Presidential Memo

The Biodiversity Alliance (The BA) was founded recently as a response to some major problems facing our planet Earth. We are overwhelmed with information showing we are causing severe damage to our world, but we seem unable or unwilling to do anything about this. Why is that?

One of the main causes is the lust for financial profit ~ whatever the cost. The consumer world is driven by the need for ‘stuff’, for things. Businesses create products for folk to buy, then create another for them to buy, and another? Consumers load up with items that they rarely use, and sooner or later these end up as environmental pollution. This whole Matrix-like reality is driven by money and the need to take as much of everything as possible ~ just in case someone else takes it first. Then you’d miss out. You work & shop, work & shop. So that’s one side of the story ? the greedy uncaring part.

The opposite side concerns those billions of folk that have very little, or perhaps nothing. Many lead very simple lives spending each day trying to find food and clean drinking water. Some would love to have a mobile phone, or some old clothes that other consumers think are rubbish. In fact, although they no longer function, many artefacts from the consumer world are found by the poorest people; usually washed on to the beaches by ocean waves.

Yet another ‘world’ is the biosphere: the places where life itself resides. The recent Living Planet Report (WWF 2014) gives a stark warning: in the 40 years since 1970 we have lost half of our vertebrate wildlife (fish, birds, mammals and reptiles for instance). I’ll reinforce that message: if you were born after 1970 this biodiversity loss has happened in your lifetime.

The main reasons for losing so much wildlife are that we’ve destroyed the habitats where animals have their homes and find their food. Humans are very good at making up excuses to justify our behaviour, but that does not miraculously put the habitats back in place. Mostly they’ve gone. In a few places the luckier animals are able to migrate to another habitat, but all too often the corridors between places have gone too and the animals die. The sequence of this process is: humans move into an area, plunder it or build upon it, either stay there causing further disturbance or leave when there is little left to take; the animal inhabitants try to survive as best they can, but their quality of life deteriorates until sooner or later they pass away. If they were unable to breed successfully and rear their young, then they are no more. Another species became extinct.

During that same time period since 1970 the global human population almost doubled again, so this problem isn’t going to go away. But why can’t anything be done about planetary destruction?

The Founders of the Biodiversity Alliance understood that there is no organisation in place that addresses the needs of global biodiversity. There are thousands of government departments, NGOs, multi-lateral agreements, international conventions, laws and regulations, and much else besides, all entwined in this issue: and in many cases these have now become part of the problem. We at the BA decided to consider this gross loss of life and habitats from many different points of view. We also recognised that a problem cannot be solved if some, or many, of the causes are ignored. It does not matter what our excuses are (e.g. financial profit to keep the world economy growing; or a near-perpetual ‘war on terror’): the habitats are degraded, fragmented or destroyed; the species gone. Unless we change our behaviour, and personally I’d advise we change immediately, then we are unable to stop planetary loss of biodiversity.

Who causes this planetary destruction? Each and every one of us. Everything we do has some impact. What we ought to be doing are only those activities that benefit our planet, not all of the things that destroy it. Why can’t we do beneficial things? Because our world is locked into destructive patterns.

Let’s take global climate change as an example. Some folk deny it’s even happening, and they produce much evidence in support of their claims; so those people can’t help us. Corporate interests are a big part of the problem, as they must make a profit in order to survive. Many governments approve these destructive and unsustainable activities, because they are a convenient source of tax revenue; thereby keeping the politicians in power. And round it goes. Natural resources are removed, converted into products, sold to consumers ~ who use them for a while and then buy something newer ~ and the consumer goods then become our planetary pollution. Electrical power is often generated from dirty, polluting fuels, despite there being a mass of evidence showing the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. If you think about each activity in your daily life: what impact does it have on our world, and what benefit does it deliver. Is your way of life mainly destructive or mainly beneficial to our planet? Perhaps you are one of the few who consciously live a sustainable life: a way of balance and harmony.

One curious factor is ‘Time’. In the corporate, consumer world everything is about time. Being at work on time, taking a micro-managed lunch or coffee break, don’t waste time, every second counts, time is money, just-in-time, time management, saving time etc. Exactly what are they saving time for? The business world rarely seems to have any time, certainly being able to spend a few leisurely hours with a chance-met friend would be frowned on. ‘Must rush, sorry’.

The natural world needs time in order for species to grow, mature and reproduce. It is a continual process, each species lives at its own speed. Nothing saved, nothing wasted. People who live close to nature, even if very poor, always have time to sit and share with friends or passing strangers. There is no rush; things are as they are. Once the daily food and water has been found, the day is yours.

