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Sunday, November 30, 2003

Doing nothing, becomes doing something...
Yesterday was Buy Nothing Day.

The organisers hope that urging consumers to resist unnecessary spending for a day will encourage them to asks questions about the products they buy and challenge the companies who produce good + services for them.

The resources + links on offer on the BND site are well worth a look... as is this BBC report on a new book (Jobs and Incomes in a Globalizing World) published by the International Labour Organisation which discusses the complex advantages + disadvantages of globalisation for rich + poor nations with an unusually dispassionate + steely eye.

... Earth-Info.Net believes that consumers (and voters!) have an important role to play in encouraging fairer, longer-term, wiser + more sustainable decisions to be made by big business + governments, and is pleased to see the spotlight being turned on the umpteen small, selfish decisions that we all make, often for perfectly understandable reasons, but which en masse can have large, undesirable consequences.

Send a cow, tree or bee to someone who needs one...
If you would like to buy a present that really transforms someone's life this Christmas, Earth-Info.Net would like to recommend a visit to the Send A Cow website.

This charity was set up in 1988 when UK farmers sent greatly needed cows to Uganda at the end of a long and brutal civil war...

Now all cows are locally sourced and it is possible for you to help communities very directly by sponsoring the purchase of a cow, goats, pigs, poultry, bees or fruit-tree saplings.

If you don't have much money it is also possible to contribute a smaller amount towards a share in one of these sources of food, independence + income or at the other end of the scale... to go the whole hog and provide a whole farm yard!

As part of the deal recipient farmers have to give the first female offspring of their gift to another impoverished family and preference is generally given to helping women (who are often amongst the poorest in society), the disabled or those suffering from AIDS or orphaned by it.

For those of you in the US, Send A Cow's partner organisation in the US is called Heifer International.

As a means of enabling individuals + families to help themselves and one another Earth-Info.Net struggles to think of a better cause to support...

Friday, November 28, 2003

Dying to eat. Smoke from cooking food kills millions
The BBC's Alex Kirby reports that research conducted by the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) has found that in the developing world 1 person dies every 20 seconds due to smoke inhilation, as a result of using wood, charcoal, vegetation + dung to cook food in poorly ventilated conditions.

This is more people than die of malaria, and the result of people who live + cook in huts breathing in huge levels of smoke - approx. equivalent to that produced by two packets of cigarettes per day.

The ITDG is calling for support for the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air, backed by the World Health Organisation, World Bank, US Environmental Protection Agency and others.

Click here to read the ITDG report Smoke: the Killer in the Kitchen + here for the executive summary which includes many useful links.

The world is losing the War against AIDS
Kofi Annan has said that the world is losing the War against AIDS and that the world's leaders are not doing enough to fight this disease + must display far greater leadership.

So far this year 3,000,000 people have died of AIDS. Even so, despite being described as a security threat by many of the world's most powerful nations limited resources, effort + political will have so far been devoted to tackling this disease, especially when compared to the "War on Terror".

As well as criticising the US + EU for their failure to find the political will to provide the drugs + funds needed to fight AIDS, Mr. Annan also criticised African leaders for failing to urge greater use of condoms, due to embarassment, although this simple measure would save many, many lives.

Listen to Kofi Annan's interview with the BBC here.

Further reading:

The UN's Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB + Malaria

The BBC's excellent AIDS debate special feature.

UNAIDS: The joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Things looking up for Ratty
Today I had a chat with Rob Strachan the UK's premier water vole champion about a collaborative project to restore 27,000 hectares of land along the upper portions of the River Thames, as part of a UK scoping project.

Lessons learnt on this project will hopefully enable the large-scale changes in land use + management, associated with reforms to agricultural subsidies, to have the maximum possible benefit for both farming + wildlife.

P.S. I have been building weblogs for this and other projects for the last few days and will post a summary of my PhD (for those of you who voted for this) next week... I'll catch up with news updates once I have got these new sites up and running.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Money cannot buy happiness. Thoughts on wealth + well-being...
Yesterday Earth-Info.Net attended a series of fascinating talks on the relationship between wealth + well being that had been organised by the Green College Centre for Environmental Policy + Understanding.

