Monday, 18 December 2006

A thought for Christmas

Fair Trade is now firmly established in the supermarkets. But as always caveat emptor. Fair to whom? I see fair trade honey from all over the world, but none from English producers. This is hardly fair on all the English bee-keepers. And what about all the transportation costs of Guatemalan or Mexican honey? The same applies to organic foods, of course. It's great that the supermarkets are stacked with organic foods, but not so great that many of them come with airmiles attached.

I am of course well-known for my cynicism concerning many aspects of the green economy. Bio fuels, vegetarianism, soya beans, dolphin-friendly tuna and many other issues -- which at first sight seem A GOOD THING -- all have their down side. The issue which never seems to be addressed is that we all want too much. Too much food, too much travel, too much stuff. And the free market economy needs to sell us more and more, and needs an increasing population to sell it to. Malthus got it right, but some of the timescales have been wrongly calculated.

A few nights ago, I watched an old Sci-Fi Classic: Soylent Green. Although made back in 1973, and some of the visions of life in the 2020s seem a little naive, there is a lot of very thought provoking content to it. A world being destroyed by overpopulation and global warming.

Unfortunately population and economics are not fields in which I have expertise, and don't feel competent to be involved with campaigning. Saving bits of land is what the WLT is good at, but the human population explosion and its demands on resources has to be the single biggest threat to the future of the planet. If we really care, I believe we should all do something that we feel competent in doing, and we should all lobby for the human population crisis to be taken more seriously. If not fair trade, organic food, carbon balancing, and all these gestures will be just that: gestures.

As the ship went down, the band played on.

Desertification and destruction of fragile habitats

As everyone who reads this blog knows, I have been fairly outspoken criticising the numerous aid charities that promote goats as a solution to poverty in Africa. And this has received very widespread coverage in the news media. Many of the charities concerned defended themselves by claiming they did not actually supply goats, but the money raised just went into a general 'pot', and that this was explained in the small print. However, this does not alter the fact that all the publicity implies that goats are A Good Thing. But the truth is very different, with numbers escalating, and the destruction of fragile arid habitats rife.

The Director of Oxfam (one of the main charities promoting livestock) wrote to the WLT claiming that "Our experience at Oxfam tells us that when charities are seen publicly fighting this does nothing to heighten any organisation's cause, and actually undermines the efforts of the whole sector." I.e. even if you think we are completely wrong and doing something that undermines the work of environmental charities, keep quiet. With all due respect to Oxfam, I believe it is an important issue that should be aired. And so, apparently do large numbers of the public, as well as influential figures such as John Humphrys (see the Daily Mail feature, December 2). In fact, the WLT has seen an enormous surge in its donations as a result of all the publicity. This was not the intention of raising the issue -- but it seems to indicate there is a knowledgable public who are not fooled by gimmicky marketing stunts.

Having brought the subject out into the open, it will be interesting to see what further information will be forthcoming. Oxfam claim to have supplied 200,000 goats -- which have presumably bred and produced lots more goats. My argument is that Africa really does not need another half million or more goats, particularly in the poverty-stricken arid areas, where the ground is too dry to grow crops (which is where an Oxfam spokeswoman told me they were being supplied).

And if all the charities marketing goats, camels, donkeys, chickens etc etc are not really doing so, that really will bring the sector into disrepute. The World Land Trust is proud of the fact that the reserves it helps buy really do exist, and that many of our supporters have been to them and seen them on the ground. And we are always pleased to have people visit them.

Monday, 4 December 2006

Goats not to blame for desertification? Oh yes they are!

Part 1
Last night I attended the launch of the Linnean Tercentenary - along with many of the great and good of the natural hisory and biological world, and it was heartening to hear the support of several eminent naturalists, and in particularly those with Africa and desert experience, for my stance against more goats. It was particularly good to see John Cloudsley-Thompson, now in his mid-80s, doyen of desert biologists - see: Ecology of Desert Environments : A Festschrift for Prof. J.L. Cloudsley Thompson on his 80 Birthday/edited by Ishwar Prakash. Jodhpur, Scientific, 2001, xiii, 471 p., ISBN 81-7233-288-2. This along with many other of John's publications is excellent backgound to the environmental crisis of arid areas.

I was also gratified to see yesterday that we had made it to the pages of Private Eye. Having been a reader of Private Eye since its very first issue, I was not in the least surprised to see their ignorance of the literature concerning desertification - why spoil a good story with accuracy? It's par the for course. What I find interesting, is that the emails and phone calls to the WLT show overwhelming support for our stance. The only critics seem to be those employed by the aid agencies, or those with a vested interest.

Farm Africa have reacted, almost hysterically, to my criticisms of the "goats for Africa" campaigns. However, it appears they, like many of the other charities, have not really understood the nature of my criticism. I have not said that every single goat project funded by every single aid charity is wrong. One of the problems of relying on press reports.

I am sure that some of the charities have done proper Environmental Impact Assessments of their projects (however, I cannot find details of any of these on the internet, and none have been volunteered to me so far). However, reactions from Farm Africa, are bound to be in this vein, since their whole ethos seems to be based around promoting European-style attitudes to livestock farming and production. While this is primarily an ethical issue, there are of course environmental implications as well. But I personally can't help feeling that it's wrong to be exporting these approaches to livestock farming, at a time when there is increasing rejection in the developed world. It smacks of bio-colonialism - Farm Africa even state that the government (of Kenya)is encouraging de-stocking in areas where they are trying to increase stocks. But, as I say, it's a different argument - and perhaps I have misunderstood it all.

My principal criticism, is that the aid charities are marketting goats to the world as a way out of poverty in Africa, without making it very clear, that goats and over-grazing are also one of the major causes of poverty over much of subSaharan Africa. Nor do any of the charities promoting goats explain what happens when the next drought comes along. None of the defenses for promoting goats, put forward by the aid charities, have convinced me that Africa needs more goats. The number of hoofed animals in subSaharan Africa went from around 275 million in 1961 to over 655 million by 2005 (FAO Statistics) -- and the levels of poverty have not decreased - they have escalated.

The map on the UN website showing desertification
shows the problem.

It is interesting/significant that the aid charities involved with promoting goats for Africa, only ever put forward CEOs, fundraisers, agronomists and the like to argue their case - I have yet to hear any conservationists or environmentalists who believe that hundreds of thousands more goats in Africa is a way out of poverty. I would certainly be interested in hearing from any.

Any school kid in Africa surfing the net on his class computer, because of all this high-profile marketting, will be bombarded with information about goats, how easy it is to grow a herd, how they will produce gallons of milk, tonnes of manure, and loads of kids, and how they will solve the problems of rural communities. Do we really want them to believe this?

Goats saga part 2

This is a link to the Farm Africa Press release

And just to put the record straight I have made a few comments below on their claims, in case Private Eye or any other journalists want to follow it through.

Where rainfall is too low to grow crops, it means that the habitat is extremely fragile and liable to desertification when overgrazed, and 65 million hectares of sub-Saharan Africa have been lost to desertification (in the past 50 years), with overgrazing one of the main causes. Increasing the goat population (as well as camels, cattle and sheep) is a disaster; q.e.d.

Farm Africa claim a "backgarden" is .5-2ha. Where? Even 0.5ha is a very big garden, by British standards. In England very few gardens are between 1 and 5 acres, which is the size claimed (1ha = 2.47 acres). Hopefully their other claims are a bit more realistic.

Most goats are kept by pastoralists, who consequently do not usually have that many crop residues. Livestock also requires large amounts of water, particularly if they are producing milk. This is normally a scarce commodity in arid environments.

Camels are particularly destructive, since they can feed on vegetation and live in areas where almost no other grazing animals can survive, and are often kept as symbols of wealth, rather than any utilitarian purpose.

By their own admission goats will cause environmental destruction. The WLT has never claimed that the goats created the arid degraded environments. What I have said is that when introduced into fragile, degraded environments, goats will eat almost anything left that is eatable, and will thus often be the main cause of desertification, which in turn is a major cause of poverty.

It is claimed by Farm Africa that the WLT's views on the destructive nature of goats were exposed as nonesense, but we can find no trace of this exposure. The reverse is true: various UN sponsored websites (FAO, UNEP for example) give extensive data showing the connection between goats and desertification). Furthermore the emails responding to my criticisms earlier in the year were almost unanimous in their support (particularly from those with first hand experience).

Encouraging further expansion of the already vast goat population, to me, shows 'breathtaking' contempt for past knowledge and experiences about the causes of desertification.

I challenge all the charities involved to publish on their websites details of any of the Environmental Impact Assessments of their projects carried out in arid environments, in advance of commencing the projects, so that the environmental community can comment on them. Also a list of where all these projects are implemented, numbers of goats involved etc. One of the problems confronting anyone wanting to research this issue is the lack of transparency in many of the implementing agencies.

Finally I would like to re-iterate my criticism: It is that aid agencies are promoting goats as a solution to poverty in Africa, without making it clear that goats are also recognised as one of the significant causal factors contributing to poverty. I am sure that individual projects do not cause enviromental damage. But I am also sure that anything that encourages the overall growth of the goat population in sub-Saharan Africa, will do more harm than good.

But realistically, no one is going to address the real problem: that the human population far exceeds the carrying capacity of the land. And the human population continues to grow, at an unsustainable rate. And of course this is true not only of sub-Saharan Africa, but many other parts of the world. Search as hard as I can, and on all the websites of all the aid charities, it is nigh on impossible to find projects that address this issue, or even allow people to address it themselves.

