Sunday, May 21, 2006
Have you ever wondered why the political environmentalists -- "Greens" -- are so much more popular in Europe than in the United States? One reason is that there aren't any wild places left in Europe, or even echoes of them. The sense of loss is much greater.
That is why it is such news that a bear has been seen in Germany. This would be no big woop to Americans -- just two weeks ago, police shot a bear in Livingston, New Jersey, right in the heart of the state with the highest population density in the United States. A few weeks before that, state biologists shot another bear in downtown Trenton. But this is the first bear seen within Germany since 1835. It apparently snuck across the poorly defended border with Austria, where there about thirty undoubtedly inbred bears running around without human supervision. The international bear was reported "following the discovery of seven sheep carcasses." That would get the bear the death penalty in Montana, but in Germany it mobilizes the bear trackers, who have had very little to do up until now:
The regional authorities have mobilised teams to find the bear, anaesthetise it briefly, identify it and release it, a spokesman said.
You see a lot of countryside in central Europe, but none of it is wild. There are too many people, and they have been farming a long time. It is easy to forget how dense Europe is, compared to the United States. Germany has 230 people per square kilometer, and the European Union as a whole has 114 peeps per klick squared (ppks). The United States has 30 ppks, and Canada is next to empty at 3 ppks. Of course, both the United States and Canada have huge expanses that are not exactly habitable, but even allowing for that we are obviously in an entirely different situation than Europe. Here, there are plenty of wild places to grow wild things, and sometimes they go for a walkabout. There, they haven't seen a freakin' wild bear in 180 years. No wonder they think humans have ruined the world.
Very true about Europe. I've been there many times, and one of the things that strikes me is how crowded it is. Everything is so...close together. Nothing brilliant about that observation I realize, but unless you've been there, and traveled a lot around Europe, I don't think it hits you that their entire continent is like the northeast corridor of the US, say from Washington DC to Boston.
Absolutely true: I live in Germany, and there is no such thing as wilderness.
Goes back to a schism in forestry in the 19th century. There were those who felt that forests had to be managed, that humans in their *wisdom* knew better than nature what constituted a foreast. These people were up against those who said, basically, WTF, nature is nature and leave everything the f alone.
Of course, planning a forest generates work for forestry people, lots of work, and so you can imagine who won out. Add to that the fact that forests belonged to the royalty, who would usually get pissed off when they went out to hunt boar and only got sunburned because they had killed off the last boar 10 years ago when some hemophaliac prince developed a taste for boar liver and had forgotten about it.
So of course they go all a-ga-ga when a real live wild animal appears. They don't know what to do.
If the Europeans were keen on having wilderness, than they'd be building big cities instead of the massive urban sprawl they have.
There is an old story of why the Germans wrote spefications of military equipment the way they did: when an early anti-tank missile was being devloped, the missile design was first capable of reaching out some 4 km or so. This was changed to only 2.5 km as the Germans pointed out that this was the median distance from one village in Germany to the next, and in a shooting war would be all that would be needed (Soviet tanks enter village, fight through village, and upon leaving village would be hit by antitank fire from next village, repeat until done).
And I don't think it's fair to the northeast corridor to compare it to, say the northern plain of Germany: the northeast corridor has by virtue of the big cities less population density between the cities.
The French are importing Slovenian bears because the government thinks restocking the Pyrenees with bears, which became extinct in the area years ago, would attract ecotourists.
Small problem: the bears became extinct in the first place because sheep farmers (the traditional industry of the region), killed the bears.
So now the French government's releasing the bears in secrecy (it was supposed to be a media event), while facing irate farmers.
Of course, instead of listening to the people who actually have to deal with the problem of bears attacking their livestock and property, the government is now trying to reintroduce the patou dogs (which had also become extinct), at taxpayers' expense, too.
Just another day in the provence.
This observation was entirely new to me, and I must say, quite an interesting hypothesis. Though I was well aware of the population density disparities, it had never really occurred to me that Europe had essentially no wild spaces left, despite several trips there.
It just goes to show that scarcity increases value, even for the commons of a wilderness.