My blood boiled this morning when I saw some propaganda for trap-neuter-return programs being shared around Facebook. Trap-neuter-return (TNR) is a method of dealing with feral cat populations by spaying and neutering them and then releasing them back into the wild. Conservation biologists have found that TNR fails to reduce populations of cats. As an alien predator subsidized by humans, free-roaming cats kill between half a billion and a billion birds a year, as well as an untold number of reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and insects in the United States alone. Furthermore, free-roaming cats spread diseases harmful to humans, including toxoplasmosis, implicated in fetal death, brain cancer, and schizophrenia.
Despite these facts, the TNR industry is well-funded and boasts a national activist army. It’s easy to exploit the emotions of cat lovers to fund the innumerable, frequently torturous deaths of chipmunks, chickadees, and butterflies. What everyone ought to find truly galling, however, is that the taxpayer subsidizes this destruction. Alley Cats, the major national promoter of TNR programs, is a tax-exempt charity with a staff of 30. (They claim that TNR works to reduce feral cat populations over the long term, but the only studies they can cite are a small handful of short-term, single-case studies carried out by veterinarians, not biologists. There is now a large body of peer-reviewed research conducted by biologists finding that TNR does not reduce feral cat populations, especially when compared to the traditional trap-kill method. See links above.) As a 501(c)(3) organization, Alley Cats is eligible to receive tax-deductible donations, which means that the taxpayers of the United States are effectively subsidizing donations to this organization. This is rather as if someone were to form a “charity” dedicated to dumping heavy metals into the water supply or to “solving” Third World “overpopulation” by poisoning wells and stealing bed-nets. So long as you have noble intentions, apparently, the IRS will allow you to obtain charitable status. Charities often have secondary ill effects, as when foreign aid inadvertently promotes corruption or distorts local production, but this is one of the few cases I can think of in which a charity is actually doing first-order harm — and getting recognition and support from the government for it.
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Will global climate change increase resource-based conflicts around the world? Journal of Peace Research has a special issue on the topic, looking at how weather variability has already influenced the rate of conflict. The issue is free to the public until the end of February. Most of the studies find that weather variability does not cause conflict. Indeed, the horrific Indian Ocean tsunami of 2005 actually led to a quick, apparently durable peace agreement between secessionist rebels in Aceh and the Indonesian government. Here’s the abstract from the introductory essay by editor Nils Petter Gleditsch:
Until recently, most writings on the relationship between climate change and security were highly speculative. The IPCC assessment reports to date offer little if any guidance on this issue and occasionally pay excessive attention to questionable sources. The articles published in this special issue form the largest collection of peer-reviewed writings on the topic to date. The number of such studies remains small compared to those that make up the natural science base of the climate issue, and there is some confusion whether it is the effect of ‘climate’ or ‘weather’ that is being tested. The results of the studies vary, and firm conclusions cannot always be drawn. Nevertheless, research in this area has made considerable progress. More attention is being paid to the specific causal mechanisms linking climate change to conflict, such as changes in rainfall and temperature, natural disasters, and economic growth. Systematic climate data are used in most of the articles and climate projections in some. Several studies are going beyond state-based conflict to look at possible implications for other kinds of violence, such as intercommunal conflict. Overall, the research reported here offers only limited support for viewing climate change as an important influence on armed conflict. However, framing the climate issue as a security problem could possibly influence the perceptions of the actors and contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Erik Gartzke notes that if knee-capping development in middle- or low-income countries is the price of preventing climate change, it is those policies to address climate change that will produce conflict, since development is associated with peace:
The analysis here also suggests that efforts to curb climate change should pay particular attention to encouraging clean development among middle-income states, as these countries are the most conflict prone. Ironically, stagnating economic development in middle-income states caused by efforts to combat climate change could actually realize fears of climate-induced warfare.
If curbing carbon emissions is indeed the only way to stop drastic climate change (natural forcings don’t continue to counteract the human effect, and geoengineering doesn’t work), this argument suggests a possible rationale for having high-income countries pay the biggest initial price.
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