Tag Archives: Climate change

Conservation crisis?

The start of the lunar new year – Year of the Rat – has seen dramatic events in China, and beyond. The Coronavirus Covid-19 is indeed serious, although in perspective, influenza (flu) causes over 500,000 deaths a year across the world.

China has taken drastic action to try and control the virus spread and at a time when millions of their people would have been travelling and visiting relatives. No doubt, many infected people did move before the restrictions, but it is admirable the degree to which business, leisure activities and zoos (including Chimelong where I act as education advisor, closing to visitors), have responded and taken commercial loss to support control measures.

It is quite likely the virus originated from the wild animal markets, and the trade in pangolins particularly is being identified. Maybe, this outbreak will bring action to address the wildlife trade, the disease issue is of course more likely in the poor welfare conditions of the markets. Changing a culture and historic way of living is a massive challenge, it can only be hoped that this outbreak provides momentum for change.

Two issues that the coronavirus does highlight globally are: human population and travel. Both are also massive influencers on climate change. We can mitigate against both, but the window of opportunity seems to be shrinking and its highly likely 100 years from now, many areas of the world and human society will be impacted (negatively). The bushfires in Australia give further evidence that we are not in control and it is arrogant to think we are. However, the response to this ‘crisis’ gives hope and optimism, and despite the ‘weird’ political picture in many parts of the world, public action and response is gaining momentum… let’s hope it moves faster than the damaging decisions of so-called world leaders.

I’m writing this on Darwin Day (February 12th – anniversary of his birth) and its good to remind ourselves of the influence and significance of the individual in science and conservation. But we shouldn’t forget Alfred Russel Wallace or the thousands of women in science that have not been given the credit or fame of Darwin. Even today, some individuals get a lot of recognition, Greta Thunberg is the leading example – and what a great role model for young people – but there are many others like her, and so we do have cause for hope.

However, the systems our world operates under are the ‘old world order’ and behaviour change on the radical scale needed is very challenging. Carbon neutral by 2050 (before ideally, 2045 is target in Scotland) is possible, but requires a different way of thinking and working. Having to replace my car, I looked at ‘green options’ – none were affordable for me, and the practicalities of charging points and battery life, using public transport are all unfeasible living in rural Scotland. Massive investment in ‘green’ living is needed… that means connected thinking and planning – the HS2 rail project in England is a classic example of ‘good idea’, done badly – and will not only use £100bn for benefit of a few, but will damage important habitats and not support carbon reduction.

It’s good to have the big picture, but can be overwhelming. The zoo and conservation community are acting, and supporting change, and we can only hope that this will have real impact, affect political and business decisions, and is a cause for conservation optimism.

U3A – Conservation for all generations & The Politics of Change

The University of the Third Age (U3A) in the UK is not a ‘university’ as such and is not a ‘hippy group’ but is an association for lifelong learning for those no longer in full time employment; largely the retired, ie the Third Age.

I have spoken to several U3A groups and it was great to be invited as the guest speaker at their open meeting, to my local U3A in Perth, Scotland, and to engage a audience of well over 100 in the topics of conservation, zoos, climate change and China.

The talk came just after the highly publicised Climate Strikes globally ‘led’ by Greta Thunberg, and the UN meeting in New York. The global ‘youth’ movement of passive protest, follows in the tradition of Gandhi, and is rapidly gaining support from all ages and sectors – and its success can be seen not only from the millions who marched, but also from the level of ‘negative’ comment and even abuse aimed at Greta and others. The ‘fossil fuel’ dinosaurs are threatened. So it was opportune, that part of my talk was to focus on the real and present danger that climate change represents for the world as a whole, but also for Scotland – not only wildlife impact but on our economy, our winter sports, our coastline and general well being.

Of course, there are opportunities too, in developement of green technology – and Scotland is doing very well on renewable energy generation, and has set an ambitious target of emissions reduction. I naturally talked about China too – again great ‘green technology’ but with their still growing economy, population and world trade – having a global impact that will continue to see negative climate change impacts – but proportionally perhaps less than western countries such as the USA and Australia.

Fundamentally though, conservation is about people – we are the reason conservation is needed and our emotional attachment to nature and to life is a key to unlocking some of the energy required to fuel to movement to change the way we live and exploit the resources around us. The ‘economic growth’ model is flawed – we can’t keep growing – the climate strikes movement is challenging society… and its not surprising its led by youth, as they do not yet have the unhealthy pressure or burden on them of the way our systems currently work. Why do people demand more pay… and when they get it, what does that mean.. more consumerism, higher prices for homes and healthcare, more cars… and that fuels demand for more pay.

The generation of the U3A members have seen many changes in their lifetime and not all these can be seen to be for the better. Whilst our political systems and governments procrastinate and argue, the climate crisis continues… whilst workers keep campaigning for pay rises and companies focus on over-rewarding their bosses and share-holders, the climate and environmental crisis continues to grow. The next generation are faced with a stark situation – follow in our footsteps and keep the ‘system’ and see the world begin to crumble and fail… or just as challenging (or more so), do things differently, over-throw the current model and begin a way of living that is focused on balance and redressing the problems of today… it’s a huge ask, but with Thunberg and others there is a hint that it may happen… and with our current politicians further evidence that the ‘system’ is broken and has to change.

Climate Change & China

To contact ZooStephen about training, advice, workshops etc email zoostephen@outlook.com

This summer has seen a lot of emphasis placed upon the environment in media and campaigns – whether this results in actual action (by politicians especially) is yet to be seen, but hopefully it indicates a wind of change.

ZooStephen has featured climate change in education activity for a number of years, however, this July, I completed the United Nations Climate Change Learning Partnership training course to equip me with even better understanding of the issues and potential to assist educational development in this field.

However, knowing about it is not enough – it’s important to encourage action that both mitigates and reduces climate emissions. The recent fires in Amazonia are but a small indication of how big a problem this is. It can be disheartening and overwhelming, so focus on what you can do and the more people who do that the more impact we have.

The impact of millions of people acting in particular ways can have a huge positive or negative effect. I’ve now worked with Chimelong Group in Guangzhou, China for over a year. Whilst their ‘zoos’ are very good, developing conservation and education is still relatively new – but I am excited by the prospect of being able to assist in delivering stories and messages to the tens of millions of people that visit the Chimelong sites. In time, there is opportunity to connect messages to actions, and promote more sustainable living and regaining harmony with nature. So climate change, plastic waste, resource use and wildlife conservation are all topics for behaviour change messages and activity.

Giving a talk (about chimpanzee behaviour) to visitors at Chimelong Safari, China

It was exciting and fun to get the opportunity in August to give a presentation on chimpanzee behaviour (including acting like a chimp, and chimp vocalisation) to thousands of visitors at Chimelong Safari as part of the Africa Discovery Show and a new programme of science communication. Definitely a ‘practice what you preach’ moment as well, given that in the evening I had around 50 keepers for a training session on giving such talks! And I was delighted that the next day the keeper presentation reflected ‘zoostephen’ training very well.

Training keepers at Chimelong Safari, Guangzhou, China, on presentation skills in the Africa Discovery Show arena

zoostephen@outlook.com