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« Making the poor cold, and miserable | Main | Attenborough does climate »
Tuesday
Apr232019

Another Attenborough tragedy porn exposé

This was posted up at Reaction magazine earlier today.

"Tragedy porn” is now a standard green propaganda technique. You’ve probably been on the receiving end of it, and will recognise it once I describe it. First of all you need a victim. Animals – preferably fluffy ones, and preferably with large eyes – are ideal, but people will do at a pinch. Then you have to film them in the process of dying or otherwise suffering. A presenter or scientist needs to be on hand to describe the events, preferably choking away their tears. Then you blame global warming.

It is often an effective technique, but care is required. Last week, tragedy porn proved to be the undoing of Sir David Attenborough, when a carefully contrived story on Netflix  that global warming was driving walruses over cliff tops unravelled over the course of a week, as a series of flaws were discovered in the narrative and in the tales spun by the production team as they attempted to cover up what they had done. Once it emerged that the production team may well have played a role in causing the tragedy, it all started to look a bit problematic.

It’s therefore unfortunate that in Climate Change: the Facts, his latest magnum opus – which aired last week on BBC1 – producers deployed a bit of tragedy porn, and once again it appears that viewers were misled.

The animal that was chosen to front the relevant segment of the new show were bats, and in particular the spectacled flying fox, a native of Papua New Guinea and northern Australia. Flying foxes are an excellent choice for tragedy porn, being very furry and having the most extraordinary bulbous eyes, beautifully evolved to bring out the maternal instinct in everyone.

The producers gave the audience both barrels. We were treated to commentary from Rebecca Koller, the owner of a bat sanctuary near Cairns, who described how a heatwave in the area had left “dead bats as far as the eye could see”. This, we were told, was “climate change in action”. And in case you missed the point, we were also treated to a description of “the deafening sound of babies crying”, with Ms Koller apparently on the verge of tears. Now the young of bats are correctly referred to as “pups”, of course, but this is tragedy porn, and scientific and technical accuracy therefore goes out of the window. Later on, as if to make the “flying foxes look like babies” point absolutely explicit, viewers were treated to images of a pup that had been swaddled and was being bottle fed. Subtle it was not, but hearts no doubt melted across the country anyway.

Sir David informed viewers that the method bats had evolved to cool off – dipping in pools of water – was “no longer enough”. This seemed rather odd to me; I would have thought they’d just need to take a dip slightly more often. Of course, asking awkward questions is not really what is wanted – the idea of tragedy porn is that you are so overwhelmed with emotion that rational thought becomes impossible. For many viewers, no doubt it was. Nevertheless, let us persist.

For example, we were told that temperatures had reached 42°C in Cairns that day, which is certainly hot for that part of the world, but Australia is surely nothing if not a country given to occasional heatwaves. For example, in 1896, newspapers reported temperatures of over 48°C in Wilcannia in the normally cooler south of Australia. Even higher temperatures were recorded by the explorer Charles Sturt in the early 19th century.

Similarly, a perusal of the scientific literature reveals that mass deaths of bats, including as a result of heatwaves, are hardly unusual. Watkin Tench, the naval officer who described the first settlement of Australia in 1790, recorded temperatures of 43°C, and reported an “immense flight of bats…dropped dead or in a dying state, unable longer to endure the burning state of the atmosphere.” Apparently, the parrots fared no better. There are further examples of heatwaves causing mass mortality in Australian bats from the start of the 20th century.

So once again, the story served up by our national treasure turns out to have been grounded more in the hope of political action than of science. And once again, as you dig deeper, the flaws only become worse. In the 20th century, most mass mortality events among bats were the result of deliberate killing by humans or illness. Since then, however, the main cause of mass mortality has been wind farms, and overwhelmingly so. In other words, the major risk to bats is not small increases in temperatures, but attempts to prevent them through panic measures like the renewable energy systems that Sir David and his ilk are so keen to promote.

