Outdoor Smoking Bans: Defend The Right To Be ‘Abnormal’

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Source: “Annette Schwarz On Set With Annette Schwarz 4” by Photo from http://www.lukeisback.com – via Wiki Commons

In 2007, the UK government, along with many other countries, banned smoking inside all workplaces, all public buildings, and all pubs. Yet although health fanatics are now completely protected from dangers they believe emanate from ‘second-hand smoke’, they were still not content, and from October 2015, it will become a criminal offence to light up in your own car if there is an under-18 year old present, even if you open windows and the sunroof. Still the health zealots are not content. Having protected themselves and ‘The Children’ from wicked smokers, they want more bans on top of this. The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), which is an influential government-lobbying charity whose president and vice presidents are all Lords and Baronesses, want smoking banned in many outdoor places. This will include all parks, public squares, beaches, school gates and pub gardens.

The casual adding of pub gardens to the list will inevitably pave the way for more bans in years to come since they are privately owned rather than publicly owned. This means a logic is put in place where part of the private sphere will no longer be seen as beyond the jurisdiction of health zealotry. Hence already in New York, the mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to ban smoking inside people’s private homes.  So UK citizens should challenge the RSPH to stop such Orwellianism becoming a reality here as well. Unless we mount a challenge, groups like the RSPH will never stop.

Some people such as smoker’s rights group FOREST have criticised the RSPH saying it will accelerate the rate of pub closures and is authoritarian. Indeed this is all true – smokers will avoid pubs altogether, slashing their income to the point of closure. And there will be no way round it – a pub won’t be able to turn a blind eye to smoking in its garden because they will fear being heftily fined, or shut down by the council. But there’s also something more going on with the RSPH’s proposal that puts it in a new nadir for smoking bans: they are using criminal law to spread their own moral message.

The RSPH’s attempt to ban outdoor smoking differs from the previously mentioned smoking bans because it doesn’t use the argument about ‘second-hand smoke’ as its justification. Even the RSPH are not stupid enough to say there is a physical threat from smoke outdoors. Instead they want to ban it merely out of spite. They say smokers are “abnormal”. They believe the possibility that a child might see someone smoking is a direct influence on that individual possibly taking up smoking themselves in the future. The RSPH wants to nudge the child from growing into that bad adult by preventing them ever witnessing anyone smoking in a public place. Hence the ban is called for not because the smoke is a direct physical threat, but because it might influence a young mind. Arrogantly, the RSPH believe only they should influence young minds, no-one else, and that new criminal offences should be constructed to aid this objective.

But if one thinks about it, one can see that smoking in an outdoor public space or a pub garden is the responsible thing to do, in relation to children. It confirms to children the notion that adults want to protect them by not breathing smoke at them in a confined area (even if passive smoking is actually a threat). We might be dealing with responsible parents who do not smoke inside their houses, but would like a cigarette when outside. This can be a loving caring act, and it is wrong to label such behaviour ‘abnormal’. The RSPH are using criminal law to send out a ‘moral’ message that only they have the legitimate authority to mould a young mind, not parents, teachers, or any other traditional authority, and most certainly not the general public. The RSPH are censoring reality as if it was a soap opera. They are demanding society in all its activities must always send out ‘correct’ moral messages, and anything that is a threat to this must be banned. It is making moral conformity compulsory by threat of legal penalty. This is the stuff of a totalitarian dictatorship, not a liberal democracy.

If the RSPH really do care about the lessons being learnt by children, they might consider their own lesson they are sending out. If the RSPH’s ban goes through, this will teach children that we do not live in a free and tolerant society, and that those old ideals are bad. It will instil in their brains an ideal of conformity rather than diversity. And it will instil an idea that it is ok for the law to harass those deemed by government to be ‘abnormal’. Who wants to live in a society like that?

After Cecil: What Africa And Its Lions Need Is Economic Progress, Not A Green Moral Panic

Cecil, just lion around.  Source: Wiki Commons/Daughter#3
Cecil, just lion around. Source: Wiki Commons/Daughter#3

Economic progress is vital for the third world so that the human population can live longer lives than the current paltry life expectancy in mainland Africa of 46 in Sierra Leone up to 65 in Botswana. Economic progress would also deliver better services, better housing, better electricity supply, and better jobs, leading to a superior quality of life than the suffering and back-breaking conditions currently endured by Africans. However this ‘humanist’ case for economic progress is likely to fall on deaf ears in the West today. Humanism has been hunted down over the years by green ideology. Now, as the international outrage over Cecil the lion attests, all that seems to morally matter is individual members of wildlife. Therefore in this degraded ethical context, I will argue in this blog post for economic progress as a way of saving the lion population of Africa.