Many, excellent points were made about the uncertain + unreliable relationship between wealth and happiness.

The chairman, Sir Crispin Tickell (a former UK Ambassador to the UN) reminded the audience that the economy is a wholly owned subsidary of the environment and that most economists are deluding themselves + the rest of us by only measuring part of the living economy.

There is therefore a pressing need to develop new ways of measuring wealth + well-being and to ask challenging questions of ourselves if we want our societies + economies to be efficient, just + sustainable.

The first speaker, Prof Norman Myers, spoke of the danger of relying on the GNP as an accurate + complete measure of national wealth.

This is because black + grey economies may be very large, but concealed, as in the case of Russia where the as much as 50% of the economy is underground, and because an indicator as crude as GNP sums together socially, environmentally + economically destructive measures with those that are beneficial.

Prof. Myers suggested that we should instead adopt alternative indicators which gives a more holistic assessment of wealth + well-being, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator or various indices of sustainability which aim to reduce waste per capita, etc.

Although economists acknowledge that the GDP is a measure of output, not welfare such qualifiers are rarely used by politicians + the media. This leads to the lazy, but widespread, assumption that a larger GDP is always good for everyone + everything.

The second speaker was Sir Richard Jolly a former Special Adviser to the Administrator of UNDP + the architect of the UN's Human Development Report. Sir Richard pointed out that the founders of GNP had a strong sense of their system's limitations, but felt there was value in permitting the economies of different countries to be compared... although they warned that the statistics office should not be allowed to capture decision-making.

One of the most interesting points Sir Richard made was that GNP is not God (i.e. all knowing, benevolent, etc). Instead, it represents an undemocratic conventional measure of growth. The GNP is not decided on the basis of one person, one vote but on an economy's overall output. It is therefore a highly biased measure, as was acknowledged in a 1974 report by Hollis Cheney for the World Bank "Redistribution with Growth", and should be treated as such, even if it remains important in determining employment policy, etc.

The role of Amartya Sen's Development as Freedom book in plotting an alternative course, which advocates a Human Development Index, was highlighted, with its emphasis on creating conditions that ensure people develop the capabilities + choices necessary to live long, healthy + full lives.

In his summing up, Sir Richard said that there were conceptual problems in identifying what we should try to measure and danger in attempting to over-simplify a complicated situation, in order to reach out to a public. He therefore urged those working in this field to be serious, not sloppy or romantic and to use + win over statisticians. Sir Richard also said that there is a need to be clear who will use a new index, when + how and to attack GNP for what it is, not for what it is not...

James Robertson (a founder of the New Economics Foundation) spoke on the need for fundamental reform of the world's current monetary system...

James complained that most intellectual energy + time went into measuring wealth and well-being rather than considering how to implement practical reforms that would distribute money more fairly, efficiently + sustainably.

We therefore need to reform the scoring system for economic life and to consider which activities are rewarded by the money system, with changes in perverse or inadequate taxes, public spending, how money is created and put into circulation. These conditions determine how people behave in order to make the bottom line, whereas further measurement may have a small effect on how people behave.

On a philosophical level, James suggested that consumerism trades on a desire for indindividuality, which leads to a homogenisation of consumer culture, a dull uniformity for consumers and an urge to withdraw from the market in order to find a personal identity... In its extreme such withdrawl can lead people to join cults, but on a more commonly experienced level drives people to create an authentic self which involves "people writing the own biography", and creating their own identity, in a way that was not possible 30 years ago. Under these conditions the question "who am I" can be answered by building a suit of armour, a response understood and manipulated by marketers who offer ready made, aspirational identities at a price... while these conditions persist increasing consumption is unavoidable. There is therefore a need for a social readjustment so that a more authentic culture, which does rely on consumption, can be achieved.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Earth-Info.Net collaborates with field projects
Today I demonstrated how Blogger works to Graham Hemson and discussed helping him to set up a collaborative lion conservation weblog...