This trashing of the natural world by environmentalists is becoming a familiar theme. We strip the southern US states of trees to be burnt in power stations in the UK. We use cereals to generate biofuels and leave Africans to go hungry. We tear down rainforests to grow palm oil biofuels. We cover our wild places with wind turbines and our farmland with solar panels. We ship rubbish halfway round the world so that poor people can burn it or chuck it in the sea.

Again and again and again, radical environmentalism proves far, far worse than the problems it claims to be addressing.

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Reader Comments (29)

For a myriad of reasons, I will be forever grateful to Your Grace.

As the sainted Mencken once put it, "I love liberty and I hate fraud."

Apr 23, 2019 at 5:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterDiogenes

Shame it has to be an appalling terrorist atrocity in Sri Lanka that drives Attenborough and his wanker Eco Warrior mates off the front pages.

Apr 23, 2019 at 6:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

Context needed. This 2009 study evaluated bird and bat deaths per unit of electricity generated for various generation types and concluded that fossil fuel generation is more than 10 times more deadly than both nuclear and wind.

Also, bat mortality can be reduced by up to 90% by powering the devices down in periods of low wind speed…

Apr 23, 2019 at 7:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Indeed context is needed. Phil cites a 10 year old paper. I looked, but without registering, could only see the brief summary:

"This article explores the threats that wind farms pose to birds and bats before briefly surveying the recent literature on avian mortality and summarizing some of the problems with it. Based on operating performance in the United States and Europe, this study offers an approximate calculation for the number of birds killed per kWh generated for wind electricity, fossil-fuel, and nuclear power systems. The study estimates that wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible each for between 0.3 and 0.4 fatalities per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of electricity while fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 5.2 fatalities per GWh. While this paper should be respected as a preliminary assessment, the estimate means that wind farms killed approximately seven thousand birds in the United States in 2006 but nuclear plants killed about 327,000 and fossil-fueled power plants 14.5 million. The paper concludes that further study is needed, but also that fossil-fueled power stations appear to pose a much greater threat to avian wildlife than wind and nuclear power technologies."

I thought those figures looked a bit dodgy, so looked at the notes that I could see.

"Fossil fuel energy development Sovacool [25] estimated avian mortality from fossil fuel power plants across the United States as a result of collision with infrastructure , electrocutions, pollution and contamination, and climate change. In addition, Sovacool [25] estimated climate change induced avian mortality (in terms of habitat loss and changes in migration) predicted to be the result of fossil fuel power plant operations".

The conclusions seem therefore to be based on an estimate and a prediction, and an assumption that climate change leads to habitat loss and changes in migration. I haven't read the full report, but based on that it looks weak in terms of trying to establish what Phil claims for it.

Apr 23, 2019 at 8:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson

Yet another tour de force from Your Grace, and yet again it is a waste of your time and ours. Alas, only those already familiar with reality are aware of this site, let alone actually read it.

I have bought and read your books and pamphlets and for a long time have been waiting for the catastrophists' scam to collapse.
It hasn’t happened; it doesn’t look any closer – indeed it seems further away than it did in 2010.
Reasoned scientific argument is having the same effect on the green juggernaut as a little gentle pruning has on a Japanese Knot-weed infestation. The roots run awfully deep.
Even the frequent blackouts in Australia do not seem to get through to many people; this makes me doubt that even the collapse of the grid in the UK or Germany would dent The Narrative.
Until we figure out how to deprogram the millions of Greta Thunbergs out there, then all the sceptical articles, from your own accessible writing to the dense scientific theses sometimes seen on the websites of Anthony Watts or Judith Curry, are a totally pointless waste of your time and ours.
Sorry, I do get a little depressed with our descent into Idiocracy! Rant over, time get out the corkscrew and take my medication.

Apr 23, 2019 at 9:58 PM | Unregistered Commenterauralay

The conclusions seem therefore to be based on an estimate and a prediction

Well, there's not a huge amount of research out there on wind farms and bats, but given the size of the ratio (0.4/5.2 fatalities per GWh), the study would have to be very wrong before wind farms were worse for airborne wildlife than fossil plants.

