Are conservation organisations using donations wisely?

World Wildlife Fund Australia are seeking donations to build an A$75,000 predator-proof fence to help protect a small population of black-flanked rock wallabies.

Actually, we also need years of monitoring, maintenance and predator control

At $25 per metre, the fence is relatively inexpensive. The pests that need to be kept out by the fence are foxes and cats. Fences designed to exclude smaller pests like rats and stoats in New Zealand can cost three times as much or more.  

But other important costs are ongoing monitoring, maintenance and predator control. Wildlife managers need to work constantly to reduce the likelihood of a breach of the fence and be ready when a breach inevitably occurs.

If adequate arrangements for ongoing maintenance are not in place, the results can be disastrous. A $500,000 fence built by the Save The Bilby Fund using donated funds to protect a population of bilbies in Currawinya National Park, Queensland failed dramatically this year. The fence was unattended for over a year due to floods, rusted away, and cats found their way into the enclosure. The cats have probably killed every one of the 75 bilbies inside.

In response to the tragedy, Frank Manthey, a co-founder of the Save The Bilby Fund saidWe’re probably looking at about $100,000 to replace the skirting, and we need to put a monitoring program in place so this doesn’t happen again“.

How can an organisation spend $500,000 dollars on a fence without backing up the investment with an adequate monitoring, maintenance and pest management program? – even if the weather was extraordinarily wet?

You wouldn’t know about this disastrous failure by looking at the Save The Bilby Fund website. The site still promotes the fence as an ‘achievement’.

 

‘Achievement’ or unmitigated failure?

The only references to the breach on the Save The Bilby Fund website are contained in links hidden in a story ambiguously titled “Bilbies and feral cats – in the media”.

What the bilby debacle demonstrates is that we need to scrutinise well-meaning non-government conservation organisations as much as we scrutinise government agencies. Before you reach for your credit card to help build the fence, ask the World Wildlife Fund how the fence will be maintained, how pests will be monitored, how pests will be managed around the perimeter of the fence, and how a breach of the fence will be managed when it inevitably occurs.

Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: Konabish

Marketing carbon credits

Cool Discount

Climate Friendly is a reputable, “profit for purpose” business that sells “Carbon Management Solutions” to businesses and households.

Basically, they offer people an easy way to make voluntary payments towards schemes that reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. If you buy a credit for A$22, they promise to prevent 1 tonne of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.

To celebrate the launch of their new website, Carbon Friendly is offering a 10% discount on carbon offsets…

Does anybody else think this is odd way to market carbon credits? What next? Free steak knives?

I mean, householders buy carbon credits out of the goodness of their heart because they want their money spent reducing carbon emissions. Householders know that…

…if you give 10% less cash to Oxfam, they have 10% less to spend on projects that reduce poverty and injustice.

…if you give 10% less cash to Greenpeace, they have 10 % less to spend on activism and conservation projects.

…if you give 10% less blood to the Red Cross, they have 10% less life-saving blood in the blood bank.

The fact that you can get a 10% discount on a tonne of carbon emissions is a stark reminder that someone is making a handsome profit from your offset purchase.

Charities are often quizzed on how much of their donation income ends up being ‘lost’ in administration and marketing costs. That kind of question is at least as pertinent in a profit for purpose business. Given that 5% of the value of all household sales of carbon credits is donated to WWF Australia and an undisclosed portion (presumably more than 10%) is retained by Climate Friendly as operating expenses and profit, what proportion of your payment actually ends up being spent building wind farms and whatnot?

What is a $22 credit really worth in terms of on-ground investment? What is the wholesale price of the carbon offsets you are buying? How much is creamed from the top?

The voluntary carbon offset industry would be much more credible if it was much more transparent.

Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: ChicagoGeek

The myth of carbon neutrality

#462 genie | Mikael Miettinen
When we burn fossil fuels, we’re letting a genie out of its bottle. Can we put it back?

