Friday, 30 March 2007

Air Travel and CO2

I have to confess a guilty secret. I travel by low budget airlines from time to time. Both for WLT work, and for pleasure. I have been asked on many occasions how I justify this and these are my justifications.

As far as the WLT is concerned, I only make journeys that are an important part of either our project development or are important for fundraising. And as a charity we have a legal duty to not waste donors money, hence using low cost airlines from time to time.

As a private individual, my personal carbon footprint is all that I will leave on this planet. If this was true of the other 60 million humans living in Britain today, the hopes for the future would be considerably brighter. But unfortunately, the majority choose to reproduce themselves, which unless every couple restricted themselves to only one or two offspring, will lead to a continuing trail of carbon footprints marching into the far horizon of the future. Over 30 years ago I decided that the human population was the biggest threat to the planet -- and it's a far bigger threat now. I certainly try and 'do my bit' for the environment, but quite honestly I am often very cynical about this. Switching of a few lights, using a slightly more fuel efficient car, cycling, recycling paper is all small fry compared to the problems being engendered by rising human populations and rising standards of living. There is a finite amount of oil, but an almost infinite demand for it. The dynamic Asian tiger economies are going to take every bit of energy the West does not want. Even North Korea has agreed to close down its nuclear power, if the rest of the world will supply it with (presumably) fossil energy. Meanwhile in Britain, power companies are building turbines growing biofuels and other sources of so-called renewable energy as fast as they can -- not so much to replace fossil fuels, but to ensure they can keep up with increasing demands for energy.

While I totally disagree with the whining and whingeing of Ryan Air about tax increases, there is no evidence it will actually benefit the environment. It is time everyone faced up to the fact that we in the 'developed' world are all paying far too little in taxes, if we want to live in a world that is not going to be destroyed by competition to produce the cheapest possible food and the cheapest possible commodities. We need to expect to be taxed to improve the quality of life, and environmental protection. But we also need to face the very real threat that our expanding populations, and our ever increasing consumerism, pose.

So what can we do?
A] Camapaign for politicians to take the human population issue seriously.I hope that readers of this blog, many of whom are involved with population issues will provide some links, for a new page we are considering for our website, and link to us.
B] Save as much of the planet for the future as possible. And remember 20% of carbon emissions come from deforestation. And that's where the WLT comes in.

The World Land Trust may be small, but we are doing something. If everyone who could afford to did what our supporters have already done, the planet might be a lot better off in the future.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

What have Jam doughnuts, Global Warming and Tourists got in Common?

"Ich bin ein Berliner" was famously said by President Kennedy during the cold War, while visiting the then divided city. Which of course really meant he identified with the people of Berlin. But was much the same as saying "I am a sausage" (Frankfurter) or "I'm a Big Mac" (Hamburger). Because to a German, a Berliner is also a jam doughnut. Tricky thing language, you have to be so careful with these fine nuances.

IUCN -- the International Union for Conservation of Nature is, as its name suggests international, and works in many languages. Always a problem. And no doubt some of these problems arise from the fact that many people are not working in their first language. And this does give rise to some humour. I recently received a CD entitled "Climate Change Resource Kit". Innocuous enough, though not too clear what it was for. But the sub-text made it quite clear it was an "Information pack for planners and practitioners of Climate Change". Ho, ho, ho. For those of you reading this who are not native English speakers, I should explain that this implies it is aimed at people intending to make climate change happen, and those who are actually making it happen. An even more entertaining title was "Hunting Tourists in Tanzania"; a title which came to mind when our web manager brought back the attached snap from Barcelona last week.

Why call it Tourist Season if we can't shoot them: A snap shot from Barcelona

Makes a change from my usual rants.....

But there is a more serious aspect to getting language absolutely correct. Anyone who is familiar with the history of CITES will know the problems of the translations of "bred in captivity", which was translated into the equivalent of "raised in captivity" in the French version (elevé) -- this had profound effects on the interpretation as to whether or not turtle eggs could be gathered in the wild.

Monday, 19 March 2007

The Next David Attenborough

There has been talk in the media, and dinner table talk, of 'Who will be the 'next' David Attenborough?' It started when Sir David announced he was making his last TV series. But to me this is a preposterous proposition. It is actually quite impossible for anyone to replace Sir David. And I am not being sycophantic or hagiographic. It is simply impossible, as anyone who has read David's recent autobiography would realise. [see "Life on Air"].

For the last 10 years David has been largely known to the public as a TV presenter. But in actual fact he was considerably more than a presenter. Probably more than any other single living person, David is a TV professional, as well as being a first-rate naturalist and zoologist. It is his breadth and depth of knowledge of the world of TV that gives him his uniqueness. No one else still actively broadcasting has such an extensive experience, which ranges from going into the field with a camera crew to make the early Zoo Quest series, to being Director of BBC2 and launching colour TV. While David is always the first to acknowledge the contribution of the producers, script-writers, cameramen etc who make up his teams, the reality is that he not only could, but often had done, most of those jobs himself.

My first meeting with David was in 1978 when he returned from making the gorilla sequence for 'Life on Earth', and as a result of that meeting the Mountain Gorilla Project was launched, and has gone on to be a great conservation success. His support for that project, and many subsequent conservation activities has been significant. He put his name behind the launch of the World Land Trust in 1989, and subsequently as Patron of the Trust. His position as a figurehead is a constant source of inspiration to all out Interns and Trainees, as well as all the Staff and Trustees. It is this inspirational ability that is so important.

So let's forget the talk of the 'next David Attenborough', enjoy all his great films and books, and see what happens to wildlife films and TV in the future. One thing is for sure, it will never be the same again. And meanwhile David is continuing to inspire countless thousands of emerging conservationists all over the world.

