Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Doing Nothing

Over a quarter of a century ago I attended my first big international conference on conservation. It was the IUCN General Assembly in Kinshasa, Zaire. Nothing like as big as the junkets nowadays, but I suppose there were getting on for 1000 delegates present. I recall sitting in the bar one evening and calculating how much it cost to organise a meeting of that scale. An exercises I mentally repeated when I heard that there were around 9000 delegates at a recent international conservation conference. Ignore the carbon foot print, and take a s a rough guesstimate that each delegate for a two-eek conference costs $5000, (in actual costs (air fares, hotel costs and salary -- this will be very much on the low side, and does not take into account opportunity costs, of being there). This could have bought outright somewhere between one and two million acres of rainforest.

But I have digressed already. It was in Kinshasa in 1975, that the World Conservation Strategy was born. And I was part of the whole consultative process. I recall, perhaps rather facetiously, suggesting that the scenario that was missing, when all the various strategies for long term conservation were being put forward, was doing nothing, or even encouraging the over-exploitation of natural resources.

And now a quarter of a century later I wonder if this might not have been good idea.
By slowly conserving natural resources, and eking out what's left, the day of collapse is simply postponed. And when it finally happens, there will be even less of the natural world left. And collapse, as Jared Diamond has eloquently argued, is certainly on the cards. His book of that name should be compulsory reading for all, particularly politicians. While it is certainly over simplistic, and certainly selective in the use of data and history, there is no doubt in my mind that the fundamental messages are correct. In relative terms, highly developed, highly sophisticated civilizations have collapsed, in many different parts of the world, and for different combinations of reasons. There is absolutely no reason to assume that the current oil/energy-dependent Americano/Euro-centric civilizations will be able to survive in the long term, or even the relatively short-term. It remains to be seen if it will be the direct results of climate change, the spread of pandemics or warfare -- all of which have been the causes of collapse both historically and prehistorically -- which will cause the collapse of the human population. But one thing I am personally sure of, is that collapse will come -- the planet cannot support a single species biomass the size of the human biomass indefinitely.

Meanwhile despite all the talk about climate change, virtually nothing of any significance is being done about the underlying cause. Too many people, with expectations of a totally unsustainable life-styles.

But perhaps a few more articles in the US Press like this one may make politicians take note: http://www.slate.com/id/2173458/

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