Posts Tagged Economics

The Two Faces Of Zoos

As I mentioned in a previous blog (Zoo Based Conservation – What have the Romans, er Zoos, done for Us, I mean Conservation? 9/2/12) zoos have a somewhat dubious record when it comes to conservation and endangered species programs. This is at least partly because traditional zoos contain two powerful opposing forces, which are constantly at war with each other. On the one hand we have the keepers who interact directly with both the public and the animals. They are there because of a passion for conservation and a love for the animals they work with on a daily basis. On the other hand we have the managers. Many of these people have no animal related backgrounds. The zoo is just another place to work and it exists primarily to entertain and make money.

Because this dichotomy exists zoos are constantly at war with themselves. Keepers complain because insufficient funds are allocated to conservation programs and animals are expected to perform excessively. Managers complain because keepers are being too precious about their animals and fail to understand that without the money brought in by visitors there can be no funding for “nice to do” activities, like conservation programs.

Many of the gains made by zoos are being eroded in the interests of entertainment. While the chimpanzee tea parties will hopefully remain a thing of the past, zoos have reinstalled amusement park rides and are more and more willing to have hand raised, humanised animals engage in hands on contact and photo opportunities with visitors. As mentioned previously, this does no one any favours.

The solution? Make zoos charitable institutions that can be accessible to the public for the purpose of education, but do not rely on gate takings from visitors for their existence. Ensure that all staff share the same vision by emphasizing experience in conservation and animal management at all levels of the organisation above other attributes. None of the really good managers ever work in zoos anyway because the pay is so poor compared with real companies. If you’re going to have barely competent people at least have ones with some passion for conservation.

Dr. F. Bunny

, , ,

Leave a comment

Economics of Nature

It seems fairly obvious to me that, like it or not, capitalism rules the world. Anarchism never got off the ground because it was impossible to “imagine no possessions” as John Lennon suggested. Communism failed because people did not want to imagine no possessions that did not belong to the state. So capitalism reigns supreme because it appeals to our need to strive and succeed and, of course, to our greed. And, as Gordon Gekko once said, “Greed is good.” Maybe not so good just at the moment but I am sure it will come into fashion again.

The trouble is that the proponents of capitalism, like the proponents of all the other financial systems, cheat to further their own ends. There is a belief in the free market when it suits. There is a belief in subsidies when they suit. And there appears to be an almost universal belief that the air, water, earth, timber, etc are all free. Even resources that are not free are provided to large corporations at markedly reduced rates, such as Alcoa and its subsidised electricity. Perhaps if the solar industry was similarly subsidised it too would suddenly become as affordable as oil. But we can’t have that.

If nothing else the Deep Water Horizon oil spill taught us that large corporations can be held accountable for affecting other people’s lives and livelihoods. If their actions are detrimental then those affected deserve to be compensated. Unfortunately the legislation in the US has a few more teeth than in Nigeria, where oil companies are free to pollute and damage livelihoods with no fear of repercussions. (Having said that I heard recently that a group of Nigerians are bringing a class action suit against Shell for causing two massive oil spills, so there is hope for all of us.)

It seems reasonable to me that if I am a rubber tapper and someone cuts down the forest, which belongs to no one (or everyone), then I should be compensated for loss of livelihood. If I am a prawn fisherman I should be compensated when the mangroves, which belong to no one (or everyone), are drained, as this is taking away prawn nurseries. If my farm is downhill from a forest that has been logged I should be compensated if my farm then floods because there are no trees to contain the runoff. If a genetically engineered plant excretes a toxin which kills bees as well as noxious pests (http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,473166,00.html), apiarists should be compensated. In fact all of us should be compensated because, according to Indian banker Pavan Sukdhev, the global value of pollination for food-bearing trees and various forms of agriculture is in the order of $190 billion per annum.

For more on Pavan Sukhdev see “Putting a Price on the Real Value of Nature” (http://e360.yale.edu/feature/putting_a_price_tag_on_the_real_value_of_nature/2481/ ). He is a founding member of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) which is a major international initiative aimed at drawing attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity and attempting to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. Like war environmental destruction is bad for business. It’s hard to make a profit if you keep smashing your equipment. For more information check out http://www.teebweb.org.

Another example focusses on the toilets of Kampala, Uganda. The Kampala sewage system consists of a large 40 square kilometre swamp. At one point the local administration decided to dam up the swamp, which no one owned, and convert it to agricultural land, until an economist pointed out that the value of this horrible mosquito-infested swamp, as a way of eating up the human sewage from the city of Kampala, was something like $2 million. The economist also pointed out that to build an alternative physical sewage-treatment plant would cost a huge amount of money and cost another one-and-a-half-million dollars to run. All this was being provided free by the swamp.

It’s time to calculate the true cost of doing business. No more freebies from the planet. I suspect that taking ALL costs into consideration would drive us considerably faster into a sustainable future.

