Category: Conservation

Social Justice In Conservation

Two weeks ago at around 14:30 on Tuesday afternoon my Outlook account sounded with an alert telling me that I had just received a new email, this time from environmentaljobs.com.

Exciting new intern position at ZSL with the IUCN Pangolin Specialist group”.

My current situation means that I spend most of my days looking for entry level graduate conservation jobs in and around Cambridge – which to me includes London.

I opened the link to read about the position and it was then that I began to feel a renewed sense of frustration at yet another unreasonable job offer.

We are offering an exciting opportunity for a volunteer to assist the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Pangolin Specialist Group with co-ordinating the implementation of the global pangolin conservation action plan ‘Scaling up pangolin conservation”.

My feelings toward this particular job post reminded me of an interesting article I read by George Monbiot of the Guardian. He wrote about how young graduates are lured into the corporate sector by enticing salaries and job packages, leaving the future prospects of conservation diminished. Talent he argued, is being bought by those who can pay for it.

Candidate requirements –

  • Seeking volunteer intern
  • Must preferably hold graduate degree
  • Must work 3 days/week in central London – preferably more
  • Must work for 6 months

Is it really suitable to advertise this as an unpaid job offer? Perhaps I am incredibly naïve, but how could anyone be expected to be able to do this without parental support, a large trust-fund or loads of savings? They are asking someone to work full-time, for free, in central London, one of the most expensive cities on the planet.

I spent the better part of my teens before my undergraduate degree volunteering for environmental positions, positions that I was told would benefit my CV and give me much valued experience in my field of interest. In 2010 I began my undergraduate degree in Zoology to much the same advice – must volunteer, must get experience, must gain skills and knowledge outside of your degree. So I did, I spent my spare time working at a hotel during the week and volunteering at Edinburgh Zoo during the weekends as Public Engagement Officer for 3 years. Then in 2014 I started my graduate degree at Imperial College studying Conservation Science, again being told how little money is available within conservation, and how important and valuable volunteering experiences are for myself as an individual. I continued to volunteer part time for a small NGO I helped establish and did work for the RSPB when time allowed for it.

This is all fine and fair, years of working for free would surely help land me a good job when I was properly educated. It would appear however that even now after having gone through a good education, I am still expected to work for free before I am offered a real job with a potential employer, and in most cases, it seems that this is the route most young graduates must take at the start of their careers.

There was a time when…”, as Pamela Abbot, director of Programs at WCMC put it during a recent workshop I attended on encouraging Woman in Conservation Leadership – “…such jobs were offered as paid roles to young aspiring graduates, given to those people in junior positions who were well educated and filled with ambition and ideas on how to save species from extinction. Those days are long gone” (paraphrased). Gone she said, or allowed to go I wondered?

Some NGOs do decide to pay their interns; WWF, WCMC and Save the Rhino to name three different examples. So is this really a question about a lack of funding, or more about the individual management choices made by those running the show? Some would consider these types of opportunities to amount to nothing more than exploitation, masked by the promise of “experience”. It is insulting to the integrity of aspiring young practitioners in the field that they are implied to be the ones gaining from these positions, while the organisation offering the internship is doing it for the sake of providing them experience.

The shame of course is that good candidates will inevitably apply and work hard to do an excellent job, candidates who are desperate to progress in their careers. In the end the circumstances of such positions will mean that only those who can afford to pay for these types of jobs will apply, denying the opportunity to those who don’t come from rich families, who may be more qualified for the position than others, to get a foot on the ladder.

I suppose I can continue to wallow in self-pity or instead attempt to succeed in spite of these conditions. However, what will the consequences of this continued approach be for the future of conservation itself?

Only time will tell.

Hypocrisy as a tool to engage

Off the high horse

One of the challenges I have found since becoming a vegetarian has been the automatic hostility I receive from many people when they find out about me dietary choices. Being a vegetarian and a conservationist, I imagine most people want to avoid being lectured at all costs by what they think is just another self-righteous environmentalist.

After I stopped eating seafood in 2009, my family have become well accustomed to some of my rants about how the personal choices we make affect the planet. These monologues however, are only subjected to my family (and close friends), who kindly put up with me. It wouldn’t be fair to make other people feel bad about their own personal choices, because as someone from the West, even my best attempts to practise what I preach will fall short, unless of course I decide to go live off the grid or something. So how can we talk to others about their own choices without making them feel bad, and avoid being accused of imposing double standards?

Vegetarianism as a European

My journey towards vegetarianism didn’t happen overnight. Having grown up in southern Europe and then later moving north, the diet I received when I was younger was deeply rooted in European culinary tradition. Whether using cows, pigs, chickens or goats, European cooking draws a lot flavour from animals. We use animal fats to add depth to sauces, use bones to add richness to pies, eat different meats prepared in different ways for different occasions, and this doesn’t even begin to describe what we do with animals from the sea.

