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How evidence is ignored in favour of Gareth

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Dr Kevin Tennent‘s @ConversationUK piece on high speed rail – titled ‘HS2 debate shows how evidence is ignored in favour of politics’ (10 February 2020) – owes an ‘intellectual debt to @GarethDennis‘.

That’s Gareth Dennis, of HS2 contractor Arcadis, ‘Rail’ magazine, NCHSR, and ‘Permanent Rail Engineering’ infamy.

twitter, @Kevin_D_Tennent, '[...] New @ConversationUK  piece on #HS2 and the wildlife v carbon debate - owes an intellectual debt to @GarethDennis  but does reflect my research thinking in #publictransport generally'

In his article, co-written with Lindsay Hamilton, Dr Tennent claimed HS2 would “increase capacity on existing rail routes” and “research” by Midlands Connect found that ‘as many as 73 stations would benefit from increased rail capacity’.

Obviously, there is no evidence that HS2 would increase capacity on existing rail routes, and no evidence of genuine ‘research’ by Midlands Connect about ‘released capacity’ on the rail network. Midlands Connect doesn’t actually have ‘researchers’, it has PR people (Sophie Zumbe, David Blackadder-Weinstein, James Bovill, et al).

Nor is there any evidence that HS2 being a ‘wildlife v carbon debate’. HS2 combines the destruction of flora and fauna, with increased carbon emissions.

HS2 Ltd, phase one and phase 2a carbon emissions forecast

[HS2 debate shows how evidence is ignored in favour of politics | 10 February 2020 | Lindsay Hamilton, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Ethnography, University of York | Kevin Tennent, Senior Lecturer in Management, University of York | Creative Commons]

A recent report commissioned and published by The Wildlife Trusts drew attention to the habitat loss threatened by HS2, the UK’s proposed new high-speed rail network. The report claims as many as 693 classified wildlife sites within 500 metres of the line will be impacted, something echoed by Extinction Rebellion and Stop HS2 activists:

‘Using guile, deceit, lies, fraud, coercion, blackmail and immensely destructive practices, HS2 wish to put an end to all we hold dear and our most important legacy to our children. This is our rainforest. Right now we desperately need tree climbers. We desperately need people. People really scare HS2.’

This emotive language, playing to historic fears of destruction, pits HS2 against conservation. The pressure from environmental groups adds to that from those politicians who want the government to cancel or alter the project in favour of schemes that provide more benefit to their local areas. As a result, the future of the scheme has been uncertain, even with government backing.

Yet, like many projects with importance for wildlife, HS2 is by no means a clear-cut choice between obliteration and preservation. The problem is that human politics is central in defining the outcome of such planned projects and scientific knowledge is too often displaced by binary thinking.

The purpose of HS2 is partly to provide faster rail services between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds (and, in turn, to other follow-on destinations). But it will also increase capacity on existing rail routes by taking current fast intercity trains off those lines, making space for more local commuter and freight services.

Research by the transport development organisation Midlands Connect found that as many as 73 stations would benefit from increased rail capacity, 54 of which are not directly served by the new lines. In short, HS2 will streamline a large proportion of the UK’s rail network.

The provision of frequent, accessible and attractive public transport is needed to encourage a “modal shift” away from the country’s reliance on CO₂-producing cars, lorries and planes. HS2 offers the UK a major opportunity to follow the examples demonstrated elsewhere in Europe and Asia. High-speed rail has reduced air travel’s modal share everywhere it has been introduced and can also reduce car use, especially over long distances, helping to create a new vision for long-distance travel.

Without this kind of change, we face runaway climate change and a significant threat to exactly the biodiversity that environmental groups want to protect – and not just in the area around HS2’s tracks. Research has shown how overall biodiversity can benefit even from measures to address climate change that might damage it on a small scale.

Yet the research is too often overlooked when political debates descend into simplistic narratives of development versus destruction, preservation versus loss. The picture is always more complex.

HS2 is not an isolated example of politics taking precedence over evidence. Take, for instance, the UK government’s current strategy for eradicating bovine tuberculosis, which involves the culling of infected cattle and, in some regions, other species that can spread the disease, such as badgers.

The government describes this approach as “science-led”. Yet as with HS2, the whole picture is complex and coloured by politics. While culling might seem a good solution, and is popular with practitioners, it is only fair to say that the scientific evidence shows a mixed picture.

Many environmental activists argue that the limited evidence for culling means the animals suffer needlessly. On the other hand, in some places the culling of badgers can have a positive impact on species they prey on, such as hedgehogs.

As for cattle, the government itself recognises that the risks of people catching TB from milk or meat from infected cows are extremely low. But because of restrictions in other countries, bovine TB impacts the UK’s ability to sell its produce abroad, which is increasingly important following Brexit and the opening of new trade negotiations around the world.

In a climate where politicians and commentators polarise the debate, members of the public can find it understandably difficult to judge the worth of various policies that impact wildlife. And the rejection of expert and practitioner knowledge also makes it difficult for policy-makers to make pragmatic judgements.

What we actually need is more, not less, scientific knowledge. Politicians, activists, journalists and the general public need to take a closer look at the empirical and scientific evidence to make a balanced judgement when evaluating difficult ecological problems that arise in the wake of infrastructure planning. Now more than ever, we need to move beyond human politics to investigate the facts that support sustainable policy decisions.

On 7 February, Adam Cormack, of the Woodland Trust, commented on @PermanentRail, which is run by Gareth Dennis. Obviously, the ‘Permanent Rail Engineering’ twitter account is an unreliable source.

twitter, @AdamCormack, thread on claims by THe Guardian and @PermanentRail Engineering (a.k.a. Gareth Dennis) on HS2 woodland take

Written by beleben

February 10, 2020 at 9:31 pm

Posted in HS2

2 Responses

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  1. Is that it? Oh, I was hoping for so much more…

  2. This is utter tripe

    Educated person

    May 18, 2020 at 5:11 pm


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