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You are here: Home Resources Nature and Society, Journal of the Frank Fenner Foundation 2002 Nature & Society - February 2002

Nature & Society - February 2002

The Forum's Journal


It is just a year since Donella Meadows died. Who was she? Better known as Dana Meadows, she was the lead author of the 1972 report “The Limits to Growth” to the Club of Rome. Dana had worked with Jay Forrester, the researcher who modelled the continuous critical problems the Club of Rome wanted to address. As they worked, the modelling team saw that there was a primary cause for all these problems.

Forrester reported to the Club members on what the modellers had found. “There is a primary cause of the Continuous Critical Problems. It is growth - exponential growth of the physical economy and population against the earth’s physical limits. That which all the world sees as the solution to its problems is in fact a cause of its problems. Complex systems are often like that - counterintuitive.”

The Club members listened politely, then went back to discuss each of the world’s problems as though each was unrelated, and as though there were no limits. In her memoirs Dana commented on “… the inability of people to hear a message that questions one of their deepest assumptions. Even the concerned, sophisticated members of the Club of Rome could not accommodate in their conceptual framework the idea that growth might be a problem as well as a solution.”

In the intervening thirty years we have not become any better at understanding messages that conflict with our preconceptions. Business and government insist we must have growth, growth is good. Yet we can all see that as population and GDP grow so too does inequality. Humanitarian crises are on the rise and the number of refugees continues to escalate as a result of environmental problems as well as war.
When New York suffered the terror of the destruction of the World Trade Centre last September, what was the message that was heard? It was that the terrorists were evil men who hated the United States because of its democracy and way of life. And yes, the terrorists did hate the USA, but that country itself should question its own role in the matter. Some Americans wondered out loud why they should be hated when they were always doing good in the world. It is true that they often do good, but the world trade system over which they preside has done great harm to many countries.

The optimism of the early post World War II years has given way to despair as the poorer countries have watched the destruction of their own economies while the western world has become ever more affluent. The one fifth of the world’s population that live in the west now consume four fifths of the world’s production. That statistic alone shows that there is cause for ill will if not downright hatred. There are additional reasons such as religious intolerance and cultural animosities, but the sheer inequality goes a long way to explaining even these.

If we could manage to seek the real cause of the problems, to make the connections, to understand that growth itself can be good, bad or neutral, we could examine the claims for different kinds of growth. We would understand that growth that hurts other people, that harms the environment and destroys other species is bad. Growth of alternative technologies that provide a measure of comfort for everyone without destroying the environment is good. Growth in kindness and social capital is good. A decrease (negative growth) in inequality and in conflict would be very good indeed.

If the money which was almost effortlessly found so quickly for the War on Terrorism could be found to reform the world’s financial system to the benefit of debtor nations then that would be excellent. It would also ease the problems of the richer countries for it would reduce the stream of refugees and minimise the risk of terrorism. In our own interest we need to look for constructive ways to reduce inequality rather than go to war to protect ourselves.

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Forthcoming NSF meetings

20 February - 7.45 pm, Heysen Street, Weston

What Canberra needs to do to become sustainable

joint presentation by Dr John Schooneveldt and Dr Janis Birkeland

John and Janis will talk about the set of criteria for judging sustainability of urban environments they have recently developed as part of a consultancy with the ACT Government.

20 March - 7.45 pm, Heysen Street, Weston

Commercialisation of solar power and the Kyoto Protocol

Dr Andrew Blakers

The Australian National University has substantial R&D activities in the area of photovoltaics and concentrating solar thermal systems. The photovoltaic and solar thermal groups combine to form the Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems (CSES). CSES has about 40 staff and research students and derives most of its income from non-University sources. Our work covers the spectrum from basic R&D through to commercial contract research in the fields of photovoltaics and solar thermal. The talk will describe our activities in the context of commercialisation of solar energy and international negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol.

17 April - 7.45 pm, Heysen Street, Weston

The Australian Eco-labelling Program: a market trigger for sustainable development

Petar Johnson, President, Australian Environmental Labelling Association (AELA)

The Australian Ecolabel Program seeks to deliver to the Australian market a credible indication of the environmental performance of a product or service. By being able to recognise environmentally preferable products and services, consumers can better choose their ecological footprint and manufacturers can gain a competitive advantage on environmental performance. Environmental labelling promises to be an important market-based instrument for increasing design for environment and integrated product policy on the Australian market. Petar will present an overview of how the Ecolabelling Program works.