There's more research on birds and windfarms and it confirms these conclusions - at least for avian species. And of course cars, cats and tall buildings kill waaay more birds than turbines. Both the RSPB in this country and the Audubon Society in the US are in favour of wind farms, as they have identified climate change as the largest threat facing bird species.

Apr 23, 2019 at 10:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

So Phill the birds and the bats are all being killed by Global Warming , Fossil Fuels And Nuclear Power Stations,Okay then ,so the three hundred killed in Sri Lanka are gonna blame that on Climate Change too ?

Apr 23, 2019 at 10:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

Just a factual nitpick - from the head post. In the 20th century, most mass mortality events among bats were the result of deliberate killing by humans or illness. Since then, however, the main cause of mass mortality has been wind farms, and overwhelmingly so.

This is not supported by the paper cited, which does indeed note that multiple mortality events (MME, an event with >= 10 deaths) due to wind farms has increased markedly, and is a cause for concern, however turbine fatalities at MMEs are equalled by deaths due to white nose syndrome (WNS) - a fungal disease.

From 2000 onwards, 70% of all MMEs were due to collisions with wind turbines (35%) and WNS (35%). These two latter categories represent new and alarming challenges to bat populations.

Not to downplay the problem, but at least we know there are measures we can take to reduce the harm done to bats, increasing the 'cut-in' windspeed to 6.5 m/s reduces the fatality rate by 79-90%, for an energy loss of 0.3%-1%. (Rydell et al., 2012
This Swedish paper also found that traffic is more lethal for bats than wind turbines, a single km of busy motorway killing more bats/year than even a poorly-sited turbine).

Apr 23, 2019 at 10:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

You could also look at how dangerous each means of electricity production is to humans – fatalities: nuclear: nil; wind: 192. Can’t find any information on coal, oil or gas, but suspect that they will come nowhere near to wind. Oh, dear….

Apr 23, 2019 at 10:20 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Speculating on global flying wildlife mortality consequent from different energy production methods actually looks simply daft - and actually has little to do with the sort of tragedy porn that Andrew is highlighting - and I feel it's a mistake to mention it in the context of the heat stroked fluffy fruit bats.

Where does the data come from? - "approximate" makes it sound like there's some consistent sampling methodology that can be used to derive an estimate for the approximation. The data gathering needs to be quite intense since if there's a regular source of carcasses one thing that nature is quite good at is removing them.

I just feel we don't know. I'm not saying there's a lot or a little - merely that the number of sources for errors are absolutely huge - migratory routes, night roosts. food sources associated with waste heat, historical flight paths - just for starters.

I remain to be convinced that the estimates are robust for any of it - let alone throwing in an estimate for "climate".

It's a maze with changing routes and no exit.... a futile exercise and a distraction.

Apr 23, 2019 at 10:44 PM | Registered Commentertomo

You could also look at how dangerous each means of electricity production is to humans – fatalities: nuclear: nil; wind: 192. Can’t find any information on coal, oil or gas, but suspect that they will come nowhere near to wind. Oh, dear…

You're kidding, right? In 2017, Coal mining killed 375 people in China alone (if you believe the official stats), down from a peak of around 5,000 in 2003.

Then there's the air pollution, again, for China, an estimated 300,000 deaths / year from coal-sourced pollution. Forbes did a tabulation of what it calls 'deathprint' for each energy source, deaths per trillion KWh:-

Coal – global average 100,000
Coal – U.S. 10,000
Oil - 36,000
Natural Gas - 4,000
Biofuel/Biomass - 24,000 
Solar (rooftop) - 440   
Wind - 150

No comparison, really.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/

Apr 23, 2019 at 10:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Coconuts and sharks come directly to mind.

