Thursday, 18 November 2010

Positive Visions for Biodiversity

Well, I didn’t win the comics contest, no surprise there, but at least some of the proposed significant changes that I voted for came through in the top 20 list as I will briefly explain below. Also, many of these proposed changes reflected the messages I had incorporated in my comic.

Packed with activities and good food that we were assured was mostly local and organic, the two day meeting for Positive Visions for Biodiversity was a success. And of course, there were boxes of Belgian chocolates to keep us going! Over 200 participants from 43 countries and varied professions gathered in Brussels to brain storm and share ideas for reversing the steady downward slope for loss of the diversity of life on the planet since 1970.

The program was well organised and supported by many volunteers as well as excellent technology. It ran smoothly. The dinner at the Royal Belgian Institute on the first day was a real treat. We were able to sample many varieties of foods while at the same time admiring some of the now extinct species that have been part of our planet’s ever changing biodiversity.

One of my favourite quotes that came out of the first day after we had spent some quiet time “dreaming a new future” was this:

"FOOD: look into the eyes of what we eat and confront the existence of death. This is what attaches us to nature."

The Preliminary Report is a brief compilation of the results from the two-day meeting. It includes some of the ideas from the participants and pictures too. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I’m not in any of the photos! But my table from the second day is on page seven which shows us getting our goals and steps to achieve sustainable food production, using minimum energy and resources onto the flip chart for the vote later in the day. We were limited to two sub-themes: (1) food production as it applies to the ecosystem approach, which was to guarantee the maintenance of landscapes that function to conserve biodiversity and (2) full consumer awareness of how food is produced and what effect its production has on the environment/biodiversity (the ecological footprint) – and they select food based on these factors rather than on price alone.

One perceived shortcoming of the event was that I was not able to stick to a theme on both days but was given one theme the first day and then allowed to select the theme of my choice the second day. I say this was a shortcoming because on the first day, I was working on the issue of overpopulation with one group of people and then on the second day, I was working on my choice of the food issues theme, but it was put together by others and I was working with a new group. I did not find the food theme inspiring, but limiting, even after clarification that we did not have to constrict ourselves to the strict meaning of the terms.

The end result was not too disappointing though in that at least one of the two food themes I supported was voted tops. Even if it may seem unrealistic, it is definitely a positive vision for food and quite possible:

"In 20 years, all agriculture and aquaculture will be sustainable (organic, permaculture, integrated agriculture, etc)."

As in the other winning food theme, I was not impressed by the incorporation of environmental costs to products in order to ensure sustainability because I have difficulty with putting a value on nature. In Biodiversity and Environmental Philosophy, Sahotra Sarkar discusses the conundrum of whether capturing certain human values can be thought of in demand terms. (Book review now available here.)

And as for the messages from my comic, education was a very popular idea as was growing food plants in gardens, as well as, window boxes and on flat roofs in cities! With the determination to do away with monoculture and conventional farming, Monsanto will either have to find new products or go into liquidation as envisioned in my comic. And finally, less cars, more underground transportation and less moving about in general means that clear roads, even roads planted with vegetation, will spring up as I partly suggested as well.