The dramatic increase in activity on our website demonstrates there is considerable public interest in these topics. So please do let us have feedback.

Paraguayan success

A quick note, which saves me writing up one of the WLT's latest successes, have a look at this:

After this very useful visit to Paraguay the Guyra Paraguay and the WLT have identified several other critical areas, mostly corridors between existing protected areas. A one-off donation of $20,000 could buy a critical area, creating an unique reserve for endemic and endangered species such a giant anteaters, chaco peccary, chaco seriema, and pumas.

Saturday, 2 December 2006

The Times, Goats and Oxfam

The ongoing saga of criticism of goats and other grazing animals being used in Africa developed a new twist when, according to an article in The Times "some of the aid agencies questioned whether the argumment was more about whose catalogue was most ethical. They pointed out that.... the [World Land] trust offered a chance to preserve an acre of rainforest." Ignoring the fact that the WLT does not actually have a catalogue, I should point out that wildlife, animals and habitat degradation are all areas in which the Trust has expertise. I would also point out that another charity with expertise in animal husbandry is also critical of the goat schemes (Animal Aid).

Land purchase is central to the whole mission of the World Land Trust. Trading in goats, is not central to Oxfam or any other of the aid agencies doing it -- which is one reason why I and others see it as a cynical marketting tool.

It is also worth pointing out that the WLT's offer is very transparent, totally traceable and subject to a proper review and evaluation process, and any developments on the land subject to an EIA. And the projects are all run by competent local NGOs. And we publish on our website details of the location so that anyone can visit the projects if they wish.

Part of the problem with the whole goat issue has been the difficulty finding out any hard facts. This time last year I first wrote to Oxfam, and later on a TV broadcast confronted some of the issues, but they have never come back with any satisfactory responses. For all I know, they may be carrying out effective Environmental Impact Assessments, but when they come out with claims such as the animals being supplied to pastoralist communities, and fed on crop wastes, I do wonder if they know what they are talking about -- since most pastoralist societies do not grow crops, by definition. Of course the issue has now been clouded further, because of the admission by some of the aid charities that the money does not actually go into purchasing goats and cows....

One of my criticisms that has not received any serious coverage, is that putting all this information on the internet, about goats and cattle being a way out of poverty, gives entirely the wrong message to people living in that part of the world. When schoolkids in Nairobi or any other part of subSaharan Africa search the internet -- and millions do -- they will be subjected to a barrage of misinformation that flies in the face of all the research published by the United nations Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as well as the Nairobi-based United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP).

Or do the aid agencies assume that the rest of the world live in ignorance and do not use the internet or mobile phones?

Friday, 1 December 2006

It's not all doom and gloom

My friend Bob suggested I should write something a bit more cheerful for this festive season approaching. Well we have some good news. I have just returned for a series of meetings with our local partners in South America, and we have agreed to help fund the purchase of large tracts of threatened habitats in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. In Paraguay I attended an government reception to mark the official launch of the first Pantanal Reserve in Paraguay, which was initiated with funds from World Land Trust supporters. The Netherlands Committee for IUCN has also provided funds, and in a very enthusiastic speech, His Excellency Sr Castiglione, the Vice-President of Paraguay paid tribute to the individual donors who had made this possible. Similarly at a meeting held in Posadas, the capital of Misiones Province of Argentina, the Minister for the Environment, expressed his enthusiasm for working with the World Land Trust to creat a private nature reserve which will form a corridor between protected areas.

A flying visit to the extreme northwest of Paraguay identified an important area of Dry Chaco -- inhabited by about 10 species of armadillo as well as various Chaco endemics such as the Chacoan peccary. Our Paraguayan partners are now negotiating the purchase of at least 10,000 hectares of this important habitat, which again form a corridor between existing protected areas.

The land purchase prices range between $20 and $300, but at any of these prices (which depend on factors such as accessibility, habitat, rainfall) they are incredible value for money -- a tenth of the price of land in Britain, with perhaps 10 or 100 times as many species.

So that's the good news. The other good news is that you, we, can all do something about it. This year has seen a spectacular growth in the World Land Trust, and we expect that to continue next year, with more and more critical land purchase for conservation. But there is less and less to save, so act NOW.

Monday, 27 November 2006

Milch cows get my goat.

Just after Christmas 2005 I questioned the advisability of goats, cows and camels being marketed by Oxfam and other aid agencies. After all, a quick search of the internet reveals that goats, sheep and other livestock are one of the main causes of habitat degradation and desertification in Africa. The response from the media was rapid, and I appeared on TV and Radio explaining the problem. Oxfam responded, and indeed said they would be contacting me to discuss the issue in depth. However, not only have they continued to market livestock as an ethical Christmas present, but even more organisations have jumped on the bandwagon. This is truly depressing, since it flies in the face of common sense to promote so called solutions to poverty, that in reality encourages beliefs which are entirely erroneous. If you search the internet using Google for "environmental disaster goats" it comes up with 21,300 results. Search the Oxfam website for "population control" and you get three results; search Oxfam for "goats", and 250 results come up. It says it all.

Last year selling goats as a way of alleviating poverty could have been accepted as an error of judgement. This year it can only be seen as cynical exploitation of the public and misguided philanthropy. When I last wrote about this issue, no one wrote and told me I had got it wrong (apart from a few representatives of organisations doing it, who produced no evidence that would remotely alter my opinion. On the other hand, I had a significant number of responses supporting my views, many of them from very well informed persons, with direct experience of the issues concerned.

Having spent best part of a year pondering the issue, I have begun to question the whole ethos of this type of foreign aid and come up with a new name: it's "guilt colonialism". Those living in the rich northern hemisphere feel guilty about the plight of Africa, and salve their consciences by making token donations to alleviate poverty. However, because it is largely done through western aid agencies, a) much of the funding stays in the developed world's economy, and b) because the solutions are often those of the developed world, the poor of Africa become even more aid dependent. If the aid was truly charitable it would be given to local NGOs, to spend as they thought fit, and you wouldn't need armies of aid workers being sent in to "supervise" and "manage".

The World Land Trust sent out another press release recently, and already papers and other media are taking up the issue. While we are not a campaigning organisation, I do think it very important that all agencies are fully aware of the impact that goats and other grazing animals are having on the already fragile habitats where the poorest people in Africa live. In the decades since much of Africa became independent from Colonial rule, the numbers of hoofed animals, south of the Sahara, has gone from about 275 million to over 655 million - at a time when the areas available for grazing have declined dramatically. Unsurprisingly the numbers of wild grazing animals - most of which are much better adapted to fragile habitats - have declined catastrophically.

So, while we are not a campaigning group, it would be a good idea if anyone else who shares my/our fears, makes their views known, if only by adding to this blog.

Friday, 10 November 2006

Statistics to really scare you

China has a rapidly expanding economy, and it is likely to continue to grow. China holds over $323 billion of US debt(Wikipedia, April 2006), and consequently has a huge influence on the US economy. And if China was to have car ownership at the same level of the US there would be over 1 billion cars in China. These would need 99 million barrels of oil a day -- more than the world total production of 88 million.

According to the FAO website in 1962 (the year Silent Spring was published) Brazil had 155 million hectares of agricultural land, but by 2003 another 100 million hectares had been cleared. Worldwide some 600 million hectares had been added to the agricultural lands, mostly in the tropics. That's an area the size of Argentina and India combined. I find this so scary, that it is difficult to believe, but I checked again and it seems to be right. Perhaps someone else can look into this and correct me if I am wrong.

In 1962 there were 996 million head of cattle in the world, by 2002 there were another 362 million. By 2005 there were 1,372,251,000 cattle in the world.

Another statistic: from 1993 to 2003 world production of soya bean increased by 90 million tonnes a year. Wheat production rose from 250 million tonnes in 1962 to 573 million tonnes in 2002, and the yield per hectare more than doubled in that time as well. Banana production trebled from 21 million tonnes a year to over 67 million tonnes

In 1962, in developing parts of Africa there were 183 million sheep and goats; by 2005 as most of developing Africa continues to spiral into poverty there were over 450 million sheep and goats. And bizarrely, developing countries suddenly started producing strawberries -- less than 1 tonne a year until the mid 1960s, and then an ever increasing volume which had reached 214,800 tonnes by 2005.

In the same period the United Kingdom's use of fertilizers had gone up by over 200,000 tonnes a year, but the worldwide usage had gone from 35 million to 147 million tonnes.

All this and more is on the FAO website:

It's really scary stuff, if you have the slightest belief that the world's resources are not infinite. Applying a sort of Gaia theory to all the above statistics, it becomes apparent that it is not only NOT surprising that so many species are going extinct, but it is actually rather surprising that the rate is not a LOT faster.

The inferences that I draw from reading these statistics, and placing them in the context of the wild places I visit, the nature reserves I know in England and other parts of the world, is that we really are teetering on the brink of an abyss. When ecosystem collapse starts it will be truly catastrophic, and when pandemics strike man and his food resources they too will be catastrophic. An inkling of things to come was seen when the threat of avian TB loomed. We can be certain that in the relatively near future, pandemics will sweep human populations. Pandemics could also affect food crops. And if an explosion the size of the Tambora volcanic eruption took place now, the crop failures and subsequent disease and other after effects will be truly devastating. We have absolutely no excuse for complacency, but meanwhile the human population is still careering out of control. It is no good saying that the populations of countries like Britain are more or less stable -- their resource demand are not.

Tuesday, 31 October 2006

The Goat season approaches

Despite my criticisms, and the general failure of aid agencies to address the issues adequately, it seems more and more charities are jumping on the 'goats for Africa' bandwagon.