The reaction to the death of Cecil the lion makes economic matters in Africa worse than they were. This will have a deleterious effect on lion populations, something that is tragically ironic given how the international community has been so keen on advertising its moral credentials by chest-thumping over poor Cecil. As has been explained by scientists writing in the National Geographic magazine, myself on spiked, and in a radio debate here (available to listen to until late August 2015, and commences at 01:13:40), lion hunting generates millions and millions of dollars that is desperately needed in Africa, revenue which does go back into broader conservation projects and supports 88,000 human families. An EU and US ban on the import of trophies, coupled with pressure from charities and NGOs to place lions on the ‘endangered species list’, will effectively ban hunting, depriving Africa of this money. This will disincentivize Africans from having policies that lead to sustainable lion populations, including removing the motivation for communities to combat illegal poaching. Add to this, a dominant view in the West that African governance is corrupt and that there should be closer UN oversight (which is apparently morally pure), and we are inviting a scenario where there is no socio-economic compulsion to protect any lions, only ineffective coercion from on high. The way the international community has reacted to Cecil’s case is therefore really bad news for lions in general.

Since the 1980s, the lion population of Africa has roughly halved, with between 32,000 and 35,000 on the continent today. Although this doesn’t mean the lion, as a species, is ‘endangered’, the downward trend does need some explaining. Amid the hysteria over Cecil, greens claim the decline is all due to legal hunting. This claim does not stand up to objective scrutiny. A far more believable explanation is that lion populations have dwindled because of habitat loss and illegal poaching. It is the shrinking of the areas in which lions can breed and roam that is the main cause of the decline. Illegal poaching is also important, and African governments have taken steps to combat this. So what causes habitat loss?

Once again greens contribute very little to the debate over habitat loss. They argue it is ‘overpopulation’ (of humans) that causes habitat loss. However the term ‘overpopulation’ has no clear meaning. It is simply not clear what an ‘optimum’ population would be, given available land. Africa’s total population is just over 1bn, whereas China and India each exceed this, yet don’t seem to have the same problems with sustaining biodiversity. ‘Overpopulation’ is actually a morally loaded term that leads to draconian birth control policies. It has no scientific merit in explaining anything, and is essentially anti-human.

Another implausible green idea is that habitat loss is caused by climate change. Whilst it is true that certain weather phenomena can temporarily disrupt an ecosystem, the general climate trends are no more life-threatening than they ever have been. Even if some studies have shown temperature increases of 1 degree celsius since the 1980s, it is difficult to see how this would directly cause habitat loss for lions. In Australia, it is often as hot as Africa, and it is drier too, yet Australian wildlife habitats are thriving.

The real cause of habitat loss is poor agricultural technique. Lacking much industry, African countries rely on agriculture to sustain themselves. Whilst this doesn’t generate enough wealth to extend life expectancy or the standard of living, it would not inherently be a cause of habitat loss if modern technology was used in agriculture. Yet thanks to the ‘fairtrade’ scam that is promoted in the West as a form of ‘ethical consumerism’, African farmers are deprived of the latest technology, including use of GM crops, that would allow for increased agricultural output from the use of less land. Therefore the agricultural use of land has to expand to meet human needs, and this impinges on lion habitats. Furthermore, with the absence of reliable energy sources caused by the green belittling of power stations (‘we have to cut carbon emissions!’), some African countryside dwellers are forced to burn wood for fuel. Again, this impinges on lion habitats. So once again, green ideas have made a bad problem worse. The most immediate concern for economic progress in Africa then is that agriculture should become high-tech rather than low-tech, and that energy supply needs to be increased. Both these things will involve less hectoring from the green international community. These progressive humanist policies will also be of benefit to lions.

Removing the political fetters imposed on Africa by the green international community will firstly lead to increased agricultural output. What next? After the ball has started to roll, increased agricultural output will lead to an accumulation of capital rather than the meagre sustaining of an impoverished population. This increased capital will want to be invested, and expect to be rewarded. Naturally then, it would lead to an industrial revolution in Africa, as has been experienced in the countries of the Western world, China, and elsewhere. This economic progress will lift millions of people out of poverty, increase life expectancy, and the overall quality of life. Furthermore, being less reliant on the agricultural sector for economic sustenance, and with the moving of more people to cities that accompanies industrialisation, lion habitats would grow back. In addition, the newfound wealth would disincentivize illegal poaching. Therefore, in a few years, the lion population would return to 1980s levels, without ever having ignorantly to clamp down on permitted hunting. So if one cares about the plight of lions, it is far more effective to focus on improving the real world rather than be engulfed in a post-Cecil moral panic, demanding bans, and more crippling green policing.