Many businesses claim that their operations are ‘carbon neutral’. That is, they claim that on balance they have no impact on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere because they pay for projects that ‘offset’ or ‘neutralise’ their emissions. Some companies go even further, claiming that they are ‘carbon negative’ – and that their operations actually lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

This is usually misleading.

Walmart's Grease Fuel Trucks | Walmart
Although they are better for the environment than conventional fuels, 22-wheeler biodiesel trucks are not carbon neutral.

Whenever fossil fuels are burned, carbon is taken from the ‘lithosphere’ (rocks and underground reservoirs, like oil and gas fields in the Earth’s crust) and transferred into the ‘biosphere’ (the atmosphere, oceans and living things).

As we add more carbon to the biosphere, it becomes harder for us to minimise the impact of global warming.

It takes only a few decades or centuries for industry to put a lot of carbon into the biosphere, but it takes hundreds of thousands of years for nature to lock it away again in the lithosphere.

You can’t put a genie back in the bottle and you can’t neutralise fossil fuel emissions.

Fiji - Every drop is green. | Sweet One
Carbon negative? Not really.

Creative Commons Licensephoto credits: Mikael Miettinen, Walmart StoresSweet One

A simple guide to choosing the greenest office paper

Yoda Origami

Choosing sustainably sourced office paper isn’t straightforward. There are a lot of claims and counter-claims made by timber companies, paper manufacturers and different environmental groups. Even so, there are three simple rules you can follow to make sure your paper is as environmentally friendly as can be.

Three Golden Rules:

  1. Eco-labels: Always look for a trusted eco-label. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and The Blue Angel are two of the best.
  2. Feedstock: Choose paper derived from the least controversial raw materials. Everybody agrees that paper made from post-consumer waste (PCW) is the best choice for sustainability. From least controversial to most controversial, other kinds of feedstock are pre-consumer waste paper, alternative fibres from agricultural waste and other kinds of waste, pulp from certified forest plantations, pulp from certified regrowth forest and pulp from uncertified forests, which may include high conservation value forests and old growth forests.
  3. Bleaching: Always choose paper that is ‘elemental chlorine free’ (ECF) (good), ‘process chlorine free’ (PCF) (better) or ‘totally chlorine free’ (best).

Eco-labels

One way to sort through the competing claims of manufacturers, industry groups and lobbyists is to see what kinds of accreditation the paper has been given. Paper producers pay money to have their production methods audited. If the production process meets a certain standard, the producer can use an ‘eco-label’ that helps consumers verify the company’s green credentials.

Not all labels are the same. For example, an Australian manufacturer recently lost certification from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), but continues to be certified by the less stringent Australian Forestry Standard and the international Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification.

To add to the complexity, within each certification scheme there is often more than one kind of label. To choose the most environmentally friendly product, we need to understand who the certifier is and what the label is telling us.

And as if labelling isn’t complicated enough, most or all certifiers are criticised from time to time by environmentalists that dispute the way labels are applied or the integrity of people involved in certification. In any case, two of the most trusted certifiers for paper are the Forest Stewardship Council and The Blue Angel.

Forest Stewardship CouncilThe Blue Angel

Also, don’t be fooled by a ‘recyclable’ label. All paper is recyclable.

Feedstock

One of the most important issues to consider when choosing sustainable paper is the feedstock, but this is also more complicated than it first appears.

Feedstock can be pulp from old growth native forests, regrowth native forests, forest plantations, alternative fibres (cotton, hemp, flax, etc.), pre-consumer or post-consumer waste paper, or any combination of these.

Most people agree that we shouldn’t exploit old-growth forests to produce timber or paper. Also, practically everybody agrees that we should increase the amount of paper we recycle – so that we cut our demand for ‘virgin fibre’ from forests.

For other sources of feedstock there are different views about what should be used for paper and what shouldn’t. It’s hard for a consumer to know who to believe.

In Australia, many lobby groups are campaigning against the only Australian paper manufacturer that produces 100% recycled office paper. Several companies, government offices and individuals refuse to buy Australian recycled paper and instead import paper from Europe.

