I can’t remember how this article came to my attention. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is how, like so many newspaper and BBC articles, it involved providing a platform to some technical expert who was drumming up some business.
First we have the enormous threat, with figures apparently plucked out of thin air:
Invasive, non-native animals, plants and microorganisms cause at least 12 billion euros of damage in Europe each year.
Then we have the technocrat talking up the problem:
Piero Genovesi is chair of the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG), a global network of experts on invasive species. He told BBC News that the figure of 12 billion Euros represents a significant underestimate of the impact of alien species.
“For many species we have no idea what damage they cause or their economic impact. This is just a fraction of the actual cost,” he told BBC News.
And he added that this estimate does not include any assesment of the economic value of lost biodiversity caused by non-native species.
So we actually haven’t got a clue what the real number is, do we? It could be 24 billion Euros or it could be 12 billion Euros and one cent. But even 12 billion Euros is real money, isn’t it? Well, the EU economy is roughly worth 12,000 billion Euros, so a) 12 billion Euros is about 0.1% of the EU’s economy and b) actually stopping the kind of thing that causes the problem would club the EU back into the Stone Age overnight, “the kind of thing” in question being international trade.
Still, let’s n0t fret over the details, shall we?
Then we have the inevitable cry of “something has to be done”:
“Legislation on aquaculture, for example, would reduce the risks of accidental escapes from fish farms into the environment, he told BBC News.
Yes, of course. And who could possibly be better placed to advise the EU (for a piffling fee and miniscule expenses) than Piero Genovesi? Never mind that legislation will also make everything more difficult and more expensive for everybody, and ultimately cost the long-suffering man in the street a lot more than 0.1%.
This kind of behaviour is known as “rent-seeking”: rather than doing something productive, like cleaning toilets, sweeping roads or cooking a nice linguini, Mr Genovesi is basically trying to drum up a doomsday scenario so that the EU will pay him money to pontificate, dream up some sort of scheme to control all this and make everyone else’s life a bit less pleasant.
Next time you read doomsday article on the BBC or in the paper (Daily Mail, I’m looking at you!) see how closely it fits this model. If it does, you will know that not only can it be safely ignored, but that you probably want to go after the technocrat in question with a blunderbuss filled with rock salt.