Getting Scale (and Context) Right

Imagine standing in a vast grassland, a gently undulating sea of grass underneath a cloudless blue sky. The only sound is the wind howling across the landscape, sending pale yellow stalks rippling in waves. You are tiny, no more significant than one of those blades of grass. This is the Daurian Steppe, the grasslands of eastern Mongolia.

Mongolian Steppe

It is the home of the Mongolian gazelle. They roam across an area of 250,000 square kilometers, approximately the size of Oregon. They move continuously across the landscape, following the greening of the grass. However, the location of the best grass changes from year to year, as rainfall patterns vary. A herd of gazelle might visit an area one summer, and…

No-Go at the WPC

The topic of no-go on industrial activity was salient at the 2014 World Parks Congress. It came up particularly in reference to conservation of World Heritage Sites, one of the conference’s cross-cutting themes. Natural World Heritage sites are internationally recognized as the world’s ecological jewels. They include the Galapagos Islands, the Grand Canyon, and the Great Barrier Reef, places so treasured they are recognized as having “Outstanding Universal Value” by the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, an international conservation framework ratified by 187 countries. Numbering only 200, they encompass less than 1 percent of the world’s surface and only 10 percent of all protected areas, yet, as one would reasonably expect, their immense ecological and cultural value earns them special designation among protected areas. The World Heritage Committee’s position has long…

Who's Gonna Stand Up?

The closing ceremony of the 2014 World Parks Congress capped a long week of discourse on the future of protected nature. It was a week of didactics, discussion, and occasional debate, impassioned at times but often fragmentary and frustrated. In the opening ceremony we’d been hit with over-the-top theatrics involving fog machines, cirque de solei acrobats, choreographed dancers, and one very distressed owl. The closing ceremony was notable less for its spectacle and more for its stifled political undertones, glimpses of an unspoken contentiousness underlying both the congress and conservation and sustainable development at large.

After warming up the audience with droning didgeridoos and chanting, the ceremony went promptly into high-ranking bureaucrats making wonderfully neutral speeches. Each began by acknowledging the “traditional owners of this land and elders past and present.” Manicured…

Why (do) We Fly

The total carbon footprint for my round trip flight to Australia – from New York JFK to Sydney via Beijing – amounts to 3.18 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. The 15 of us who went to Australia arrived on 7 different flights and left on 9, most with layovers. Conservatively estimated, each of those trips emitted 1.69 tons of CO2e. Our round trip flights to Australia emitted about 27 tons of carbon equivalent. According to the EPA, that’s equal to the total annual emissions from 5.7 passenger vehicles or the carbon sequestered by 22 acres of U.S. forest. Yikes.

Of the many experiences and reflections I have brought back with me from Sydney, I also return with inner conflict about the air miles we just logged…

Rights to Nature vs Rights of Nature

During the World Parks Congress, I was fortunate enough to both present in and help organize a session on Green Justice. The session was meant to provide a forum for discourse about environmental justice issues, and we organized it around the idea of rights to nature. The session had a nice balance between theoretical policy interventions and more grounded local actions, both designed to bring about a more environmentally just world.

Leading environmental lawyers and academics presented information about how some countries have created laws explicitly stating their citizens right to a clean and healthy environment. I tried to balance that high-level discussion by presenting a tangible way that a more equitable and healthy world can be created, and my FES classmate Dana Baker added to the down-to-earth…

20 New and Powerful Conservation Tools

The IUCN World Parks Congress (WPC) is a landmark global forum on protected areas. This year, in Sydney, Australia, from Nov 12 – Nov 19, the Congress convened with a goal of sharing knowledge and innovation, setting the agenda for protected area conservation for the next decade. One category in particular received unanimous agreement for its role in conservation: Technology.

Through the seven days of WPC presentations and showcases, we, two tech-geeks and enthusiastic delegates, explored innovative technologies relevant to the conservation sector. We made a list of the top 20 new and powerful conservation tools that we believe will benefit this sector, now and in the future.

Source: Biodiversity A-Z

Source: Biodiversity A-Z

Post World Parks Congress Reflections: Thinking Outside the Box of Protected Areas

The establishment of protected areas has been one of the great achievements of the modern conservation movement. The Protected Planet Pavilion at the World Parks Congress (WPC) in Sydney highlighted its World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) that displays over 9,612 marine and 200,589 terrestrial areas under some protection designation. As shown by these large numbers, protected areas have become the mainstream conservation action and they are still proliferating around the world.

 At the WPC, the governments of Gabon, Madagascar, South Africa and Russia among others, pledged to substantially increase the quantity and coverage of their national protected areas. One of thereasons for this proliferation, as explained by Dr. Nicholas Robinson of the Pace Law School to our International Organizations and Conferences class at Yale F&ES, is that the…

Penan community, Sarawak. Toponyms are added to maps as they are recorded (Photo by Bruno Manser Fonds)

An indigenous leader walks around the land, stopping at sites used for hunting, collecting nuts, and worship. The points are recorded using a handheld GPS device and then transferred to a computer. These points are overlaid with other land uses in the territory, and a map is produced. The map shows where oil-drilling sites are located on the same place as the community’s ancient burial ground, and where pollution from the oil operations runs through their main water source. The community now has evidence to make a case against the company. This scene was a novelty just a few years ago, but today, it is a reality for many communities around the world.

Can technology and the way it lets us understand the world help indigenous and traditional communities…

What is the extractive sector doing at a conservation congress?

Mining that transforms a rainforest into a moonscape, habitat into toxic tailing ponds. Oil exploration that leaves rivers polluted. Banks that finance these operations, cashing in while pristine areas bear the cost. For a long time, the private sector was the antagonist of conservation. Environmentalists only knew to confront corporations through protest and opposition.

That story has taken a slight turn, at least evidenced at the World Parks Congress. Businesses were explicitly recognized as an important stakeholder in preserving the integrity of protected areas. Several extractive sector representatives from Rio Tinto, Shell, BHP Biliton and DeBeers, to name a few, were actively engaged in the Congress, and discussions on the intersection of business and biodiversity were well-attended by those working in conservation. Rio Tinto had a strong presence…