Friday, 13 May 2005

Save cash & Save the planet

This month's BBC Wildlife magazine includes a feature based on information from Friends of the Earth, on how to save money by being environmentally friendly. All sensible advice -- composting, saving energy, buying local organic food, keeping car tyres properly inflated. It then summarises it all by stating that all the savings (over £300) "...Could pay for a guilt free trip to see any one of Britain's wildlife spectacles, such as the gannets of Bass Rock or the red kites in Wales." This of course makes a farce of the whole thing. Having saved minuscule amounts of energy, by keeping car tyres inflated properly, it is advocating burning huge amounts of fossil fuel driving the length or breadth of Britain! Come on FoE we're not that dim.

More seriously, this is an ancient paradox that I have mused on many times before. Saving energy, being environmentally friendly, often makes sound economic sense. But if we save money by insulating our roofs, what do we spend that money on? Invariably high on most people's list is a holiday in an exotic location -- ecotourism perhaps, but nonetheless, energy intensive, ozone depleting, international travel. And I am as guilty as the next.

Energy, climate change, resource depletion are all very, very, important issues. But there is one issue that is much, much, more important, and is the force driving all these issues. Human population growth. This is an issue that has been swept under the international carpet. And under the current UK leadership, highly unlikely to move up the agenda. I therefore highly recommend a paper in a recent issue of the Geographical Journal by Anthony Young (Geographical Journal 171 (1):83-95).

All the talk about poverty alleviation, glib statements from governments and NGOs about 'making poverty history' are nothing more than hot air, unless the population issue is addressed simultaneously. As Anthony Young concluded: "If rates of population increase in developing countries are not lowered, efforts to reduce poverty, hunger, and suffering which these cause will constantly be thwarted, often nullified; and sustainable use of natural resources, avoiding land degradation, will not be achieved." It's a grim prediction, and concomitant with this prediction we will see increasing numbers of devastating famines, epidemics and probably an increase in resource-based wars. The World Land Trust is not able to do much about any of this -- but I urge those working for relief charities and others concerned with human welfare to examine carefully their activities. Poverty relief in the absence of population reduction is a futile exercise, which will actually have the potential to exacerbate human suffering in the future.

Sunday, 8 May 2005

Carbon Balanced with the WLT

A few weeks ago we launched our completely overhauled web site dealing with carbon emmissions. We are not the first orgainisation to deal with this issue -- there are several others selling carbon credits -- such as Future Forests, and Carbon-Balanced(R) and CLevel. just type in carbon balance, carbon sequestration or any similar phrase into Google and you find them. The big difference bewteen the World Land Trust and all the others I have been able to find, is that we are a charity and the others are not. In itself this does not make us better than anyone else. But it does make us more transparent. Charities have to publish summaries of their accounts on the Charity Commission web site, and have to make their accounts available to supporters. For-profit Companies do not.

We are also more directly involved in the delivery of the results -- unlike most of the for-profit businmesses who are paying other organisations to carry out tree planting and other schemes.

It is not surprising that the costs of carbon sequestration through the World Land Trust is often significantly cheaper than through some of the commercial companies. And a final, but significant difference, is that the WLT is moving rapidly towards having carbon that can be legally traded. The companies that have cashed in on public concerns over global warming will soon have to demonstrate much more clearly how they are implementing their schemes and how much of the money raised really goes to conservation or any other activity.

Thursday, 5 May 2005

Elephant Corridors

Elephants are large, and potentially dangerous animals, that frequently come into conflict with humans in a country as densely populated as India. The problems may seem insurmountable, but as my recent visit showed, it can sometimes be relatively easy to solve the problem. The problems occur when the traditional routes used by elephants to move between forests, are severed by agriculture. The elephants raid crops, trample them, and in the worst case can kill humans. Sometimes solutions such as electric fences can be used to deter elephants, but these are expensive, and require vigilant maintenance. However, much of the land needed by the elephants can be purchased. The farmers want to move -- they don't like having their crops destroyed, and they are unhappy with the constant threat to their lives and the lives of their families. Furthermore, they often want to move closer to facilities such as schools and medical services. Very often the purchase of as little as 10 or 20 acres (5 or 10 hectares) of farmland is all that is needed to create a corridor so that the elephants can move safely. Land is not cheap in India, but the purchase and resettlement, is an effective and permanent solution to the problem. We have worked out that an average of £10,000 will be sufficient to purchase a typical elephant corridor -- this figure includes all the overheads such as legal fees, surveys. Once acquired, the local forest departments will be able to protect and patrol the land along with the government owned reserves, which the corridors link.

Compared with practically any other elephant conservation project, this has to be excellent value for money -- providing a lasting solution to a serious conservation issue, that is affecting one of the most endangered species in Asia. And of course elephants are not the only species that will benefit: monkey gaur, bats and dozens of other species will use the corridors.

Working with the Wildlife Trust of India, I was able to met many of the Forest Department officials while visiting reserves in southern India. They were all unanimously enthusiastic about the proposals, recognising that NGOs such as the WTI and the World Land Trust, working together might be able to achieve action within a short timescale, before land prices escalate -- as surely they will. Will Rogers is famously claimed to have once said: "put your money in land, because they aren't making any more of it" [Apparently he didn't actually say this, but something rather similar -- just in case my more pedantic readers start emailing]. And this is one of the driving forces behind the WLT's thinking. If we don't save wilderness and other wildlife habitats now, we may not get a second chance.

Next week we are holding urgent meetings with our partners to discuss how we can accelerate our programme to acquire Elephant corridors, so if you, the reader, want to help, now is the time to donate.

Wednesday, 4 May 2005

More thoughts on Foreign Aid

My recent visit to India was quite an eye-opener. Even for someone who is fairly well travelled, and has had a fairly wide experience of working in the tropics. India is often thought of as a developing country, but nothing could be further from the truth. India is simply a vast area, with a huge range of federated states, which represent a diversity as great as anything found in Europe. Most pople use Hindi or English to communicate, since the languages are so diverse. And India has been intellectually, culturally and technically developed for centuries. It has also been economically developed for centuries -- witness the splendid palaces of the Maharajahs and the temples. And now, westernisation is speeding ahead. One of the unfortunate aspects of westernisation is that much of it is not sustainable, and when there is a population in excess of a billion people, and still growing, this is truly alarming.

Like most other countries, India does not need aid, strictly speaking. The amounts of money given by British and other conservation donors is tiny compared with the wealth of individuals in India. So why should we in England and other parts of the west support the Wildlife Trust of India? To me the answer is fairly straightforward -- by giving support, however modest, it is helping the WTI act. One of the cultural problems within India, is the length of time change takes. The government will act, the huge network of nature reserves created since independence is an indication, but the government is very slow. The funds donated by the WLT and IFAW and other organisations has enabled the WTI to take action speedily, and in India this is vital. The pressures on the remaining wildlfe habitats are excessive, and action is essential NOW, not in three or five years time.

And meanwhile there is a growing level of support from the general public in India. The rising middle classes, brought up on a diet of TV documentaries about wildife, are going to support the conservation of wildlife in the future. So the funding from Britain, should be seen as a stop-gap, helping dynamic young organisations such as the Wildlife Trust of India, get firmly established and self sustaining.