Thursday, 10 January 2008

Threats to Woodlark Island

Kelly Jacobs, the WLT's new Education and Training Officer sent me the following, which I thought I would share with my readers:

I was shocked and saddened to hear the news that 70% of the rainforest on a single small island is to be destroyed for palm oil plantation.

The government of Papua New Guinea has granted a permit to Vitroplant Ltd., a Malaysian biofuel company, to convert 60,000 hectares of the 80,000 hectare Woodlark Island into palm oil plantation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the villagers inhabiting the island were largely unaware of the project until after its approval. Although they oppose the development they feel helpless against a giant corporation. Short term benefits of improved infrastructure and jobs are far outweighed by the massive impact this development will have on the culture and lifestyles of the 6,000 islanders.

I can't help feeling angry at the low regard in which the government holds the islander's claims to the land. The local culture of gardening, low impact cultivation, hunting and fishing will eventually be devastated by, not only the initial deforestation but also, the continuing environmental impact of monoculture plantations on the biodiversity and likely ongoing pollution to the land, water supplies and coral reefs surrounding the island.

With at least 20 endemic species found on the island, ranging from the Woodlark Cuscus to damselflies, it is likely that the deforestation and ensuing pollution of the habitat that will arise from the plantations will result in the endangerment and possibly extinction of certain species.

Dr Chris Norris, a zoologist and palaeontologist, and Dr Kristopher Helgen, a mammalogist, have both commented on the strong possibility that there are more endemic plants and animals yet to be named, described or even discovered. If the clearance of 70% of the island for monoculture palm oil trees goes ahead, these species could go extinct without ever being discovered. In this enlightened age we all feel not only an emotional connection to threatened habitats and wildlife, but also share the knowledge that once a species is extinct it is gone forever and once a forest has been cleared it can never be restored exactly (and the release of carbon, with the forest being felled, cannot be 'undone').

100 of the 6,000 Woodlark Islanders travelled to the capital of Milne Bay Province, Alotau, to protest against the biofuel industry taking precedence over native rights. But this disregard for local communities is by no means a one off. In January 2008 the news came that a Penan chieftain who long campaigned against logging in Borneo had been found dead, believed to have been killed by loggers - and he wasn't the first (
Suddenly it seems a much bigger issue than saving a single, though highly significant, island. It seems to me that the freedoms we enjoy in our comparably cosy lives are such that the people living in rainforests and trying to protect them can never imagine. No wonder they are calling for international aid and awareness raising. Threatened and bullied by giant corporations that are inevitably headed by wealthy developers these people on the front line will eventually be cowed into submission and all we will do from afar is lament the loss of the forests and wildlife.

We shouldn't think that there is nothing that we can do and just shrug our shoulders. There are governments to write to, petitions to sign and that age old adage of 'voting with your feet' to employ. Sign the Earth Action petition to the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea and add your voice to the more than 2,600 others from 71 countries for saving Woodlark Island. It takes less than 5 minutes; surely you can spare that, sat in your chair at your computer? I'm not holding a gun to your head, beating you with a stick or threatening to run you down with an excavator. Put yourself on the front line for a moment - I bet in your head, you run back home pretty quick!

If, like me, you are outraged by this news, read more about it at and sign a petition to the PNG government at

Thanks Kelly for bringing this to my attention, and I hope some of our readers will respond.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Carbon and Hot Air

Variations on a theme of previous gripes.

Thousands of delegates attended the Conference in Bali, discussing the impact of climate change, carbon sequestration and all that goes with it. An estimated 15,000 people will have taken part in this jamboree -- and if we estimate an average cost of $10,000 per person (which is actually ridiculously low even as an average), then the total (excluding infrastructure costs)is over $150 million for delegates. Now as anyone who supports the World Land Trust knows, that could buy around 1,500,000 hectares of rainforest (that's 150,000 sq kms, or an area bigger than Bulgaria, Iceland, or Greece)

And while politicians wittered on in broadcast after broadcast about reducing emissions they all seem to miss the point that emissions are totally dependent on a free market based around consumerism, and that in turn is linked to expanding economies, in turn based on rapidly growing human populations. And then phrases (or rather oxymorons), like sustainable development are thrown in for good measure, together with wiping out poverty in Africa. Does anyone ever think these things through? If the standard of living in Africa was to be raised to the basic 'poverty' level of Europe, where would the resources come from? How much energy would be needed, and how much water would be needed and where would that even more scarce mineral come from? What would be the global impacts of all the carbon emissions? Before aid agencies tell us they are going to wipe out poverty, perhaps they should develop a 10 year plan, which answers some of these key issues? Personally, I don't believe it is possible, given the accepted rates of human population growth in the region.

Billions of pounds and dollars have been poured into aid schemes, which while they have undoubtedly benefited the economies of the developed world, except on a small scale they have done little or nothing to prevent the descent into poverty of millions, or prevent the spread of civil wars. Of course we don't know what would have happened without these interventions, but it is difficult to see how the situation could be a lot worse.

Conferences on global warming, climate change, and greenhouse gases have a very high risk of being nothing more than hot air, and do little or nothing about the root causes of environmental problems. As far as I am concerned there are two fundamental issues that need addressing: We need to save what little is left of the world's wild places (and all the biodiversity they contain), and we need to curtail the increase in human population.

If we don't, the planet is not threatened, but we all are. Very seriously threatened.