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Unfair Trade

You may have heard Professor George Mondeo talking on Background Briefing, Radio National on 13 November last year or in one of its summer repeats. Mondeo, of the UK University of East London, was speaking about the undemocratic nature of most of the international bodies which increasingly affect our lives.

The World Trade Organisation, for instance, represents corporations and presides over a “race to the bottom”, to the lowest common denominator in environmental standards. It penalises countries if they try to protect their people or their environment. It ensures that no country can prohibit imports on the basis of ethical, health or environmental concerns.

The almost unheard of Trans-Atlantic Economic Partnership was proposed by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in 1997. Anything that is allowed on one side of the Atlantic must be allowed on the other side. No barriers are admitted, for example, to trade in milk produced by injecting hormones into dairy cows in the USA, no matter what the cost to the cows or to human consumers. This organisation is run and monitored by the Trans-Atlantic Business Dialogue, consisting of the chief executives of the 100 biggest companies on either side of the Atlantic.
Turning to the resentment, anger and helplessness felt in so many indebted countries, Mondeo looked at the terrible legacy of debt inflicted by the current world financial system. He pointed out that the British economist John Maynard Keynes, dismayed by the results of debt between the two world wars, devised a system that would prevent recurrence.

Keynes realised that trading in national currencies would be a disaster as hard currencies would effectively wage war on soft currencies. He proposed a special international currency to be run by a bank he called The International Clearing Union. It would charge creditor nations the same interest as debtors, so there would be an incentive to maintain a zero balance. Any country with a credit would either invest heavily in poorer countries or it would alter the terms of trade to favour indebted ones. This would ensure indebted countries received fair terms for their products, which is the reverse of what happens now.

Arguing for its proposal, Keynes predicted exactly what would happen if it lost. It did, and we got the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and debt.

A World Trade Organisation that reversed its present stand would be a good thing. It would set minimum international standards in human rights, social and environmental protection, and use sanctions to prevent any undercutting of them.

We need to discuss the politics of scale as well as economies of scale in economics. It may be necessary to limit the size of corporations, some of which are bigger than nation states. A global cap on executive pay, limiting it to a certain multiple of the lowest wages paid in the corporation, could effectively raise the living standards of lower paid workers.

Mondeo concluded that governments do not give power away, but people can take it by non-violent protest and by full participation (not just by voting) in the political process.

He thinks this is the point when the world could begin to change for the better. Making the world better, more prosperous and much fairer would be a fitting memorial to the people who died on 11th Sept. and those who have died since in Afghanistan.

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Slow Cities

The “slow food” movement started as a protest in 1986 when McDonald’s first opened in Rome. Now more than 70,000 people in over fifty countries have joined the movement to celebrate meals prepared with love and consumed at leisure.

Recently Italy took a lead again in resisting the global speed-up. In 1999 Paolo Saturnini, mayor of Greve-in-Chianti, a medieval hilltop town in Tuscany, started thinking about applying the slow food philosophy to towns. He got together with some other mayors, discussing the same principles of cherishing local traditions, believing in diversity, and resisting the globalisation of culture.

More than thirty Italian towns have signed up. They are not anti-progress. They are happy to use technology to control air, noise and light pollution. They want modern waste-cycling and composting facilities. They are keen to encourage local business. They value their own communities and traditions.

The movement is spreading slowly (as is appropriate) with some towns outside Italy interested. So far not one town in the English speaking world has shown any interest.
(The Canberra Times 8 Jan 02)

Now there’s a thought. Maybe Canberra could take the lead. Of course many Sydneysiders and Melbournians would scoff and say that Canberra is already an unwitting member, which we in Canberra know is not true. But it seems that the ideas of the Slow Cities movement would sit nicely with conservation ethics. They should also appeal to the land of the long weekend, where lazy days at the beach or the cricket ground have traditionally been treasured.

Emboldened by this article I am including in this issue an essay I wrote last year for a competition run by Shell and The Economist on the topic “Going faster - but where?” Unfortunately slowing down did not appeal to the judges!

Jenny Wanless

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Going Faster - But Where?

by Jenny Wanless

The Aboriginal people of the Uluru (Ayers Rock) region of Central Australia put out a video for tourists some years ago. One of its aims was to gently dissuade tourists from climbing the rock, which is sacred to their tribes. The video showed a speeded-up view of the climbers, like a procession of ants scuttling up the rock and down again. It made the activity look ridiculous and raised the question, “what are these people doing?”

