As you can tell from the title, I’m feeling much better. I hadn’t realised how much that cold had slowed me down this week, nor how much time I really spent sitting around and saying ‘Gah!’ when I was supposed to be doing something productive. Everything is at least a week behind where it should be.
Oh, the cold has left its usual residue of smashed cells and rampant bacteria but the head-fuzz has largely cleared and most other symptoms have gone. That’s why it’s called rhinovirus, you know. It’s like having a herd of tiny rhinos rampaging through your head.
It’s good to be able to think again. So I did.
What I thought about was pollution. The ecowarriors don’t seem to mention that very much these days, but then their wind-farms need neodymium in large amounts, so the eco-freaks are causing most of the serious pollution these days. Now they go on about carbon dioxide as a pollutant and how we produce so much of it every year and how this will build up and build up…
No it won’t. Plants use it. They use it to generate sugars to feed their cells. In fact, carbon dioxide and sunlight are their only real energy source. Since you need six carbon atoms to make glucose (five for fructose) then a single molecule of glucose produced in one cell in one leaf strips six carbon dioxide molecules out of the air. They absolutely must have that CO2, they can’t get their carbon anywhere else.
Apart from the ones who have learned how to eat insects, and if the ecoloons manage to take all the CO2 out of the atmosphere, only the plants that eat insects will be left, and they’ll dominate with no competition, and they’ll evolve until they get big enough to scoff a mouse, then a cat, then a dog, and so on.
When I was young, we had proper pollution. Rivers that were practically sterile due to industrial outflows, seepage from coal tips, places on land where even nettles wouldn’t grow. Gradually, all that was cleared up and although it’s not all done yet and there is lots of room for improvement, pollution is far less now than it was even forty years ago.
Okay, it probably has less to do with industry cleaning up than with government shutting down industry, but even so, the UK is far less filthy than when I was small. I wonder if that’s sparked a panic in the Green Men, the sort of panic we’d see in the Dreadful Arnott if every smoker stopped tomorrow? What? The problem is solved? But what about us? What do we do now?
Find another problem. An invisible one this time, so they can’t check. One that’s in the future so they can’t say ‘Okay, it’s getting better, you can go now’. The most terrifying words any of the zealots on any of the issues can ever hear is ‘Your work here is done’. That signals the end of the free money.
One of the best proofs that pollution has declined comes from the often wrongly attributed ‘evolution’ of the pepper moth.
J.W. Tutt first proposed the “differential bird predation hypothesis” in 1896, as a mechanism of natural selection. The melanic morphs were better camouflaged against the bark of trees without foliose lichen, whereas the typica morphs were better camouflaged against trees with lichens. As a result, birds would find and eat those morphs that were not camouflaged with increased frequency.
The lichens were killed off by the industrial revolution. They’re growing back now, well advanced in some areas although lichens are pretty slow-growing things.
The black moths thrived when the trees were de-lichened by pollution because the peppery version was easier for birds to find and eat. As pollution declined and the lichens grew back, the peppery ones were better camouflaged and the birds found it easier to see the black ones. A textbook example of natural selection in action. A change in the environment resulted in a rare variant getting an advantage over the main population.
But it wasn’t evolution. The black version had always appeared, it was simply a rare variant of the peppery version. After its brief glory-time while we filled the air with soot, it returned to being a rare variant (although by now it was less rare than before because it hadn’t been systematically eradicated by birds). It did not separate from the population, did not become another species, it remained at all times simply a darker version of the peppered moth but with no other differences at all. There are rumours that it’s a better dancer and can make a lady-moth’s eyes bulge, but no proof of this has ever been shown.
It’s like saying being ginger is proof of evolution. If the black pepper moth had evolved from the pepper moth, then it would have become a separate species. It didn’t. The environment changed again and the population changed back. Natural selection can go back. Evolution cannot go back. If it takes a wrong turn and produces something utterly ridiculous, such as some kind of mammal with a duck’s beak that lays eggs and has the most unnecessarily complex X-Y setup ever, it hides it in Australia.
As an example of natural selection, the pepper moth is perfect. As an example of evolution, it’s useless. Darwin’s Galapagos finches were a far better example: on islands where the main food source was insects, the finches had long thin beaks to pick them out of holes. On islands where the main food was seeds, the finches had short stout beaks to crack seed shells. Even if the finches could still interbreed at that time, they could not survive on islands where they weren’t suited to the food source so speciation was only a matter of time.
Could be a long time though. Look at humans. We’ve developed all kinds of variants to suit all kinds of environments but we are still all one species. We might have differentiated into different species by now, if humans weren’t naturally infernally nosey about what the people next door are doing.
At least we are cleaning up our act, and have been for quite some time. If the ecoloons are running scared for their funding, and inventing invisible monsters from the future to frighten us with, we must be getting it right.