Nature Blog Network Future Earth: June 2008

Monday, 30 June 2008

Rights and righteousness

Liberal hacks are having a field day over corporate investment in Zimbabwe and British politicians are rushing to divest themselves of any dubious shareholdings. Superficially the criticism has resonance with the righteous, as outside investment can prop up a regime such as that of newly non-elected President Mugabe.

What are the alternatives however? The corporations who are there already, particularly those mining giants who have worked hard on their corporate social responsibility record, argue that they have made a commitment to their workforce and that pulling the plug would hurt that workforce more than the Mugabe regime. So, arguably a sacrifice for local stakeholders exceeding that of global shareholders. Who makes this call - the people themselves, the regime or the opposition who should by rights be in power?

And what of new investment - is this clearer cut? Companies are all having to conform to new rules imposing a 51% requirement for indigenous share ownership and there is fear that the current regime will profit from the new investment that has caused a particular outcry against Anglo American. Of course it will. It holds the strings of power and can sell off resources to the highest bidder; it is not constrained by the transparency of democracy nor the brake imposed by a freely operating media. I feel real angst about this one... as I know all that but would still prefer to see those companies that pay more than lip service to CSR (in fact those for whom it is CESR or Corporate Environmental and Social Responsibility) out-compete the insidious aquisition of Africa by Chinese companies unconstrained (as yet) by an electorally-derived social ethos or concern.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Corporate gorillas (2)

John Renesch in the current issue of The Ecologist provides "A systems view of corporate culture change" and illustrates his point by using 6 gorillas, a ladder, a hanging banana and a sprinkler system. The point is that cultural norms can become entrenched within human societies, even when they become dysfunctional and Renesch argues that economic growth might be one such norm that no longer has survival value. Unashamedly mixing metaphors, what would it take for us Corporate gorillas to change our spots? Understand and value complexity for a start - a Blindspot for some naked apes?

(If you value the real thing, support the owner of these pics - the International Gorilla Conservation Programme).

Wednesday, 18 June 2008


More words of wisdom from Sir David Attenborough (Life in the Undergrowth): "If we and the rest of the back-boned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if the invertebrates were to disappear, the world’s ecosystems would collapse."

23-29th June 2008 is National Insect Week in the U.K. and some of the endangered ones need our support. If you would like to know more about why insects and other invertebrates are crucial, underated ingredients of our planet's diversity, visit Buglife (and the buzz is that, if you join up during the week, it's at a discounted £1 a month for 18 months). And if your emotions are being excited by the thought of increasing your knowledge of invertebrate diversity, you are in good company. In Charles Darwin's own words.... "Whenever I hear of the capture of rare beetles, I feel like an old war-horse at the sound of a trumpet" . Go on, get out there and explore the undergrowth. Feel your sap rising. As the likely inheritors of the earth, there is clearly more to insects than their taste & nutritional value.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Sea clearly

Casting an eye today on things marine (with the help of Violet the octopus above) I am swimming against the current of my usual stream of invective about Plastic in Paradise.

Only four years ago, I listened to a marine scientist taling about the new application of the "ecosystem approach" to undersea landscapes, and was astonished by how blinkered marine planning must have been to only just be discovering that connectivity and starting to use that language. Well, as global awareness about the state of our environment has risen since then, marine conservationists have been able to ride the crest of the wave and raise a flag or two in the public eye. All credit to the Marine Conservation Society - especially for providing clear information about what we can do in response even as individuals.

Something to watch closely around the world is leglislation that can follow in the wake of public concern. The creation of marine protected areas is such an obvious response as we look to regain a healthy sea for a healthy planet - but beset still by waves of indifference in public sectors unable to look below the surface of the problem. In the UK though, the legistlative process around the marine bill is launched and is setting sail. All voters and all those concerned beyond the shores of this small island can help provide a fair wind for its smooth passage.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Dead or Alive

World Environment Day was not forgotten in Royal Circles either. Forests champion HRH Prince Charles launched a new web site for his Princes Rainforest Project. Saving trees one day, promoting cricket the next? These two interests converge nicely in the Australian Cricket Bat Willow Project.

