Park Rangers Believed to Have Photographed “Extinct” Javan Tiger

(p. A11) JAKARTA, Indonesia — Park rangers in Indonesia may have spotted an animal thought to live only in folklore and history books: a Javan tiger, declared extinct more than 40 years ago.
Rangers at Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java last month photographed a big cat unlike any previously seen in the preserve. The pictures, released this week, set off a flurry of speculation that one of Indonesia’s legendary species was still alive, and offered a rare bit of positive environmental news to a country in which natural places are being destroyed at an alarming rate.
“This used to be Javan tiger habitat,” Mamat Rahmat, the head of conservation at the park, told the local news media. “We hope that they’re still there.”
The photograph, which circulated across social media, prompted the World Wildlife Fund to support an expedition in search of the supposed tiger.

For the full story, see:
JON EMONT. “Indonesia Abuzz Over Possible Sighting of Tiger Species Believed to Be Extinct.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 16, 2017): A11.
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 15, 2017, and has the title “Tiger Species Thought Extinct Is Possibly Spotted in Indonesia.”)

Biodiversity May Increase If We “Let the Winners Go on Winning”

(p. C7) In 2004 Mr. Thomas, a biologist at the University of York, garnered headlines with a study predicting that at least a fifth of land animals and plants would be “committed to extinction” by 2050. In “Inheritors of the Earth,” Mr. Thomas does not disavow those findings. A mass extinction is in full swing, he concedes. But the “gloom-merchants” are ignoring the success stories, Mr. Thomas argues, of animals and plants that are thriving in the Anthropocene. Nature, in many respects, “is coping surprisingly well,” he writes, and we shouldn’t ignore “the gain side of the great biological equation of life.”
In some corners of the planet, warmer, wetter conditions have allowed a greater variety of species to survive than would have just decades ago, he points out, while modern transport keeps new immigrants rolling in. The result is a greater number of species in many regions–more local biodiversity–even if the global picture may be trending toward less.
Many species that contribute to diverse and functioning ecosystems aren’t native–they did not evolve where they now occur. And introduced species can jump-start evolutionary processes. They compete with established species, prey on them, or breed with them, and they can occupy ecological niches once occupied by organisms that have died out or are faring poorly.
Mr. Thomas describes a honeysuckle in Pennsylvania that’s a hybrid of species from several remote continents, and yet delicious to local flies, which began to interbreed out of a shared love of its berries; there’s a deer with Japanese genes that’s doing just fine in Scotland’s woods. We should be cheering on these victors, he says, but instead many have been subjected to dubious campaigns to eradicate them.
Conservation usually aims to help the most imperiled species, and favors those with a longer claim to the habitats they occupy. But rather than “always try to defend the losers,” Mr. Thomas proposes, what if we embraced the dynamism of evolution and let the winners go on winning?

For the full review, see:
Jennie Erin Smith. “Picking Sides in the Fight for Survival.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 23, 2017): C7.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 22, 2017.)

The book under review, is:
Thomas, Chris D. Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction. New York: PublicAffairs, 2017.

California Elite Regulates to Reduce Affordable Housing

(p. A11) In Silicon Valley the median home costs $1.2 million, about 2.5 times as much as in Seattle. Houses are less expensive inland–about $350,000 in Riverside and Sacramento–but living there often means a long commute. The weather also isn’t much better than in Phoenix or Dallas, so why not move to another state? A net 800,000 people did just that between 2005 and 2015, and many of them earned less than $30,000.
. . .
The state Legislative Analyst Office notes that in California’s coastal metros more than two-thirds of cities and counties have policies explicitly aimed at restricting housing growth, such as limits on density. When a developer wants to break ground, local governments impose multilayered reviews that can mean getting approval from the municipal building department, health department, fire department and planning commission as well as elected officials.
Neighbors can delay or block projects using the state’s 1970 Environmental Quality Act. It isn’t coincidental that California’s housing prices soared during the 1970s. Getting a building permit in San Francisco takes about three times as long as in the typical American metro.
There are more-direct costs, too: Local governments tack on hefty development fees, which run about three to four times as high in California as in the rest of the country. Politicians often attach conditions to projects requiring developers to pay workers “prevailing wages,” determined by local unions. This is one reason the cost of construction labor in California is about 20% higher than nationwide. Stringent building codes and energy-efficiency standards can add tens of thousands to the price of a house–even though low-flow appliances often cause people to use more water.
All told, it costs between $50,000 and $75,000 more to build a home in California than in the rest of the country. Building a low-income housing unit costs $332,000–about $80,000 more than the median home in Dallas or Phoenix.
. . .
Zoning is generally the biggest obstacle to development in coastal areas.
. . .
California’s housing policies are intrinsically regressive. Limiting the supply drives up home values in well-to-do coastal communities, while pricing everyone else out of the market.

For the full commentary, see:
Allysia Finley. “Why Housing Is Unaffordable in California; What could really help is deregulation, but residents aren’t likely to get it from Democratic lawmakers.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 30, 2017): A11.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 29, 2017.)