Hopefully this new blog will be one of a stable of high-quality environment + development field projects that Earth-Info.Net will help to get online + publicise.

The idea of collaborating in this way is to give a frank, first person summary of the ups + downs associated with running a field project, demonstrate what is happening at the grass roots level + aid the engagement of field workers with collaborators, sponsors + the public...

As many of the projects I am approaching work in remote parts of the world + are understaffed I hope that a group of us working together will be able to produce a more compelling site than any of us can manage alone and also give readers a broader impression of the range of worthwhile work that is going on out there, below the NGO level.

See here for a letter Graham recently had published in New Scientist regarding the resolution of conflict between lions + people in Botswana.

The Predators + People weblog will go live in the next few days...

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Civil Society, Export Credit Guarantees + REEEP
Yesterday Earth-Info.Net had a very interesting day in London thanks to invitations organised by Shelaine Weller of Globe-UK (an all-party sustainable development group based in the Houses of Parliament)...

In the morning, I attended an informal consultation meeting of The Secretary-General's Panel of Eminent Persons on Civil Society and UN Relationships hosted by the One World Trust. This group of eminent persons represent a variety of perspectives + experiences and have been given the task of review past + current practices and then make recommendation for future improvements in the interactions between civil society and the United Nations.

The need to improve the involvement + access of civil society in international decision making is clear, and much of the discussion was centred on strengthening the representation + role of NGOs, local government + the global south.

This reform appears to be designed to strengthen the mandate of the UN and the multilateral approach to global problem solving and you are invited to do your bit by submitting your suggestions for improving the relationship between the UN + civil society.

Earth-Info.Net's suggestion was to establish a forum for ordinary people who do not have the vested interests of (elected) politicians, (unelected) NGOs + countries but might be able propose actions for the common good and strengthen the connection between the publics of different nations + the UN. I proposed a good way to select people, to serve for a year or so, might be to use national electoral rolls and appoint random people to represent countries, in a similar way to jury service.

In the afternoon, I learnt about the vast sums of money the UK government spends on Export Credits Guarantee Department (guaranteeing payments for goods that UK companies export to poor countries).

Much of this money (approx £3.5 billion per annum) is spent supporting the arms trade, building coal-fired power plants + supporting the sale of agricultural products.

However, in reports written by Corner House "Turning a blind eye", WWF "Credit where it’s due", Greenpeace "G8 Plan For Africa Pointless Without Renewable Energy Support" + Friends of the Earth "Green" Company Violating International Norms in Controversial Caspian Oil Pipeline) serious concerns have repeatedly been raised that commercial interests are routinely placed above internationally agreed social + environmental standards.

The sums and issues are quite staggering, so if you would like to learn more about export credits I recommend that you start by reading a copy of a briefing paper prepared for a UK NGO Seminar on Export Credit Reform entitled "Beyond Business Principles".

In the evening, I attended the launch of Climate Change Capital a specialist merchant banking firm which provides financial services + products to organisations affected by the convergence of laws and policies on energy and the environment. This company seemed to see opportunities rather than a burdens in the challenge of climate change and it was interesting to see someone taking a commercial approach to tackling something which is generally treated as a campaigning or political issue.

Last but not least, I ought to mention a scheme I learnt of while at the CCC launch... the UK's renewable energy and energy efficiency partnership (REEEP) which was initiated at the Jo'burg World Summit and launched recently... REEEP is a coalition of progressive governments, businesses and organisations committed to accelerating the development of renewable and energy efficiency systems. This is a great idea and one that I hope will flourish!

If only all days were so interesting!

Sunday, November 16, 2003

$20 billion in tax breaks for US oil, gas, coal + nuclear industries
According to Reuter's Planet Ark, Republican law makers are proposing an energy bill loaded with some $20 billion in tax breaks they say would create U.S. jobs while boosting oil, natural gas, coal + nuclear production.

