Its only words

July 8, 2009

You’ve heard these a million times. At seminars, in advertisements, from corporate types to environment gurus and basically everyone trying to cover their nether regions with a green fig leaf. What do they mean? Who knows. Cause they have been used and abused for so long that nobody really knows what they mean anymore. But if you ain’t using em, you ain’t in the know.  They do have a plethora of uses these non-phrases. They make any project look good on paper, justify any NGO-corporate collaboration, tick boxes of donor institutions, make conferences appear less like reunions, create new job titles, help consultants pay the mortgage and in general make morons appear less like morons.

Synergy approaches

Interdisciplinary focus

Sustainable development paradigms

Inclusive decision-making

Participatory processes

Promote transparency

Climate resilience

Intangible ecosystem services

Road to Copenhagen

Common but differentiated responsibility

Best practice

Managing ecosystems

Natural resource management

Strategic interventions

Sustainable future

Ecosystem integrity

Key indicators

Governance mechanisms

Enhance sequestration

Socially equitable

Equitable sharing of benefits

Cutting edge conservation

Development imperatives

Emerging issues

Global South

Energy poverty

Livelihood security

Decentralized decision-making processes

Stakeholder dialogue

Mainstreaming the environment

Monitoring and reporting cycles

Intrinsic value of nature

Drivers of change

Adaptive management

Humanity is inextricably linked

Underpinning human well-being

Building a broader constituency

Maintain landscape connectivity

Environmentalists usually go on endlessly about the magical ‘power of one’ to save the world from spiralling towards environmental disaster. But let’s face facts; lending your signature to save the tigers, adopting an orangutan or your annual subscription to that wonderful wildlife newsletter is not really going to make a big dent on an individual level at least. The lucky sods with a dispropotionate ‘power of one’ are the environment ministers of countries who can change the big policies that matter and steer the world to a more sustainable future one country at a time. A chance to be hailed as environment heroes that most of us would kill for. Well, they quite clearly have not been doing their jobs the way things are at the moment. If anything, they have gained notoriety as crafty stooges negotiating their way out of environment commitments for their governments, watering down environment legislation, cosying up to developers and giving boring speeches on World Environment Day. I felt some of these schmucks deserve special mention for disservice to the environment.

1. Sammy Wilson, Current Environment Minister, Northern Ireland

Not for nothing is he the British Green Party’s ‘Green Wash Award’ winner for ‘the minister most likely to damage the environment’. Prior to his appointment, he campaigned against the setting up of an independent environment agency and was a passionate advocate for nuclear power. He is credited with the statement “I do not believe in man-made global warming” and has blocked the broadcast of climate change advertisements from television, calling them part of an “insidious propaganda campaign”.

2. Jim Prentice, Current Environment Minister, Canada

He won Canada the ‘Colossal Fossil Award’ at the climate change meeting in Poznan in December 2008 for  failing to embrace science-based emission-reduction targets and, generally, for slowing negotiations. In his first speech as environment minister, he has stated that we can’t afford to “aggravate an already weakening economy in the name of environmental progress.” The final icing on the cake was his statement that climate change could actually benefit polar bears. “I don’t think anyone disagrees the whole process of climate change has implications for polar bears,” Mr. Prentice said. “What those implications are is still under scientific investigation. It could be positive, it could be negative.”

3. Ján Chrbet, Ex-Environment Minister, Slovakia

He was fired by the Prime Minister recently for refusing to divulge the details of a dodgy emissions trading contract he had masterminded. The contract allowed a newly-formed company to buy Slovakia’s excess emissions quotas at only two-thirds of the price for which Slovakia’s neighbours Ukraine and the Czech Republic sold their own quotas. This could cost Slovakia tens of millions of dollars. Chrbet refused to disclose the contract details even at the cost of his job. Someone is getting a fat cheque in the mail soon.

4. Peter Garett, Current Minister of Environment, Heritage and Arts, Australia

This was one guy who had the potential to be the coolest environment minister ever. Lead singer of Aussie rock band Midnight Oil, President of the Australian Conservation Foundation for a decade, Order of Australia recipient and LiveEarth Australia presenter. He had it all, until he became environment minister that is. In office he approved a controversial uranium mine expansion, a paper pulp mill in environmentally sensitive Tasmania and dredging Melbourne’s Port Philip Bay. How could you Peter? Sob…

5. Shigeru Ishiba, Current Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister, Japan

Hardline supporter of Japan’s dubious practice of killing 800 whales a year for ‘scientific research.’ He told reporters that Tokyo “will not be able to accept any proposal that would prohibit Japan from continuing its research whaling.” 18 years and 6800 dead whales later, the research programme has managed to publish a mere 4 peer reviewed papers that demonstrate the need for lethal whaling. Mr. Ishiba is also the second person in the Cabinet of Fukuda to express belief and concern in the existence of UFOs. I rest my case.