But before buying a goat for Christmas have a look at

And not only goats. All manner of livestock. Including camels. And this is despite the fact that livestock, particularly cattle and camels are often simply status symbols. And as the website quoted above shows, in areas prone to drought, when a drought comes along, there is wholesale death and destruction of livestock. I am not saying that in some cases livestock are not a good thing in Africa, but in many many cases, goats and other livestock are a cause of poverty, not a solution. It is irresposible for aid agencies to continue to promote them as a solution. Any schoolkid logging on to the internet in Kenya or other parts of Africa will get a very wrong message.

Oxfam claims to have provided 700,000 goats to Africa in the past three years, according to an interview in the Guardian of 18 October. I don't know how many that has now grown to, but using the fact that (according to Oxfam's publicity) the goats are meant to breed, that means there's now an extra million or two goats running around eating everything they can. The Oxfam Unwrapped Team claim, to counter claims that the animals were being bred for slaughter, on their website state that the goats are "not slaughtered for meat" but only used for their milk. But what happens to all the little billy goat kids? Around 50% of the goats will not produce milk.

Other aid charities claim that they are using 'improved' European breeds of cattle and other livestock -- but don't specify how these 'improved' breeds benefit a society which generally measures wealth by numbers, not quality of livestock. In fact all the aid agencies fail to address this fundamental issue -- in most parts of Africa, livestock = wealth. So giving the poorest members of society goats can also severely disrupt the social structures. Like so much of foreign aid it is another form of aid imperialism. Telling people we know what's best for them, and making them aid dependent. Aid has been pouring into Africa for 30 or 40 years or more, and the situation in most places is significantly worse than at the time the colonial era ended in the 1960s. Is there a connection? I certainly think so. I am not against aid per se, but the way it is disbursed is often demonstrably wrong, ineffective and disempowering. I would also argue that it is often financially inefficient -- though this is difficult to ascertain, as it is difficult, if not impossible to disentangle from the accounts of the organisations involved.

And a new book, The White Man's Burden, by William Easterly, a Fellow at the Center for Global Development, argues this case very cogently, according to the reviews I have read -- though I have mot yet been able to get a copy.

To reiterate the figures: Sub Saharan Africa has seen its goat population go from a mere 77,600,000 in 1961 to 211,000,000 by 2005. And Oxfam are helping it grow even faster as a quote from their website shows:

"Oxfam gave me three goats - I did not have any goats at all before. My goats later started to multiply and after two years I gave three goats to my neighbour...At some point I sold 5 goats ... I am now left with 5 goats, of which 2 are also already pregnant." Wilma Mura, a widow in Karika, Sudan

Andrew Tyler of Animal Aid, has published some very cogent arguements against the use of animals in subSaharan Africa, from the welfare point of view, and also pointed out that a newly lactating cow needs about 90 litres of water a day..... Visit his website for more arguments against sending animals to Africa this Christmas.

Monday, 30 October 2006

Climate change suddenly fashionable

Over the past few months suddenly climate change, global warming and carbon emissions have become headline news. Newspapers and magazines are full of it, radio and TV news programmes are choc-a-bloc with it. But to me it is very worrying, because none of them are actually addressing the real problems. Those are population growth and the ever widening wealth gap.

Reducing energy consumption inevitably, in a free market economy, also means reducing expenditure for the consumer. So the crucial question, is what do we spend those savings on? Very often those savings will be spent on something that can actually use more energy than was saved in the first place -- or from a different source. As an example, one could save £50 on an electricity bill (and the energy could even be partly from renewables) and then spend it on going on a three day holiday by air to Majorca. Or buying fresh organic, fair-trade vegetables, flown in from Peru or Kenya. In the developed world we all have too much 'stuff'. Our houses are full of gadgets, we buy new clothes each season (well actually I don't, but many people do). And I make no claims to be greener than anyone else. It is the culture that we have developed over the years, and is virtually inescapable. The reality is that small gestures by individuals really don't have much impact. I am certainly not going to give up my car, or stop flying on holiday. But will certainly vote for a politician who will make it more expensive and more difficult. But unfortunately that's not likely to happen. While politicians are jumping on the carbon bandwagon, they are still encouraging more people to fly to Britain for their holidays. They will still allow cheap imports from China, which are only cheap because the workers are badly paid, and the industries are highly polluting, and do not conform to western H&S standards. I could carry on this rant indefinitely, but the point will no doubt get completely lost.

I see little hope for the future, while governments continue to ignore the fact that the world's human population continues to grow, and standards of living for a minority continue to grow at the expense of the rest. Nearly all governments assume that economies must expand, and that populations must continue to grow. The only conclusion one can come to is that the doom mongers of 25 years ago were only wrong in one respect: they got the timescale wrong. There will be massive problems in the future. Whenever natural disasters occur they will wreak increasing destruction. Epidemics will kill millions in due course, tsunamis will wipe out coastal towns and cities, and if, as I have written many times before, there was an eruption on the scale of Tambora, the loss of crops in the northern hemisphere would cause widespread famine, followed by disease, and undoubtedly wars. It's time the politicians woke up to the fact that climate change, carbon emissions and so on are all symptoms, not the cause of problems.

Thursday, 26 October 2006

Insects and the hot summer, to be followed by a Silent Spring?

This year has seen some wonderful numbers of butterflies. The long hot summer really seems to have benefited them. But this is also worrying because it masks the more serious problem of massive declines of most species. Insects are spiralling and there can be no doubt that extinctions on a local regional and national scale are occurring annually. One only has to drive through the countryside to realise this. Most agricultural land is a biodiversity desert. The average field of barley, beet or wheat has significantly less species diversity that an out-of-town supermarket car park. And there are thousands of acres of crops. I am not suggesting that conservationists should welcome out-of-town supermarkets, but it's a sobering thought.

The lack of diversity is camouflaged by the fact that within the surrounding hedgerows, copses and woodlands an incredible amount of diversity survives. But acre for acre, Britain is mightily impoverished. The only cause for optimism, is that the residual diversity (still declining at an alarming rate) found in these marginal habitats, could recolonise given the chance. And with over 95% of the flower rich meadows gone in Britain, there is certainly plenty of scope for improvement. But very little sign of governments, even in so-called conservation aware countries such as Britain, doing anything serious to stabilise these trends, let alone reverse them.

It is 44 years since Silent Spring was published. And the situation is far more serious. In that time the human population of the planet has more than doubled from 3 Billion to over 6 billion. That is the real environmental crisis. Global warming, loss of biodiversity, declines of insects, are all directly related to this one issue.

Editor's note: John talks about the insect crisis in Where have all our insects gone in the November issue (Volume 24, number 12) of BBC Wildlife Magazine, and in Nature's cruel twist in the Daily Express, 24th October 2006.
Helena (WLT web admin)

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

Down With Sustainable Development

I have, over the years, become increasingly uneasy about the use of the term sustainable development -- trouble is, it is a byword in most conservation funding strategies, and government agencies, the World Bank etc seem to accept it as a sine qua non, that it is an ideal and objective we should all endorse. Now I have become not only uneasy about the use of the term but also its implications. It simply is not realistic. As I have written elsewhere in this blog, it is simply not feasible for the while world to aspire to the standard of living expected in Europe, let alone the USA or somewhere like Dubai.

So I am proposing that wildlife conservationist reject (almost entirely) the use of the term, and replace it with the phrase "sustainable management". This is a difficult enough target to aspire to, but at least it is reasonably realistic. If we can try and manage reserves in a sustainable way, then at least they are unlikely to increase pressure on the environment. And some development will be essential, and of course this must be designed to be as sustainable as possible. But I don't think a wildlife conservationist should ever have as a primary objective "Sustainable Development". It is invariably in direct opposition to the conservation objectives, and best described as a necessary evil. And while I am at it, let's throw out reforestation as an objective for conservationists. Restoration Ecology is what we really mean, and that is the term we should use.

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Captive Breeding endangered species

All over the world zoos use captive breeding of endangered species as one of the justifications for keeping animals in captivity. Personally I do not have any great objections to animals in captivity, provided they are well housed, and kept humanely. I believe that seeing animals in zoos can have very positive educational benefits. I certainly had my love of wildlife greatly encouraged by regular visits to zoos, and by keeping animals myself. But for over a quarter of a century, I have been questioning the validity of captive breeding as a justification for zoos.

During my last visit to India I visited the Madras Crocodile Bank, and here was a clear demonstration of the dilemma that faces those involved in captive breeding. The Crocodile Bank has been so successful in breeding almost all the species it keeps, that most are now separated into single sex enclosures to prevent further breeding. There simply is nowhere else to release them into the wild. Surplus animals are sent to other zoos, and no doubt some of those zoos keeping endangered crocodiles will use them to justify themselves. But clearly there is no need for them to be kept on conservation grounds. What conservation really needs is some more habitat to be purchased and conserved.

One of the areas the WLT is hoping to assist the Wildlife Trust of India is in the purchase of mangroves and regeneration of mangroves in coastal areas. It would be very nice to be able to acquire a large enough area to reintroduce crocodiles -- but somehow I doubt we will be able to. Crocodiles are, unfortunately large predators, and humans often form part of their natural prey, so a very large are of habitat would be needed if they are not to come into conflict with human population. But if someone gave us a couple of hundred thousand pounds or more -- it could be done, as the land is available, and the crocodiles are waiting.

And more to the point, this is one of the reasons the WLT is working closely with the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums -- our Wild Spaces programme will compliment the work of zoos, providing opportunities for in situ conservation.

