17 June, 2008

Hominids



Hominid is being kindly contributed by Patrick Schwarz, Founder and Managing Director of Scuba Seraya Resort in Tulamben (Bali).


It is the first part of a 5-part series which has won Patrick the "Underwater Photo Journalist Award" at the recent CTS 2008.


I have had the honor of knowing Patrick for sometime now. He is a visionary, a doer and ultimately a fighter who never gives up.


Hominids:


I was awoken the other day by an incoming sms alert my daughter had sent from half way around the globe. She wrote: As it was zooming by, a planet was looking at the earth and asked: “you don’t look well. Are you ill”? “As a matter of fact, yes” said the earth. “I am suffering from severe homo sapiens”. “Oh, don’t worry”, replied the planet, “that will pass”. More people than one would think now believe that we are about to ruin the very foundation that sustains us. Just the day before I learned that the European space agency and the Alliance to Rescue Civilisation will set up a colony on the moon where scientists will store human DNA with which one day our species could be revived. In Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened on February 28 on the island of Spitsbergen. Its mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity in traditional gene banks. Coral banks in several locations should one day enable us to “replant” lost reefs.
The year 2007 ended with a grand event here on Bali. More than 15,000 delegates from all over the world attended the UNCC meeting on global warming. Attendance was truly global. Among innumerable heads of governments, ministers and NGO (non government organizations) representatives, our (Swiss) Minister for the economy, Doris Leuthart, was here. Early into her new posting in what I take was a clever political move, she made it clear into whose portfolio environmental matters belong. Mainstream politicians and political parties increasingly embrace environmental matters, much to the chagrin of green parties everywhere, as this is a trend that is eroding their very raison d´etre.
Australia had a government change just before the event. The new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, signed the Kyoto protocol before his arrival on Bali. Al Gore, certainly the most outspoken heavyweight in matters of global warming, essentially came here to apologize for his country’s not ratifying it. Much impressed as I was reading his acceptance speech for the Nobel Price, I couldn’t help feel frustrated. The writing’s so clearly on the wall, yet there is still way too much talk only. While humanity bickers, nature suffers and temperatures keep rising. And as we now know, much faster than during any cyclical climate change ever before. The world’s ice caps are melting. The situation will not worsen in increments; once the white of the poles and glaciers diminishes and more and more heat from the sun is absorbed by the dark spots, it will snowball. At the rate we are going today, probably by the time I retire, my resort’s sea wall will be a fish habitat and the waves will lap at the doors of our sea frontage bungalows. And should I ever decide to return to my roots in Alpine Switzerland, chances are that there will no longer be great skiing there despite some NGOs covering glaciers with huge tarpaulins during summers in an attempt to slow down their meltdown. Unless of course, the polar melt down will be so massive, it whacks the Gulf Stream off its course. Then, white Christmases will be guaranteed. It will be very cold and stormy, year round, and obviously many will ask: what global warming? The more the issue is being politicized, the more talk we must endure. In today’s overly liberal and capitalistic world governments are run much like businesses. Spurred by approval ratings and vote gathering, politicians are obliged to ride waves of public opinion and trends that are so finicky and ever changing it is rendering them nearly ineffective. Doers and shakers will not last long in a political environment. Case in point perhaps is Australia’s former Environment Minister under the Howard Government, Ian Campbell. He just joined the Advisory Board of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who by many is regarded as a group of dangerous militants for their forceful actions protecting the world’s oceans. As you read this Sea Shepherds have a season of physically doing battle at the Antarctic behind them. They were again harassing the Japanese whaling fleet and their murderous business that is condemned by all, yet with no one actually intervening on nature’s behalf. Greenpeace and even the Australian government were present for some time, but they behaved politically correct and just observed, taking pictures and sending them out for the world to see, upsetting a lot of people, temporarily, until the next shocking news cast appeared in the media that drew their attention onto the next subject, as every year. Ian Campbell says that twenty years of diplomacy has failed to stop a steady escalation of Japanese whale quota. I wouldn’t be surprised if he achieves more over the next two years into his new, laudable venture.
Globally, there is a hot debate going on into whose domain the environment issue will and should primarily be: governments, NGOs or even corporations. In the capitalistic world, a new trend has taken hold; CSR, or Corporate Social Responsibility. Robert Reich, former secretary of Labour under Bill Clinton and now professor of public policy at UC Berkeley has this to say: “That (CSR) is a completely meaningless term. If a company is doing something because it’s good PR and it helps the bottom line, that’s fine. If it’s taking certain actions to lower costs, like recycling, that’s good management. But there is nothing socially responsible about any of this. We should give up corporate social responsibility in favour of laws and rules that set boundaries around how companies are allowed to operate”. Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF) based in Geneva, Switzerland, by contrast, has this to say: “The days of the all-powerful nation-state are long gone. The need for business to play such a role (shoulder the burden of tackling the problems of environmental degradation and the threats to public health) is now beyond question. Businesses should start to create what I call Corporate Global Citizenship and become a catalyst for a new Global Governance System”. Wow! He does not say or make suggestions how such a system could possibly work though.
The problem with NGOs is that they are often bi-polar due to their interdependence with corporate funding. This leaves them prone to abuse by business interests. WWF (World Wildlife Fund) in 2006 received more than USD 30 million in donations or consultancy fees. They say that they will not accept cash from companies unless they are committed to change. NGO-corporation alliances do produce tangible results at times, however. Wal-Mart shoppers, for example, now buy fresh fish from sustainable stocks thanks to Environmental Defense, an NGO that has an office inside Wal-Mart’s Bentonville, Arkansas corporate headquarters. Greenpeace is an exception. They depend wholly on private donations. Business as an ally needs to be treated with extreme caution; NGOs are easily duped, say sceptics. “Green is red hot this season” screamed a recent headline. Companies are adding eco-prefixes to every product imaginable. How about “Earth-friendly” vodka? (360) or a bamboo encased laptop? (Asus). Those may be harmless excesses. However, too much is at stake with our environment to waste time on eco-trivialities. NGOs are still the most dominant catalyst; but governments have, and always will have, more clout. What it takes is political will. When a government is dragging its feet in matters of the environment, it is the NGOs and the populace at large that need to mobilize and engage it. Vice versa; when the populace gets too complacent in environmental matters, it is the government’s responsibility to redress and guide. Take Japan for example: 14% of the Japanese are against whaling. Only 11% are for it. The remaining 75% has no opinion. Political wrangling and the failure of the International Whaling Commission allowed Japans minority pro-whaling lobby to have its way. And what does the Japanese government do? Instead of redressing the situation by stepping in and shake up the complacent 75% lot, it insists on it’s “legal” right to tolerate whaling “for research purposes” and starts a counter-campaign airing how “brutal Australians” (the worlds most outspoken anti-whaling lobby) are slaughtering Rabbits and Kangaroos. It tops this off by sending a navy ghost ship after the whaling fleet, just in case. When Ocean Geographic pronounced in a recent article “Japanese are Killing Whales” they were absolutely right, because under the circumstances, this is exactly what Japan is doing, not just its 11% pro-whaling minority. The Japanese government is clearly in the wrong. International lobbying by NGOs or voluntary boycotts of Japanese goods is not sufficient. Governments of nations with a strong anti-whaling majority must put much more determined pressure on an errant government like the Japanese in matters that concern the entire globe. When whales are extinct, they will be missed not just in the seas surrounding Japan.


... To be Continued....

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