Nature Blog Network Future Earth: May 2008

Friday, 30 May 2008

£40 billion? Going...... going.....

Stern has done it for climate change, can "TEEB" (The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity") review, do it for biological diversity? Launched at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meetings in Bonn this week, TEEB demonstrates that the ongoing loss of ecosystems and biodiversity is costing the planet £40 billion a year - hitting the poorest hardest of all.

What do we need to do? Mostly the same things that will also reduce the speed of climate change (leaving aside the complexities of biofuels). Use less energy, consume (much) less per capita, waste less and conserve the natural resources we have. All of us. Will we?

One of the first crises to bite, and that might make us sit up and take notice, is the one that has been lurking unseen beneath the surface of the ocean - o
verfishing. The TEEB review demonstrates how all of the world's fisheries are likely to collapse within 50 years if current trends are not reversed. A billion people rely on fish protein. A few weeks ago I came across these two fishermen on the edge of the Java sea, picking miniscule remnants of the evening's meagre catch out of their precious nets. The sea from which they feed their families was letting them down - they were the "small guys" for whom the declining stocks meant immediate hunger and no prospects for their children. Thats a powerful fermentor of discontent spreading around the coastlines of the world.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Personal plastic

Personal carbon might be logged on a personal plastic card and swiped at the point of purchase. More plastic in use around the planet. Could it be made from recycled plastic waste from Arjay's household - here's a months supply, and thats despite an effort to cut down, thinking of addled albatross chicks. Not as easy to recycle as we might like to think, these pernicious, persistent polymers proliferating prettily around the planet.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Personal Carbon

Personal carbon trading - shelved on May 8th, brought back off the shelf before it could even gather dust on May 27th. Is this rapid return to prominence because it is a really good idea, despite its dishing by Defra, or to distract from political difficulty at the top? Cynacism aside, what do we think of it? Arjay is in two minds...

The negative one says it will be absolutely unworkable, absorb a host of effort on bureaucracy that could be more usuefully applied to beneficial activity, focus too heavily on quotas and distract attention from reducing use overall. Those who have experienced Government running a rationing scheme of any kind (my parents in wartime for example) knows it will lead to abuse and illegality too.

But the positve one wonders whether it will be worthwhile whatever the problems as a tool for generating awareness of the issues and behavioural change at the individual level. Spreading around the world, might it turn this row of motorbikes snapped recently in Indonesia back to a row of bicyles before they become a row of cars?

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

International Day of Biodiversity 2008

Escaped your notice that Thursday 22nd May is the International Day for Biological Diversity and that this year's theme is Biodiversity and Agriculture? Really? Shame - and you with an interest in Future Earth, how can this be?

Ah well, we may have to admit that UN organisations and multi-lateral intergovernmental treaties do not act as effective or popular champions for anything, at least not anything urgent. But "Biodiversity and Agriculture" is urgent and we can only hope for a great groundswell of awareness and knowledge emerging from the global celebrations tomorrow (!) that will lead to wise decisions and behaviour change over competing land uses. "And pigs might fly" did I hear? Well, at least that would cut down transport costs and carbon expenditure even though we might expect a little more methane pollution along the way....!

Monday, 19 May 2008

Sweetness and Light

The excited voices reached us across the clearing - the honeygatherers were already high on a rare sugar rush, hands sticky with fresh, wild honey, shaking their heads to ward off the angry bees coming out of their smoky coma and resenting the destruction of their hard labour. This treat had required scaling the heights of the gigantic baobab where the bees had constructed their castle safe from marauding honey badgers, filling its hexagonal vaults with the nectar gathered from the woodlands of northern Mozambique.

A sharp intake of breath - we had seen that that the honeygathers were oblivious to the large "tusker" - a bull elephant in his prime, mellow ivory tusks weighing down his weighty head, swaying slowly down the hill into the same clearing, just a few feet away through the scrubby trees. In an instant, he was alerted to their presence and paused, ready for action..... swinging surprisingly athletically on his heels and making the choice to move away, lifting the dust of Africa into the sunlit air.