A meal for many people in Europe isn’t a proper meal unless it includes a piece of meat on the plate. So transitioning into a meat free world was difficult, and painfully slow. After two years I have now gotten to a stage where I don’t buy meat anymore. I will however eat meat in particular social settings or when I get the occasional relapse and binge on a delicious packet of Parma ham.

Lucas the hypocrite

It was during one of these relapses that I noticed something interesting. Having returned home to my friend Samantha’s house after celebrating her birthday, waiting for us was her husband who had kindly bought some Southern Fried Chicken from a local deli to help us satisfy our late night hunger. Just as Samantha was apologising to me for how inconsiderate her husband had been for not getting something to cater to my vegetarian inclinations, I’d already dug in, holding one drum stick in each hand.

Samantha was surprised, “but…aren’t you a vegetarian?”

“Um….yeah no I am! Honest! Umm….I just sometimes eat meat” I said with a cheeky smile, mouth full of chicken and face covered in gravy.

And this is how I realised the key to talking about vegetarianism, use hypocrisy. You need to be open about it, and about your own limitations as a human being, because no one is perfect. What ensued was a long semi-inebriated conversation about the impact of our dietary choices on the planet.

“So you don’t eat meat for animal welfare reasons?”…

“Well no not particularly, that is important, but I’m more motivated by the conservation reasons, you know, the impacts of agricultural meat production on deforestation and climate change, that sort of thing”.

Both of us went to sleep feeling content. Samantha was able to explore her own personal choices without feeling judged by me because she now realised I was a hypocrite, and I was happy because I got to promote vegetarianism as a way forward without coming across as self-righteous and arrogant, a win-win.

Some will argue that I am simply trying to promote this level of hypocrisy as a way of justifying my own relapses in meat consumption, which I am totally fine with. But what I have genuinely observed (after a few more trials, most recently with friends during the SCCS conference  is that people, even within our own environmentally-minded community, respond much more positively to being challenged about their choices, when the person who is challenging them is very open about their hypocrisy first.

[Some] hypocrisy as a force for good

Hypocrisy is the gap between your aspirations and your actions. We have to come to terms with the fact that most people will never aspire to live in a way that will have a meaningful effect on reducing their environmental impact on the planet. As a conservationist, I would always rather have high environmental aspirations and fail a little, than embrace cynicism and not try at all. Perhaps we can engage more people positively if we first disarmed them by talking about our own shortcomings, would more people listen?

Hope In Nature Means Faith In People

‘The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese’. Those few words, scrawled in the areal graffiti of a thoughtless tweet, should be as light and transient as a dirty snowflake. When they issue from the most powerful man in the world, they feel more like a gale of filth. How is it possible for climate change activists, for scientists, and even for those simply concerned about the distinction between facts and self-serving fantasy, to remain hopeful in the face of such wilful rejection of the evidence?

A blithe, all-will-be-well, make-the-best-of-it optimism is not an appropriate response. That is just one more species of denial, and it is why I prefer the idea of conservation hope to conservation optimism. We need to acknowledge the scale of our challenges and the inevitability of our losses. This is the sobering message of the Anthropocene, the age of human impact; humanity has changed the Earth for millennia to come, and many of those changes are deeply sad and ugly. So just adjusting the emotional thermostat a little, like taking some happy pills, smacks of evasion. But hope, clear-eyed and well informed, can save us from cynicism and despair and point the way to the future.

So what does hope look like? How about some of the poorest people in the world donating their time and energy to conserve wildlife? Or people from nearly fifty different nations coming together to plant trees in the mud? Or national, regional and local politicians working together to nurture a community-based, locally-rooted response to the challenges that climate change brings? These are all experiences we have had with Mikoko Pamoja – ‘mangroves united’ in Swahili.

Mangroves are remarkable ecosystems. Forests that grow in the sea, they straddle the land and the oceans, mix crabs with caterpillars and tides with transpiration. They are perplexing, beautiful and useful; and they are threatened. One of their features, that we have only begun to appreciate in the past two decades, is their remarkable ability to capture and store carbon, and to elevate their soil in pace with sea level rise. This means they can help to both mitigate against and adapt to climate change, and it provides one way to work for their conservation.

The science is clear; mangroves capture carbon and losing them releases it. The economics are clear; conserving mangroves is nearly always a better investment than cutting them down, once you account for the multiple services that they provide. The policy response has been as muddy as mangrove water; because mangroves confound our usual categories – are they terrestrial or marine? Habitats for fish or sources of timber? – they fall between sectors and fall prey to muddled management as well as corruption and short term profit making. This has meant that we have lost more than 50% since the 1950s, and forest destruction continues today.

