Yesterday was World Environment Day. Woohoo! Being of a greenish persuasion I guess I should be more enthusiastic, but, honestly who exactly pays attention to these things? How many such days are there, any way? I suspect rather more than 365 …
I can see they are not without their uses. They can be good for getting high level political support for key issues, but politicians have a nasty habit of breaking promises, so I would heavily discount the value of commitments they make during their speechifying. Nonetheless I can see the value, particularly for new up-and-coming issues. E.g. I would imagine that in the early days of the fight against AIDS, events like World AIDS Day might have been quite important in building awareness. I can also see how such days might be quite handy in getting things into the newspapers; no self-respecting international conservation organisation seems capable of letting the opportunity for a press release pass by.
World Environment Day does seem one of the bigger such days, and round here people do take notice, but unfortunately in the wrong way. The government clearly thinks it is an important event, so every province and sub-province is expected to organise its own jamboree at which local leaders will pontificate to the people about the importance of all things environmental: tree-planting is something of a perennial favourite. All of which is fairly unobjectionable on the face of it, but communities are well used to their so-called leaders saying one thing, and doing the complete opposite (see Sleeping with the Enemy), and so are unlikely to pay much attention.
Furthermore these jamborees consume significant scarce financial resources, resources that could be put into something a bit more constructive, of practical conservation value. Then, because the government is financially constrained, we are asked to contribute, and find it hard to refuse. So our limited resources also get used up. The provincial leaders, of course, will not pass up the opportunity to make some political capital out of the event, so we end up subsidising their political posturing.
More importantly, though, I think this kind of problem is symptomatic of too many initiatives in tropical conservation and development. Real conservation is hard, and there may be vested interests opposed to really seeing it through, but speechifying is easy, and raising awareness in general looks good on paper without stretching peoples’ capacities too much. But at some point you need to move beyond just a bit of awareness-raising and actually deliver something of conservation value.
In conclusion: if lack of awareness is a key constraint to achieving a conservation goal then you should leverage the slightly higher profile that World Environment Day brings to get your message out. But if awareness isn’t the problem, then keep your resources for something more worthwhile.
Whatever, I guess I won’t be winning this blogging competition any time soon. Seriously? Cleaning your windows with coffee filters?!?