Mark Car­war­dine

The broad­caster and con­ser­va­tion­ist dis­cusses the re­ac­tion to the Notre Dame fire, and in­vites your thoughts on the sub­ject.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - MARK CAR­WAR­DINE is a frus­trated and frank con­ser­va­tion­ist. If you want to sup­port Mark in his views or shoot him down in flames, email wildlifele­t­[email protected]­me­di­ WHAT DO YOU THINK? MY WAY OF THINK­ING

Could more funds reach con­ser­va­tion­ists?

Nearly one bil­lion eu­ros were pledged to re­store Notre Dame within a few days of the dev­as­tat­ing fire a few months ago, but I seem to be alone in not cel­e­brat­ing this fact. Though I have to ad­mit I cheered the 200,000 bees that some­how sur­vived liv­ing un­der the roof and are mirac­u­lously alive and buzzing.

I have noth­ing against 850-year-old mon­u­ments, es­pe­cially ones that sym­bol­ise en­tire cities and na­tions. But while I’m happy that it was saved from burn­ing to the ground, I don’t un­der­stand why there was such an out­pour­ing of grief and gen­eros­ity from all over the world. For a start, why hasn’t there been the same re­ac­tion to the count­less older (and, ar­guably, more beau­ti­ful) his­toric build­ings and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites de­stroyed or se­verely dam­aged dur­ing the Syr­ian Civil War?

But what re­ally up­sets me is our skewed pri­or­i­ties. We don’t seem to un­der­stand what is re­ally im­por­tant. Sav­ing a medieval build­ing is com­mend­able, of course, but there are so many more crit­i­cal is­sues that more ur­gently need that kind of money and sup­port.

On the very day of the Notre Dame fire, Ex­tinc­tion Re­bel­lion (XR) was launched. Its rai­son d’être is, quite sim­ply, to warn that if we do not take ur­gent and es­sen­tial ac­tion to halt bio­di­ver­sity loss and tackle cli­mate change, we are all doomed (I’m para­phras­ing, but the mes­sage is loud and clear: ‘this is an emer­gency’). Yet the daily news was dom­i­nated by XR’s dis­rup­tion of Lon­don traf­fic and largely side-stepped the big­ger is­sue

that we have en­tered a pe­riod of abrupt cli­mate break­down and are in the midst of a self-made mass ex­tinc­tion. Needless to say, there have been no bil­lion-euro pledges to save the world.

I wouldn’t pre­sume to tell any­one how to spend their money. Bil­lion­aires and big busi­nesses can spend it on what­ever they like. In­deed, within hours of the Notre Dame fire break­ing out, one fam­ily alone do­nated 100 mil­lion eu­ros, while banks, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal firms, oil com­pa­nies and count­less oth­ers also pledged equally mind-bog­gling sums of money. But I don’t think we have to choose be­tween wor­thy causes. Those bil­lion eu­ros didn’t nearly empty the cof­fers: there is still a lot more money where that came from.

So why the shock­ing level of com­pla­cency when it comes to con­ser­va­tion? Surely, any­one who has grasped the sever­ity of the sit­u­a­tion must fear for the fu­ture? They must care? Part of the prob­lem is com­plex­ity. ‘Notre Dame dam­aged by fire’ is a sim­ple con­cept, with a straight­for­ward so­lu­tion; and, be­ing cyn­i­cal, there are im­me­di­ate brownie points to be won by of­fer­ing help. But it is easy to lose in­ter­est or shy away when the prob­lems are as com­plex as cli­mate change and loss of bio­di­ver­sity, and the so­lu­tions are over­whelm­ingly con­vo­luted, largely un­pop­u­lar and seem­ingly end­less.

But just imag­ine what could be achieved if only we could con­vince bil­lion­aires and banks that con­ser­va­tion is a worth­while in­vest­ment. Take an an­i­mal close to my heart, for in­stance: the Crit­i­cally En­dan­gered vaquita – a tiny por­poise that lives in the Gulf of Cal­i­for­nia, western Mex­ico. With as few as 10 left, it is tee­ter­ing on the brink. If only we had thrown one bil­lion eu­ros and gov­ern­ment pres­sure be­hind vaquita con­ser­va­tion when alarm bells were ring­ing 20 years ago, we could have saved it from in­evitable ex­tinc­tion.

When it comes to pri­or­i­ties, there is one crit­i­cal thing to bear in mind. We can re­store Notre Dame to its for­mer glory – this fire is just a blip in the long and of­ten tu­mul­tuous his­tory of the cathe­dral. But we will never be able to bring back the vaquita.

There are so many more crit­i­cal is­sues that need money and sup­port.

Vast sums of money were pledged af­ter the fire at Notre Dame in April.

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