Mikoko Pamoja is the world’s first community-based mangrove conservation project to be funded by the sale of carbon credits. It was founded to help challenge and reverse these depressing trends. It acknowledges the need for poor people to benefit from their ecosystems, by turning the enormous global benefits that we all receive from the ability of these forests to trap carbon into collective progress for the people who need to care for them. Democratic decisions on how to spend their money have resulted in the community investing in new school buildings, new text books, new wells and sources of fresh drinking water.

Carbon offsetting – even when it directly benefits the poor and helps to conserve vital ecosystems – cannot solve climate change. Only large scale change can do that. But it provides one way to bring hope and start the process of conserving our vital natural carbon sinks. It also uses that hard won scientific knowledge – so casually traduced by the new US president – to link people together rather than separate them. The people of Gazi Bay in Kenya are learning how to work with others from around the world to conserve their mangroves, and they are keen to help other communities learn from them. Why not join them?

Can You Put A Price on Nature?

‘MIKOKO Pamoja’ raises money for mangrove forest conservation and for those who live there, write Professor Mark Huxham and Jamie Pearson

You don’t need to be a tree- hugger to know that forests are very fine things. As homes to wildlife, protectors of watersheds, givers of oxygen, sinks for carbon and sublime galleries of wonders far excelling those found in any museum, the world’s woodlands are priceless.

But not all forests are equal. Some have negative effects: plantations can be damaging or dull, displacing native species with exotics or disturbing natural water and nutrient cycles. Others incite hyperbole with their beauty and value to humans, and mangroves are an example. These astonishing tropical habitats join surf with songbirds, fish with firewood, crabs with canopies; they are forests and foreshore combined.

 

A team at Edinburgh Napier University, led by Professor Mark Huxham and working with the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute in Mombasa, has been exploring the ecology and management of mangroves in Kenya for the past 14 years. This work has traced fish migration from the forests to the coral reefs, restored land left barren and degraded four decades ago to health and helped show how management can lead to forest conservation.

It has also revealed the exceptional ability of these forests to trap and to store carbon. With an average of 1,500 tonnes per hectare buried in their soils, these mangroves are more than six times more carbon­-dense than most terrestrial forests. Keeping mangroves healthy, and re­foresting degraded areas, is an efficient way to trap more carbon, whilst removing the forests leads to rapid release of large amounts of greenhouse gases.

This scientific understanding of carbon stocks and flows laid the foundation for Mikoko Pamoja (‘mangroves together’ in Swahili), the World’s first community-­based mangrove conservation project funded by the sale of carbon offsets. By selling carbon credits to individuals and organisations concerned to reduce their carbon footprints, Mikoko Pamoja raises money for mangrove forest conservation and restoration in Kenya. It also generates funds for a community account, owned by the villagers who live in and next to the forests.

New sources of clean water, school buildings and textbooks for local pupils are a few of the projects this has supported. The project has third party accreditation, is managed by local people in Kenya and administered by volunteers working for a Scottish charity (ACES, charity no. SCO43978. www.aces­org.co.uk ). Supporters know that the credits they buy represent certifiable carbon reductions and that the money raised goes to conservation and development work with some of the world’s poorest people. The work was recently selected as one of the top 20 examples of UK science applied to practical development.

Edinburgh Napier, which has reduced carbon emissions associated with its campuses in and around the city by 36 per cent between 2006/7 and 2015/6, is now investing in Mikoko Pamoja to complement its progress at home. Travel emissions linked to university activities remain considerable, despite investment in electronic communications, including conference and web calls, and a significant number of computer programmes which allow students and staff to work remotely.

The university will invest £10,000 to procure 1,250tCO2e of carbon credits over 2016/7 and 2017/8, an investment which covers 40 per cent of all travel emissions. The investment will not reduce the carbon emissions recorded or reported by Edinburgh Napier, but will recognise the impact of travel by the university’s 20,000­ strong population and positively invest in the community­-based project in Kenya. The strategy reflects Edinburgh Napier’s continued commitment to developing best practice and reducing the environmental impact of the institution and associated community. The university is striving to implement a fully operational Environmental Management System and recently gained Gold EcoCampus accreditation, the penultimate award before Platinum. Most of the reduction has come from projects enabling reduction in energy consumption, including lighting, heating and insulation improvements. One significant example involved replacing all 1,081 windows at the Merchiston campus with double glazing. Energy consumption constitutes around 90 per cent of overall emissions.

Vast investment and subsequent savings have basically been made by simply managing energy better, aiming to use only what’s needed and integrating more efficient technology into the estate.
• Professor Mark Huxham, Professor of Teaching and Research in Environmental Biology, and Jamie Pearson, Environmental Sustainability Manager. 

Read more at: https://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/mark-huxham-and-jamie-pearson-can-t-put-a-price-on-woodlands-1-4142938