“Vinyl Rose from the Ashes”

(p. A10) LODENICE, Czech Republic — He was a businessman, not a clairvoyant. Zdenek Pelc did not really foresee, a generation ago, that vinyl records would one day make a return from near extinction.
But he was smart enough to keep a vinyl record factory here, a relic of the Communist era, through all those years when albums gave way to CDs and then to iTunes and streaming, and to be ready when vinyl suddenly got hot again.
And that is why this village of 1,800, nestled in a lush furl of the Bohemian hills, improbably finds itself a world leader in the production of vinyl albums.
“I realized when I came to the company 33 years ago that vinyl would be finished one day,” said Mr. Pelc, 64, who now owns GZ Media and serves as president. “But I wanted our company to be the last one to stop making them.”
The trajectory of the company — and the village it once dominated — traces the Czech Republic’s transition to quirky capitalist colt from cranky Communist nag, all played to the kind of rock soundtrack that accompanies many modern Czech tales.
Instead of getting rid of the old equipment and moving CD-making machines into their space — as most music production companies around the world did in the late 1980s and early ’90s — Mr. Pelc kept only enough machines running to meet the dwindling demand, moving the rest into storage and cannibalizing their parts as needed.
“Frankly, if someone had told me back then that vinyl would return, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said.
. . .
“Vinyl rose from the ashes,” Mr. Pelc said happily.
. . .
“From around 2005, the demand for vinyl grew steadily,” said Michael Sterba, GZ Media’s chief executive. “Then, it really took off in the last two or three years, like, whoosh.”
. . .
“Only an idiot thinks this can go on forever,” Mr. Sterba said. “Maybe making vinyl is a fashion that will disappear in a few years. Who knows? No one predicted this.”

For the full story, see:
RICK LYMAN. “LODENICE JOURNAL; Long-Playing Czech Company Rides a Resurgence to the Top.” The New York Times (Fri., AUG. 7, 2015): A10.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 6, 2015, and has the title “LODENICE JOURNAL; Czech Company, Pressing Hits for Years on Vinyl, Finds It Has Become One.”)

Animals Can Benefit from Humane Animal Research

(p. A17) Dog owners may soon be able to add years to their pets’ lives, thanks to an experimental antiaging pill. In tests on mice the medication, rapamycin, has been shown to lengthen lifespans up to 60%. Now scientists at the University of Washington’s Dog Aging Project are studying whether it works in canines.
Initial reports indicate the drug improves heart health. Researchers speculate that if larger trials are successful, rapamycin could extend a dog’s life by five years. Animal lovers the world over must be jumping up and down in excitement, right?
Wrong. In fact, many animal-rights groups strongly oppose the studies–as they do almost any studies involving animals.
. . .
If these groups truly advocate for animals, their logic is backward. Nearly 70% of American households have pets. Those animals’ food and vaccines all have been developed through humane research and testing with lab animals.
. . .
Animals are living longer, healthier lives because of these scientists. Discouraging studies condemns animals to unnecessary suffering and death from preventable illnesses. Real animal lovers should be proud to support animal research.

For the full commentary, see:
Matthew R. Bailey. “Love Your Dog, Support Animal Research; Endangered species as well as pets benefit from humane testing.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Sept. 18, 2017): A17.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 17, 2017.)

Rise of Civilization Made Possible by Fish

(p. C7) The subtitle of “Fishing” rather misleads: Mr. Fagan, an archaeological writer and emeritus professor at U.C. Santa Barbara, devotes nearly half this book to the way fishing was practiced for hundreds of thousands of years in subsistence cultures around the world, beginning with pre-Neanderthal hominids trapping catfish in shallow pools or shrinking rivers. He goes on to survey ancient fishing practices in the East and the West, the Old World and the New, and then the rise and fall of civilizations, the ascendancy of commerce, and such contemporary tools as lines 60 miles long bearing 30,000 baited hooks.
Along the way we find that fishing not only sustained ancient empires and modern nations to a degree we may not have grasped before–the pyramids of Giza, Mr. Fagan notes, could not have been built without hundreds of workers processing thousands of Nile fish each day, both fresh and dried, for laborers–but nurtured them as well.
The cooperative nature of fishing, wherever catches were rich and stable, fostered complex and hierarchical communities long before cities arose. The technologies of boat-building and seamanship seeded exploration. Shells, beads and dried or salted fish sustained long-distance trade networks, and even today, Mr. Fagan writes, fish are “the most traded commodity in the world.” And of course preserved fish–nutritious, lightweight, long-lasting–were the primary fuel of merchant fleets, navies and conquering armies.
No coincidence, then, that civilizations flourished along seacoasts or river systems, and yet we conceive of civilization as primarily an agricultural phenomenon, and we celebrate the farmer as its founder and culture hero. By contrast, fishermen, writes Mr. Fagan, “lived at the obscure margins of society, anonymous, hard-working, and laconic, and largely outside the dramas that interest historians.”

For the full review, see:

Richard Adams Carey. “What the Land Owes to the Sea.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 23, 2017): C7.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Sept. 22, 2017.)

The book under review, is:
Fagan, Brian. Fishing: How the Sea Fed Civilization. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.

No Increase in Number and Intensity of Hurricanes in Recent Decades

Hurricane researcher Ryan Maue, summarizes his own research:

(p. A19) My own research, cited in a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, found that during the past half-century tropical storms and hurricanes have not shown an upward trend in frequency or accumulated energy. Instead they remain naturally variable from year-to-year. The global prevalence of the most intense storms (Category 4 and 5) has not shown a significant upward trend either. Historical observations of extreme cyclones in the 1980s, especially in the Southern Hemisphere, are in sore need of reanalysis.

By focusing on whether climate change caused a hurricane, journalists fail to appreciate the complexity of extreme weather events. While most details are still hazy with the best climate modeling tools, the bigger issue than global warming is that more people are choosing to live in coastal areas, where hurricanes certainly will be most destructive.

For the full commentary, see:
Ryan Maue. “Climate Change Hype Doesn’t Help; The bigger issue than global warming is that more people are choosing to live in coastal areas.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Sept. 17, 2017): A19.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 18, 2017.)

Maue’s research, that he mentions above, is reported in:

Maue, Ryan N. “Recent Historically Low Global Tropical Cyclone Activity.” Geophysical Research Letters 38, no. 14 (2011): 1-6.