Unfortunately, this bill misses many opportunities and could be positively harmful as it lacks any measures to tighten U.S. automobile fuel standards or reduce emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide...

Earth-Info.Net therefore wishes that the US Administration could see the wisdom in creating new jobs in clean technologies and would instead put this sort of money into removing society's reliance on fossils fuels (and nuclear fuels which still cannot be disposed of safely!).

Efforts to do this would be both socially + environmentally beneficial and help us to move towards an economy that is highly energy-efficient, self-sufficient + based on renewable energy sources. Perhaps within 5-10 years?

Many of the technologies necessary to make such a dramatic transition already exist but need a new infra-structure to be put in place + some financial assistance in order to start enjoying the economies of scale established sources of energy already benefit from.

For example, hydrogen-powered cars release only water through their exhaust pipes (can travel over 10,705-mile per gallon), and even in more standard vehicles offer a high level of performance while powered by a combination of solar electricity + hydrogen.

Savings Albatrosses + Asia's threatened birds
Good news from Birdlife International...

South Africa has become the fifth country to ratify the global Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), guaranteeing its entry into force. ACAP is an essential step in halting continuing declines in the world’s 21 albatross species, all of which now face varying risks of extinction according to the recent BirdLife upgrading of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of globally threatened species. You can find out more about the Save the Albatross campaign here.

A ground-breaking guide has also been launched for governments + civil society in order to help prevent the extinction of Asia’s birds, 1 in 8 of which is under threat. HIH Princess Takamado of Japan unveiled the blueprint, Saving Asia’s Threatened Birds, at a ceremony in Tokyo.

BirdLife International produced the guide with financial support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) to help avoid the extinction of 324 threatened bird species, 12% of Asia’s total. Already 41 Asian bird species teeter on the brink of extinction, classified as Critically Endangered under World Conservation Union criteria. Of these, 11 may already be extinct, including the Javanese Lapwing of Indonesia and the Pink-headed Duck of India and Myanmar. Six of the species, such as the Bali Starling, number fewer than 50 mature individuals in the wild.

See here for some case studies of bird species under threat in Asia.

Childhood obesity a "ticking timebomb"
In an interview for last week's Observer, Sir John Krebs the head of the UK goverment's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has warned that the young of today could have shorter lives than their parents because of their poor nutrition + lack of exercise.

Sir John has also called for changes in food marketing and an end to celebrity endorsements of meals and snacks containing high levels of fat, sugar or salt.

According to the FSA options that should be considered by the Government include:

* reducing fat, salt and sugar in children's food;

* restricting the amount of advertising of sweets, crisps and snack foods during children's programmes;

* banning food adverts aimed at pre-school children;

* making 'health warnings' compulsory on some foods;

* banning vending machines from schools which only sell sugar drinks or sweets;

* blocking celebrity endorsement of sweets and promotions which link the buying of sweets and crisps in return for school equipment.

On Tuesday a "salt summit" was held where the FSA was expected to demand action from companies such as Heinz, McDonald's + Bird's Eye.

This demand for action follows FSA research which found that ready meals can contain 98.3% of a whole day's salt quota of 6 grams + recent success with the bread industry which voluntarily reduced salt (sodium) in bread by 21% once it was proved that considerable health benefits could be achieved without sacrificing taste.

Earlier this week celebrity endorsements of junk food were also criticised in an editorial of the medical journal the Lancet + the Observer Food Monthly reported on role that unhealthy+ extra large food portions play in boosting profits + waistlines.

UK gets serious about energy efficiency
The UK government is funding a campaign, called Action Energy, which makes the business case for greater energy efficiency...

Not only does wasting energy harm the environment, but saving energy can be very good for business, with a 20% reduction in waste potentially offering the same benefit as a 5% increase in sales!

In addition to offering advice on loans that are available to replace existing equipment with more energy efficient kit + surveys which can help companies to identify how to cut their energy use by 10-30% the site offers the following top tips which can be applied to any organisation:

* 'If you can't measure it, you can't manage it'.
Check regularly on your consumption of electricity, gas and oil, and check that your bills relate to what you actually use, rather than an estimate.