Friday, 13 October 2006


According to their website "Alcan created the Alcan Prize for Sustainability to recognize outstanding contributions to the goal of economic, environmental, and social sustainability by not-for-profit, non-governmental, and civil society organizations." On the surface this appears a worthy cause, and Chairman of the Adjudication Panel is Dave Runnalls, a widely respected environmentalist. So imagine my surprise when I saw that among the finalists was the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), from Canada. I checked their website to see if these particular Mennonites were trying to change the ways of their brother and sister Mennonites but there was no obvious evidence of that. Now Mennonites are well known as peaceful, rather introsective, deeply religious farmers (the Amish are among the best-known sects). But in places like Belize and Paraguay, they are also known as among the most efficient destroyers of natural habitats. Many of the the lands around the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA) in Belize (which the WLT helped save) were cleared by Mennonites, and they are still actively clearing the Gran Chaco of Paraguay. There is no question that they are efficient farmers, but in terms of wildlife and the natural environment, they are a disaster in many parts of the world.

I emailed both Alcan and Dave Runnals asking how they justified this shortlisting -- but answer came there none..... It would be interesting to know just how many thousands of acres of rainforests and other habitats the Mennonites have destroyed over the years. Does anyone out there in cyberspace have any data? I have no objection to Mennonites farming or buying land -- but why can't they buy existing farmlands, why do they have to destroy the world's last remaining wilderness? And why should such a sect deserve a prize for sustainability? Answers by email or on the usual postcard please.....

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

more about Soya beans and wildlife

July 26, 2006 - By Reuters
SAO PAULO, Brazil - Brazilian soy crushers and exporters will stop buying soybeans grown in the Amazon basin for the time being, industry groups said Monday, bowing to pressure from activist groups trying to preserve the rain forest.

The moratorium, which will last for two years, will apply to soybeans planted as of October 2006 in newly deforested areas of the Amazon, the world's largest rain forest.

I wrote about soya beans in March, and in July I flew along the border between Brazil and Paraguay again, so the report from Reuters came as good news. But it is certainly not enough. All that will happen is that demand for Soya beans will shift to Argentina and Paraguay and other countries. It may not be Amazon rainforests that will be threatened, but Chaco and other equally important habitats (but less glamorous, in the public eye) will be ploughed up and destroyed. As so often is the case, we are missing the main point. The main point is that not only are there too many people, there are too many people in the affluent north, demanding more and more resources -- such as soya beans for cattle feed.

In 1961 Brazil produced just over a quarter of a million metric tonnes of Soya bean, but by 2005 was producing over 50 million metric tonnes. In the same period the US production had gone from 18 million to over 82 million tonnes, and Argentina, which had an insignificant production in 1961, was producing over 38 million tonnes. So the real culprit is the increased demand for Soya. And the real question is why does the world suddenly need so much? Unless the demand for Soya is curtailed more and more lands, such as the Gran Chaco of Paraguay, the Pampas of Argentina, and other relatively arid, fragile habitats will be lost to Soya. The paradoxical fact is that Soya features in so many 'healthy alternative' foods. And if one suggests that Soya may not be environmentally friendly, the response is often 'But I don't eat/drink Soya from Brazil/rainforest areas' - ignoring the fact that this simply shifts the demand, and someone else will still be consuming that Soya. And while the argument that soya is used as cattle feed is a valid criticism, if it is organic soya, it can be used to feed organic cattle. The unpalatable fact is that until we reduce the overall demand for Soya, huge areas of the natural world will continue to be gobbled up. It comes back to the fact that eating locally is the best way of thinking globally, as I wrote back in March.

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Labour party research.......

If you type "Buy Rainforest" into Google, at the top, or near the top, the World Land Trust website pops up. Yet Frank Field has apparently persuaded David Miliband, Secretary for Environment, that what is needed is a new initiative to "promote the idea of a worldwide trust which would allow individuals and companies to buy up chunks of tropical rainforest and save it from destruction" (Guardian, 2 October).

According to the Telegraph (2 Oct)"The plan is the brainchild of Frank Field, the Labour MP and former minister. It appeals to the Prime Minister and Mr Miliband, according to their officials, because it would "capture the imagination of the world" and "bring the international community together".

But both emphasise the idea is at an early stage and admit that there would be "sovereignty issues" involving the government of Brazil, which is home to almost all the Amazon rainforest."

Perhaps someone who knows messrs Miliband or Field could point out that the WLT has been doing just what they propose for 17 years, and are only hampered by lack of funding. And even the sovereignty issues have been sorted by the WLT.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Population and HIV

My friend (but unrelated) Bob Burton sent a comment to one of my blogs, which I think deserves much more careful inspection -- and shouldn't be buried among the responses to past blogs. He wrote:

A recent news report on the G8 meeting said that HIV/AIDS is the top of the agenda. Population control did not appear.

It's odd that the problem was at being discussed 30 years ago. Now that the world population is so much greater and the problems so much more obvious, it has disappeared from debate.

It really is quite bizarre how the population problem has fallen off the edge of the conference table. Many of the problems confronting the environment, and ultimately the survival of the human species, are anthropogenic. And the more humans there are, the bigger the problems become. Mosre wilderness is cleared, more forests are felled, more pollution is created, more CO2 is emmitted, more water is used etc.etc.etc And the greater the risks of pandemics and epidemics. So dealing with HIV/AIDS in isolation from population growth is potentially like pouring petrol on the fuse of the time bomb that has already been lit.

Thursday, 7 September 2006

Why the WLT does not own land

I am often asked why the WLT does not own the land itself, and I think the following news item, goes a long way towards explaining why:

BUENOS AIRES (EFE). A project to expropriate land in the north east of Argentina, which was acquired by a magnate from the United States, Douglas Tompkins, and the Chilean firm Forestal Andina yesterday triggered controversy between those driving and those affected by the plan.

The idea was created by the argentine sub-secretary of Land for Social Habitat, Luis D'Elía, who proposed to expropriate 296,000 hectares in the Esteros de Iberá, a region of marshland in the Corrientes Province, in order to create a national park.

Local people from the area have resorted to the justice system against the decision of Tompkins and Andina to fence off large extensions of land leaving several neighbours with small and practically isolated properties.

A week ago, D'Elía lead a protest made by the affected neighbours, mostly farmers, and broke into the ranch, "El Tránsito", owned by Tompkins.

"If I see again another social route or path wired off by a foreign millionaire who ignores the Argentine laws and who holds in contempt the judgments of the Argentine courts, like Mr Tompkins, we will return to cut wires", D'Elía said yesterday in a declaration given to Radio América de Buenos Aires.

The idea of the official was translated into a project of expropriation that was presented to the Argentine Parliament by Araceli Méndez de Ferreyra, with the endorsement of forty other members of parliament. Sofía Heinonen, environmental adviser of Tompkins projects, said yesterday that "to expropriate is not the way to create a national park" and that it "should be negotiated with the owners" of the land.

"We draw attention to the speed with which this happened, without consultation of the Corrientes Province which is the landlord of these natural resources and who must first cede jurisdiction", she said.

The Esteros de Iberá, one of the principal aquatic reserves in the world, covers an area of 1.3 million hectares of which 700,000 are in private hands.

Tompkins, previously a textiles businessman from New York, has dedicated his time for years to the purchase of large extensions of land for conversion into natural conservation areas through his foundation Land Trust.

In contrast to Tomkins (and other wealthy owners) the WLT simply funds the acquistion, always through a locally controlled and managed NGO. We strongly believe that foreign ownership of such areas is usually counterproductive to the long-term and sustainable conservation objectives. The actual title deeds are vested in the local NGO and all the day to day management is vested in them. The WLT will provide technical support (if asked) and will also encourage international tourism and scientific research when appropriate. We also ensure that we work with local NGOs that will encourage community participation.

This extract was translated in office from an article that can be found at yahoo brazil

Endangered Jaguars

The IUCN Red List continues to list the Jaguar as simply "Near Threatened". Not Vulnerable, not Endangered, simply "Near Threatened". To my mind this makes a mockery of the whole classification of degrees of threat. The species is completely extinct in many countries within its range, and even in those countries where it still exists, it is almost always listed as Endangered or Vulnerable. While there is little statistical data, there is ample anecdotal information, almost all of which points to ongoing declines. So why are conservationists so "conservative"?

Back in the early 1980s I suggested that the African Lion ought to be considered for inclusion in the Red Lists, but was laughed at. In 2004, it was included as Vulnerable. All big cats are incompatible with human populations, which are expanding everywhere. So how can the Jaguar, considered Vulnerable and continuing to decline throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s now be considered only Low Risk/Near Threatened?

To quote the IUCN Red List itself: "Its stronghold is in the rainforest of the Amazon Basin , but it is declining in most other habitats. The Jaguar has been virtually eliminated from much of the drier northern parts of its range, as well as the pampas scrub grasslands of Argentina and throughout Uruguay. The most urgent conservation problem for the Jaguar throughout much of its range is the current intolerance of ranchers. The vulnerability of the Jaguar to persecution is demonstrated by its disappearance in the mid-1900s from the southwestern US and northern Mexico".

If its stronghold, the Amazon basin was not disappearing at an alarming rate there might be some justification for IUCN's assessment, but it and the Jaguar are disappearing. By not highlighting the threatened nature of Jaguars, we are fiddling while the Amazon burns.

Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Eating globally

Much as we might all try to Think Globally and Act Locally, sometimes it is not possible. And sometimes it is not even desirable. Supermarkets may not be the best thing for the environment, but they are here to stay, and I along with the overwhelming majority, use them. When using them I try to apply some basic moral principles. I do try and buy mostly organic food, but not at the cost of thousands of airmiles. And perhaps of more doubtful value, I try and support the economies of those countries I have enjoyed visiting. Hence I buy Argentinian and Sicillian wine. When I can find them I buy organic or fair trade bananas from Ecuador or Belize. And organic/shade grown coffee. It is worth reminding onself that not all long distance foods involve airmiles. Bananas and wine are still shipped by sea, at relatively low environmental cost. I won't by wine from the USA and I won't buy Israeli citrus. While I might have political issues with both regimes, this is also because of their environmental records. Israel has sprayed crops and destroyed cave-dwelling bats, while the USA's position on climate change is outrageous. I do not think for one moment that my stance makes one jot of difference. But it does make me feel very slightly better as I go through the check out.

Thursday, 24 August 2006

cows for Africa

A short blog this time. One of the World Land Trust's supporters just sent me this message:

I just looked at Send a Cow website I can accept zero grazing (and poor conditions for some animals) but they now distribute RABBITS!! Think Australia.
Keep up the good work

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

Does charity aid create poverty?

Six months ago I wrote about the problems goats were causing in the third world, particularly Africa. I criticised aid charities for funding goat keeping and encouraging the British public to think of goats (and camels and cattle) as a solution to the problems of poverty in Africa. I pointed out that there was plenty of evidence that they were in fact often the cause of poverty.

The response was huge; almost entirely supporting my contentions. The only people supporting the position of charities such as Oxfam, Farm Africa and Christian Aid, were usually doing it from either purely emotive standpoint, or based on misinformation. But support for my attack on goats was universally well informed, and from scientists, foresters, tropical ecologists and that ilk.

It is truly worrying that, according to Oxfam, one of the five most frequently asked questions is 'How can I buy a goat'. This is scary. To a conservationist or an ecolgist it has the making of a horror movie.

Yet six months on aid charities are still promoting goats and other livestock as a solution to poverty. How short-sighted can you get? And, paradoxically, this is depite criticisms that some organisations are not actually using the money raised in this way on buying goats.

However my investigations into the issues surrounding goats and poverty also led me to look more closely at the aid charities' strategies. And I did not like a lot of what I found. It often seemed patronising, and almost a form of modern imperialism. Selling to underdeveloped countries technological fixes that would make them dependent on further aid or debt to the developed world. Many of the agencies employ significant numbers of field staff. And many of these people are paid at European salary levels, and drive around in 4x4s, living in western style accommodation.

And then there is inappropriate aid. I will give a single example. When travelling in southern India after the tsunami, I saw (and photographed) the fibreglass boats donated by aid charities that had been supplied to replace the wooden fishing boats used by the local populace of poor fishermen. The main beneficiaries were undoubtedly the relatively more prosperous manufacturers of fibre glass boats. Now the fisherman had boats, but they needed an outboard motor and fuel to power them. The relatively primitive, wooden, outrigger sailing boats they had previously used needed neither of these. But no doubt the donors felt they had done really well by providing a more 'modern' alternative.

And then finally, what is meant by poverty?
I sent Oxfam the following on the 7 July:

Please can you let me have a definition of poverty, and an understanding of that is meant by making poverty history. How will it be established when a person or a nation is out of poverty? What are the measures?

A few days later I received a reply. Of sorts. It was the sort of response one comes to expect from BINGOs (Big International Non-Government Organisations). It was a standard response giving a few web addresses, none of which actually answered the question posed. Here is their response:

Thank you for contacting Oxfam recently regarding your research. We are always pleased to hear from people who are interested in the work we do. As we do have limited time and resources unfortunately we are unable to arrange interviews, complete questionnaires or organise visits to projects we support. However, I?m sure you will find the information you need from the resources that are available to you.

We have a fantastic website, which contains an abundance of up to date information about our work. It includes recent policy papers, press releases, newsletters and also development and campaigning information, which I hope will provide you with the information you need for your studies. You can find our website at:

There is also our website for teachers and young people called Cool Planet, which has lots of information about our work and ways you can get involved. Please click on this link to take you there:

We also have a range of published books and journals, covering issues and case studies surrounding development and relief. A number of these are available through our Oxfam Publishing catalogue, which can be viewed on our website at:
If you would like us to send you a copy of the catalogue, then please contact us on 0870 333 2700. You may be able to borrow publications listed in the catalogue through your local library?s inter-library loan service. Alternatively, they can be ordered by credit card, either on-line via our website, or from our distributor, Bournemouth English Book Centre, on 01202

Now the WLT along with many other small charities also gets lots of enquiries, but somehow, we manage to respond to almost all of them. Since 'making poverty history' is a slogan being bandied around with considerable abandon, surely it is not expecting too much for a clear definition to be available? If it is, I certainly could not find it on any of the sites referred to by Oxfam. There were several complex definitions, which left me even more confused, but no simple statement of targets.

So let's ask a few more questions. Do we expect everyone to aspire to the basic standard of living acceptable in England? Clean, hot and cold, running water; flush toilets; free, accessible, primary and secondary education; affordable housing? These do not seem unreasonable targets -- after all many people living in the UK with all of the above are still considered as living in poverty in the UK. But to bring everyone in Africa and Asia to that standard has huge implications for the continents' resources. In fact I would suggest that it would be totally unsustainable. Has anyone thought it through? I suggest not. Not remotely. And meanwhile almost all the aid charities pursue policies that ensure that the fuse on the population bomb gets shorter and shorter, day by day.

One of the problems is that, within the charity sector, it has become almost de rigeur to not criticise other charities. But when another charity is carrying out operations which are apparently undermining the efforts of others, I think it is time to speak out. There is nothing illegal or uncharitable in the activities of the Aid charities, but in my personal view, they are often based on naive strategies, short-term thinking and a lack of understanding of the long-term impacts. They are playing on the emotions of affluent westerners with a guilt complex.

In the 19th and early 20th century missionaries spread all over the world, and one of the first things they did was clothe the 'natives' as their nakedness was an affront to Christian morality. Aid agencies regularly dump second-hand clothes in the third world, which is now creating a demand for 'designer' and fashion goods even among the poorest sectors of society. It's the same evangelical missionary attitude in another guise, ensuring western values are adopted, and markets for western goods are created. Trade not Aid, is a concept that comes nearer to a fairer non-interventionist approach, but most of the agencies only play lip service to it, and international trade is not always the best way forward.

It's a debate that is largely supressed, but I believe should be opened up. However, just as with the goat issue, the charities involved don't want to discuss it because it could have a major impact on their fund-raising capabilities. But a healthy debate may well improve their strategies, and actually achieve something that 40 years of aid to Africa, has so far almost universally failed to achieve -- the actual relief of poverty overall and the ongoing degradation of the environment.

This was a longer meandering than usual; but I believe it is one of the most important issues confronting wildlife, particularly in Africa.

Monday, 21 August 2006

Privatisation of utilities

Following on from blog a few weeks ago, I thought about other one-time nationalised industries. Electricity, gas, coal. I.e. Power supplies. Everyone in the UK is being exhorted to conserve energy by the government (as well as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and every environmentalist under the sun). Public awareness of the issues concerning energy from non-renewable natural resources is now almost certainly higher than at any time in the past. Even awareness about the complexities surrounding so-called renewables such as wind-power are more widely understood.

But call me thick, when energy supplies are privatised, and owned by profit making companies, the companies have primary responsibilities to their shareholders, and they have a legal responsibility to return a profit. In order to make a profit they have to sell energy, and since they are in competition with other companies selling the same or similar products, the principal way they can increase profits is by selling more of their product. They can of course increase 'efficiency' whatever that means, but ultimately, to maintain profits, they have to sell more of the product. Which of course is in direct conflict with the objectives of conserving energy. The same of course applies to petrol and diesel for cars.

The advocates of free markets will of course argue that it's all to do with market share, but I am not convinced. The evidence is surely to be found in trade statistics, and also to be found in the philosophies of economists and politicians. Since most countries seem to be driven by the apparent 'need' for expanding economies, they have also based this concept on the 'need' for expanding populations. Of course the only people who actually need these, are those obsessed with making ever increasing profits (i.e big businesses and politicians controlled by them). For centuries economies were based on the overall majority of businesses being small, and sustainable, with huge groupings of population being largely self-sufficient.

I deduce from this that the only realistic way that a country like Britain is ever going to reduce its demands for energy and other non-renewable resources, yet still maintain its expected standards of living, is to have a declining population. Comments on a postcard, email, etc.

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Water, water everywhere, even in a drought

The heat wave in Britain is bringing to the forefront, again, the issue of water supplies. I have never understood the supposed benefits of privatising Britain's water supply. One of the theoretical arguments in favour of privatisation was that it encouraged competition, and kept prices down. Call me stupid, but I fail to see how that occurs in an industry which has monopolies, and which pays out huge profits to investors instead of ploughing it all back in to its infrastructure. I have absolutely no choice in who I buy my water from. And I can see no earthly reason for conserving it when the profit-motivated company urges me to use less. Why should I not use it to water my garden? If they have not improved the infrastructure and prevented the millions of gallons/litres leaking away, why should my garden suffer? We are made to feel selfish if we do not conserve water, but the only people who will really suffer will be the shareholders, if the water supplies run out, and the companies fail to supply their customers. Unlike petrol or gas, water is a renewable resource, so there is no need for us to feel guilty or profligate if we use lots of it. Millions of gallons are used wastefully by industry, millions of gallons are polluted, so why should the individual feel guilty when watering their vegetable patch? Answers on a postcard., etc.

