Funding Conservation

This post is not just another plug for the wonder that is New Zealand. It is a suggestion about how we, in the UK, might make a greater contribution to funding conservation worldwide. What if the 0.7% of GDP that is currently a protected budget within UK government spending, was to be spent entirely on conservation?

I have just watched the third of the recent BBC series on the natural world of New Zealand.  The series may look, to anyone who has not been there, as though it should have been part funded by the New Zealand Tourist board. However, trust me, it really is that wonderful.

The genetic diversity of this planet is a precious treasure trove. The human race is morally its guardian, to preserve and enhance; not its owner, to plunder and degrade. Also, on a more prosaic, self-serving level, the genetic diversity of the planet is a gold mine of potential benefits for the human race. Think of the foods and medicines that have been developed from nature, and we have barely begun to explore the possible benefits. If you throw a 1M quadrant on the tropical forest floor, only some 1% of the species you find are already known to man. Of course the other 99% are not large, fluffy, endearing mammals. They tend to be plants, insects, worms, fungi and microbes – and we know absolutely nothing about them.

To preserve genetic diversity, and discover what those genes can actually do, requires the conservation of species, which requires the conservation of habitat. Large areas of habitat!

Developed nations have substantially degraded the natural habitat that they govern, so the most valuable habitats tend to be governed by poorer nations. And there are the oceans and poles not governed by any specific nation. Two particular problems arise with expecting poorer nations to bear the cost of the conservation effort that is required.

1 – There is no moral or intellectually coherent case to be made for denying less developed countries the habitat degrading path to development that was followed by developed nations.

2 – The wealth required for the scale of conservation effort required is [obviously] in wealthier countries rather than poorer countries.

The protection of the overseas development budget by the UK government is widely resented by UK tax payers. My suggestion here is that not only would spending 0.7% of UK GDP on conservation be a wonderful thing for the planet and future generations, but also that it could be politically popular. I for one would welcome this expenditure on conservation of habitat, species, and genetic diversity.

The NZ Department of Conservation (DOC) performs heroically, as the BBC program highlighted in the case of the Kakapo, but it is facing budget cuts as New Zealand struggles to find the funds that it considers necessary. New Zealand is indeed poorer than the UK, and “Yes” I would have some of this money going to projects in New Zealand. But also to projects in India, Africa, South America and the Pacific.

If we are going to ring fence the UK overseas development budget, surely this is how it should be spent.


Educating Immigrants

I have just spent ten days in Germany and was very struck by the approach to immigrants. I found no interest in assessing whether Angela Merkel was right to take in so many immigrants in the last year. There is more than just interest in the integration of immigrants, there is genuine enthusiasm.

An infant teacher that I spoke to has finished the four year cycle with her class and has just received the list of names for the class she will have for the next four years. Of the 26 names, just 9 are recognisably German. Clearly names are not an infallible guide to cultural identity. To give just two examples; Mesut Özil is thoroughly German and Shoala Ameobia is Geordie through and through. However, whether the 17 non-German names, actually predominantly Muslim names, are German, Muslim or Eskimo is not the point. The point is that this teacher believes she is getting a class loaded with Muslim immigrants. And she is delighted!

She will not just be cranking the handle one more time – doing what she has done many times before. Here is a chance for her to use her skills to really benefit children who are at a particularly difficult time in their lives.

Also, she points out that it is wrong to place too much emphasis on the fact that immigrants often do not have a fluent grasp of their new host language. She is expecting that many of her new class will be struggling with their German. However, they will also be struggling with a fluent grasp of their native language. They have not been in school, possibly ever, and they have been outside their native country, possibly for years. She makes the point that not having a fluent grasp of any language undermines a child’s confidence. Educating these children presents many complex challenges – what a great opportunity!