Are Politicians avoiding the real reasons for climate change?

This was the title of a Press Release, issued by the WLT a few days ago.
And it has received a lot of widespread comment and support.

One of our readers sent the following comment, and asked me to respond:

In view of the article you wrote titled "Are politicians avoiding the real reason for climate change?" you made two very interesting assertions to which i now respond and hope you will do the same: first, the earth is becoming increasingly overpopulated and the second assertion being that the planet is hurtling toward catastrophy as the result of rampant consumption of dinosaur by-products by developed nations. Why , then do the Co2climate change alarmists panic over the scenario? Simply keep going as it is purported to be going and the population so-called explosion will be drastically reversed, will it not; thus the Titanic will be righted.
Dale L. Bohling

Unfortunately I tend to agree with Dale Bohling. Ecological theory (and Gaia theory) both suggest that a new equilibrium will eventually establish itself. And of course there is no justification (particularly if you do not have any religious beliefs) for suggesting that humans have any more right to survive than any other form of life. So perhaps the sooner the human race destroys itself the better for the rest of the planet's inhabitants. However, I cannot really go along with this essentially nihilist point of view. I, as an individual, get enormous enjoyment out of living on the planet, and hope that by helping protect as much as possible, will allow others to get equal enjoyment in the future.

But to continue the analogy of the Titanic, there is the very serious risk, that when the Titanic goes down, not only will all the humans be destroyed, but the resultant oil spillage and other pollution will take with it countless other species.

And the band played on.......

Interestingly, in 1975, when I was first involved in international conservation, the first draft of the World Conservation Strategy was started, with Robert Prescott Allen organising/editing. I recall that I suggested that one important scenario that was not being developed, was the effects of doing nothing, or indeed accellerating the destruction of resources. I don't think this is a viable option, but it is nonetheless a scenario that is worthy of analysis.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

"The Great Global Warming Swindle"

The recent TV programme claiming to debunk all the claims made about global warming is missing the point. First, no one who is interested in the science of anthropogenic (man-induced) climate change, would refer to it as global warming. This is because climate change does not always mean warming. Second,whether or not climate change is occurrring, the human induced factors such as emissions of pollutants, and the use of pesticides, to name but two, are very unlikely to be doing any good; in fact they cause demonstrable harm. But, of course the real issue is simply too many humans consuming far too many of the world's resources in an extremely wasteful manner. While I have no sympathy with climate change denyers (none of us will be around long enough to know whether or not they are right), I would make two, very much more important, points.

First, doing nothing is not an option. If the forecasts of climate change have any anthropogenic basis, we MUST do something, because time is already running out.

Second, the world is clearly in a mess, with thousands of plants and animals becoming extinct, millions of people living in poverty, and resources such as water in increasingly short supply.

With the biomass of humans, domestic livestock and crops far outweighing the carrying capacity of the planet over anything but the extreme short term, one thing we can be fairly certain of, is that disasters will occur on an ever increasing scale, and some of those will be natural -- such as volcanic erruptions and tsunamis, others with be man-made, such as avian 'flu' epidemics, and others will be totally avoidable, but not avaided, such as wars. The mega-ecosystem that is the world, is clearly out of balance, and any biologist knows what happens. There will be massive perturbations, before a new equilibrium is established. Now fashionably called Gaia Theory, it is demonstrable at the micro, macro and mega levels.

It's time we faced a few hard truths. The climate change issue has reached a position where it is clearly irresponsible for anyone who understands what is happening to reproduce. This is for two obvious reasons: First it is the increasing human population, and its insistence on economic growth and consumerism, that is the primary driving force behind the ever increasing demands for energy, and hence CO2 emissions; and second, to bring children into a world, where predictions of the future are far from promising would be irresponsible.

Consequently governments should not just be urging us all to reduce energy, to stop travelling, to recycle etc; they should be urging us all to stop having babies. An unpalatable thought for many people, but nonetheless true. Every new person born into this world, will bring disaster closer.

Monday, 12 March 2007

A picture's worth a thousand words

I didn't think I would be blogging about goats for a while. I had a constructive meeting with Oxfam, who assured me they will revisit the issue and check on what long term strategies are in place, and also check on environmental impact assessments.

However, Christian Aid charge ahead with their ill-thought out campaigns to 'make poverty history' - but the picture says it all.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Why force democracy on the world?

It is not normal for wildlife conservationists to get involved in politics, but deep down, many of us are probably actually highly political. Of course there are the green politicians, but even these often have widely diverging approaches to politics, being united only in their concern for environmental issues.

My political concerns at present centre around the world's obsession with so-called democracy, and the west's enthusiasm for ramming it down the throats of all and sundry. The USA (aided and abetted by Britain) is forcing countries that have manged to govern themselves for many centuries, to adopt American-style democracy. In reality this is of course currently a plutocracy, a country run by the excessively rich for the benefit of the rich, with scant regard for environmental issues, particularly if environmental issues stand in the path of profit. I have seen first hand the devastation caused by the American bombing by proxy of southern Lebanon. And I have seen the results of the support of right wing governments in many parts of Central and South America. The problem is that there is democracy and there is democracy. Swedish, French, and New Zealand democracies are all very different to each other and to US democracy. The US likes democracies, such as the Mexican democracy, that bow to America, but tries to topple those of Venezuela, that don't like America. And none of this is good for the environment.

Unlike bar-politicians, I don't have a ready solution. But I do know that US style democracy will not help the solve the problems of the world. And certainly will not help the natural environment or biodiversity.