* Switch off lights in empty rooms
Turn off lights in empty rooms and corridors - especially at the end of the day. This can save up to 15% of your energy bill.

* Keep windows closed in cold weather
If staff are too warm, turn the heating down instead.

* Use just the light you need
Lights too bright in corridors? Remove or switch off alternate fittings.

* Use daylight
It's free - so keep windows and skylights clean and clear.

* Clean light fittings annually
Dirt reduces lighting efficiency, encouraging people to switch more lights on.

* Too hot?
Set the thermostat at 19° - costs rise by 8% for every 1° increase.

* Don't heat unused space
Storerooms, corridors and areas where there's heavy physical work can be set to lower temperatures. Reduce heating during holidays and weekends.

* Thermostats
Check that thermostats are sited out of draughts and away from either cold or hot spots.

* Keep radiators clear
Don't block radiators with furniture -it reduces efficiency and output.

* Consult your colleagues
Ask your colleagues where they think energy is being wasted, and for their ideas about saving energy.

The above advice does not require the invention of any hugely expensive, non-existent rocket science, it does however require something that human beings tend to find much harder to get excited about... changing entrenched, lazy + costly behaviours.

Earth-Info.Net certainly hopes that the free
helpline 0800 58 57 94 and the straight forward Action Energy website will make some of low-tech strategies + equipment that are available today much less painful to adopt and permanently undermine the feeble excuses we all tend to fall back on...

Friday, November 14, 2003

BBC News Online's AIDS debate special includes a staggering graphic which highlights the difference between inaction + pro-active preventative measures on the spread of HIV by 2010.

It shows how serious the problem is in many different regions of the world and that there is still a lot to play for...

If only we can find the will to act sooner rather than later (or not at all).

Earth-Info.Net opens a bookshop
Thanks to the wonders of technology and Amazon you are now able to buy books via this site (see the links on the left of this page).

You can of course buy any book you like via Amazon, but I have started the ball rolling by highlighting a selection of books that fit with the categories of ecology + poverty.

Any book you buy via a link from Earth-Info.Net earns this site a small commission and will therefore help to keep me online...

In future I will also try to highlight individual books when I come across them, but please feel free to speed this process up by letting me know of any titles you would like to recommend.

IUCN conservation action plans made available online
The editor of the Carnivore Conservation information portal, Guillaume Chapron, has converted hard copies of the IUCN Conservation Status + Action Plans for Wild Cats, Hyaenas, Red Pandas, The African Wild Dog, Ethiopian Wolf, Bears + Weasels, Civets, Mongooses and their Relatives into pdf files that can be downloaded off the web.

This is a major service to international conservation, especially to people working in developing countries, and Guillaume deserves to be congratulated for putting in the time and effort required to obtain the necessary permissions from the IUCN, then scan each report and post them online.

Hopefully more public + charitable organisations will start to make sure that the majority of their reports + documents are automatically made available on the internet once they are published in hard copy, and will stop relying on the unpaid enthusiasm of people such as Guillaume to make crucial information available as widely as possible.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Corner House briefing on Corruption
I have just come across an excellent briefing document on corruption entitled "Exporting Corruption: Privatisation, Multinationals and Bribery ". This document was produced in 2000 by a UK charity, called Corner House, which monitors social and economic issues, policies + practices in the UK and overseas.

Corner House generously allows its material to be reproduced provided due acknowledgement is provided, so I am posting the following and urge you to read the full document and their other briefings + documents which cover a wide range of social and environmental issues extremely well...

Briefing document 19: (corruption):

Corruption takes many different forms, from the routine cases of bribery or petty abuse of power that are said to "grease the wheels" to the amassing of spectacular personal wealth through embezzlement or other dishonest means.