Dictators. They get a lot of bad press and deservedly so. Military rule, gagging of free speech, rigged elections, genocide, crushing dissent and plundering natural resources are all in day’s work. Perks of the job include absolute power, opulent lifestyle, constant media attention and a swanky pad in a safe haven when the War Crimes Tribunal comes a’ calling. Do these bad boys have a single good bone in their well-fed bodies? Well my exhausting research (try finding ‘good facts’ on dictators) proves some of them did (for wildlife conservation at least anyway). Welcome to my list of Five Green Dictators;

1. Omar Bongo, President of Gabon from 1967 to 2008

Elected unopposed 3 times, he is world’s longest serving ruler (excluding monarchies). Money from Gabon’s once booming oil trade is rumoured to have made him one of the richest heads of state in the world. Mike Fay of the Wildlife Conservation Society melted the patriach’s heart by showing him pictures from his ‘Megatransect’ expedition through Gabon’s forests. Gabon went overnight from zero to 13 National Parks covering 25,000 Sq.Km or 10% of the country. Try achieving that in a democracy!

2. Francisco Macías Nguema, President of Equatorial Guinea 1968-79

Repression by his military and clan members caused more than a third of Equatorial Guinea’s residents to flee to other countries. Fuelled by his consumption of hallucinogenic drugs, he assigned himself titles like ‘Unique Miracle’ and ‘Grand Master of Education, Science & Culture’ while simultaneously banning the use of the word ‘intellectual’. His claim to green fame was the banning of fishing in his reign. The presidential order was given to prevent citizens from fleeing the country by boat. Fishes of Equatorial Guinea lived unmolested in the 10 years of his reign while its human populace was not so lucky.

3. Daniel arap Moi, President of Kenya from 1978-2002

One of the ‘Big Men’ of Africa whose supporters called him the ‘Giraffe’ and ‘Professor of Politics’ in admiration of his far-sightedness and political strategems. His presidency brought corruption, political repression and ethnic tension to Kenya.  His wildife conservation record is better. In true dictator style he dramatically torched 10 tonnes of elephant ivory seized in Nairobi National Park worth over 60 million Kenyan shillings to demonstrate his stance against slaughter of elephants in his country. He also issued shoot-on-sight orders for poachers.

4.Major General Omar Torrijos Herrera, Commander of the National Guard of Panama from 1968-81

The General scorned the pedestrian designation of ‘President’ in favour of the more worthy titles of  ‘Maximum Leader of the Panamanian Revolution’ and ‘Supreme Chief of Government’.  He gained power in a coup and was credited with making his opponents ‘disappear’, nepotism, corruption and turning Panama into one of the countries with the highest per capita public indebtedness. To his eco-credit he ‘adopted’ the wilderness of El Cope which was designated as the 25,000 hectare Omar Torrijos National Park in 1986. He never got to see it as his plane crashed in 1981 in the same wilderness area during a thunderstorm. A population of the Harlequin Frogs, presumed to be extinct, was found here by Jeff Corwin’s expedition team for Animal Planet recently.

5. Fidel Castro, President of Cuba from 1959-2006

His ‘Revolution first, elections later’ soon became one-party rule. The U.S was so desperate to get rid of him and he is believed to have remarked that “if surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal”.  However on the plus side, more than 20 percent of Cuba’s land is under some form of government protection  and since Castro seized power in 1959, logging has slowed significantly. Forest cover has increased from 14 percent in 1956 to about 21 percent today. One could argue that this is because Cuba has been excluded from much of the economic globalization that has taken its toll on the environment in many other parts of the world. However, a stable population, clear land tenure, strict enforcement of environment laws have also had a role to play.

Top 10 excuses for out of work environmentalists;


2. Competition from late arrivals; banker turned NGO CEO, burnt-out software chap turned conservation warrior …

3. Total lack of finanical skills. We are not in it for the money etc, etc…

4. Volunteers willing to slave for free. NGOs running on volunteers willing to slave for free.

5. Too many of those modelling projects beloved by number crunchers, death of field biology…you get the picture

6. Canny impostors; civil engineers pretending to be environment consultants, grandpa masquerading as Indigenous Traditional Knowledge, bureaucrats as the next brown/black Al Gore, Shell as Gaia…

7. Dubious hiring practices; Advertise job but hire our man in Kampala.

8. Bankrupting big ticket real estate deals. Buy a gazzilion hectares of forest for a bazzilion dollars and flog it for all its worth master plan.

9. Consultants. No comment.

10. Love Paradise Flycatchers, hate networking.