Nature Blog Network Future Earth: October 2009

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The deal with dogs

Emerging into the world this week, this hour-old beagle pup is destined to be a loved family pet. As such, she will be part of a mutually-beneficial relationship with her human family - reducing their stress levels and improving their health (see 'Dogs are good for you', elsewhere on this blog).

As she was born, an article in the New Scientist reported on calculations that average sized-dogs have a larger "footprint" on the earth's resources than most cars. While debatable, that would rather pose a dilemma for those of us enjoying the health benefits of canine companions, while also trying to be eco-friendly and care for the planet. Time to eat the dog then? Possibly so according to Robert and Brenda Vale who did the calculations, although they do include the question mark in the title of their Guide to Sustainable Living.

Eating dog meat is a tradition in several parts of the world, either for the various properties ascribed to it, or as an emergency food, as some polar explorers attest. Occasionally the dogs have their revenge, as eating the liver of sled dogs produces the condition Hypervitaminoisis and the explorer Mertz died from this in 1913. With such a widespread practice what, apart from avoiding the liver, is the problem?

Well, its just not part of the deal. The canine-human relationship has grown up around a variety of needs based on the dog's abilities to sniff out trouble or point out game. In much of the world there is now legislation prohibiting the eating of companion & working dogs, even in Korea and parts of China.

Too late for this one in Vietnam, however. And how long will our ethics within this trusting deal survive if things get really sticky?

(P.S. Predatory cats however are a whole 'nother issue, and I'll return to that when I've plucked up the courage)

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Board(s should) walk

Why a photo of a snail on the edge of a precipice? It is a corporate snail, moving exceeding slow, looking out over the precipice and seeing nothing. It has just ventured out from a bed of lettuce and has no idea that life is not all about readily available greenery.

I spent Blog Action Day talking to a Corporate Board about biodiversity, the environment, climate change and why they are relevant to their business. The Group is a household name in the extractive sector. They have taken an interest in these critical issues, have a thoughtful Chief Executive, dynamic senior managers and some knowledgeable staff, so why my state of frustrated depression?

Seems to me that, given the speed of change on our planet, too many Board appointments are already behind the times, their experience increasingly irrelevant. Even if they do make attempts to diversify the skills available to them, new voices can falter amidst the pompous, patronising pontificating of increasingly antiquated corporate arrogance. Problem is that Boards nurture their own nests..... like the UN, they become less and less likely to rattle the branches that sustain them. They regenerate themselves, like with like. If they move out, it is onto another Board in the city.

Companies need to wake up to this if we are to tackle the ecological and economic challenges facing us now. If you are a shareholder, take a good look at the Board and ask questions. If you are a staff member consider what channels you have to propose new skills that Boards might not know they need. And if you are someone who might diversify a Board's perspective - make it known! Change the corporate climate and contribute to the challenge of climate change.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

We've stuffed up

National Poetry Day UK - many thanks to Jilly Mcnaughton for this guest post:

We've stuffed up

We've chopped down all our trees

and burnt up all our coal

Our precious green wild spaces

Have lost their heart and soul

We drive around in cars

As if it doesn't matter

As our ecosystems wither

And our climate lies in tatters

So well you might ask "who are you?"

To give advice on REDD

When to this world of doubt and fear

You have the whole world led

"Who are YOU to tell US

What our lands are worth

Or the value of the carbon stores

That lie beneath our earth?

"You want the best of both worlds

As your carbon footprint shows

So you can keep your eco-pocracy

And save your climate woes"

But what we haven't told you

What you might not quite yet see

Is that we want to help you not repeat

The same mistakes as we

What our climate talks don't get across

What our leaders dare not say

Is that we've stuffed up! Desperate! guilty!

And need you to lead the way...

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Passing the baton in the human race

Over four million years ago our ancestral "Ardi" walked (yes, walked) around in what is now Ethiopia.

Over three million years ago "Lucy" died a short distance further south.

About 20,000 years ago, further down the Rift, on the western side in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, the "Ishango bone" was being used and marked by early hominids, teasing their decendents trying to interpret this early maths.

In the late 1980s, Greg Laden was tackling postgraduate research in Archaeology and Biological Anthropology in the Semiliki region of Eastern DRC. At the same time a 5 year old was running wild in this same region, where his family were working with chimps and gorillas.

The early gasps of the 21st Century took Hans Herren, President of the Millennium Institute as a guest lecturer to Cambridge University, scanning the horizon for our changing planet. One of his recommendations was that we needed more under 25s in positions of decision-making as the rest of us were managing to ignore the impending crises of climate, agriculture, energy, food security and population.

Today a group of under 25s gathered in the leafy surrounds of Imperial College's Silwood Park as Masters candidates, about to commit themselves to Biodiversity & Conservation Science, Evolutionary Biology, Population and Community Ecology, Environmental Technology and more. How many of them can be persuaded out of the forests and labs, into the corridors of power? At the very least, can they be sure to communicate and inform, not only by peer-reviewed science, but also by translating it to the voting public?

One of the new postgraduates was that wild child in eastern Zaire. He and top science blogger Greg Laden are now linked by the twittering blogosphere that is spreading general knowledge on evolutionary science in all its infinite variety. I have a sense of baton passing, and renewed hope that the current crop of conservation biologists will run that extra mile. Frustration though that the last crop did not manage to stop the finishing line being brought forward and the track being made into an obstacle course.