This is an appropriate image and question for humans hurrying around the globe during the 20th Century. The advent of the railways in the 19th Century enabled many people to travel and the car and the aeroplane greatly expanded the number of travellers over the next century. What will happen in the present century? At the moment the trend is up, with exponential growth in numbers of tourists, just as there has been in the total number of humans. A hundred years ago it was fairly rare for a person to have been around the world. Now a great many people have been around it several times and some circumnavigate it every few weeks. And just as sheer numbers of people are harming the earth so too is the ceaseless travel. It has been said that tourists destroy the very things they go to see, and there is a good deal of truth in that.

There are several ways in which mass transport of people and goods harm the world. The most obvious is the use of fossil fuel in various forms to power planes, trains and motor vehicles, with the concomitant exhaust gases contributing mightily to the enhanced greenhouse effect. A second problem is increased consumption and waste en route. At home a careful person can avoid small packets of food and toiletries, cutting down on unnecessary packaging. When travelling it seems inevitable that you become part of a vast chain of rubbish, and that opportunities for recycling become less. Also sheets and towels will be laundered more frequently for travellers than for stay-at-homes, using more electricity, water and detergent.

A third problem is that multitudes of people trampling over ancient sites or natural landscapes cause erosion. Even the air the visitors breathe out can be damaging, which is one of the reasons Lascaux Cave had to be closed to the general public.

Another very serious problem which is becoming apparent is the unwitting transport of diseases and pests. Ships have always carried “passengers” on their hulls or in their bilge water. Now ballast water is a major problem; it has carried many pest species of marine life to new areas. In a time of slower travel it was possible for quarantine services to prevent some diseases and pests from travelling to new areas. Now, with faster travel and huge numbers of movements, quarantine services are rendered largely ineffectual. Planes are particularly bad as they can travel anywhere on earth within the incubation period of any disease.

So although many countries are basing their economies more and more on tourism the costs of tourism may at times outweigh the benefits. When a country has to destroy its sheep and cattle herds because of disease introduced from another country then the profitability of mass transport and tourism must be questioned.

Even the more benign sounding eco-tourism has its down-side. It is simply not possible for more than small numbers of people to visit an important or endangered area without deleterious effects on it: the more people, the greater the impact. Eco-tourists, too, unless they are prepared to walk everywhere and do without many comforts, will have similar effects to other tourists in their use of fossil fuels and other resources.

So there are reasons why the great increase in travel of our own times may well be a temporary feature. Just as the population has been growing exponentially but now shows signs that it will peak and then decline, so too mass tourism will decline as reality bites during the 21st Century.

It is not only tourism that produces the untoward results. Even when we stay at home our modern lifestyle leads to similar problems. In our rush to fit more into our day we go everywhere by car. This not only leads to a great increase in harmful emissions, but also to a huge expansion in road systems which have their own serious consequences. Good agricultural land gets consumed, wild life suffers as habitat is carved up, run-off from roads can poison ground water.

The consequences for humans are also serious. Drivers suffer tension and frustration, which add to the tensions inherent in living in a rush. But while the nervous system is abused by over-use, other bodily systems, such as the muscles, including the heart, get too little healthy exercise. The result is a great increase in obesity, diabetes and other diseases of modern life. These effects on health were obvious before the end of the last century and attempts have been made to counter them. But the cure is often as bad as the disease, with people rushing (yet again) to the gym for a work-out, or travelling considerable distances to sporting activities. Many of these sports generate their own environmental problems.

Meanwhile environmental consciousness has been rising and people have been increasingly concerned about what is happening to wildlife and forests, water, air and the climate. But for a long time there has been great resistance to the realisation that modern lifestyles, as well as population numbers, have been driving the changes.

Looking back from the late 21st Century, it will be interesting to study the attitudes of people at the time. Quite early the plight of the panda was used to mobilise people to save wildlife, but the panda was seen as a victim of forest clearing and over-population in China. The demise of wild tiger populations early in the present century upset many people but it was blamed on traditional medicine demands. Our great ape cousins were eliminated from the wild, but this was caused by habitat loss and the bush meat trade. In every case someone else was at fault. But when the last wild polar bears died in the first quarter of this century the developed nations were finally struck with their guilt. The bears had not been hunted, trapped, tortured or used in any way. They had been left almost alone in the arctic wilderness, the only intrusion being a few harmless oil fields but modern living had deprived them of the snow and ice without which they could not live.

