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.

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.

Five Things #26

Safe, Child, Safe is an Obsidian and Blood Short Story from Aliette de Bodard. I now want to read the whole of this Aztec noir fantasy series.

Kristin Andrews and Susana Monsó point out that rats are sentient beings with rich emotional lives, and ask why they don’t get the same ethical protections as primates.

It’s a Brewtiful World visits Brasserie Cantillon, where he first discovered the joy of lambics and geuzes.

Hannah Wallace visits the town that stopped big bottled water.

Will Bedingfield looks at the strange evolution of conspiracy theories leading to coronavirus misinformation. Think before you share.

Five Things #24

In Fortune’s Final Hand Adam-Troy Castro envisages a casino in which memories can be gambled and asks how much of you would still be you if your memories once belonged to someone else.

Rich Pelley talks to David Jason and Brian Cosgrove about Danger Mouse.

Renewable energy still has a long way to go. Wednesday was Belgium’s Grey Day, the day when notionally the country’s green electricity production is used up.

Klaus Sieg visits Sirplus, a chain of German supermarkets selling expired yogurt, mislabled jam and weird potatoes.

Chris Grey argues Brexiters need to stop campaigning and start governing.

Five Things #23

Gut Feelings by Peter Watts imagines scenario in which gut flora reprogram the brain’s anger and image-recognition macros via the Vagus Nerve. It is, as the author notes, about as heartwarming as a Peter Watts fantasy can be.

Looking at how people keep on voting, Chris Dillow draws the obvious conclusion that the public does not want economic growth.

A possible third wolf has been sighted up at the Hoge Kempen National Park and its surroundings in Flanders, according to Landschap vzw, the nonprofit association behind Welcome Wolf.

In other Belgian rewilding news, the De Logt brewery will be introducing a ‘Naya’ beer, named after the ‘Belgian’ wolf that was killed last year, on 1st February. Part of the proceeds will be contributed to Welcome Wolf.

Tom Jolliffe takes a jaunt back to the 80’s to see how some of the decade’s biggest fantasy films have aged. Confession: I like Krull. And Time Bandits, for that matter.

Five Things #20

Water: A History by KJ Kabza is a remarkable and moving story of human colonists on the planet of Quányuán which is arid to the point of being uninhabitable. Wetness is a concept left back on Earth but this doesn’t stop one elderly woman from stepping outside the safety of the colony whenever she can for the brief opportunity to fully experience the outside world.

Christine McLaren meets the citizen scientists in Australia who are reforesting the ocean.

Denzil visits The See-Through Church of Borgloon.

Steve Royston reminds us that political movements are fine, as long as they’re regular.

Chris Grey looks ahead at what happens next with Brexit and the battle between remembering and forgetting.

Five Things #17

With Graveyard Weeds and Wolfsbane Seeds by Seanan McGuire is a wonderfully unnerving tale of Halloween, haunted houses, and the consequences of entering perfectly preserved buildings.

Batteries are not a panacea and in What Green Costs, Thea Riofrancos examines the social and environmental costs of lithium mining.

With the release date of No Time to Die confirmed for April 2020, JJ Bona looks back at five of James Bond’s best moments.

Most voters, planners and politicians in Brussels agree that the city should become less clogged by cars and more friendly to pedestrians. Gareth Harding suggests 10 Brussels squares that should be car-free.

Ian Sample reports on the Neolithic chewing gum that helped recreate image of an ancient Dane.

Five Things #15

Alex Irvine’s Black Friday is set in a dark future America where consumerism and gun culture are unchecked, and follows a young family as they team up up to celebrate the first shopping day of the Christmas season in the most patriotic way possible.

The Guardian investigates the network of radical right wing think tanks that have hijacked Brexit and reshaped the Conservative party.

Jörg Schindler travels Northern England to explore Ground Zero of the Brexit Class War.

Mark Harrison considers the past and probable future of Aardman Animations feature length output.

In light of a recent study which suggested that establishing a trillion new trees around the world could turn back the climate clock to the 1970s, Mitch Anderson decided to take a look at some examples of resilient reforestation efforts and why they worked.

We appear to have adopted a tiger

When we went to Blankenberge a couple of weeks ago, we picked up some books at the Serpentarium. The book Macsen chose was on the subject of predators and he was quite vexed to discover just how endangered a species are tigers.

On the subject of endangered species, the WWF Christmas advert is well worth seeing.

The description on the YouTube page points you to their Adopt a Jaguar page but, after a minimal amount of poking around, I found that you can also adopt a tiger. And for Dutch speakers in Belgium, you can adopteer symbolisch een tijger .

So and we did.

Now we are just waiting for the You Are Wonderful People pack to arrive.

Five things #6

“But who’s the real freak – the activist whose determination has single-handedly started a powerful global movement for change, or the middle-aged man taunting a child with Asperger syndrome from behind the safety of their computer screens?” Jennifer O’Connell asks why Greta Thunberg is so triggering for certain men.

Jesse Singal discusses Dave Chappelle, political correctness and cancel culture and argues that we should recognise the elitism of the Super-Woke.

David Spiegelhalter discusses the importance of statistical literacy, and plugs his book a couple of times. The book is The Art of Statistics and I do plan on reading it once the paperback edition is published.

As Rambo: Last Blood arrives on the big screen, Mark Harrison looks back at Son Of Rambow and the joys of DIY filmmaking.

And finally: Happy birthday COBOL. 60 years old this month and still surprisingly popular. There’s hope for me yet.