Bountiful Bristol Bulletin

biodiversity & local ecologies by andykisaragi
December 5, 2006, 10:21 am
Filed under: media, peak oil

I was having a look at the Guardian site the other day at work and came across this article about the decline of local biodiversity in the UK. To be honest I try not to take the Guardian’s brand of armchair activism too seriously (and find it laughable that it is actually considered to be the country’s leading ‘liberal’ or ‘loony left’ paper) but the article makes some interesting points, one of which is about the BBC’s Planet Earth.
Now I’m sure you’ll agree that this series is possibly the finest use of our licence fees in history, and so like me you’ll probably instinctively jump to defend it from criticism like some kind of never-before-seen snow leopard protecting it’s young. So consider Madeleine Bunting’s beef with Planet Earth, summed up by her description of it as “a surfeit of stunning beauty and spectacular drama in which all evidence of human existence is scrupulously edited out”. She argues that programs like this dissociate the viewing public with nature by presenting it on a pedestal as something beautiful, pristine and somehow other and that this fixation on beautiful, high definition images of animals and vast landscapes is making us forget about the equally beautiful and high definition wildlife on our doorsteps and our own relationship with it. I think it’s a little unfair to lay the blame at the feet of this one program – it’s just raised the bar so much that it perhaps draws attention away from our own equally beautiful yet understated natural heritage. However it is certainly true that for a program entitled Planet Earth, there is a singular lack of it’s most conspicuous inhabitants.
As an example of the wildlife which might be losing out she cites the Thames Gateway, which is being eyed up for redevelopment to house London’s ever expanding rolls of grey flesh. It’s also an important area of rich biodiversity, a seasonal home to many species of migratory birds. As the RSPB says, “London is bursting at the seams” – and the “safety valve” is the Thames Gateway.
But, apparently, there is hope: Terry Farrell’s vision for the Thames Gateway consists of creating a Thames National Park to include the housing developments and large areas of protected parkland. Farrell’s proposal puts 90% of the housing snugly up against the rest of London and leaves most of the rest of the space for wildlife. Of course, any kind of conservation project deserves praise, but doesn’t this sound rather like exactly what Bunting is criticising? By saying “we’ll put the city here, and have the wildlife over here” we’re still keeping it separate from our daily lives. It all seems to miss the point that to be truly sustainable, we need to be paying attention to what is happening around us at a local level. Of course we need biodiversity, but we need it all around us, not compartmentalised into theme parks, handily accessible by car…
Anyway it’ll be interesting to see how it turns out. Terry Farrell is known for his sustainable designs so I’m sure it’ll at least be a step in the right direction – it’s just worth questioning whether any large, top-down project on this scale can ever be sustainable in the long term.
Right after reading Buntings article I saw this piece covering the particularly well-trodden ground of the evils of Starbucks. This is basically the same topic – diversity – but within a different ecology. There’s little need to rehash here the anti-Starbucks arguments but the analogy of biodiversity is apt. Nature doesn’t work because it’s efficient. It works because it is an enormously complex system with built-in redundancy. When crops are grown in a monoculture, as we have seen, they become extremely susceptible to disease and changes in conditions. It is the same with our economy and indeed our society – without a high level of biodiversity in our economic ecology we leave ourselves open to, and unprepared for, fluctuations in the conditions which that ecology is dependent on. These fluctuations are on the way.
It all comes back to the importance of being able to live locally at every level. That’s why projects such as GROFUN and this blog are so important – they can help rebuild the robust social structure, eroded by years of buy now pay later culture, that we need to be able to live truly sustainably once the demand for oil starts to seriously outstrip supply and illusion of limitless energy starts to fade. Transition Towns such as Totnes are already working towards a vision of sustainable, small towns – perhaps together we can start to make Montpelier an example of a truly sustainable urban community.


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