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

Public versus private transport -- a reasoned response

Last week I ran into an old Friend from my days with Friends of the Earth back in the 1970s. He was the transport campaigner Mick Hamer, and I talked to him about the issues I have raised concerning public transport, and in fact I rather loosely (but apparently more or less correctly) quoted him in an earlier blog. Mick kindly sent me his opinion, which does address some of my concerns, and gives a very logical and rational approach.

I think the bottom line is that a society in which everyone flies or drives is one that is completely unsustainable. One in which people only walk, cycle or use public transport is one that is pretty close to be sustainable--or could be made so. There would be less global warming, less pollution, no new roads and less building on greenfield sites.

Should people be discouraged from flying and driving? Yes. Should people be discouraged from taking trains or buses? This is much more difficult, partly because it is a less important problem than flying and driving and partly because if you want to tackle flying and driving then it makes sense to offer public transport as an alternative.

Hope that useful, Mick

This is a good approach, though I do have to say, that it is biased towards urban-dwellers. It does not really help if you live in low-density rural areas.

Too Much Research and Not Enough Action

I was walking through my library, gathering together some books in order to research my next book, and I noticed how large the section on conservation had grown. A whole shelf, about a metre long on the economics of conservation alone. And similar runs of books on other conservation topics. Looking at all this research made me ponder. It was all good stuff (or much of it was, as far as I could tell), all very interesting. BUT. How much had it all cost? How many hundreds of hours of some of the top brains in the world were used writing all these reports and books.

As I looked down my shelves I realised that this was the tip of an iceberg. Millions and millions, of pounds, dollars and Euros are being poured into all this theoretical research, while hardly anything ends up in real conservation and protection of endangered habitats.

Even the big conservation organisations seem to spend more money on writing reports and organising conferences and sending management teams and consultants around the world than they do on actual conservation. As we enter the second half of the first decade of the 21st century the plight of natural habitats is going critical. Rainforests continue to disappear, oil spills continue, coral reefs die. it is time to ACT. The World Land Trust is tiny compared with all the big international and intergovernmental agencies. But at least we are DOING something, and pro rata it's probably a lot more than most others.

Then a couple of days later I was in a bookshop and noticed that whole of natural history (including conservation) took up a few paltry shelves. Close by the section which embraced reflexology, astrology and a whole host of similar mumbo jumbo was positvely eenormous by comparison. Ditto cooker section, ditto gardening. Depressing?

Monday, 31 July 2006

Environmentally disastrous public transport

Sorry to go on about it, but having recently travelled by 'public transport' to a conference in Angers, in the Loire Valley of France, I have even more disquiet about promoting 'public transport' as being environmentally friendly.

On arrival at Waterloo International I was confronted by a seething mass of travellers, most of who seemed to be en route to DisneyLand Paris. And Yes, the train was full, no doubt enabling the pundits to claim that it was more environmentally friendly than going by car or flying. But as I flashed through the countryside I wondered how many people needed to make the journey, compared with those who were making it simply because it was cheap and easy. In fact, my own decision to go to the conference was to a large extent based on the fact that it was reasonably cheap and easy to do so.

It reinforced my view that 'public' transport may be a social good, but it is not automatically environmentally good. All transport has an element of negative impact on the natural environment. In some cases, those impacts are less than other forms of transport, but in many (most?) cases efficient public transport simply encourages people to travel more, and the cheaper it is the more it is used. But this does not mean that it is environmentally friendly. Paradoxically, air transport has less impact on many terrestrial ecosystems than extensive networks of major roads, for example.

Instead of urging people to use public transport, a good environmentalist should urge people to cut out non-essential journeys. If we all did that, then public transport economics would probably change dramatically, and since most 'public transport' systems are now privatised, it would produce some interesting results. This is because most public transport systems, being privatised, and profit driven, are now to a greater or lesser extent dependent on people making more and more non-essential journeys.

I am not saying don't go to Disneyland, and I am not saying don't make journeys for pleasure. But I am saying don't think that all public transport is environmentally friendly. Train journeys have an impact on the environment -- not perhaps as much as air flights - but an impact nonetheless. They require fossil fuels to power them, and concrete and steel to ride on.

As with so many of my blogs (unfortunately) I am not offering any answers or solutions. I am trying to open up what seem to me complex issues, being treated in very simplistic ways, not only by politicians (who are often simple souls), but also by environmentalists who should know better.

A footnote: What is 'public transport'? Is it transport FOR the public (ie. Virgin trains, Ryanair, or taxis? Or is it transport OWNED BY the public (i.e British Rail, now privatised, British Overseas Airways Corporation, now BA etc)?

Tuesday, 25 July 2006

Lebanese Environmental disaster

The invasion of Lebanon by Israel is not only morally unjustified, it is also having devastating effects on the environment. I had the pleasure of visiting Lebanon only two weeks before the Israelis started bombing it out of existence. It was a beautiful country, and the massive effort that had gone into rebuilding Beirut and other towns was everywhere apparent. The people were clearly optimistic, and a great future lay ahead. The environmental movement -- that had actually not only survived during the dreadful civil war but started to develop -- was blooming. In a week's time the launch of the first really good field guide to birds was being planned. It was an Arabic translation of Richard Porter's Field Guide to the Birds of the Middle East. A consortium of wildlife organisations (including the World Land Trust) had got together to fund the publication because it is well known that one of the best ways of stimulating interest in wildlife and wildlife conservation is make high quality field guides available. The number of birdwatchers in the Lebanon and other countries in the Middle East is still small, but growing, and this book will give impetus and fire their enthusiasm.

But now everything has been set back by Israel's aggression in the region. An animal rescue centre I visited is having problems because the bombing has caused food prices to escalate. No one knows where the next bombs will fall. Innocent civilians are the main casualty, but the country's infrastructure is being completely torn apart. I had been extolling the beauties of the montane flora to botanist friends -- there was a huge potential for ecotourism -- all shattered when Israeli bombs tore into the international airport. And the international powers, such as Britain and the US, so quick to interfere when oil supplies are involved are standing by and watching, to all intents and purposes silent.

Thursday, 13 July 2006

Fair Trade organic coffee that also saves rainforests

My blog today is a blatant sales pitch for an excellent organic, fair trade coffee.
Earlier this year the World Land trust entered into a sponsorship agreement with Miko Coffee, which will help save some large areas of rainforest in south America. Miko Coffee were developing a new fairtrade brand, which has now been launched as Puro [see:]. Miko realised that there was an increasing demand for fair trade coffee, and they also realised that since most fair trade coffee was also organic, that many of its potential customers would be interested in conserving the natural environment. And hence the link with the World Land Trust. The Puro Coffee brand is sourced from growers in the Tambopata Valley of Peru -- an area in the Amazon watershed and well-known for its wildlife importance. Consequently protecting remaining forests and linking that protection with local coffee growers will be a priority for the WLT.

But readers of this blog can also help -- if they know of any offices, students' unions, businesses large or small, clubs, theatres, restaurants ete etc., that would like to sell a high quality fair trade organic coffee, they should refer them to the Puro website. The World Land Trust receives a royalty on all the coffee sold. And it really is an excellent tasting coffee, as the staff were able to sample this morning. Our local Miko Coffee marketting manager arrived in the WLT offices and intalled a small table top coffeee machine -- that grinds fresh coffee beans as it makes the coffee. The coffee is available throught most of Europe, as well as in Britain. And it will also help save rainforests.

Swifts swallows and martins

It's that time of the year when the swifts hurtle around Halesworth in their mad, dashing screaming parties. We're in the midst of a hot, sunny spell and it's been a good summer for swifts. In a cold wet summer, swifts have the ability to go into a semi-torpid stae, and often their breeding success drops to zero. This is not a serious problem for swifts as they are exceptionally long-lived for a small bird -- perhaps living up to 20 years. But despite the warm sunny weather, insects are far from abundant, and swallows and martins seem to be continuing to decline, along with other binsectivorous birds. Last year a pair of spotted flycatchers that nested under the eaves of our house as far back as anyone in the neighbourhood could remember, failed to return. And they did not come this year.

Insects seem to be in some sort of free-fall decline, with most of the specialist organisations, dealing with dragonflies, butterflies and other groups reporting more and more species as disappearing. Local success stories with a few spectacular butterflies obscure the fact that huge numbers of insect species are disappearing. And more worrying is the fact that the total biomass also seems to be declining.

When I grew up in London in the 1940s and 1950s flies were everywhere in summer. Now it is possible to sit in a street in London (and even the suburbs) eating a meal, and not see a single fly. It is a miracle that there are any house martins and swallows left.

Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Conservationist Denies Climate Change is a Problem

An interesting headline if it were true. But while I would not dispute that climate change is a major problem confronting the planet, I would suggest that it is not the most important issue, by a long way. The most important issue is that which is the cause of climate change. And that is the overuse of non-renewable resources, which in turn is totally dependent on the human population of the planet, which is still growing and totally out of control.

Politicians seem to have a knack of always sidestepping the real issues, and there is always the worry that virtually all politicians and economies are committed to growth. However, economic growth does not have to be connected to population growth.

In fact sustainable economic growth is probably only achievable in a country like Great Britain if there is negative population growth. All these issues would have been apparent in the boom and bust economies of the historical past, where populations exploded, then were devastated by plagues and disasters. But with the globalisation of world economies these ups and downs have been largely displaced from the developed world. But this is almost certainly only a temporary respite. Famines and economic depression have plagued Africa for the past half century, and the gap between rich and poor has widened all over the world. And no amount of foreign aid is going to revive Africa, despite the pledges of politicians and rock stars.