Dr. F. Bunny

, , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Make Poverty History

I confess to being totally fed up with this slogan and others like it that adorn the backs of cars. Car stickers are advertising and, as advertising goes, this one is a total failure. If I want to make poverty history how is this facile slogan going to help? It is nothing more than a vague catch phrase that someone can put on their car to make themselves feel less guilty about their rapacious consumerism. They don’t actually have to do anything. A more practical and effective slogan would tell us in 25 words or less what we can really do to facilitate this aim. Perhaps “Help Make Poverty History: Buy Fair Trade Coffee”? Or “Help Make Poverty History: Don’t Buy Nestle” (as they have encouraged mothers to buy their products instead of feeding their infants breast milk). Something tangible that might, in some tiny way, make a difference.

I do wonder about the origins and continuation of poverty. Why are some countries developed, while others never seem to stop developing? I thought Jared Diamond made an interesting point in his Pulitzer Prize winning book “Guns, Germs, and Steel” (unfortunately I haven’t read the book, only seen the TV series: http://www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/). He believes that the wealthier nations were lucky enough to settle on fertile ground containing animal species suitable for domestication making it easier to grow crops, feed their families and improve their standard of living, while the less fortunate ones spent proportionately longer periods of time foraging for grubs and berries. The free time not spent on agriculture was available for extra activities such as inventing the wheel, dreaming up imaginary friends to keep the populace in check, and exploiting those other less fortunate cultures. Once the ball of inequality had been set rolling it quickly gathered pace and momentum with the wealthier and more powerful nations dominating and exploiting the rest with ever greater ferocity.

This economic exploitation of the poor by the rich has certainly been well documented with particular emphasis usually being placed on the role of the US. For an especially florid account of their raping and pillaging read John Perkins’ book “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” (http://www.johnperkins.org/).

While it is easy and often justified to point the finger at developed countries as the cause of the entire developing world’s problems this view is far too simplistic. Why have some countries, such as the Asian tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan), been able to drag themselves out of the mire and into the light, while others continue to go nowhere but down? Of the 183 countries listed in the United Nations 2011 Human Development Report (http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2011_EN_Summary.pdf) all but one of the bottom 29 countries is in Africa (Afghanistan is the exception in case you are wondering. And Norway tops the list followed by Australia, the Netherlands and the US, in case you are thinking of emigrating). Surely this can’t be blamed solely on the Americans? Developing countries need to shoulder at least some of the blame for the state of their backyards because at least some of the impediments to development are entirely home grown.

One of these is war, which has become a constant companion in places like Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. While the influence of external politics and interference in these conflicts can be argued it is obviously impossible to develop an economy, educate children and live happily ever after while ducking bullets, dodging packages of anthrax and avoiding land mines.

The other home grown issue delaying development is corruption. Each year Transparency International releases its Corruption Index (http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2011/results/). Not surprisingly our friends in Somalia are top of the list, along with North Korea, Myanmar and Afghanistan. And where is the best place to do business? New Zealand is the world’s least corrupt country, closely followed by the Scandinavian countries and Singapore. And what does this mean?

Botswana is the least corrupt country in Africa and also has that continent’s highest per capita GDP. As for the corruption kings, Somalia and North Korea are so bad that figures are not available while, according to the IMF, Afghanistan’s GDP ranks 168 out of 183, with Myanmar coming in at 156. The bottom 15 countries for GDP are all in Africa. Regarding GDP for our non-corrupt friends New Zealand comes in at 23, Singapore at 11, and the lowest of the four Scandinavian countries comes in at 13. Clearly corruption isn’t the only issue but it certainly doesn’t help matters.

The Doing Business Project (http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings) provides objective measures of business regulations and their enforcement across 183 economies. Not surprisingly GDP is often related to the ease of doing business with Singapore topping the list followed by Hong Kong, New Zealand, USA and Denmark. Fourteen of the bottom 17 countries are in Africa. Starting to see a pattern?

With high levels of corruption and difficult business conditions it is hardly surprising that African countries rank so low in terms of GDP. The World Bank’s Africa Competitiveness Report 2011 (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GCR_Africa_Report_2011.pdf) also makes illuminating reading. This report tries to quantify the reasons why doing business is so difficult on this continent. Of the 35 countries listed in this report (which doesn’t include some of the past and present basket cases such as Somalia, DRC, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Sudan) 21 listed corruption as one of the top three impediments to successful business ventures, 12 listed inefficient government bureaucracy, 13 mentioned inadequate infrastructure, eight complained of poor education but, overwhelmingly, 28 out of 35 listed inadequate access to finance with 19 of those citing it as the number one barrier.

Unfortunately things like corruption need to be dealt with by the countries themselves and, until they are, will always be a millstone around the neck of developing economies. But what we can help with is providing access to finance. This does not have to occur on a grand scale but can be as little as providing a loan to a struggling business person to help them grow their business and prosper. If you really are serious about doing something about poverty check out http://www.kiva.org. The Kiva organisation facilitates the provision of interest free loans to small business entrepreneurs around the world. These are not handouts. Loans are expected to be repaid and start from as little as $25. This is real aid provided to people who want to help themselves. You can loan money as an individual or as part of a team. Vetsbeyondreason have gotten on board this exciting initiative. How about you? Do something real to “make poverty history.”

Dr. F. Bunny

, , ,

1 Comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 91 other followers