In an extraordinarily offensive news story, even by the standards of AFP (hat tip: Powerline), the devastation of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean was blamed in part on human incompetence. The expert quoted to validate the claim is one Jeffrey A. McNeely, the “Chief Scientist” of something called the World Conservation Union, based in Switzerland.
Though quoted extensively on environmental issues as an impartial expert, McNeely is no agenda-free fellow. He opposed the liberation of Kuwait and the second Iraq War, has expressed sympathy for the Chiapas uprising and worse atrocities, and has proposed government takeovers of vast land areas. He is, moreover, apparently a UCLA dropout, who nonetheless has permitted many international bodies to describe him as though he had a Ph.D.
If you watch a college lecture linked to below, you will see that Mr. McNeely is a man of very modest talent, whose opinion appears to this space to be valueless. Nonetheless, this is what many in our world call an expert. You be the judge.
The offensive story
“What has made this a disaster is that people have started to occupy part of the landscape that they shouldn’t have occupied,” he told AFP in a telephone interview from Paris. “Fifty years ago the coastline was not densely occupied as now by tourist hotels.”
Mangroves, he argued, could have protected the peoople from the once in a century catastrophe: “The mangroves were all along the coasts where there are shallow waters. They offered protection against things like tsunamis. Over the last 20-30 years, “they were cleared by people who didn’t have the long-term knowledge of why these mangroves should have been saved, by outsiders who get concessions from the governments and set up shrimp or prawn farms.”
On the other hand, Sunday’s quake would not have been a disaster for local wildlife still left in the affected areas, he added. “Those living along the coast are seldom particularly rare, that’s not a rare habitat, the mangroves are not particularly rich in species, the species that live there are used to typhoons, to storms and all that….Animals are smart enough to move.”
A history of inane statements
Here’s what this genius said about the US and Iraq on March 25, 2003, as the war began:
Dr Jeff McNeely, IUCN’s chief scientist, told BBC News Online: “The environment paid a very high price for Saddam Hussein’s expulsion from Kuwait….The environmental price to be paid this time may be much heavier than in 1991….Conflict is a human tragedy. The combatants need more time – to think. …A lot of conflict in the region is over resources – not just oil, but especially water. We may be able to help by advising on resource management.”
He said IUCN was especially worried about biological weapons. “They could be devastating to both people and animals. In the Iran-Iraq war rinderpest became a real epidemic in both countries. Nobody knows if it was used as a weapon. There’s a fungus called Fusarium which attacks palm trees. It first appeared in the area in 1991 – it had been unknown there before.
McNeely on Chiapas:
Consciously or unconsciously, one of the reasons why hundreds of farmers were willing to put their lives on the line was the fear that NAFTA would rob them of control over their own biodiversity, and instead give it to a faceless bureaucracy that has proven itself indifferent to the needs of farmers like Hernando Sanchez. They were concerned that this new international agreement would force the people of Chiapas off their ancestral lands so that new settlers and large companies could grow crops for export, thereby losing many of the local species that support the way of life of the Mayan, Zinacatan, and other indian groups which have made this part of Mexico home for thousands of years.
McNeely (and co-author) on a Borneo massacre:
A friend just sent a horrifying photo of an Asian girl, maybe six years old, lying on the ground, her arms splayed at impossible angles. Her dress is hiked up and her head is tilted from her body, like a broken puppet’s. On closer examination you can see that her head has been sliced off, and not too carefully placed near her neck.
This nameless girl was beheaded during the recent massacre of some 500 settlers from the arid island of Madura by gangs of the indigenous residents of Indonesian Borneo, collectively called Dayaks. The killings were ethnic-specific — all of the victims were Madurese; the Dayak marauders, who had the support of their community leaders, left their Javanese and Balinese immigrant neighbors untouched. What could spark such hostility? One of the oft-ignored underlying triggers behind communal violence such as this is the fight for control of a people’s natural resources. John Walker, a lecturer in politics at University College, the Australian Defence Force Academy, says, “Far from having its origins in ethnicity, the present killings in Central Kalimantan, like those in western Kalimantan in 1998-99, reflect deep conflict over natural resources.”
McNeely on government takeovers of vast land areas:
For areas in Canada that have more wild land remaining, they recommend higher targets. In British Columbia, Jeff McNeely (who has admitted making a mistake by recommending 12% protected areas to the Brundtland Commission) suggested 70% of land mass as protected areas as a reasonable figure for B.C.
McNeely’s pedestrian speech to University of Vermont students can be seen here.
A resume padded by others
In numerous places, such as this United Nations site, this Cambridge University site for the journal Oryx, this BBC report, this symposium with Gov. Vilsak, Ann Veneman and the Nobel Peace Prize winner, this Korean conference, and many other places, McNeely is referred to as Doctor, as though he had a Ph.D. He does not.
In official biographical profiles of McNeely available here, here, and here, McNeely is not even listed as a college graduate. From the available information, such as this and this, it appears that McNeely was a college dropout from UCLA sometime in the late 1960’s.
Not correcting a single organization that says you have a Ph.D. is one thing — doing that on many occasions tells us about your character.