Friday, 25 November 2005

Getting my goat

Put your head around these statistics. In 1965, at a time when states were becoming independent, there were some 95 million goats in the developing countries of Africa (FAO statistics), and relatively little poverty. By 2004 , with poverty widespread, there were some 225 million goats; that's nearly two and a half times as many. Is there a connection? And if so why are Oxfam, Farm Africa and other charities suggesting increasing the goat population?

In fact the increase is not uniform, and in some countries the goat population has actually declined. But a detailed look shows that those countries that have seen the largest increases in goats are also among those where poverty is rife. Zimbabwe's rose from 700,000 to nearly 3 million, Sudan from 6.8 million to a massive 42 million. And in Mauritania, which is one of the countries least suitable for massive goat populations, the goat population has doubled from 2.7 to 5.6 million. A quick glance at any other statistics shows that desertification increased, human populations increased, and in general it would be safe to say that quality of life decreased for large numbers of people.

Conservationists have known for as far back as I can remember (and that's over 50 years) that goats are a major cause of environmental degradation, particularly in arid climates. So why are charities advocating and subsidising a massive increase in an already disastrously high goat population? It is surely an extreme example of a short-term, quick-fix, to make a load of donors feel good for Xmas, but funding a long term environmental disaster which is looming around the corner.

I quote the text from Oxfam:
No if's or butts a goat is a great gift. Even the kids can get involved. You start with one and end up with a herd. They can then be sold to raise cash for school fees, or tools and start to reduce poverty. Best of all, the first female kid is given to another family and the process starts all over again. So why not invest in a goat?
How this gift helps
"As for the goats we received from Oxfam...I consider them a gift from the sky. Giving animals to people like us is very important. It gave me confidence and increased my family'’s security because we now had assets." Aiche Mint Imizine, Mauritania

Nowhere on the site is any indication as to what these goats will feed on. Or when this boom in goats will be halted. YOU START WITH ONE AND END UP WITH A HERD!

And you start with a fragile ecosystem in subsahelian Africa and end up with a desert.

I would emphasise, this is a personal opinion, but I have heard so many friends and colleagues express horror at the idea of even more goats in Africa, felt I had to write something.

Finally, I recommend that my readers also go to the Shell Foundation website, and read Kurt Hoffman's writings.

Monday, 14 November 2005

Conserving energy, biofuels and other myths

At long last some serious, sensible questions are being asked. In an earlier blog, the Chairman of the World Land Trust, Prof. Renton Righelato pointed out some of the problems engendered by biofuels - in particular the areas that would be needed to be cleared of agricultural production, or of forest. However, more recently I have been pondering the issues surrounding reduction in carbon emissions.

In its simplest form emissions reduction is being 'sold' to the public. Cut down on petrol consumption, save energy by switching off computers, TVs etc. This all appears to make sense. Switch to 'green', renewable energy, from hydro electricity, wind power, solar, etc. Again it appears to make sense. But does it really add up? Is there any evidence that the overall consumption of fossil fuels has declined anywhere in the world as a result of emissions reductions? And is there anywhere in the world where energy consumption per capita is declining? Or any country where total energy consumption is declining?

The facts are surely as follows: If we save energy, we generally save money. And the money we save is almost inevitably spent on something that consumes energy. If we generate renewable energy there are often enormous environmental impacts, such as the flooding of valleys and the building of industrial complexes for wind generation. And finally, however much the so-called developed world reduces emissions, the use of energy in countries such as India and China will continue to rise. In other words, the current proposals for emissions' reduction and the use of renewable energy will not have any significant effect on climate change, as the current policies do not actually encourage redeployment from once source to another, and from one country to another. The real issue that needs addressing, and is being steadfastedly ignored by Blair, Bush and other world leaders, is that of the expanding human population. I personally feel powerless to do anything about this issue (other than having not propagated myself), but there is one thing that all of us can do, and that is help preserve what little is left of the natural habitats on the planet.

I use the word preserve advisedly, since from the mid-1950s onwards the word conservation has steadily eroded the use of preservation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) was founded as the International Union for the PRESERVATION of Nature. Fauna and Flora International was once the Fauna and Flora PRESERVATION Society; BirdLife International was once the International Council for the PRESERVATION of Birds (ICBP). By the mid-1970s it was increasingly fashionable to ally conservation with sustainable use, development and ultimately exploitation. I believe it is time to realise that what is needed is a lot more PRESERVATION. Now, preservation need not be incompatible with preservation. Sustainable development is possible alongside preservation. That is precisely what is being demonstrated by the World Land Trust partners, in projects part-funded by the WLT. But key to all these projects, is the PRESERVATION of large tracts of land. The preservation and protection of the land is paramount. Having achieved that, then sustainable development can be considered. AND, to return to the beginning, with 20% of carbon released into the atmosphere coming from the destruction of forests and other natural habitats, preserving as much as possible, is the surest, cheapest and most efficient way of combating global climate change. And on top of that, it also preserves and protects biodiversity, and species richness.