By responsing to the increasing scarcity of Cricket Bat Willow - Salix alba var.caerulea -
some canny Aussies set up one of those rare win-win-wins. A win for the environment (although I'm making a presumption on water); a win for business (with increasing global demand they must be literally quids in) and, sadly... (yet another) win for Australian cricket. And the Poms no longer have the opportunity of holding them to ransom by restricting supply. A level playing field indeed.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Atlas of Alarm

In the time of Idi Amin Dada, Ugandans suffering the impacts of national economic decay bravely started wearing T-shirts with the message "Pray for my Country". Today, if you have a God, start praying for the Continent.

Then please, please turn to influencing its leaders - from family heads to local government to Presidents and Prime Ministers. Direct them towards the stark warning in the pages of "Africa - Atlas of our changing environment" just launched at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) by the United Nations Environment Programme.
Satellite images three or four decades apart show the scale and impacts of environmental degradation, such as these declining water levels in Lake Chad. Persistent droughts and increased agricultural irrigation have reduced the Lake to one tenth of its extent 35 years ago.

Marion Cheatle, deputy director of Unep's early warning division, told the Ministers that the Atlas can show where and why action needs to be taken. Well, the (mostly) Gentlemen of AMCEN have been meeting every 2 years since 1985 and have various declarations and multilateral processes to show for it. Lots of policy, clearly not enough practice. But that's where you come in - bloggers all. Spread the word. Put pressure through the ballot box (or, where ballot boxes cannot speak for you, on those of your community who can). Take these issues from Environment Ministries to Finance Ministries. Take David Attenborough's advice and then elect more women.

And yes, pray for our Continent to the Gods of Climate Change, Population, Energy, Water, Biodiversity, Food Security and A.N.E. Other. There has to be just a glimmer of hope that the second edition of the Atlas in 2040 will show that we managed to reverse the decline?

Monday, 9 June 2008

Eco-friendly Nation?

Oooops, missed "World Environment Day" last week. Ngovi Kitau spotted the opportunity however, and in today's Daily Nation is advising fellow Kenyans what they can do to combat climate change. Three practical suggestions in fact:

Firstly, stop the dumping of cars on Kenya that do not have eco-friendly engines.
Secondly look after Kenya's forests and send out students with saplings to plant at home.
Thirdly (quoted in full) "a
ll Government ministries as well as private sector players need to embrace the International Organisation for Standardisation – ISO 14064 – standards for green house gas accounting and verification published on March I, 2006."

Thank you Mr. Kitau for demonstrating, as MD of a vehicle importing firm (presumably engines with the very latest technology?), that climate concerns can be good business too.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Back to Basics

Did you celebrate "World Naked Bicycle Day" yesterday on June 7th?

The organisers around the world stress that it is about bicycle advocacy - drawing attention to transport that burns calories rather than fossil fuel. So yes, good on 'em (and no, cycling Arjay remains resolutely fully clothed) !

Just five years ago, I was crossing the street in Hanoi, with my eyes peeled as fleets of bicycles ebbed and flowed at a constant speed all around. Three years ago, I was crossing the street in Hanoi, with my heart in my mouth as a tidal wave of motor cycles had replaced the bikes. Now I'm told that I would take my life in my hands, as cars have started to replace the motorcycles. Scene repeated all over Asia - progress for some, regression for the planet.

So to those (naked or clothed) who choose pedal power over polluting petrol, thank you from Future Earth.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Biting (on) bugs

Entomophagy is back in the news.

What's news? Insect-eating is common in many cultures in central & south America, Africa, Asia and Australia. Although, to modern Luos in Kenya it is considered soooo last Century; food scientist Francis Orech found that only people over 45 knew reliably where to find bugs, how to catch them and prepare them for eating. When they do, it is worthwhile - 3 crickets provide the daily recommended allowance of iron (how about that on the breakfast packets of the future?).

Ready to buy, fry and try? Try these recipies for inspiration. Hesitating? Ever eaten prawn, crab, or lobster? Why....they eat naught but trash, hoovering up detritus. Their arthropod cousins, however, often feast from nature's salad bars. Now there's a thought... I'm off to set up my new business - insect smoothies. Any suggestions for the brand name?

P.S. In case anyone is questioning the flippant use of "Bugs" here, yes "True Bugs" are a group of insects called Hemiptera but the term has been so widely hijacked to mean "creepy crawlies" that even the UK Natural History Museum uses it!