Friday, 26 August 2005

Conservation money - fundraising or land purchase?

In January 2004 I wrote a blog deploring how little conservation money was spent on land acquisition. Over 18 months later, a quick look at the UKs wealthiest wildlife conservation body (WWF) shows the situation has deteriorated. For clarity, I have reprinted my original with the revised figures in brackets taken from the WWF accounts for 2003/2004.

"Global warming is a major issue, and so is habitat destruction and the many, many other forms of anthropogenic change that adversely affect wildlife. But most of these need governments to take action. Conservation bodies and the public should take action where they are most cost effective. Look at how much money WWF has spent over the past 40 years on research, then see how many acres of land that would have acquired world wide. In 2001 WWF's income was around £30,000,000 [£36,000,000] in the UK alone (I know a lot of that money could not be spent on land, even if they wanted to, but it does give an idea of the scale of things). £30 million would buy at least 1.2 million acres of land -- probably well over 5 million acres [£36 million would buy in excess of 3 million acres, possibly 8million]. Even in England it would probably buy over 10,000 acres [15,000 acres]. To give an idea of size, the State of Massachusetts is less than 2 million acres. And Belgium is just over 7 million acres." end of quote. And tropical forests the size of Belgium are lost every year.

Looking at the WWF accounts in greater detail, they now have over £20 million in assets. But land purchase does not appear anywhere in their activities, and while their expenditure on conservation is huge, so is their expenditure on fundraising and related activities. I am not sure what the general opinion is on levels of expenditure -- but over 23% of the income was spent on fundraising in various forms, and this is before any admin or management costs are deducted. What do my readers feel about this? If the World Land Trust was to up its expenditure on fundraising activities, there is little doubt that we would raise more money, but would spending nearly a quarter of income be acceptable, even if it raised income dramatically? Thoughts and comments please.

Fears realised

Last night one of my great fears was realised, live on BBC TV. Well not strictly live, but in a recorded 'reality' TV show. In the latest of dire reality shows, a family used to wasting huge amounts of energy and other resources was subjected to the inquisition of a (rather overweight) eco-guru. They were forced to abandon their cars for short journeys, use public transport, cycle or walk, and they were also required to wash their cars, not with a hose, but with buckets of water. There was a lot more, but it was pretty dire, it really was, so I kept losing concentration. But the upshot was, at the end of their week, the eco-expert announced that they would save over £2500 in the course of a year if they kept up these practices. Jolly good was the response, we'll all be able to go on holiday. End of programme, credits roll. But hang on, doesn't going on holiday usually mean a transAtlantic flight to Florida, or something similar, to a resort that uses gallons of water, and has probably chopped down a pristine mangrove swamp.

With eco-friends like these, who needs enemies for the environment. Environmental issues, like ecosystems are complex. Glib, simplistic solutions do more harm than good, just like spraying generic pesticides.

Tuesday, 23 August 2005

British Birdwatching Fair 2005

For the second year, the World Land Trust had a stand at the British Birdwatching Fair, a three day event at Rutland Water. Rutland Water is about as central as you can get in England -- which makes it pretty well as inconvenient for everyone attending. Inaccessible by public transport and despite a close connection with wildlife and conservation, not a particularly 'green' event.

However, despite some obvious criticisms, it is an event attended by thousands of keen birders, and it is a chance to meet with colleagues and businesses.

The Birdwatching Fair has been in existence for the same period as the World Land Trust. And in that time has raised £1.2million (not counting this year). Last year it raised £164,000, and was attended by 17,500 visitors, and there were 300 exhibitors. All the gate money (£10 entry fee) goes to BirdLife projects, but what is depressing is how tight-fisted the average birder is. They will spend hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds on binoculars and telescopes and other equipment, and they will spend vast amounts on holidays to see birds, but only a tiny fraction of all that on conserving the birds.

While on the WLT stand I came up with a radical new idea for admission charges for birdwatchers visiting reserves: they should be charged 5% of the cost of their optical equipment. That would soon raise some funds for conservation, particularly in places like Ecuador or Brazil. If you can afford to spend £1000 on optianotherther £1000 or so travelling to exotic locations, £50 entry fees seem reasonable to me.