What was worse was that although it might have been possible to keep captive populations of apes and tigers, breeding generation after generation while some portions of the earth were reforested, there was nothing that could be done for the polar bears. There was no way to make snow in sufficient quantities to enable the bears to go back to the wild. As even skiers admitted reluctantly, driving to the snow fields and making the snow artificially had helped to cripple their sport and doom the bears.

This realisation at last forced people to think about what they were doing. They realised this ease of travel had been bought at great cost to the environment and had already destroyed much of what made travel worthwhile. Cities everywhere were very similar, the distinctive animals and plants of different regions were disappearing and what was left was being swamped by introduced species.

Instead of travelling, people started to look back to what had been lost. They visited a virtual world by use of sophisticated technologies, not including real-time travel. Participants ‘travelled’ back to the world of 50 or 100 years earlier, visiting the rainforests, the arctic tundra, the coral reef that had been lost. They determined not to let any more species vanish from the earth if it was possible to prevent their disappearance. About the same time governments in developed countries started to take energy conservation measures seriously for the first time. This was helped, of course, by the realisation that natural gas and oil reserves were getting low and prices were skyrocketing. Business and government stopped blaming oil producers for profiteering and instead looked realistically at their options. Businesses that had taken the matter seriously for some decades were in the best position to keep operating. Oil companies that had moved into renewable energy were able to cash in on their foresight. Others found themselves out of business as governments decided they had to conserve what reserves there were to fuel agriculture. To prevent famine, new ways had to be found to feed a world population which had depended on petrochemical inputs into agriculture for over 50 years.

As for looking to mass tourism to keep economies afloat, that was completely out of the question. By the middle of this century, the only vehicles on the road were powered by hydrogen which had been produced by electricity from a renewable resource such as solar, wind or water power. These sources were still limited, so most of the hydrogen was reserved for public transport, causing a change of pace for everyone.

The 21st Century, which had started with airlines competing for more flights, more passengers, was only half over when there was not a plane left in the sky. There was also not a polar bear left alive on the planet.

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Polar Bears and Three-Year-Olds on Thin Ice

Donella Meadows' The Global Citizen, February 2, 2002
(Donella Meadows' last newspaper column before her sudden illness)

The place to watch for global warming — the sensitive point, the canary in the coal mine — is the Arctic. If the planet as a whole warms by one degree, the poles will warm by about three degrees. Which is just what is happening.

Ice now cover 15 percent less of the Arctic Ocean than it did 20 years ago. In the 1950s that ice averaged 10 feet thick; now it’s less than six feet thick. At the current rate of melting, in 50 years the northern ocean could be ice-free all summer long.

That, says an article in Science of January 19, would be the end of polar bears. In fact many creatures of the Arctic Ocean are already in trouble.

Until recently no one knew that there were many creatures of the Arctic Ocean. In the 1970s a Russian biologist named Melnikov discovered 200 species of tiny organisms, algae and zooplankton, hanging around ice floes in immense numbers, forming slime jungles on the bottoms of bergs and plankton clouds in every break of open water. Their carcasses fall to the bottom to nourish clams, which are eaten by walruses. Arctic cod live on algae scraped off the ice. The cod are eaten by seabirds, whales, and seals. The king of the food chain, hunting mainly seals, is the great white bear.

That was the system until the ice started to thin. In 1997 and 1998 Melnikov returned to the Beaufort Sea and found most of the plankton species, many named by him (and for him), were gone. The ice was nearly gone. Creatures dependent on the plankton (like the cod), or on the ice for dens (seals) or for travel (bears) were gone too.

Many had just moved north, following the ice, but that means moving farther from land, with widening stretches of open water between. Creatures like the black guillemot, a bird that depends on land for shelter and the ice floe for food, can no longer bridge the gap.

The Arctic is changing faster than scientists can document. Inuit hunters report that ivory gulls are disappearing; no one knows why. Mosquitoes are moving north, attacking murres, which will not move from their nests, so they are literally sucked and stung to death. Caribou can no longer count on thick ice to support their island-hopping in search of the lichens that sustain them. One biologist who spots caribou from the air says, “You sometimes see a caribou trail heading across [the ice], then a little wormhole at the end with a bunch of antlers sticking out.”