Now it gets interesting: the business world is compelled to see any problem through the filter of profit-making; money has to keep coming in for an industry to survive. Thus it is better to drag a costly solution out across many months or years, so that the profit margin remains strong. An example would be at United Nations’ level, when talk is upon sustainable development or perhaps ending poverty ~ but only in 30-50 years time, not now! In stark contrast the natural world is impacted by the activities of this industrial-consumer world. Nature needs the impacts to stop, preferably immediately, so ecosystems can be rebalanced. It seems these two realities are so far apart that there is no common ground. Sustainable development seems a misnomer: development usually requires habitats to be degraded or destroyed and the species impacted ~ hardly sustainable.

A world badly out of balance

In recent decades we’ve managed to get our planet into a real predicament. A significant proportion of humanity is trying to destroy as many of Earth’s resources as possible: just to convert these into money. A foolish notion if ever there was one. At the end of everything we cannot eat money.

A smaller number of people are trying their best to make Earth’s population aware that we need biodiversity ~ the rich multitude of living species. We need diversity, abundance, and good quality flora and fauna. Just keeping the weakest specimens will not help us in future.

Between these groups we find the majority of people, caught up in the need to earn money to buy goods, toiling long hours to make ends meet. This, mainly silent, majority are used as labourers by the destructive group, and of course as consumers in the market place. The poorest people struggle to find their daily food and water supplies, and have little cash for shopping.

Large transnational corporations have become so dominant globally that they now manipulate and bribe governments openly. We’ve seen Bilateral Investment Trade Protection treaties that let these businesses sue national governments because a State chose to enact legislation to protect the environment or safeguard its citizens (e.g. ending nuclear power, or banning GMOs, or requiring mandatory health warnings on cigarette packets). The corporates claimed this damaged their ability to make a profit, or even their possible future profits. They care nothing for the wishes, needs and well-being of citizens of a nation. Secret tribunals decide verdicts, avoiding proper courts and the judiciary. Corporate madness. There is no international legal route that binds these corporates; instead they might make some voluntary, non-binding, gesture towards human or environmental rights and sustainability. It’s not enough.

Because corporations often pay little tax, avoid costly environmental legislation, and have a dedicated system of government bribery (lobbying) they do pretty much as they please. Career opportunities are offered to politicans who minimise regulatory difficulties; nepotism rules.

Because the law has been obstructed, tribunals conducted by businesses themselves (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organisation), and many politicians have been bought off: who is there left to turn to? Anyone? As a backlash to this situation many environmental supporters have become protesters. They are protesting against a system that has become corrupt and unfit for purpose. Yet if we think holistically, the people trying to conserve our Earth and to live sustainably should be our leaders ~ this should be our normal behaviour, not some radical stance.

Ecuador’s FM Ricardo Patino ?

One important undertaking for the Biodiversity Alliance is to promote and implement the creation of an International Environmental Criminal Court (IECC). Some good court systems do exist, but have inherent limitations. The International Criminal Court at The Hague is a good arrangement, but it doesn’t yet deal with environmental crime, and only States can initiate a proceeding. That is unhelpful if an individual person, area or town has suffered from corporate irresponsibility (e.g. Bhopal (dioxins), or Fukushima (radiation contamination). Who is there to ask for Justice?

The United Nations, which is the only forum where any country can be represented, also ought to take serious measures against planetary crimes, but all too often it gets hijacked by those countries who make substantial profits from such disasters. In other words the ‘vested interests’ manipulate or veto any legislation that would undermine their ability to make a profit. They use all manner of excuses (e.g. a war on terror to keep our world safe) to suit their very limited national political agendas; meanwhile the rest of the world suffers. The UN Charter of Human Rights should include environmental well-being as a fundamental human right. In other words every person on Earth has an equal right to breathe unpolluted air, to have abundant and wholesome food, and clean drinking water. They should each be able to live in peace, to educate their children, and to work tirelessly at leaving increased natural resources for their future generations, rather than leaving them nothing.

The European Court of Justice (Strasbourg?) underpins the European Charter of Human Rights, and should be serving the inhabitants of the 28 EU countries. Politics gets in the way here too. Britain’s Westminster Parliament now seeks to leave the ECHR, as it causes London some difficulties in corporate profit-making; in other words vested interests are at play here too.

We can see that there is a need for an IECC. A place where anyone in the world can go to for Justice. Some might say that such a venture is impossible, but that is no reason to not even try. How could such a court be binding on nations or corporates? One approach would be that those countries who join the IECC mechanism stop trading with the perpetrators of environmental crime. Because it is mostly profit-making or war that is destroying much of our planet: if the IECC nations close their markets to the despoilers, then things might change for planetary benefit. The way an IECC could work is for one or more countries to host the court (e.g. New Zealand, Iceland, or Scotland) and then other supportive nations join in. The Judges would be from different countries to reflect its global nature. Any case could be heard.


President, Biodiversity Alliance

25. November 2014