The Risk-Monger

Green Week runs a bit too long at three and a half days and I am sure that the organisers must be exhausted. In their honour, I would like to leave some reflections on the best and the worst of GW 2010.

The best NGO encounter

I approached the IFAW Green Week exhibit with trepidation. I knew their history a bit (this year: whales, last year: seals) and I expected to hit an unreasonable wall of religion. I teased them about how their success in saving elephants may result in a need to cull herds. I then provoked them with the idea that their non-compromising position on whaling is allowing the Japanese to hunt whales indiscriminately. What I got in return from a young British activist were well reasoned arguments that I could only agree with. She held firm, calm and convincing. I went away with a great deal of respect for the organisation and what they are trying to do.

Best (Worst?) Scaremongering

IUCN head, Ashok Khosla started the conference off with a wave of doom and gloom: Some quotes from his presentation entitled “Transforming the Global Economy to Save Nature”:

  • “Telling us to consume like normal is telling us to go out and murder biodiversity.”
  • “More consumption means less of life.”
  • “This one earth is in fever. It is in serious trouble. We have till the end of the year to meet certain goals – by then we will see if life on this earth will be bearable or not.”
  • “We can produce things more efficiently by poisoning things we care about.”
  • On arguing for an ethical basis for biodiversity (not just because it will be better for man): “Biodiversity is a part of creation, and as a part of creation, it has a right to exist on its own.”

Best illustration of biodiversity loss

In conversation with a BirdLife director, he reminded me that ten years ago, we would have to regularly clean our car windscreens from all of the bugs we would kill while driving on motorways – now we don’t need to. Then again, we shouldn’t be driving cars.

Biggest disappointment

Jeff McNeely, chief scientist for IUCN, during his presentation on Food, Feed and Fibre. It was hard to concentrate when his slides continually misspelt “agroculture”. I checked – it was not a gimmick. If you don’t prepare your slides personally, at least check them before you speak.

Least sustainable Green Week initiative

Holding Green Week in the Charlemagne Centre. Nothing about the building is eco-efficient, from its design (no visible stair-wells, you must take the escalator) to its water management (no water saving mechanisms). Huge south facing windows, cold air conditioning, hot lights … Simply irritating is that there is no safe place to lock up a bike outside.

No safe place to lock up your bike on the rue de la Loi.
No safe place to lock up your bike on the rue de la Loi.

Worst Green Magic Bean

DG Environment decided to subcontract the manning of their info stand to people who did not work for DG Env and had no idea about biodiversity. When I tried to get an explanation about why they were running campaigns, the poor woman could only insist on pushing their little campaign ruler into my sack with the 10 Tips to Protect Biodiversity.

Worst EU Policy document

The 10 Tips to Protect Biodiversity that DG Env is urging its citizens to follow (an Action Plan?) are not really very helpful for the planet and some are politically dubious. They insisted on ten tips (instead of the five they could actually come up with), so they included tips like: 1. Learn as much as you can about biodiversity; 8. Make your voice heard and inform your family and friends; 9. Take action with family and friends; and my favourite: 10. Become a member of our Facebook community. I agree, Facebook has become an important tool for environmental activists.

So what can we expect for next year’s Green Week? I hope there will not be a repeat of this year’s underlying theme: Rhetoric Rich, Evidence Poor. If Commissioner Potocnik could show that he has control over his DG, perhaps he might want to select a theme like how to ensure that EU environmental policies remain evidence based and ways to encourage more research into means for restoring biodiversity. To do that though, he may have to weed out some of the flower children in his DG who are happily running rhetoric-rich campaigns. He has a year and I remain optimistic.

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