would have helped, but by normal workflow is driven by email and this is as effective regardless of where I happen to be.

I don’t think the requirement to go into an office will completely go away, but it’s certainly worth considering how many of us need to commute for more than a couple of days a week.