Hudson’s Bay polar bears are thinner and are producing fewer cubs. With the ice going out earlier, their seal-hunting season is shrinking. Hungry bears retreat to land and ransack garbage dumps. The town of Churchill in Canada has more jail cells for bears than for people. The bears are also weakened by toxic chemicals that drift north from industrial society and accumulate in the Arctic food chain.

Every five years the world’s climatologists assess current knowledge about global warming. Their latest report was just released. It erases any doubt about where this warming is coming from and warns that we ain’t seen nothing yet. If we keep spewing out greenhouse gases according to pattern, we will see three to ten times more warming over the 21st century than we saw over the 20th.

Some biologists are saying the polar bear is doomed.

A friend of mine, in response to this news, did the only appropriate thing. She burst out weeping. “What am I going to tell my three-year-old?” she sobbed. Any of us still in contact with our hearts and souls should be sobbing with her, especially when we consider that the same toxins that are in the bears are in the three-year-old. And that the three-year-old over her lifetime may witness collapsing ecosystems, north to south, until all creatures are threatened, especially top predators like polar bears and people.

Is there any way to end this column other than in gloom? Can I give my friend, you, myself any honest hope that our world will not fall apart? Does our only possible future consist of watching the disappearance of the polar bear, the whale, the tiger, the elephant, the redwood tree, the coral reef, while fearing for the three-year-old?

Heck, I don’t know. There’s only one thing I do know. If we believe that it’s effectively over, that we are fatally flawed, that the most greedy and short-sighted among us will always be permitted to rule, that we can never constrain our consumption and destruction, that each of us is too small and helpless to do anything, that we should just give up and enjoy our SUVs while they last, well, then yes, it’s over. That’s the one way of believing and behaving that gives us a guaranteed outcome.

Personally I don’t believe that stuff at all. I don’t see myself or the people around me as fatally flawed. Everyone I know wants polar bears and three-year-olds in our world. We are not helpless and there is nothing wrong with us except the strange belief that we are helpless and there’s something wrong with us. All we need to do, for the bear and ourselves, is to stop letting that belief paralyze our minds, hearts, and souls.

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Cooperative Success

The story of desertification along the southern edge of the Sahara desert has been told often, but Fred Pearce found a much more hopeful story in the region. He visited an intensively farmed area in Nigeria and found that farmers were doubling and tripling their yields. They were keeping livestock confined but were spreading the manure on their fields. They were growing nitrogen fixing crops such as cowpeas, in addition to grains. The legumes and manure replaced what the grains removed from the soil and fertility was increasing.

The same story was being repeated in other countries in the region. Crop yields were up despite decreasing rainfall; good crops were growing on an annual rainfall as low as 300 mm. Soil quality was not declining.

All the improvements were the results of farmers applying traditional skills in soil and water conservation more intensively. Most importantly, the people had intensified their system of cooperation. They worked together in each others’ fields during busy times, weeding, building low walls to retain the occasional heavy rain and to prevent erosion. They lent and borrowed land, livestock and equipment. They saved and swapped seed varieties.

The result has been improved yields, enough to feed a much increased population, without land degradation. Indeed, in a formerly badly degenerated hill district of Kenya, output per hectare is now ten times greater than in the 1930s and five times what is was in the 1960s. There are more trees than there have been for a century, and tens of thousands of kilometers of terracing have cut erosion. Many hands, working together, have shown that farming does not have to destroy soils, and traditional skills can enable Africa to feed itself.

New Scientist 27 Oct 2001

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A Locust Flapped its Wings ...

In 1852 a locust somehow found its way to the west of England, well outside its normal range. The unusual insect was given to 24 year old Eleanor Ormerod. She was intrigued and sent it to an expert for identification. She also bought a book on insects and started studying entomology. Her family were not happy about this new interest, but she quietly kept on with it for the next 16 years. Then an announcement in The Gardeners’ Chronicle attracted her attention: The Royal Horticultural Society asked readers to help in a study of garden insects, to find out which ones were helpful, which ones pests.

Eleanor became absorbed in the project. She got farm labourers and children to help her collect insects. She experimented with ways to control pests using simple but effective methods. She found that a few coils of hay rope around a tree trunk stopped the caterpillars of codling moth climbing into fruit trees. She would send a boy up a tree to nip out insect nests.