I rather like the the arithmetic that's hawked around occasionally with respect to coal - if the uranium that's in coal was fissioned to produce energy - it'd produce quite a bit more useful thermal energy than actually burning the coal.....

bugger all to do with fruit bats

Apr 23, 2019 at 11:04 PM | Registered Commentertomo

From a press report of bat die-offs

As parts of Australia swelter, trees in many towns and cities are rustling – not just with the sound of dry leaves, but also with bats fanning themselves with their wings to keep cool.

Some areas have recorded temperatures above 48C, and bat deaths have been reported on a “biblical scale”. The record-breaking heatwave has seen temperatures remain at 39C even at midnight.

For some, the relentless heat has been too much. Temperatures above 42C can kill flying foxes, and thousands have dropped dead from the trees in Adelaide, South Australia.

Back in November, amid another heatwave, more than 23,000 spectacled flying foxes died in just two days in the northern city of Cairns. Residents were forced to move out of their homes due to the smell of rotting carcasses, the ABC reported. The figure represents a third of Australia’s spectacled flying foxes.

One finds it hard to reconcile the idea that an event that removes a third of a species is 'hardly unusual' with the fact that the species is still around....

Apr 23, 2019 at 11:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

Okay… apart from the fact that coal mining is not necessarily only for production of electricity, let’s have a look at the environmental damage that mining for the rare earth metal required for wind and solar farms. Surprisingly (or not, depending upon your own levels of cynicism), there seem to be few investigations into this. Then there is cobalt mining, too. Never mind – it’s all for a Good Cause, isn’t it.

Apr 24, 2019 at 12:07 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Phil Clarke, do you have any reliable sources? You, and Climate Science have a track record of unreliability, especially when it is Peer Reviewed

Apr 24, 2019 at 12:24 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

PC

that kind of depends on the population dynamic of the particular species - flying foxes seem to be well fitted out for and seem to enjoy reproduction. One pup a year and a lot of hanging about in hot weather ....

This Nature paper appears to show that the population is quite variable and absolutely impacted by weather - it also notes that heat mortality is not unknown.

One wonders if the mortality was 100% in the affected areas - was that claim made ?

Apr 24, 2019 at 12:52 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Phil says "Well, there's not a huge amount of research out there on wind farms and bats...". I wonder why that is? Not a lot of point in applying for a grant to research something that provide findings hostile to wind farms? The green establishment, I suspect, isn't interested in investigating the down-side to wind turbines.

And "...but given the size of the ratio (0.4/5.2 fatalities per GWh), the study would have to be very wrong before wind farms were worse for airborne wildlife than fossil plants."

You said it, Phil. ;-)

Apr 24, 2019 at 7:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark Hodgson

Didnt the Government decriminalised killing native birds with wind turbines a few years ago?

If death by burd chopper isnt a problem then surely legislation to decriminalised a non-issue is a waste if time?

Apr 24, 2019 at 8:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

More howling from Phil. Keep it up, it has entertainment value if nothing else.

Apr 24, 2019 at 8:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

For those interested in Phil's paper on avian deaths, it can be found here.

I was interested in the way they estimated avian deaths at nuclear power stations.

Indeed, in early 2008 the Cotter Corporation was fined $40,000 for the death of 40 geese and ducksat the Can ̃on City Uranium Mill in Colorado. The birds apparently ingested contaminated water at one of the settling ponds at theuranium mine (Uranium Watch, 2008). These deaths can be very roughly quantified into 0.006 deaths per GWh.

There is a footnote giving further details.

While the Canon City Uranium Mill operates intermittently (it is idle most of the time), it can produce 1200t of raw uranium per day during peak production.Presuming it was operating on the day the 40 waterfowl were killed, 1200t of raw uranium can be processed to about 8.4t of enriched fuel. Each ton of enriched fuelproduces about 792GWh, implying that the mine was responsible for 40 avian deaths to produce 6652GWh, or 0.006 fatalities per GWh.

So if I'm understanding this correctly, the method involves finding a day on which there was a problem and then assuming that problem happens every day the plant operates. Science!

Apr 24, 2019 at 10:06 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

 implying that the mine was responsible for 40 avian deaths to produce 6652GWh, or 0.006 fatalities per GWh.