For multinationals, bribery enables companies to gain contracts (particularly for public works and military equipment) or concessions which they would not otherwise have won, or to do so on more favourable terms. Every year, Western businesses pay huge amounts of money in bribes to win friends, influence and contracts. These bribes are conservatively estimated to run to US$80 billion a year -- roughly the amount that the UN believes is needed to eradicate global poverty. In 1999, the US Commerce Department reported that, in the preceding five years, bribery was believed to have been a factor in 294 commercial contracts worth US$145 billion. In 1996, the magazine World Business reported that the bribes paid by German companies alone were over $3 billion.

Corruption has become a major international concern. The topic of international conferences, policy forums and ministerial speeches, it is also the subject of a recent OECD Convention and the focus of an international non-governmental organisation, Transparency International. Corruption is increasingly cited as a reason for withholding foreign aid or debt relief. If a country's inability to pay interest on its loans is due to its leaders siphoning off national earnings into their own bank accounts, the reasoning goes, surely extending aid or cancelling the debt will merely sanction further graft.

Most commentators on corruption -- and on the "good governance" initiatives instigated to combat it -- dwell on developing countries, not industrialised ones. Most scrutinise politically-lax cultures in the South, not the North. Most call attention to the petty corruption of low-paid civil servants, not to the grand corruption of wealthy multinationals. Most focus on symptoms such as missing resources, not causes such as deregulation of state enterprises. Most talk about bribe-takers, not bribe-givers.

This focus needs to be shifted. If corruption is growing throughout the world, it is largely a result of the rapid privatisation (and associated practices of contracting-out and concessions) of public enterprises worldwide. This process has been pushed by Western creditors and governments and carried out in such a way as to allow multinational companies to operate with increased impunity. Thus multinationals, supported by Western governments and their agencies, are engaging in corruption on a vast scale in North and South alike. Donor governments and multilateral agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund frequently put forward anti-poverty and "good governance" agendas, but their other actions send a different signal about where their priorities lie.

Read more here...

Global debate on AIDS get underway on BBC
BBC News Online is hosting a global debate on AIDS.

Special features of the debate include a talking point putting questions to Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS + Carol Bellamy, head of UNICEF.

Other features include the personal stories of people infected with HIV in the Ukraine, Iran + South Africa, reports on the cost of drugs + outlines of some of the connections between AIDS and poverty...

This special feature is excellently put together, and with
46,000,000+ people infected with HIV well worth exploring if you have time...

Well done to all of those at the BBC responsible for putting it together!

Video of Mark Henderson released by kidnappers
I am very pleased to see that a video of Mark Henderson has been released by his kidnappers in Colombia. Mark was kidnapped by a group of ELN geurillas 8 weeks ago and is sadly one of the 3000 people abducted in this country this year.

Under normal circumstance such statistics might wash over me, but I knew Mark when I was doing my degree, and I really hope he get's home soon. If there can ever be a bright side to such a traumatic + dreadful experience I am sure he is doing a good job of keeping everyone elses' spirits up during this diffficult time. He's a great guy + greatly missed by many people.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Dirty needles + unnecessary injections increasing health risks
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) approximately 75% of injections given in the developing world are given using re-used, unsterilised equipment which increase the risk of infection.

The re-use of needles is most common in south Asia, the Middle East + the western Pacific.

Often people in developing countries are also receiving too many injections for illnesses that can be treated with oral medication or no drugs at all.

The World Health Organisation estimates that about 16 billion injections are given in developing + transitional countries each year and as many as 70% are unnecessary.

Nearly 2% of all new HIV cases, or 96,000 people, are infected through unsafe injections, according to the WHO.

Dirty needles are also the most common cause of infection of hepatitis C, a potentially deadly liver disease, and account for 33% of new hepatitis B cases, another serious illness.

The WHO is recommending an increased emphasis on providing disposable needles, improving awareness of the risks associated with unsafe medical practices and the danger of healthcare helping to spread blood pathogens such as hepatitis B and C, HIV, absceses, septicaemia, malaria + haemorrhagic fevers.

