Monday 16 September 2019

Extinction Crisis? The solution may be privatisation

Endangered species can often be protected with comparatively tiny amounts 
of resources. Pictured, the critically endangered Black-flanked rock wallaby whose 
protection needs are measured in thousands of dollars - Image via WWF Australia

Posted by Martin Cohen

Looking around the world, there are so many problems that seem so intractable and the solutions so far off, that it can seem as if it is better to, well not look around the world. 'Climate change', for example, where it has been estimated by Danish statistician and reformed ‘skeptic’, Bjorn Lomborg, that the cost of reducing the world's temperature by the end of the century by a ‘grand total of three tenths of one degree’ is ... $100 trillion. That's not small beans. In terms of charitable donations, you'd need to find 100 million people ready to chip in a million each..

For any number of reasons, that cash ain't gonna be raised and those abatement measures - however worthy - are not going to be made.

Yet in fact there are a whole range of environmental problems which do have relatively straightforwards solutions - and require only tiny investments. These small but vital programmes are often starved of resources.

Take extinctions in Australia, for example, a topic I asked Friends of the Earth (UK) to campaign on back in the 1990s  mainly to highlight UK business links to forest clearance. To run a campaign might have costs a few thousand pounds but after discussions with the then Head of FoE and meeting the senior staff including the Biodiversities campaigner for a roundtable on the issues, I was told there were no resources for it. They offered to run a Press Release campaign if I wrote it instead. And then reneged on that too.

The point is not that I don't like Friends of the Earth much, in fact I think they do a lot of good work, (they helped me lead a campaign that saved the Yorkshire Moors from a four-lane motorway, probably the only time the organisation actually reversed a road scheme that had been formally approved) but that relying on environmentalists to save the world is a mistake. The economics points at a problem and a paradox: environmental pressure groups exist and make money out of environmental horror stories - they have no financial interest in saving anything. A campaign like Climate Change in which a bottomless pit of money must be raised suits certain people very well, even though it can never achieve its ends.

Meanwhile time is running out! Talk about an ‘extinction crisis’ ... It is there all right. But the solutions don't require grandiose schemes to control the world’s climate - they require small concrete actions to preserve habitat.

Half of all the species lost in modern time have been in Australia. In the last 150 years, one in eight of Australia's mammal species - which live(d) nowhere else on earth, have been driven out of existence, as the Australians literally bulldozed their forests into desert, in pursuit of grazing for sheep and cows. At the same time, the land value stolen from the defenceless animals and plundered form Australia's native people is actually tiny.

The Bramble Cay Melomys that lived only on a tiny island in the Torres Strait could have been saved if the island had but been bought and made into a sanctuary. Instead the fate of the little rodent was determined by red tape and political indifference.

Land clearing, invasive farming, extermination programs, lack of monitoring - all these are essentially money-driven failings with economic responses possible. To save the Spotted Tailed Quoll, for example, needs only to preserve a chunk of land from the insatiable thirst of Australia's farmers for land clearance. Likewise, the Black-flanked Rock-wallaby needs a small reserve declaring to cover it's now much diminished range. Such things essentially can be investments - yet the world's billionaire philanthropists - I'm looking at you Mr Gates, Mr Buffett! - have so far directed their wealthy and otherwise worthy Foundations only to talk about human needs - medicine, education, governance even. yet biodiversity and species preservation is surely just as much a vital part of our shred human shared inheritance as any other aspect of human life.

At the moment, attention is rightly focussed on the land clearance in the Amazon rainforest, land clearance often financed directly or indirectly by Western banks and institutions. Yet here's an idea for those with resources: buy up sections of the Amazon and hold them on behalf of their indigenous peoples as ecological parks, scientific resources and sustainably farmed forests. Such privately owned 'ecofarms' would be able to resist predation by those set on both genocide and ecocide. They only need investors!

It has already been done successfully for example in the conservation-driven Kruger Private Reserves in Africa. There, the connecting of habitats alone serves to improve the survival chances of many species in the region.


Keith said...

‘Half of all the species lost in modern time have been in Australia’. This is a truly startling fact, given Australia’s geographic (habitable) size and its population relative to the much larger land mass and population of the rest of the world. Australia is obviously a developed country, with a big GDP. So, I’m curious to know what programs, and what kind of money stream, Australians are investing toward preserving biodiversity in their own backyard. I agree that deep-pocketed private foundations from elsewhere around the world might consider fitting into their portfolios programs aimed at doing more to save endangered species, but couldn’t the Australian government and domestic, socially responsible foundations set priorities to shoulder more, too? Just wondering.

docmartincohen said...

Those were the kinds of issues I raised at a special conference in Brisbane on Applied Ethics. The former head of the Queensland government as there and insisted I was not to criticise - as a non-Australia - the country's record on the environment. The chair of the meeting agreed and I was unable to give my talk!

The point is, there is no real distinction mde in Australia between the green claims of the government, both Federal and state level, and the reality. Which is land clearence and pollution on a shocking scale. And all, as you say, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

Me, I had my research appointment cut short after the conference. My immediate boss argued for me, so did the head of the academic school - but to no avail...

Curious footnote, a few years later I gave the same - controversial - paper to a state sponsored conference in ... Communist China! The Chinese were more open to discussion of the controversies involved in choosing between narrow economic interests and broader environmental ones.

docmartincohen said...

One of our French readers has found a link for people wishing to buy a bit of the rainforest. To save it, rather than exploit it, of course.

Keith said...

That’s a pity, Martin. The censoring of your planned remarks at the conference is unfortunate, no matter what you intended to brief. I realise, of course, that some folks, with vested interests in outcomes, may want to circle the wagons, to shield against ‘unwelcome’ — read: ‘uncomfortable’ — viewpoints. But that it apparently happened where a free flow of thoughts should prevail — an academic conference on applied ethics, of all things — strikes me as peculiar. Well, I’m glad you ultimately got a receptive sponsor and audience elsewhere.

docmartincohen said...

There's really a very confrontational and also censorious quality to environmental debates... The Guardian did do one good thing though this year - it ran a series about what it called 'environmental defenders'. The point though was really how many of them were getting killed!

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

'Man' is not a controller of nature. It is a sphere that is so complex that he shouldn't dream of it. The philosopher Marc Sautet: 'Scientific advances create the illusion that men can
become masters and owners of nature.' Anyway, is your proposal that nature should be free to be nature, under hands-off ownership? That has worked in Southern Africa (my part of the world). I am surprised that we don't hear more of it.

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