This is happening because conservationists accuse the manufacturer of producing other kinds of office paper sourced from ‘high conservation value’ (HCV) forest in Victoria, Australia. The manufacturer on the other hand claims that the Victorian forests are being logged sustainably without impacting on conservation values.

Forest protest

Also, not all recycled papers are the same. Many environmentalists want us to choose paper made from 100% ‘post-consumer’ waste.

‘Post-consumer’ waste paper (also known as ‘PCW’) is the paper you and I put in the recycling bin at home or work. Many people think that it’s important that we encourage the use of PCW because it reduces the demand for virgin pulp from forests, increases demand for recycled paper collection and reduces the amount of scrap paper going to landfill.

Paper recycling
Post-consumer waste (PCW)

‘Pre-consumer’ waste on the other hand is waste paper that has never been used by a consumer. It includes trimmings, offcuts and over production. This is the easiest and cheapest type of paper to collect and reprocess, but its use doesn’t significantly reduce our reliance on forests for paper. To do that, we need to re-use as much post-consumer scrap as possible.

Bleaching

Office paper is bleached to make it whiter and brighter but some bleaching techniques are very bad for the environment.

Conventional bleaching processes, which are being phased out, use ‘elemental chlorine’ and cause the release of highly toxic chlorinated organic compounds, including dioxins, into the environment.

Today, most paper is produced with an ‘elemental chlorine free’ (ECF) process that replaces elemental chlorine with less harmful substitutes such as chlorine dioxide. This process still generates toxins, but in very low amounts.

You can also buy paper that is ‘process chlorine free’ (PCF). This is paper that is produced without using chlorine, but may have been made from recycled material that was originally bleached with chlorine.

There are other bleaching options available that are even less toxic and do not use chlorine at all. These so-called ‘totally chlorine free’ (TCF) processes do not produce any dioxins.

Creative Commons Licensephoto credits: PhillipWestTakver, orphanjones

Meat and sustainability

Watchful | Rising Damp

Meat can be a part of a sustainable lifestyle.

There are two important issues when it comes to sustainable meat production:

  1.  Minimise the use of land that can be used to grow food crops directly for humans. It’s the extra inputs and processing required for meat production and the inefficient use of land that makes meat environmentally unfriendly.
  2. Minimise greenhouse gas emissions. Some kinds of meat production generate higher greenhouse gas emissions than others.

With that in mind, here are seven tips on how to be kind to the planet without missing out on meat!

1. Eat less meat

Toasted tomato, avocado, cucumber & hummus sandwich | SweetOnVeg

The environmental impact of meat is generally higher than for other food sources. Some startling facts:

  • Half of the world’s crops are grown to feed animals
  • The meat industry contributes about 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • 30% of the all land and 8% of the water we use is devoted to raising livestock
  • Producing 1 kilogram of animal protein requires about 100 times more water than producing 1 kilogram of grain protein
  • For every kilogram of meat protein that is produced, 6 kilograms of plant protein is fed to livestock
  • The US livestock population consumes seven times more grain than the human population. That’s enough grain to feed 840 million people on a plant-based diet
  • The average American eats twice the recommended daily allowance of protein

2. Avoid beef and lamb

Cow Butt | St0rmz

Ruminants, including cattle, sheep, goats and camels produce methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Each cow produces much more greenhouse gas emissions than a car. In New Zealand, a small country that gets most of its electricity from hydro-power, about half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions come from sheep and cattle.

3. Choose grass-fed beef

Cow on the hilltop | BinaryApe

If you aren’t ready to give up beef, choose grass-fed beef.

Animal welfare is an obvious reason for choosing grass-fed beef over feedlot beef. I can’t read a cows mind, but it’s hard to imagine that a cow would choose to spend the last several months of its short life in an overcrowded feedlot being fed food that makes it sick and would eventually kill it – if the unfortunate beast lived long enough! That’s what happens in a feedlot.