After her father died in 1873 Eleanor became a public figure. She pursued her interests and published her findings at her own expense. She printed “Notes on injurious insects” and sent copies to anyone who asked; she had to print 170,000 copies of her report on the warble fly. This pest burrowed deeply into the skin of cattle, and Eleanor’s cure “a dab of cart grease and sulphur applied to the infested area of the hide” was reputed to have saved half the country’s cows.

In 1881 the Royal Agricultural Society asked Eleanor to be their Consulting Entomologist, unpaid, but effectively the country’s chief entomologist. She received requests for advice from all over the world, from farmers. scientists and government officials and she answered every one.

She understood biological control. She examined the case of a watercress grower who could not pay his rent because his crop was ruined by caddis fly larvae. She found that the landlord’s wife had encouraged herons, which ate the trout that formerly kept the caddis fly population in check. She suggested that the landlord’s wife should make good the shortfall!

Later on Eleanor started getting hate mail. Her crime was suggesting that house sparrows should be culled, that the former ‘sparrow clubs’ should be revived. The clubs had existed in every parish and used to offer rewards for dead birds and eggs. Obviously in earlier times farmers had agreed with Eleanor that sparrows were pests that ate a great deal of grain and drove off the insect-eating swallows and martins. Without these birds the insect pests flourished. As the “farmers’ friend” Eleanor Ormerod was happy to take on the sentimental people who were appalled by her suggestion.

abridged from an article by Stephanie Pain
New Scientist 10 Nov 01

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Island Life

The ABC is to be congratulated on its television series, Island Life. Not having seen any of the advance publicity I was expecting to see lots of lovely scenery with people snorkelling and otherwise enjoying themselves, or else a naturalist's view of the wildlife. What I had not expected was some of all that, combined with more important information on preservation of species, problems caused by introduced animals and the need for quarantine.

On Barrow Island, home to an oil company that apparently takes conservation seriously, naturalist Harry Butler has a continuing role in educating the oil company's workers in the importance of protecting the habitat, and in observing strict quarantine measures. Company policy forbids the introduction of pets, and pests are strictly excluded too. Birds are the only species that can avoid the quarantine measures.
Harry has trained several workers in the care of injured animals, a job the men have embraced with enthusiasm, but he stresses that the care of habitat is far more important in preserving the island's wildlife. He considers the latter to be quite safe while the oil company is operating, but is concerned about the future of the island after the company's work comes to an end.

Quarantine was also the focus of the episode on the Torres Strait Islands where the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) maintains a vigil to keep out screw worm fly and other pests. Sentinel pigs are used on some of the islands and on Cape York itself, to monitor any advance by Japanese encephalitis. Cattle herds on the Cape are also monitored on a monthly basis, to test for disease. Few Australians can have any idea of the work of AQIS and the dedication of its staff in what are beautiful but could be very trying conditions.

Kangaroo Island, on the other hand, is an object lesson of a different kind. In the early 20th Century, well meaning members of a fauna society introduced koalas, platypuses and Cape Barron Geese. All have thrived, koalas far too well. Now unfortunately the koalas need to be culled but popular conceptions refuse to permit this action. What to do is a big problem. Sterilisation has been tried but is expensive and not very effective. Meanwhile, the local black glossy cockatoo is in trouble, but here, at least, the local (human) population is willing to learn and keen to help.

Islands are wonderful places, romantic and exciting. They also show us in microcosm the effects of our actions on nature. We can learn a lot from contemplating them.

Jenny Wanless

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The Business of Biodiversity

The Australian Conservation Foundation sponsors the Tela series of papers that explore relationships between the environment, the economy and society. Number 9, The Business of Biodiversity by Hugh Possingham, was issued in September last year, with the Earthwatch Institute as co-sponsor.

The paper stresses the importance of applying business-like thinking to the management of biodiversity. To date our attempts to conserve biodiversity have been well-intentioned but not very successful. To do better we need to think through the issues clearly, decide on goals, pose problems explicitly, have clearly stated objectives and use decision-making tools to decide on appropriate actions. The work in progress must be monitored and revised in light of fresh data and research.

Current practice in biodiversity conservation is to try to save every critically endangered species. This may be a waste of money and effort. A triage system could be used to save vulnerable species which can actually be saved rather than putting the money into a hopeless case.

If biodiversity conservation is treated as a business with good decision making methods and careful monitoring, then the national asset base of rich biodiversity has a better chance of survival than can be achieved by current ad hoc measures.

Tela papers are available on

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