Welcome to my new web site. I’ve created this site for two purposes:
- To share what I’ve learned about my key areas of expertise and interest – both of them related to one another:
- Natural Resources Management and Conservation, especially in Africa;
- The Growing, Natural Resource Imposed, Limits to Economic Growth;
- The second purpose is a knowledge management function — to create a forum where I can attract others who are interested in these same topics so that that we can continue together to learn more about these topics.
Natural resource management I have 45 years of experience in natural resources management and conservation, most of it in Africa. I am a bit restrictive as how I define natural resources management. I don’t include simple resource users as managers. I don’t include protected areas or resource protection as a form of natural resource management because protected areas management focuses primarily on managing or controlling people, not the natural resources. I don’t include agriculture under natural resource management (even though farmers clearly must manage their soils and water) because the conversion of natural ecosystems into agricultural land is the largest direct cause of the destruction of natural resources on the terrestrial portion of our planet. Agriculture is a totally anthropic undertaking – unlike managed natural, if you pull man out of an agricultural system, the system will almost invariably fall completely apart within a year whereas most renewable natural resources will thrive and regenerate just fine if you pull man out of the equation.
Conservation is a word I generally avoid unless it is clearly defined by all the stakeholders involved. I have sat in far too many meetings, often high level meetings, with people talking past each other because some of the participants use the word to mean protection and others use it to include sustainable use. I use it to cover both, as in the argument that there are two main ways to conserve biodiversity – one can protect biodiversity or one can develop sustainable use systems that also conserve biodiversity. I will argue that the origin of the word conservation came primarily from the sustainable use side of the coin.
It took me about 20 years to realize how little there is for natural resources management in Africa. If you look for major success stories that have survived well beyond the project or intervention that initiated them and that have spread in some form to multiple countries, then I know of only two major success stories and a candidate for a third. The two clearest success stories are both forms on community-based, or participatory, natural resources management and both date back to the mid-1980s. The first, and oldest, is community-based dryland forest (savannah forest) management in six countries in the Sahel of West Africa. The other concerns community-based wildlife management in two or three southern African countries and it finds its origins in the CAMPFIRE program that started in Zimbabwe in the mid-80s. I will argue that CAMPFIRE was not truly a community-based initiative, however, but rather a local government-based initiative that shared revenues with communities. This program evolved substantially as it spread to Botswana and finally Namibia. I think the conservancy program in Namibia is the most successful example of natural resources management on the continent and generates about $7 million/yr for community managers. The third, tentative success story is the certified management of humid tropical forests in the three Congo Basin countries and is implemented by industrial-scale logging companies. Much progress has been made in the last 20 years but I still give in a “conditional” ranking as a success story.
I have a lot to say about community-based natural resources management and would like that topic to be the main focus of this web site.
Limits to Growth The ecologist in me finds it hard to believe that any economic activity that is based on the drawdown of non-renewable resources can be sustained over time. Unfortunately, we have a world economy that is strongly based on the drawdown of non-renewable resources. Of the non-renewables, I believe that none are more critical than the fossils fuels, and, of them, none are more critical that petroleum. When used as fuels, fossil fuels are not even recyclable – they are “flash-in-the-pan”, use them once and they’re gone, resources. Economics has evolved under conditions of cheap abundant energy supplies, and I believe that economists have totally failed to recognize the fundamental importance of energy. Without surplus, usable energy, there are no usable natural resources and there is no economic activity.
I believe that we are headed towards a crisis of affordable liquid fuels, especially for transportation. Net energy from oil has fallen dramatically and inexorably. I believe that benefits from oil peaked out about 10 years ago. I believe that we are at a unique point in time where oil has become too expensive for consumers to use as they were accustomed and is impeding economic growth while at the same time the price of oil has recently dropped below the cost of production for many sources – a cost that has been growing at about 17%/yr in recent years. I believe that all the PR jingoism talk of 100 years of reserves of oil and gas in the US is all groundless fantasy. If the economy is increasingly constrained by the high cost of oil, it is not clear that the fantastic levels of debt that have been up will ever be repaid.
Tied in with limits to growth are constraints to our very ability to properly perceive and think critically about the sustainability of resource use, its repercussions and what we need to do about it. And this will bring us to look at the very rapidly evolving research findings on how the human brain works – and frequently doesn’t work, in terms of critical thinking. Natural resource-based problems of a bio-physical nature get mixed up with human emotions, political orientations and belief systems – all of them with a strong genetic influence. Research results are making it ever more clear why we find it so difficult to deal with major challenges like climate change and limits to growth.