Inspirational reading and viewing

Here are a few things I have seen or read recently that I found inspiring:

  1. Beautiful wildlife photography exhibit at the Natural History Museum, London  –> visit
  2. An excellent 20 minute “TED talk” by the author of Prosperity Without Growth –> watch it
  3. Mini-summaries of new research in conservation biology on Conserve Words’ Twitter feed –> read it
  4. A collection of “weird mammal” pictures on the Guardian –> check them out

Trying to decide who is more disappointing: Tony Hayward or the audience at his talk

Reflections on a speech given by Tony Hayward on 11 November 2010

This evening I saw Tony Hayward, former CEO of BP, give a talk about the lessons learned from the Gulf of Mexico/Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I naïvely assumed that most of the audience would be there to hear what BP has learned and could share about how environmental and human impacts of activities like oil drilling can be mitigated.

So what really happened and why did I come out seething mad and bitterly disappointed? Continue reading “Trying to decide who is more disappointing: Tony Hayward or the audience at his talk”

Do you lead or do you manage?

Our lecturer today emphasized the complex tension between leadership and management, and pointed out that they are not the same and don’t always go hand in hand. Speaking with a classmate later that day, I thought about the fact that not all managers show leadership, and not all leaders can manage well. I hadn’t thought carefully about the difference before and it also makes me wonder what skills do we all need to work on to develop as leaders and as managers? Continue reading “Do you lead or do you manage?”

“Human population is not a problem for conservation”

This is what my classmates from India and China say. I must say, I was surprised to hear this from them! However, after our lecture on global carrying capacity (i.e. how many humans can the earth support) and some further discussions, this actually makes sense.
Despite general statements that sometimes get made by people I know that ‘there are just too many people on this planet’, what is more important in terms of conservation is not how many of us there are but how much we consume. In that case, the Americans and Europeans whose excessive resource use and energy consumption would require at least 1.5 planets if everyone behaved similarly, should be the ones to curb their numbers.

In short, it’s not about the number of people on the planet but about the consumption levels. Sure, in localized areas you may have too many people hunting a limited number of wild mammals for bushmeat or cutting trees for fuelwood, but globally the ecological footprint of the people whose numbers are growing fastest (the rural poor) is just not making that big of an impact.

This of course leads to the tough question: how can the developed countries tell the developing countries not to follow their model of development? Not to aim for their levels of consumption? It seems clear to me that where we’ve gotten ourselves might feel quite comfortable for the time being, but it’s totally unsustainable (yes, even technology won’t solve it all) and certainly if the rest of the world emulates what we have done…we will be in big trouble.

So instead of dealing with a population problem, I’m wondering how do we deal with the culture of consumption that not only infects our society, but is starting to infect the rest?

  • Calculate your own ecological footprint (feel free to post the answer in the comments): http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/
  • Watch the Impossible Hamster video: http://www.impossiblehamster.org/
  • A related book I’m thinking of reading: Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson

How do you perceive corruption – and when is it worth tolerating?

What should we do about trying to achieve conservation in corrupt countries? This was recently brought up in our first lecture of this term and presented as a trade-off, an interesting perspective since I think manyof the people in the world who have money to give might see this as a black or white issue. In fact,  this interactive map showing country’s scores on the Corruption Perception Index is much more colorful than one might expect! Check it out: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/interactive/2010/oct/26/corruption-index-2010-countries-world.
Definition of corruption: “Unlawful use of public office for private gain” (Transparency International 2007).

It’s mildly hypocritical to try to avoid corrupt areas, first of all because often our own countries (speaking from the perspective of the global North) don’t have such a clean slate anyway and secondly because in some places, all business (personal or corporate) is conducted through what some of us might call corruption. So when that is the case perhaps it is not worth fighting the system… or at least considering what trade offs would be acceptable.

Further reading:

  • A paper in Nature in 2003 (Governance and the loss of biodiversity, 426 67-70 – doi:10.1038/nature02025) found that where there is more corruption more elephants and rhinos are lost and that the places conservationists most want to conserve are often in places with corruption.
  • A paper called Should conservationists pay more attention to corruption? in Oryx 2005 (Oryx 2005, 39:251-256, 10.1017/S0030605305000608)
  • Conservation Trade-Offs book (see Reading List page of this blog)