Avian 'flu set alarm bells ringing, probably rightly so. Because while the likelihood of avian 'flu transferring to humans is low, it is equally true to say that the probability of a major pandemic disease sweeping the world in the near future is extremely high. Just as it is not impossible that another natural disaster of the scale of the erruption of Tambora over a century and a half ago, would probably lead to widespread famine and disease even in the developed world. The 2004 tsunami showed what a relatively small natural disaster can do -- it was only a fraction of the scale of disasters that have occurred within historic times. The erruptions of Pompei, Krakatoa, the earthquakes of Lisbon and San Francisco would all cause incomparable damage if they occurred tomorrow, largely because the human populations they will affect are so much larger.

Until politicians place population control on the same footing, with the same level of funding as the so-called war against terror, they are doing something considerably worse than fiddling while Rome burns. And the devastation to human life is potentially incomparably more serious than any terrorist attack.

Thursday, 29 June 2006

Peer review and good science

One of the great benefits of the internet, it that it can promote openess and transparency. A good example of this is in the field of scientific publications. It has been a fundamental of scientific practice that peer reviewed papers are an essential part of the process. But numerous questions remain unanswered. In particular, confidential peer review means that someone with ulterior motives can damn a paper, without the author knowing who is blocking it. It also means that plagiarism is possible. I have known of cases of both occurring to colleagues. [Fortunately I am not a scientist, and not bothered by peer reviews]. When I have asked why no one makes a fuss, the response is generally that there is no point. In fact it is slightly worse -- most scientists are scared of making a fuss about anonymous reviewers in case they happen to be more senior acadmemics, who may block promotion, election to the Royal Society or some similar issue.

Initiatives such as the Public Library of Science (PLOS) are to be particularly welcomed, as although still subject to some of the constraints of peer review, certainly promote more transparency. And, more importantly, it allows access to anyone with a computer -- breaking some of the monopolies held by very expensive journals, which make information virtually inaccessible to anyone outside academia in the developed world.

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Pulling down the Commonwealth Institute

I read in a newspaper that there are proposals to demolish the Commonwealth Institute in London. An outcry has gone up, because it is a Grade 2 Listed Building -- i.e. part of England's heritage.

It is a relatively modern book built after WWII, and I have no real interest in arguing the pros or cons of its preservation. But the building has no real function any more, and its architecture was designed to be modernist and functional. It will doubtless cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to preserve it (if not millions). And this set me thinking. What would be wrong with demolishing it? Plans could be preserved, and if in the future someone really wanted it back, it could be rebuilt. And that's the difference between human artifacts and endangered species.

Even if Michelangelo's statue of David was totally destroyed, there are sufficient numbers of plaster casts and copies for a replica to be made that almost no living person would be able to distinguish from the original. In fact the whole art world is littered with fakes and forgeries that most experts cannot detect. But whereas a man-made piece of art will sell in excess of a million dollars, and thousands of people regularly part with hundreds of thousands of dollars for mere scribbles and scrawls, and some people even pay hundreds of dollars, pound or Euros for a plastic disc simply because it has the signature of a pop star scrawled across it, raising money to save priceless, irreplaceable natural places and endangered species is a different matter.

Somehow, I don't think we have our priorities right. When Van Gogh's painting of irises was last sold, it was for nearly $50 million in 1989 (and would possibly fetch over $100 million now); think how much rainforest could be saved, and how many real species with $100,000,000. Certainly at least a million acres, together with an endowment sufficient to protect them for ever. Probably nearly twice as much. Think of all the tens of thousands of species which will be lost, many of them certainly found nowhere else in the world in a few years time, as the rest of the world's forests disappear to satisfy our all devouring 'civilization' with its burdgeoning populations.

Tuesday, 6 June 2006

Stamp out malaria

I have problems with foreign aid programmes. This is in part, because I have travelled fairly extensively, and see the results. It is also because i have been involved in funding projects all over the world for the past 30 years, and seen how ineffective some programmes are.

When I see adverts for aid programmes I am often extremely cynical about the purported claims being made -- in particular the 'make poverty history' campaign. How are we going to make poverty history? Has anyone actually thought it through? Are there enough resources to bring the world's population up to the minimal standards considered out of poverty in the UK? Is there enough water in Africa, for instance?

And then I saw on the London underground an advert for raising funds to wipe out malaria. Superficially, clearly a good thing. No one wants people to be dying of malaria. But what are the implications of wiping out malaria? And more important what is being done about those implications? Since it was an Oxfam advert, I went to their web site and searched on the following: population, birth control, contraception. I then checked a few other similar sites, but nowhere could I find anything suggesting they were spending significant funds, or raising funds to deal with the implications of an exploding population. Giving aid to much of Africa in this way is like building a pollution treatment plant half way down a river, while allowing an unlimited number of industries to open up further upstream, with no controls on their outputs. It is irresponsible.

Tuesday, 30 May 2006

Honours scandal

There has been a lot of fuss in the UK Press recently about the way honours and peerages are distributed. And horror of all horrors, it has even been suggested that money is involved.

I really don't see what all the fuss is about. This sort of selection has been used for a couple of hundred years by nearly all clubs and societies as standard practice. You can't join most clubs or societies unless you pay a subscription. Some clubs and societies are open to anyone who pays the sub, while others have additional qualifications.

A few examples: provided you pay £31 a year you can join the RSPB. If you pay £45 a year, and can show a genuine interest in Natural history, and get two existing members to sign your application, you can become a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, and put FLS after your name. To become a Fellow of the Institute of Biology (and be able to put FIBiol after your name) you need to be able to fill out a complex form demonstrating your professional qualifications and experience (see and then pay £132 a year. All these are transparent and straightforward.

And surely that is where the honours systems fall down -- they are not open, transparent, or straight forward. If getting a peerage required a degree, x years experience, and payment of £500,000 to a good cause, and £500,000 to a political party, there would be no problem, we would all know what was involved; the cost of an OBE, MBE etc would all be pro rata, and some would involve no financial commitment. If a fellowship of the Royal Society required a PhD and 50 published papers and a payment of y thousand pounds, again , I see no problem. But when both systems are limited by numbers, subject to political bias, political correctness, and numerous other unquantifiable, secretive biases, there are bound to be problems. While all honours are currently handed out on the basis of unquantified personal judgements, there is bound to be disquiet, disgruntlement and dissatisfaction.

In fact, when the systems were created they were much more open and transparent. You knew that if you lent a medieval king a few thousand ducats, or killed a few of his enemies, you might get a knighthood or even a dukedom, and when the Royal Society was created, virtually anyone with a reasonable scientific background could become a member (provided they came from the right social background.)

Within the WLT we practice this in a minor way -- anyone can become a Partner, by donating a minimum of £5 a month, and we will name a reserve for a donation of £5000 or more. Yes, it is buying prestige perhaps, but at least it is totally open and transparent.

Thursday, 18 May 2006

The last survivor

I am often asked 'What is the best thing one can do for conservation?' There are lots of practical steps one can do which range from a bit of greenwash, right through to hair-shirt dark green environmentalism, cycling everywhere, never flying, growing your own veg', composting etc etc. But the simplest way of helping assure the future of the world is to not reproduce yourself.

I recently looked at my own family's reproductive abilities. Many years ago I made a personal and very deliberate decision to never reproduce, but it is pure coincidence that the rest of my family has also moved towards extinction. My grandparents had three children, and had they all continued to reproduce at the same rate, there could now be 27 surviving offspring, and a potential 81 in the next generation. However, most of them have not reproduced, there is only my niece surviving, to the generation after me, so instead of 27, there is only one, and possibly her offspring in the following generation. Currently 26 fewer consumers of energy and other resources.

Add up all the resources 81 children in next generation in the developed world will consume in their lifetime, and it is easy to see why reproduction, or lack of it can be the greatest single contribution the individual can make to the future of the planet. Even if I took half a dozen holidays annually to Australia, drove a Chelsea Tractor, and used a Patio heater all summer for the rest of my life, I would still not use anything like the energy that producing future generations does. It's the great unspoken message, and probably politically incorrect to even mention it.

Thursday, 11 May 2006

Researching species to extinction

The is an old adage, that success breeds success. And it certainly appears to be true in the case of the World Land Trust. 2005 was one of the Trust's most successful years for fundraising, with more members of the public supporting us than in any previous year. This has continued into 2006, and in addition, the Trust has been in receipt of several larger donations.

Buying land vs. funding research

It is relatively easy to understand the reasons for this, which in my view are entirely justified. The Trust has been around for over a decade, and now has a proven track record and, is becoming far better known. The fact that several well-known naturalists and conservationists are associated with the Trust certainly enhances its credibility as well. But I think another important factor is that members of the public are increasingly disillusioned with the way that overseas aid appears to being poured into bottomless pits. The World Land Trust projects all have tangible and very obvious results: LAND. Land is acquired, protected and is there for everyone to see. I personally believe that far too many conservation charities waste valuable and limited resources on research. Scientific research is costly, and generally speaking not the highest priority when it becomes to conservation.

The last few decades of the 20th century saw millions of dollars being devoted to research into endangered species. It would be interesting to quantify some of these costs, but even without detail it is possible to make some interesting points. One popular 'theory' at the end of the century was that of 'biodiversity hotspots'. Numerous papers were written, by numerous well-funded scientists, and it was claimed that this research and the analyses would make conservation decisions easier and better. The definitions of endangered species were also refined, and detailed methodologies created.