Monday, 15 August 2005

Water, water every where, and only in a bottle to drink?

The great con' at the begining of the 21st century, and one of the worst enviromental messes, is water. While a huge proportion of the world have no access to clean drinking water, almost the entire delevoped world, flushes much of its clean drinking water down lavatories, or washes in it, and then buys water in glass or plastic bottles to drink. The latter is shipped around the world, using vast amounts of energy, conferring no measurable benefits (other than psychological ones) on the consumers. It is one of the world's largest and most profitable industries.

Howls of protests from the drinkers of bottled water. Claims that they really can tell the difference. To which I retort "Bunkum".

I have on occasion resorted to blind tastings. If the consumer is presented with a wide range of bottled and tap waters, it is doubtful if more than an insignificant number of them can identify the various waters. What I have found is that fresh tap water, when it is highly chlorinated can be recognised -- but let it stand, and the chlorine goes -- and that a few highly mineralised waters have a distinctive taste. But most bottled water is no more mineralised than tap water. In fact, the majority of bottled waters have no taste, and some indeed come from the same sources as tap water. The most important factor in taste seems to be temperature. Give a person chilled tap water, and they will probably like it better than luke-warm bottled water.

But it is the chattering classes, so often environmentally aware, that are the most prone and gullible in the water market. Just as they are the most likely to buy homeopathic medicines -- another form of bottled water with no quantifiable differences that distinguish it from distilled water.

If those who buy bottled water, were to give the equivalent amount to conservation of wildlerness (which often plays a very significant role in protecting watersheds, and water supplies), think how much land we could save.

The average European now drinks over 17 cases of bottled water a year, and the average cost of that water, per litre, is around the same, or more than petrol!

The following website shows just how we're all being led by the marketting:

And this one gives some more sources

So next time you drink bottled water, why not donate the equivalent amount to the WLT, and think how much more good you are doing for the planet

Thursday, 11 August 2005

Daryl Hannah and biodiesel

Readers of this blog will be aware, that biodiesel is controversial. So it was with great interest that I was able to discuss it with Hollywood actress and film star, Daryl Hannah. She has been promoting biodiesel, and she pointed out, originally diesel engines was created so that farmers could grow their own fuels -- a basic diesel engine will run on peanut oil, sunflower oil, and pretty well any similar oil. In fact most modern diesels can be converted for a few hundred pounds or dollars. Modern highly efficient engines can run on a wide range of waste oils, from recycled engine oils to used cooking oils, and agricultural wastes from the sugar industry and other crops. This is certainly something that should be encouraged.

However, the problem arises when land is cleared specifically to grow crops to produce biodiesel oils. Just as a problem is created when huge areas of forests are cleared to grow soya beans, to feed increasing numbers of vegetarians in the developed world.

But thinking about these complex issues led me to think about cars and transport in general. We are being exhorted to change to modern 'hybrid' cars, that can run on electricity or biodiesel, solar powered cars and various other forms of less polluting forms of transport. But one aspect of these vehicles I have not been able to get data on, is the embedded energy. If I buy a second hand 20 year old Volvo, Jaguar, Rolls Royce or similar car with a relatively long life will I use more energy than buying a brand new car with a 20 year lifespan? New cars contain catalytic converters etc, plus a host of other sophisticated gadgetry, all of which requires energy to be made. Similarly, a 15th century house, even though it may be draughty may be much more energy efficient than a super, state-of-the-art eco house built in 2005, which uses concrete, plastics, glass and other modern materials. Does anyone out there know where data on embedded energy can be located?

But to return to biodiesel and energy efficiency of cars. The lexus hybrid, running on gas or electricity, at a cost of $30,000 or more has to represent something of a paradox. The chances are that the sort of person owning such a car, will also be spending large amounts of money on other commodities, and travelling by air. So what is the point of saving a few joules of energy in a car, if it is then spent flying around the world, or building an air-conditioned house in the south of France?

