Category Archives: Nature

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The Great Drama Above.

Exciting things going on above our heads as we bustle on below.

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Sustainability: the story of kindness?

ceiling of la sagrada familiaFor me, sustainability is about compassion.

I went to Barcelona this weekend for the first time. I saw Gaudi and Picasso and was completely and utterly blown away. Brain fuzz.

Each artist’s strength lay in the radically new perspective they brought to their work.  Although they saw the same things as everyone else, they explored their focus from previously untold angles. La Sagrada Familia embodies this radical approach – de-constructing and rebuilding the idea of a catholic cathedral so profoundly different to that found across the rest of Europe.

And so my thoughts (as always) returned to sustainability.

The story of kindness, of compassion, is one which – although I’m sure is familiar to many others – for me, has only recently connected to sustainability.  I want to use this story to give a new perspective on working towards a greener, fairer world, and indeed, how we communicate about that ambition.

I think we care about creating a sustainable world because we care about one another.

Of course, “sustainability” embodies a whole host of concepts, from carbon permits to biodiversity offsetting to closed loop recycling. Money, reputation and politics make an inevitable appearance also.

But at the heart of the matter lies kindness; caring for one another – for our families, our children, our society. For our grandchildren and great-grandchildren as yet unborn, and for everyone who we share this moment of existence with.

So compassion can be seen as the driver.

Moreover, it’s also the facilitator. No one can create sustainable change alone – we need to collaborate. And this process requires us working to understand and be understanding with a whole host of people, many coming from perspectives and vested interests we may find challenging.

Only compassion can make this happen.

I don’t think these are just airy fairy words. Check out the great work from Common Cause on intrinsic values, the Dalai Lama’s words on environmentalism, Tom Shadyac’s documentary “I am”, or the International Campaign for Compassionate Cities.

Sustainability both demonstrates and requires compassion. What’s more, perhaps compassion provides a greater setting for the tale of environmentalism than offsets and permits?

Gaudi orchestrated such beauty through connecting the ideas of  creativity, nature and morality. We need to explore every avenue we can in creating a world that works for us all. Why not start with kindness?

Listening & Emotion: A Better Way to Connect?

As part of the Conservation/Sustainability movement, I’m a bit tired of the way in which “we explain” to people why they should care about their environment.

I would like to start asking people why they value their environment. And I may be wrong, but I don’t think the answer will be ecosystem goods and services. 

I think many people may have much more of an emotional connection than we currently give credence. Nature gives us a sense of perspective, inspires awe, wonder and delights us aesthetically. Perhaps this is the most powerful way we can connect with one another about nature?

Walk in the Woods (c) danielkearney.blogspot.com -

Walk in the Woods (c) danielkearney.blogspot.com –

After all, we’re happy to join together in serving gods who give us emotional solace,  yet we currently seem only able to talk about how nature can serve us. 

Our Environment – Our Common Pension?

Pensions © guardian.co.uk

Pensions © guardian.co.uk

Us humans have a tendency to undervalue the future compared with our immediate needs. That’s why banks pay us interest on money we don’t spend.

Despite this, and because security is important to us all , many of us have the foresight to save, provisioning for our future old and infirm selves.

At first, we may rally and moan against the short-term sacrifice of saving for pensions, but we soon settle down. We’d rather make a sacrifice in the short-term to ensure our security in the long-term.

Yet governments around the world are unwilling to make the same sort of decision – failing to recognise the value of security in our future.

Ecuadorean Amazon (c) Guardian.co.uk

Ecuadorean Amazon (c) Guardian.co.uk

Ecuador’s announcement of their plans to auction off more than 3 million hectares of pristine Amazonian rainforest to Chinese oil companies (as reported by Jonathan Kaiman) is understandable. As described by Ecuador’s Ambassador when addressing the Chinese delegation at talks, this would establish “a win-win relationship” between the two countries. Meeting both Ecuador’s development needs and China’s energy requirements – the arrangement is one which the West could not denigrate without being hypocritical.

Yet this decision prioritises immediate reward over the natural capital offered by forests, important for both national and international security in just decades. Our collective environment is akin to our common pension.

Governments are charged with responsibility, to lead their nation for today and tomorrow, and within that to look after the commons. So we need to let them know, we want to save some for humanity’s future.

Family Values Truism

There are over 7 billion of us in this crowded world of ours, speaking almost 7000 languages in approximately 200 countries.

Yet one thing we all hold in common is the value we place on our children.

Most people would agree that their family trumps all other concerns in our multi-cultural, complex and changing world.

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Shutes on Lundy Island

Protecting our family is one of life’s missions.

And perhaps protecting our environment is similarly important.

After all, if we don’t protect our environment – where will our children grow up?

Burden of Proof: Paterson and the Bees

honey beeUK Environment Minister Owen Paterson has defied 71% of the British public, 2.5 million petition signatures and 405,000 letters to EU Ministers – all to derail a ban  on bee-harming pesticides.

