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.


  1. Yes, it's difficult to see how producing energy with reduced emissions will mean that the overall emissions will be reduced. People will just go on wanting more and more energy, and will use the new cleaner systems together with all the existing systems.

    The only hope, is that energy generation methods will be found that are so much cheaper and cleaner, that no one will want to use anything else.

    The idea of growing fuel crops is a particularly nasty prospect, as the only way to reform the atmosphere, is to grow as much as possible and to burn as little as possible.

    But when ?

  2. I still believe that by using these cleaner burning systems we will overall reduce the omissions of CO2, everybit counts in the long run and we need all the help we can get from these people that believe their is a better alternative out there. People will not just go spend their money on other things that are produced by oil products, maybe we would like to take that money and invest it in the World Land Trust Fund. If some people are preserving and some people are buying these hybrid cars and recycling whatever they can that we can ultimetly work as a community in whole that focuses on many things and not just one. Our goals would be accomplished just as fast. It is counter reproductive to say the small measures of conserving and preserving are not worthy enough of praise.