Aside from the ethical issues, grass-fed beef is likely to come from marginal land that isn’t suitable for cropping. Providing the land is not over-grazed, this is more sustainable than keeping cattle in feedlots and feeding them food that should be produced for people – not livestock.

Critics make the valid point that marginal land is not productive enough to meet our insatiable demand for beef. That’s  true. We eat too much beef! If we want to live sustainably, we need to eat less. Period.

4. Choose organic or biodynamic

Organic Sausage Stand | ajleon

The overall environmental impact of organic or biodynamic and free range meat is generally lower than for conventionally produced meat. There are benefits in relation to carbon emissions, soil erosion, biodiversity and air and water pollution.

Organic food is more expensive and organic production systems seem to produce less food per hectare than conventional systems. This has led to some concern that organic food can’t feed the Earth’s growing population. Nobody really knows.

However, a major reason that organic food is more expensive is because the ‘real’ cost of production is incorporated into the price. In conventional systems, food is cheaper, but someone else is paying for the environmental impact. ‘Someone else’ may include taxpayers, people living downstream or future generations.

To put this in economic jargon, in organic systems, many production costs are ‘internalised’, whereas in conventional systems, many costs are ‘externalised’. If we want our economic system to work better, we need to make the polluter pay. That is, we need to correct a ‘market failure’ and ‘internalise the negative externalities’.

5. Choose chicken, turkey or pork for lower greenhouse gas emissions

Angry chicken | Stewart Black

Chicken has the lowest emissions of conventional meats. Turkey and pork also have relatively low emissions.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Comparison of total greenhouse gas emissions from alternative protein sources: EWG Meat Eaters Guide.

6. Choose free range pork and poultry

The main reason we choose free range meat is because of concerns about animal welfare.

Most pigs are raised in factory conditions and never see the sun until they are sent for slaughter. On some farms in Australia - and in other countries – female breeding pigs (sows) are confined to metal stalls that are so small the animal can’t turn around. When the piglets are born, their teeth are clipped, tails cut off and they are castrated without pain relief. The young are removed before 4 weeks of age and the sow is impregnated again.

It’s a similar story for battery hens.  In some countries, there is little regulation around what ‘free range’ actually means. Fortunately, when it comes to chickens, there’s an easy way to tell if the birds are being looked after… If there are too many chickens in a given space, chickens peck each other to death. To manage overcrowding, some free range farmers de-beak their birds. Whether you are buying meat or eggs, find out if your ‘free range’ provider de-beaks their birds. If they do, the pens are overcrowded. Buy from someone else.

7. Choose wild-caught game meats

Deer in the Woods | kretyen

Free-living game can provide a sustainable source of meat.

People have created environmental conditions that have led to a boom in the population of some native species. For example, the population of deer have increased because we’ve killed off their predators. Kangaroos in Australia have benefited from the increased supply of grass and grain on land cleared for agriculture. Sustainable harvesting of wild game can supply us with meat and reduce ‘total grazing pressure’. Reducing grazing pressure has the added benefit of making conventional meat production more efficient.

Providing the method of hunting is right for each species, hunting game can also be good from an animal welfare viewpoint. Sometimes these species suffer from starvation due to overpopulation, especially over winter or due to drought. Also, unlike farm animals, game live natural lives.

And what is more, hunting feral animals can provide food and help reduce the impact they have on the environment. In Australia, culling wild feral camels has been proposed as a method for reducing their impact on the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If we can find a way to get camels out of the outback and on to dinner plates we’ll be helping the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and accessing a new, sustainable source of meat. A win-win-win!

And a bonus tip!

8. Roadkill…

Kangaroo Sign | Bloody Nick

Well. It’s not my thing, but I’ve met a ‘vegetarian’ who wouldn’t say no to fresh roadkill. Enough said.

Creative Commons Licensephoto credits: Rising Damp, SweetOnVegSt0rmz, BinaryApe, Ajleon, Stewart Black, EWG, USDAgov, Kretyen, Bloody Nick