The paper as a whole finds nuclear power responsible for 0.416 avian deaths per GWh, so this source contributed an pretty negligible 1.4% of that total.

It may well be a methodological flaw, but you could remove this datum and the conclusions would not change one jot. For some reason I am reminded of one Steve McIntyre.

Apr 24, 2019 at 11:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

So if I'm understanding this correctly, the method involves finding a day on which there was a problem and then assuming that problem happens every day the plant operates. Science!

Think about it for a moment. They found 40 bird deaths on a day the plant was operating and so divided that by an estimate of the amount of Uranium and hence power produced by that one day's Uranium. They did not extrapolate to non-operational days as you imply, as presumably no Uranium = no deaths. (Science!)

I think there are other reasons this data is dubious - a sample size of 40 over a single day is too small, there or may not be a causal link, but as I point out, it's 1.4% of the total so you could lose it and it wouldn't shift the conclusions much.

Apr 24, 2019 at 11:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhil Clarke

What I see here is pseudo-scientific quibbling and quote mining. Most avian species are quite healthy and populations are large. In my area, Bald Eagles have become very common whereas 40 years ago they were rare.

Apr 24, 2019 at 2:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterdpy6629

"I think there are other reasons this data is dubious"

Yet you still used it Phil? What does that say about your so called research?

Apr 24, 2019 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Some things I do not see in the Sovacool paper:

- Recognition that many wind farm sites result in loss of habitat as access roads are built and trees that cause wind roughness are felled
- Any account of the share of long distance transmission fatalities arising from wind: a count along the Beauly-Denny line, built simply to transmit wind power might be instructive. Remember, we're going to need that super connected grid to try get round the fact that weather systems are large, as well as having to locate them where the wind blows rather than close to major centres of demand
- No account of the impact of making concrete for wind tower foundations, or any other element of the construction phase
- The magic "let's think of a number" whereby 4.98 out 5.18 of the deaths/GWh on fossil fuelled plants are "due to climate change" with the scantest of justification undermines the whole enterprise.
- No assessment whatever of the consequences of offshore wind farms on sea birds.
- Entirely US centric.


Leave aside its admitted shortcomings including
a small sample size for wind, coal, and
nuclear facilities that may not be representative;
highly uncertain deaths attributed to climate change ...

I suppose you have to start somewhere, but this work is completely inadequate. Of course, it has been criticised elsewhere, such as here:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/332329787_Biases_in_the_literature_on_direct_wildlife_mortality_from_energy_development

where they politely say that Sovacool lacks adequate evidence for his conclusions.

Apr 24, 2019 at 5:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

So we have to ban Nuclear Power and coal fired power stations but wind turbines are okay we can keep them because they don’t kill as many birds and bats .So Phil how many birds are killed by pet pussy cats.Will we have to ban them too ?

Apr 24, 2019 at 9:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamspid

More tragedy:

//
Antarctica: Thousands of emperor penguin chicks wiped out
By Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent
25 April 2019


Thousands of emperor penguin chicks drowned when the sea-ice on which they were being raised was destroyed in severe weather.
The catastrophe occurred in 2016 in Antarctica's Weddell Sea.
Scientists say the colony at the edge of the Brunt Ice Shelf has collapsed with adult birds showing no sign of trying to re-establish the population.
And it would probably be pointless for them to try as a giant iceberg is about to disrupt the site.
The dramatic loss of the young emperor birds is reported by a team from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS).

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-48041487
//

Apr 25, 2019 at 2:53 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2019/04/25/emperor-penguins-wiped-out/

Not quite what is portrayed by the BBC. Why report it now, from 2016? It just adds to the current daily drum beat of climate porn. I hope the government will soon make you have to register in order to read this stuff.

Apr 26, 2019 at 7:39 PM | Unregistered Commenterdennisa

i think Sri lankan government should take immediate action for this.
Kandy to Sigiriya day tour.

Apr 30, 2019 at 7:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterSmith

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