In my sci-fi future, everyone will be issued with a book of energy coupons on their 18th birthday. They can use them, but not trade them. They can be used for cars, having children, air-conditioning and any other non essential luxury. Only healthcare, basic housing, education and food will not require their expenditure. Perhaps it's just as well I am not going to be ruler of the universe.

Bird 'flu' and the population crisis

The outbreak of bird'flu' in Asia is gradually getting more publicity in Europe, but still very little in North America. But it is there, and potentially it is going to alter the face of the world. Anyone who has kept abreast of the out break will be aware that at present, the human victims have caught the infection from poultry. And those that catch it, have a relatively high chance of dying from it. Fortunately, so far it does not seem to be transmitted from human to human, but when that occurs, the results will probably be devastating.

Most people are probably aware, that the 'flu' outbreak after the first World War killed more people than the war itself. And since then pandemics have regularly swept the world. Once the bird 'flu' mutates so that it can pass from humans to humans, another lethal pandemic could well be on its way. And while health officials in Britain and other parts of the developed world are at last waking up to the fact that there are no vaccines available, the less developed parts of the world won't get access to vaccines even if they are developed. The problem is that until the outbreak occurs, a specific vaccine cannot be developed, and no one really knows how fast it will spread. Unlike the situation when the earlier out breaks of 'flu' occurred, the world's human population is now much more mobile. Cheap air travel will ensure that the new virus reaches the parts other viruses couldn't reach with alarming rapidity.

I cannot even begin to speculate on the impacts on the infrastructure of our civilizations, and the impacts on western economies. But I can speculate that the impacts on environmental issues may well be positive. Even a 10% reduction in the human population of the energy and resource consuming societies will have a significant impact. But the most significant short term effect may be a sudden and dramatic drop in air travel. The results of the empty skies in the USA after 9/11 were dramatic, and a 'flu' out break may well lead to both restrictions by governments, and a fear of travel by individuals. This would lead to cleaner skies, the collapse of airlines, and possibly long term environmemntal benefits. It would be interesting to hear of any other speculations on the environmental impacts of a 'flu' pandemic.

Monday, 8 August 2005

Daryl Hannah in the Rainforest

Last week I returned from a lightning visit to the forests of Belize. The visit was sponsored by Jaguar Cars, and I was taking some journalists from the UK to see what Programme for Belize (PfB) had achieved over the past 15 years, some of which has been sponsored by Jaguar Cars. And while we were there we were to meet Hollywood film star, Daryl Hannah, and show her the forests. It was with some trepidation I agreed the latter, as Hollywood is not the sort of place that I imagined an enthusiastic conservationist would originate from. But Daryl was a complete surprise. Yes she was glamorous -- but she was also seriously interested in conservation issues. She is actively promoting biodiesel in California, and despite it being the worst time of the year for visiting the forests (alive with mosquitoes, chiggers, no-seeums, ants and everything else that bites) couldn't spend enough time in the field, joining us on night spotlighting expeditions, and searching for crocodiles on the lagoon at night.

Simon Barnes, of The Times, published a write-up of the visit last Saturday -- with a (slight) gloat over the fact that he and David Tomlinson (Countrylife writer) both saw a jaguar, and despite nearly 20 visits, I have failed to see one so far. And we all saw Ocellated Turkeys, Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, Toucans, humming birds and plenty of other wildlife.

But the main purpose of our visit was to raise awareness of the work of Programme for Belize and encourage visitors from Europe to go and see for themselves. After 9/11 tourism from the USA took a nosedive, and although much improved, is still not back to former levels. The field station at La Milpa, in the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA) owned and managed by our local partners, the PfB has excellent facilities for school groups, and it also has some basic, but comfortable 'cabanas' where tourists can stay. It is the income from these activities that provides the funding for long-term management of the RBCMA.

Basic the accommodation may be, But Daryl was delighted with the experience -- not all Hollywood stars want luxury hotels, it was apparent. And if you want to know more about visiting the RBCMA, why not come and visit the World Land Trust's stand at the Bird Fair next week, at Rutland water in the centre of England? On our stand will be representatives from the PfB who can tell you all about it, and even take bookings.