Nature Blog Network Future Earth: October 2008

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Dogs are good for you - official!

My 100th post has to be a good news story and this one fell into my lap this morning. A
Canine Charter is launched today that details the 10 top reasons why owning a dog can benefit human health and even recommending doctors to prescribe dogs as an antidote to human stress and depression.

For readers in parts of the world used to viewing dogs as a culinary addition to human nutrition - pause before you put the dog in the pot. Alive it might do more to help you survive and thrive through the depressive effects of global recession.

Perhaps not this one..

Monday, 20 October 2008

(Dis)united Nations

Such a good idea, the United Nations. But then so is America (as the American writer John Gunther said "Ours is the only country deliberately founded on a good idea") and look where that is going.

Didn't we see it coming, the economic nose-dive set off by a disconnection from reality in the minds of finance supremos? No - well, now you are in practice, watch out for the next one. In the minds of the securely tenured and over-compensated officers of the United Nations there is a similar disconnect from reality. Despite laudable and overdue attempts at reform the UN shows every sign of trying to maintain a global lifestyle rather than focusing on its constituents. An overstuffed bureaucracy unable to walk, let alone run - unravel the threads and start again Mr. ban Ki-moon.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Waste not, want not

Alternative to charcoal helping protect gorilla habitat. Good to see this appropriate technology in use and all credit to the teams currently promoting it.

During a prolonged lull in the security mayhem of this central African hotspot a few years ago, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme and partners were presciently addressing this problem - setting up a buffer of trees around the Park and monitoring fuelwood use.
(Building on the local networks of a health education charity, a "social marketing" campaign distributed both condoms and tree seedlings - and was irreverantly dubbed "pricks and sticks" by the team!) This living buffer of young trees was obliterated by waves of refugees and rising population levels, but perhaps reduced the severity of destruction and left some knowledge in its wake.

Going, going ......

There are 5,487 known mammal species on earth and over a quarter of them are at imminent risk of disappearing. Actually there is one more.... and 8,000 individuals of that species are gathering in Barcelona for the IUCN Congress. According to IUCN (ex "World Conservation Union") these are " the world’s leading decision makers in sustainable development: from governments, NGOs, business, the UN and academia". Can we therefore breathe easily in our sleep, rest assured that this will turn the tide? Not if we leave it to IUCN - rather we have to follow all those worthies back to their home countries and support them in their endeavours there. IUCN meanwhile will be competing with them for funds to maintain a physical estate of offices and officers around the world and - if past decades are anything to go by - failing in its unique niche of catalysing action between government and non-government sectors. We are looking at a poor track record here..... a complete inability to lead the way in "mainstreaming" environmental issues globally or to support its members to do so.

But are there glimmers of light emanating from Barcelona that have nothing to do with the sparkling sunshine conference participants are bathed in? Yes - the forum has provided a platform for some NGO-business alliances to shout their stuff. They are demonstrating that value can be generated from conserved resources, and that we can make that value work for conservation of those same habitats and species. Business meets Biodiversity - not just as a risk to be managed, but as an opportunity.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Drilled, baby, drilled.

What makes a scientist into a political obsessive? Denial of our impact on climate change, complete obeisance to the "free" market (which has suddenly become expensive for those whose energy and creativity provide the fuel to its fire) and creationism. All of which coincide in Sarah Palin. Question - can you train a Pitbull? Answer - to a certain extent. Douglas Burns' flow chart is not an unkind lampoon, but a sadly accurate depiction. Potential VP Palin (shiver) was "drilled, baby drilled" and didn't depart far from her coloured cards. Certainly not a debate. She looked at the camera and superficially aligned herself with "ordinary Americans". She had clearly learnt the names of 5 country leaders. (I admit this is a particular concern of mine, as a signed up member of the "I have more foreign policy experience than Sarah Palin" Facebook Group). But what she doesn't know is only half the problem. She professes to be an Energy sector specialist but drill below the surface and you find only oil or gas, nothing on renewables or restraint.

Should we be worrying so much about the result of the US election next month? Probably not - the impact of the US globally is likely to be increasingly irrelevant. China anyway owns its national debt and is outcompeting its companies around the developing world. Its the Chinese leadership we need to be watching closely, and working out how to engage with them on the international stage if we feel democracy should form part of human governance in our future earth.