In developing hotspots and other theories, large numbers of people were involved, mostly academics, many of which have little or no practical experience of implementing conservation. I was reminded of the early nineteenth century when pioneer naturalist and conservationist, Charles Waterton (among others) criticised the "closet naturalists". Those who studied wildlife in the libraries and museums, and barely knew what the living animals looked like.

Important decisions often not scentific

In my experience most conservationists can make perfectly good conservation decisions without the reams of academic papers that have been published. In fact many of those people having to make the decisions don't even have access to the publications. Furthermore, many of the important decisions that really affect conservation are not scientific anyway.

An unfortunate aspect of a lot of this type of research is that it is based on the available data, and in many cases the available data is not adequate, or irrelevant. In the recent case of the land purchase carried out by the WLT and its partner Guyra Paraguay, the most important factors involved were availability of funding, and availability of land for purchase. We can do the science later, without using conservation money.

So don't misinterpret what I am writing, I am not anti-science or scientific research. But I am anti using conservation funding for it. There are plenty of sources of money for scientific research, and in most cases, there are higher priorities for using conservation funds. Clearly I have a bias; I think land acquisition is the top priority. This is to state the obvious: without land, and without wildlife, research becomes purely academic. Interesting, but of very little conservation value. Personally i find much of the research into dodos, giant auks, moas, thylacines absolutely fascinating, and will read papers, and attend conferences -- but I certainly would not waste a single conservation cent on it.

Friday, 5 May 2006

Public transport

Although I have written about it before, I still have not got satisfactory explanations as to why public transport is such a good thing for the environment.

Improving public transport is good for the environment, cheap public transport takes pressure off the environment, or so the mantra goes. However, while a good public transport system may be highly beneficial, socially, its environmental benefits are less clear cut. The problem is that if public transport is cheap and efficient, then more people use it. A good example is Ryan Air. Under any modern day definition, this is public transport, comparable to, say, any of the privatised London bus companies. And because it is cheap and efficient, plenty of people use it. But they mostly use it for journeys they would not otherwise make. The same is true of Eurostar rail travel. Of course there are other issues to do with air pollution and air travel, but the underlying principle is there. And if commuter rail travel is made cheap and efficient, people simply travel further, and live remotely from their place of work. The World Land Trust office is based in rural Suffolk, and this is possible, in part because the rail travel to London (where many important meetings are held) is extremely cheap.

Way back in the 1970s, I think it was transport campaigner Mick Hamer, who told me that as long ago as 1912 the average commute time was about an hour, and that in 1975 it was still about the same -- but people just travelled further -- I may have got the exact figures wrong, but I am sure the principle is right. The train journey to Norwich is now fast and efficient. Consequently there are plenty of people who commute daily to London. While some of the trains are more efficient than private cars, in terms of energy, a half empty train is often far less efficient than a modern energy efficient private car with two passengers. And in any case, the private car is often still needed to get to the public transport network.

In London cheap travel passes giving unlimited access to the underground network mean that people use the system for journeys of one or two stops, instead of walking.

While energy is cheap, we are all going to continue to use too much, and while populations continue to grow, we will continue to have an increasing impact on the environment. Only by having negative population growth can we ever expect to improve the natural environment in the long term. Cheap public transport is not a solution.

Friday, 28 April 2006

Worm tablets

Last weekend I was out in the first warm sunshine gathering llama dung. Now this may sound a trifle odd, but the background is this. My wife and I have about three acres of land, most of which is managed as a garden for wildlife. It is not large enough to be a proper nature reserve, and it has all been recently cultivated. There is a small spinney (with a rookery), and we have vegetable patches, a small orchard and flower gardens. But the largest part is grassland. Unimproved grassland is among the rarest habitats left in England, and consequently we are doing our best to revert two small fields back to something that approximates to an old meadow. Having mown off the nettles and thistles which had become dominant before we purchased the land, we then introduced five sheep to graze. And subsequently three llamas.

The llamas are ideal for grazing meadows as one of the problems of improved grassland is that it is nutrient rich, with grasses dominating. In order to revert to a flower rich meadow, the nutrients need to be reduced, and this is where the llamas come in. Unlike sheep, llamas are territorial, and deposit their dung in heaps, communally. This means that the dung can be removed from the field. Not only that, it is nicely pelleted, and can be put straight on the garden.

This is why I was out, last Sunday, collecting llama dung. But while I was collecting it I was aware that there were very few invertebrates crawling around in it -- just the odd earthworm. Surely there should have been maggots of dung flies? Perhaps it was too early in the year, but it did remind me of some reading I had been doing over winter concerning the use of helminthicides, and the massive impact on invertebrates. Helminthicides are used to control worm infestations in sheep and cattle, and most farmers now routinely dose their livestock. But the impact on wildlife is going largely unreported, although as far as I can make out, it could be having an impact comparable to the insecticides of the 1950s. The countryside is losing its flies and other invertebrates at an alarming rate, and because most people don't like flies, little fuss is being made. But the impact on birds and other wildlife is devastating.

Perhaps some of the campaigning groups -- such as Greenpeace and FoE could look into the problem. Much as I would like the WLT to get involved, we simply do not have the resources.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Lighting up the darkness

If governments were really interested in conserving energy they could, to misuse an old expression, kill two birds with one stone and thereby save millions of birds from being killed. How? By making local councils switch off street lighting for most of the night, and controlling the unnecessary use of artificial light. Millions of birds are disorientated by street lights, and billions of insects die beneath them. Over all our major cities there hangs an appalling orange yellow glow of light pollution. The precise amount of environmental damage caused by this pollution is extremely difficult to quantify, but it must be enormous. Of course there are places where night time lighting reduces accidents, but there are plenty of places where there is no obvious benefit of lights being on at 2am. What is the point of governments exhorting us to switch of lights and appliances to save energy, while leaving millions of watts illuminating the night sky?

Anyone who has visited the Estancia la Esperanza in Patagonia will have experienced true darkness, and witnessed the enormity of the Milky Way. To anyone living in most of the industrialised Northern Hemisphere, the enormity of outer space cannot be contemplated. Looking up into the clear Patagonian sky, the millions and millions of stars that constitute the Milky Way becomes mind boggling. Governments have it in their power to limit light pollution -- but no action seems forthcoming.

Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Professional fundraising

Within the charity sector professional fundraisers have become all important, often commanding very high salaries. After all, without funds, charities cannot exist, unless they have been established with significant endowments. For many charities, expenditure on fundraisers has now become a significant part of their budget, and fundraising is now a fully fledged industry with its own professional body, standards and everything that goes with it. However, I think that charity managers would do well to look at their expenditure on professional fund raisers and see if that money might not be spent more effectively in other ways.

I have been working in the charity sector for over 30 years, and only rarely seen professional fundraisers as a cost effective solution. I have from time to time hired professional fund raisers, but in my experience they do little that the organisation could not do itself, and do it much more effectively for lower costs.

The problem for most charities is that they do not distinguish clearly enough between marketting, PR and fundraising. If the PR is effective, and the marketting targetted, then the fundraising follows.

warfare and wildlife, and missionaries

One of the problems that biologists have is reconciling empiricism, with the world we live in, and the ethics of modern society. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sphere of conflict and war. I should make my own position clear. Morally and politically I am a pacifist. However, as a naturalist, I observe animals, and man, as an animal engages in intraspecific competition, which often culminates in warfare. The disturbing thing about this is that based on all the available evidence, this is the natural state of affairs.

Long-term peace, in human populations, is abnormal, rather than normal, and has always been so. At low population densities, relative peace is usually established, depending on the obvious factors such as allocation of resources. But as soon as resources become scarce, and inequalities start to emerge, and populations grow, then warfare, be it tribal or national, starts to become the norm. This is a fact that few politicians seem to recognise, and few aid agencies accept when developing strategies. If warfare and conflict is accepted as being normal behaviour, then it becomes an absolute essential to work on the causes, if one is trying to solve the problems of the results. And this is something I see little or no evidence of aid charities ever even considering. Actually, that is not entirely right, since I did note that Oxfam do have projects relating to land rights in Africa -- probably an essential step forward for preventing environmental degradation, and also one that helps prevent conflict.

On the broader issues, while reflecting on the way relief and other forms of aid are delivered, I am increasingly of the opinion that much of the foreign aid, particularly in Africa is a 21st century form of colonialism. Imposing the values and aspirations of the northern hemisphere on the south. There seems to me to be very little difference between modern aid, and the evangelist missionaries of a century ago. Both destroy traditional cultures, both create dependency, both create markets for imported goods. Just as our grandparents felt good when they gave a few shillings to send missionaries to save their souls, too many people give a few pounds top salve their own consciences, without thinking about the long-term consequences.

I am certainly not saying I know the answers, but I do know that most of the aid does not have long term benefits. Even worse, it is often absolving governments of taking responsibility for their own shortcomings. Because, in reality, most African governments could provide far more money than Live Aid and similar charitable activies raise, if only they stopped buying arms from Britain and other rich countries, and they stopped the outflow of capital. Buying cows for African farmers, and digging more wells is a short term solution that will invariably create long term problems. Sending old clothes, creates a demand for designer labels, which in turn creates another dependency, as well as exporting capital to the northern hemisphere.

One of the problems concerning aid is that it is extremely difficult to get honest evaluations. All donor agencies, be they government, intergovernmental, or NGOs always tend to write up projects as successes. If all the millions of dollars, pounds and euros spent on aid have financed so many successful projects, how come Africa is in such a mess?