I was at the first GBOB this week. There were some great people there, people making a difference, but I was very disappointed with what they didn’t say. The TEEB Report suggests some great ways to place a monetary value on the environment, and there are some great examples, such as the true financial effect of turning a mangrove swamp into a shrimp farm or China stopping deforestation, or losing rainforest to palm oil production.
BUT : I have a few really big issues with all three of these examples.
1: Yes we know that mangrove swamps provide protection not only for wildlife, but also for people, no disputing that at all. So to attach a very high value to maintaining mangrove swamps is absolutely necessary. However, the only reason that any one wants to make a shrimp farm from a mangrove swamp is to produce shrimps. One assumes that this is for food and to generate revenue for the local farmers by selling the food. If we did not demand cheap and plentiful shrimp, then the thought of taking a mangrove swamp and turning it into a short-lived ( around 4 -5 years, I gather, before it is too polluted to be useful for shrimp production ) farm would not occur to anyone.
2: Deforestation in China happened because of the huge demand for building materials to support the increased wealth of the country, mostly brought about by the Western world’s demand for cheap and plentiful stuff ( I won’t even start on if we actually need the stuff, never mind if we care what effect it is having on the Chinese, or, indeed, the Global environment ). So when the Chinese authorities realised that deforestation was a ‘bad thing’ for China, they stopped it. ( full details in the TEEB report page 11 ). However, as far as anyone can tell, the demand for the timber did not decrease. They did not take the opportunity to work on different strategies for building, or sourcing more suitable material that would have been more appropriate for their situation. It seems that they the suppliers of the timber simply went to other countries and bought up their timber supplies. Net ? they still use the same volume of timber, but it is now someone else’s problem.
3: Palm oil seems to have a hold on up to 10% of the products seen in an average western food store. In the past few years, it seems that we cannot make a vast range of products without using it. Even Jordans in the UK ( a well-known organic and generally caring food producer use it – though they do say it is from sustainable sources ). All credit to Marks and Spencer in the UK too, who have a policy of removing it from all products where possible. More power to them, and less to the food scientists who presumably found this magic ingredient. I have to assume that the properties of palm oil are so wonderful, that we kind of stopped when we hit on it, and subsequently it began to be incorporated into everything. OK, I agree, it is probably better than using whales for the same purpose, but I do wonder why we suddenly need to rape ( yes, a subtle reference to covering the European landscape with that awful yellow flower ) the rainforest to produce palm oil. Maybe I should research more as to why. In any case though, the thread at the GBOB sessions that I managed to see ( most of the day I was convincing people not to throw their PCs away, but to use them with OPD ) was distinctly “we need palm oil”. This came from both Pavan Sukhdev, lead of TEEB, and from the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman, and neither even began to question the reasons that we “need” palm oil.
I actually find it a little wrong that and ex international banker, probably involved with funding much global destruction in his role of leader of the global markets business at Deutsche Bank in India. I guess though, it takes a banker to convince another banker,
So after I calm down a little, I have to say the HRH Prince Charles made a very sensible, passionate, and well argued case for the environment ( he may have some very odd ideas about architecture, but he does understand the natural world ). He also suggested that we add a fourth R to Reduce, Re-use, Recycle. That fourth R would be Restore. What a sensible addition to the mantra.
Back to palm oil though. I have two reasons for the need for palm oil. It also explains the need for more timber in China, and the need to turn mangrove swamp into shrimp farms.
1: Population growth. I know I have written about this before, but when are we actually seriously going to look at the problem ? I know that the Optimum Population Trust is trying hard, and Richard Attenborough has been recently supporting their cause, but we need to listen.
2: Capitalism. OK I have written about this before too. We need to re-invent capitalism to be much more aware of the consequences of growth and, dare I say, greed.
I’ll try not to harp on this anymore.