Radio programme on how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions
The latest edition of the BBC Worldservice's radio programme One Planet does an excellent job of outlining why emissions of carbon dioxide need to be reduced and the importance of adopting strategies that encourage greater energy efficiency + the use of renewable energy sources... where possible using existing technologies.

Highly recommended!

Thursday, November 06, 2003

BAT pulls out of Burma
British American Tobacco has announced that it will be pulling out of Burma following a formal request by the UK government that it do so.

In July, following the arrest of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said that the government does not believe British companies should be trading with or investing in Burma while its military regime continued to suppress basic human rights.

Today, foreign minister Mike O'Brien said "I appreciate that this was a difficult process, but I am in no doubt that the decision was the right one''.

Less diplomatically, John Jackson, director of the Burma Campaign UK, a London-based pressure group said "They had to be dragged out kicking and screaming, but at least they are out".

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Killing badgers aids spread of bovine TB
Today, Animal Health Minister Ben Bradshaw has announced the suspension of badger culling in areas geographically close to recent cattle TB outbreaks on particular premises.

This is because the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB which designed, and now monitors, trials that are comparing the effectiveness of different intervention strategies has found that there is a 27% increase in the number of cases of bovine TB (breakdowns) in (reactive) culling areas compared to the related survey-only areas where no badger culling took place.

It is known that badgers can carry TB but it appears increasingly likely that any failure to kill all of the badgers in a sett when culling in an infected area actually aids dispersal of the disease.

Although previously uinmentionable, the roles of cow-to-cow infections, farm hygiene and movements of infected cows between farms in tackling bovine TB are increasingly having to be considered...

English Nature at risk
The environmental correspondent for BBC Radio 4's Today Programme, Roger Harrabin, has learnt that Lord Haskin's review of government services in the countryside will recommend the effective abolition of English Nature, the country's independent scientific watchdog.

It has been suggested that the disbanding of English Nature and the splitting of its responsibilities between the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Regional Development Agencies + local councils would help to separate policy from delivery, and clarify who is responsible for what.

However, there are widespread concerns that the weakening of environmental protection by such a break up would result in the "selling of the biodiversity police to the agricultural mafia", a "toothless watchdog without any bark" + the loss of "uncomfortable and inconvenient critic"...

This is exactly what happened when the Department of Conservation and Land Management was formed in Western Australia (and for a long time headed by a forester) and during the tenure of the UK's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries + Food (which was ultimately responsible for much of the mad cow disease debacle)... with environmental concerns and problems given much less priority than those of economic interests.

In the case of English Nature, Friends of the Earth fear the proposed changes will lead to:

* The loss of an independent internal critic

* The lack of a strong Government advocate for protection of already threatened wildlife sites

* A conflict of interest similar to the dangerous confusion in the former Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) which found it hard to champion both farming and consumer issues

* Growing threats to and direct loss of important species and habitats

Earth-Info.Net therefore feels that the maintenance and improvement of English Nature as a fearless and impartial environmental watchdog is more sensible than its destruction, especially if widely publicised commitments to sustainable development are to be worth anything.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Beethoven's sonatas helping to provide clean water
According to BBC News Online a pianist, Julian Jacobson, who played all of Beethoven's 32 sonatas in 13 hours hopes to raise £5000 for Water Aid, the UK's charity of the year...

Earth-Info.Net is very pleased to hear this news as Water Aid does excellent work providing clean water + sanitation to some of the poorest people in the world.

If you would like to find out more about what Water Aid do or why providing clean water is so important please click here.

On a more technical level you may also be interested to know that Water Aid + the Tearfund have produced an important report on the role of Private Sector Participation in the provision of water + sanitation services.

This issue is highly contentious, and the report does a good job of examining the pros and cons of involving the private sector (and of offering some much needed evidence + balance to the debate about the role of the private sector) in tackling one of the biggest challenges facing humanity.

See here for the full report entitled New rules, new roles: Does PSP benefit the Poor? The Synthesis report.

See here for a briefer executive summary of the full report which examines case studies from 10 countries and does a good job of urging decision makers to stop talking over the heads of those they wish to help.