Doom and Gloom

In a dark place. But a brighter world is ahead?

From the 44 million birds now thought to be missing-in-action in the British countryside since the late 60’s, to trouble in the Middle East (let’s hope the truce holds) to the Church I grew up in once again proving itself unable to take one step out of the past, it’s not exactly been a good news week. On the face of it, few weeks are, especially if one tends to read a lot of wildlife and environment news as I do. Whether it’s because positive stories make boring copy, or because things really are that bad, I don’t know, but in this the season of decay signs of hope are few and far between.

Meanwhile I’ve not got out enough, spending far too much time in the house, in the car, in labs, staring out the window at wind, rain and swirling rubbish in the streets, feeling vaguely ill and vaguely sorry for myself. If I think hard enough about it I’ve seen some great wildlife, from a 200-strong flock of lapwings to a lovely male wood duck on the lake at the end of our road. (Yes, I know they don’t ‘count’, but they’re still lovely!) But somehow they haven’t moved me as they normally should and would.

So when I sat thinking what I should blog about this week, I struggled, at first, to think of something, well, positive to say at all. It was as I chewed on this that I came across an excellent quote from John Lister Kaye on what his idea of good nature writing is:

“So, good nature writing is for me any text that engages the reader with wild nature and with the experience of the writer in a meaningful way. I like to think that good nature writing is much more than an entertaining read. I believe it should be informative, thought provoking, challenging of damaging Western values that are destructive of nature, philosophical and, at the same time, uplifting. In my opinion elegiac texts are fine; prophesies of doom do not score highly with me. We need to inspire people to understand and respect wild nature, not to make them think it’s all hopeless.”

Sir John Lister Kaye

Reading it I felt a bit pleased with myself, as I don’t think I do too badly by his measure, most of the time. Though I’ve no doubt my writing has near infinite room for improvement. But I do easily give in to the temptation to have a good rant. Not often on the blog, usually elsewhere, but I’m as guilty as anybody I know of negativity. Whilst in actual fact I don’t believe being negative is always bad – since many a disappointment stems from false hope and pretending there’s nothing wrong in the world – I can see why it doesn’t make for the most engaging, inspiring writing.

Luckily whilst wading through the day’s deluge of internet delights this morning, I came across a good, solid reason to live in hope, and finally today’s blog subject (to which I most belatedly turn) came to me: conservation is affordable. I’m sure it’s very hard to estimate exactly how much hard currency it would actually take to save the world, or whatever exactly it is we’re trying to achieve. But a group of scientists has had a go anyway, and come up with some interesting figures. The upper limit of their estimate for the amount of money it would take specifically to reduce by one or more threat levels the risk to all endangered species is $4.76 billion a year. A higher sum, $76.1 billion, would be enough to fully protect the world’s most important conservation areas.

An unimaginable sum? Perhaps so, as it’s an order of magnitude higher than what conservationists currently have at their fingertips, as the authors of the paper pointed out. But it isn’t so unrealistic when compared to global military spending, to pick on an example, which amounts to a whopping $1.735 trillion – of which 40% is spent by the Pentagon. Just 4% of that figure, or in other words a tenth of the US military budget, would provide some huge wins for conservation, and – I believe – would do very little to harm global security.*

For now, that’s my small challenge to a Western value – militarism – which I think is indeed highly destructive of nature. Mostly in an indirect way** by hoovering up resources both human and financial, but nonetheless destructive. And since most of my readers will be residents of democratic countries, there’s actually something concrete we can do about this, hence the reason for hope. We have the right to directly petition our elected representatives, so in the next week I’ll distract myself from despair by writing to some of them with a positive message. I’ll be asking them to commit to spending less on bombs and more on birds; to fund drone flies instead of drones, clusters of wildflowers, not cluster munitions; the marine environment, not submarines. My missives may well fall on deaf ears, but it’s got to be better than sitting by the window, mumbling prophecies of doom.

*In fact as a supporter of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, I think reducing arms spending would do our collective security a lot of good. Their website is a good place to start to learn more.

** Indeed, it’s somewhat unfortunate that heavily militarised land tends to end up having quite high conservation value and which could be called militarism directly helping nature. Just because something works doesn’t make it right, which is a long philosophical argument for another day. Of course, a big military budget will also have a big industrial footprint, which may well have more direct negative effects on nature.

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