Why? Because according to Mr Paterson, there’s not enough scientific proof that neonicotinoids harm bees.  At a time when UK & US honey bee populations have declined 50% over the past 25 years, this  begs the question – why is the burden of proof with those who want to follow a precautionary principle, rather than with those who stand to make a profit from applying toxic chemicals in our collective environment.

I won’t go into the detailed story line – Damian Carrington has done a great job of reporting it all here. But in short – it seems that independent science has repeatedly shown there to be a link between neonicotinoids and a drop in honey bee numbers, a species vital to our food security, and of course, inherently valuable in its own right.

Yet despite this, the UK government wanted to carry out their own trials – and these haven’t been able to conclude before last Friday’s EU vote took place. As a result – Mr Paterson has been citing lack of conclusivity in these particular experiments as a reason not to proceed with the moratorium. It is not surprising that the pesticide manufacturers are relieved.

At first glance – it may seem to make sense that we shouldn’t proceed in making such a decision without the full gauntlet of evidence to support it. After all – this would be a momentous change for industries involved; industries providing hundreds of jobs at a time of recession. Furthermore, the decision may impact how much food we can produce in the immediate short-term.  Perhaps this was the reasoning of the nine member states who opposed the ban.

But 13 states were in favour. Why the difference of opinion?

Well – let’s conduct a thought experiment. Let’s use the metaphor of the health industry. To licence a drug, the burden of proof is with the pharmaceutical corporations to prove that the medication they wish to sell, causes no harm. This seems fair, logical and the only course of action prudent to protect our public health.

Imagine if this were in fact the other way round – that it was up to governments, independently funded science and concerned members of the public to demonstrate that a certain drug caused harm,  before it was taken off the shelves. That it was only AFTER our eyes started bleeding and our veins pulsing and our hair falling out, that civil society could begin mounting a case that such medications should be removed from the shops.

A horrific idea.Yet one we embrace willingly when the chemicals sold are affecting the health of our collective environment and food – something that influences are own health more quickly than most medicine or money.

Fortunately – we still have a chance to correct this wrong. If the European Commission (the EU’s administrative arm) decides to appeal the Member States’ Ministers’ vote – we could have a second shot at saving our bees. I urge you to write to your EU Ministers and put this and all the other arguments found across t’interweb to them .

Our environment is our collective commons. Our responsibility and power to care for it should not be undermined by our democratically elected leaders and those corporations with more resources than most citizens to protect their interests. I hope our European leaders’ are more respectful of public opinion than Mr Paterson.

Fish Fight’s Value: Getting Us to Give a Damn

Fish_FightHugh’s Fish Fight has come in for a bit of a roasting today.  As plastered over the Twittersphere, Dr Ruth Brown, a scientist interviewed in the TV show’s 2nd episode – has accused the producers of “glaring inaccuracies” regarding their portrayal of bias science and the effects of krill fishing in the Southern Oceans. Worse, her comments seem to have been deleted from the Fish Fight website, appearing to many as an attempted “cover-up”.

Thankfully, this mess-up has now been addressed – with Hugh commenting directly on her accusations, as reported by Fish2Fork here.

But the error has fuelled the fire of criticism. So I want to explain why despite this, and despite many of the shortcomings of the movement frequently cited by both individual fishermen and their representative organisations – I think Hugh’s Fish Fight has tremendous value.

Fish Fight’s crowning achievement is that it reminds everyone in the UK, that UK oceans are collectively, ours.

I know that MPAs are not a black and white issue, I know that fishermen need continued livelihoods – I know that many fishermen work hard to protect the seas that they live in.

Lundy Island (c) Mike Deaton

But I also think that the seas are the “commons”. Sure – they are a source of income for fishermen – but they also provide a whole wealth of ecosystem goods and services and INHERENT values for the rest of us.

Urbanised humans are increasingly disconnected from nature. This, combined with growing political apathy and impenetrable bureaucracy, means that it’s becoming difficult for citizens to think about and investigate, let alone care for, much beyond their house and home. The great outdoors is too great for our attention.

The result is that members of the public interviewed on the beach in Lyme Regis believed that as much as 50% of our oceans were protected for conservation reasons, while the sad truth is we protect less than 1%. As consumers, we don’t know about fish – and so 80% of our purchases consist of only five species – meaning fishermen have to throw the rest of delicious, but unknown species back into the sea.  The wonderment of the oceans is buried beneath the waves; out of sight, out of mind.

Because we don’t know it’s there – we don’t know its ours. And because we don’t know its ours, we don’t value it.

So yes, Fish Fight has some problems, some simplification and doesn’t always give progressive fishermen a fair hearing.

Protesters on the MPA March on 25th February, organised by MCS and Fish Fight.

Protesters on the MPA March on 25th February, organised by MCS and Fish Fight.

BUT –  Hugh is leading people, other than fishermen, to value our seas. He’s leading us, from students in Cardiff, to families in Hampshire, from a super-yacht operator from the Western Highlands (just a selection of the people I met on yesterday’s #127march) to give a damn.

And that, is priceless.