Saturday 9 July 2016

Tropical sanctuaries

I woke up screaming in the middle of the night after I wrote about Paul Cox and his Seacology non-profit. I'd forgotten a number of relevant references. Cox went off to the third world for his field work as an ethnobotanist, talking to the knowledgeable older blokes about healing plants. A generation previously Carleton Gadjusek had been doing fieldwork as an anthropologist in New Guinea.  In addition to doing the research on the neurodegenerative disease kuru that won him a Nobel Prize, Gadjusek was talking to younger chaps to persuade them into his bed. Most people, including almost all who had dealings with him when he came to Dublin, disapprove of this sort of thing. We have to be cool with homosexual acts between consenting adults nowadays but sexual acts between adults and children are inherently unequal and unfair.  Actually, students in college are technically adults [can vote, join army, do jury service] but sex between them and their teachers is generally disapproved of, for the same inequality of power reasons.

But how are we about pushing your religion? Is that okay? Paul Cox, in addition to making the connexions between a tree and its curative properties [which hasn't gotten him a Nobel . . . yet] was also shilling for the Church of Latter Day Saints. "For two years beginning at age 19, I served as a volunteer missionary to the islands of Samoa. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to explain our faith to any who cared to listen, and to engage in humanitarian efforts." Did he stop explaining his faith when collecting his ethnobotanical data? Does it make the tiniest bit of a difference in Seacology's allocation of funds if the recipients are converts? Is it correct for me to push agnosticism? Should religious organisations be privileged with tax-free status?  Should they be exempt from criticism?

Who else is doing good for the tropics with First World cash? WeForest is. This tree-planting charity was founded by a palomino called Bill Liao, and they insisted that their mission statement Making Earth Cooler is readily understandable by folks who don' spik Ingles ver' good. Name familiar? Bill is the cofounder of CoderDojo [prev, and prevlier] which is empowering kids to drive computers rather than sit in front of them with their gobs open.

Willie Smits gave an impassioned early TED talk about his work creating a sanctuary for orang-utans Pongo pygmaeus in at Samboja Lestari, Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. It is a great example of a TED talk: the Samboja Project saves primates by saving their habitat, and this Good Thing generates all sorts of positive unintended consequences.  These include:
  • reversal of local carbon emissions
    • through reforestation
    • through preventing forest and subterranean fires 
  • beneficial changes in rainfall patterns
  • increased biodiversity
  • ecological complexity
  • filtered water
  • farmable plots interspersed with the Orang habitat
  • fuel ethanol from sugar palms Arenga saccharifera
  • 3000 new jobs locally
all articulated in a modest, even humble, way in 20 minutes. 20 minutes is the attention span of the attendees at TED talks. They need $5000 as well for the privilege of hobnobbing with 'Effectives' like Willie Smits and other people who have $5K of disposable income. Smits' presentation was so compelling and so neatly tied up with a ribbon and bow that it generated a standing ovation. Too good to be true?  Too good to be even truthful?? Some people thinks so.

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