Why is this moment in time on today's blog? Partly because I felt the cloying depression of what we are doing to our world and needed to lift myself back out of it with some sweetness and light! Partly because the question of food security is increasingly becoming part of our daily lives, and partly through the train of thought generated by the reaction to Barak Obama calling a journalist "sweetie"! "Honey", "Sweetie", "Sugar".... all sweet names for people we like - and depend upon.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Meanwhile, counting down...

Living Planet / Dying Planet. The Living Planet Index out today according to the Independent, "shows the devastating impact of humanity as biodiversity has plummeted by almost a third in the 35 years to 2005.
The report, produced by WWF, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Global Footprint Network, says land species have declined by 25 per cent, marine life by 28 per cent, and freshwater species by 29 per cent".

It is not just evolution in action, as we are losing species at such a rate that we are cutting out the survival options that genetic diversity provides for humanity. Conserving vast chunks of natural habitat, so that ecoystem services survive, cleaning up and restoring the oceans - these we could do, but are we up for the challenge? Or, just like the last Easter Islander cutting down the last tree, will the last person on earth still be pouring fossil fuel into a Ferrari?

HRH - His Rainforest Highness - Prince Charles

Three Cheers for HRH, sticking his neck out on what the world needs to do for rainforests and why. He is using his convening power and passion to good effect. The "Prince's Rainforest Project" is an 18 month attempt to jump start a connection between finance and forests, aiming to " find ingenious, innovative ways of paying the appropriate price for the ecosystem services provided by the world’s remaining great forests.” Since the launch in November 2007, the project personnel have been going around talking to programmes, politicians, business people and policy wonks. They are not actually doing anything concrete but are trying to help those who are to get the right funds to the right place before it is too late. More power to their elbows (or, as they say in parts of west Africa, more grease to their arms).

And while we are on conservation leadership, three more cheers for rainforest champions. Arjay's awards for:

Excellent communication of the issues to another Charles... Charles Clover.

Innovative action to Fauna & Flora International.

Courageous activists who tackle the political challenges in their own rainforest nations - such as Brasil's Marina Silva.

Worthies indeed, but what chance is there that all these efforts can succeed? HRH is suggesting 30 billion would halt forest loss. Maybe, but the devil is, as always, in the detail. The finance is already lining up, sniffing the next increasingly valued and diminishing commodity. The questions are also lining up... how much, when will it be paid, who to, how will accountability and incentive be linked....essentially who will benefit and when?

My greatest concern is that short-termism will prevail and that people will be marginalised by both markets and the tortuous multi-lateral processes governing them. Those making the political decisions now will sell out for front-loaded funds and people will not be able to benefit from the increased value of ecosystem services that will emerge. The complexity of finance flows within communities that depend on natural resources, and effective environmental governance at all levels could so easily be underestimated.

Pilot projects please - and well-funded pilots at that, so we can start working out the glitches.

Monday, 12 May 2008

A moveable feast.

Ever been tempted by those novels where aspirant authors are invited to write alternative ends?

Here is the Future Earth equivalent. The Bradshaw Foundation's interactive map on the "Peopling of the World" takes us through the paths of human colonisation around the world from our origins in Africa through the warming and cooling of the planet. Coastal dwellers making their way around the shoreline of continents, populations ebbing and flowing into habitable areas. Evidence is both genetic and cultural - the rock art left by our ancestors.

What happens next? You decide!

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Spruce up the planet

Carbon dated conifer, nine thousand, five hundred and fifty five years old, seeks similar Scandinavian survivor to share tropical conversion course.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Brown is not Green

In April 2006 it was encouraging to hear Gordon Brown say, on a global stage, that "the environment must be centre of policy worldwide".

Fast forward to the local election rout in May 2008. Oh dear, are we unpopular? Lets pull a few policies then.... what's under consideration in the immediate aftermath?

1. Cut the bin tax on excess rubbish.
2. Reduce the tax on fuel..
3. Reduce rising food prices.

In other words, remove the individual incentives for reducing waste and controlling energy expenditure. Short-term policies for short-term politicians shortening our term on earth to boot.