I’ve entered the following post, a slight revision of an earlier blog entry, into the IUCN’s Environmental Media Awards, with the potential prize on offer of a trip to the IUCN conference in South Korea later this year. The competition requires individuals to enter a short article on an issue that connects nature and human well-being- something i feel the concept of natural capital is central to.
If you’d like to vote for my article, you can do via the IUCN facebook page by accessing this link: http://s-hq.it/K6z1cr, where you can ‘like’ my entry. Furthermore, you can access other articles- or you may feel compelled to put in an entry yourself…
Give a man a fish: Nurturing natural capital
‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’ is a familiar adage used by charities and NGOs to promote enduring international development programs, rather than simply providing short term aid and relief.
It’s an issue which relates to improving levels of ‘capital’ in society (a concept central to the IHDP’s recent ‘Inclusive Wealth Report’), achieved by investing in, and enhancing, resilient resources of built (e.g. technology and infrastructure), human (e.g. health and knowledge) and social (e.g. relationships and co-operation) resources. By ‘showing a man how to catch fish’ social and human capital in a community is increased through knowledge transfer, allowing individuals to utilise and consume available natural capital (e.g. natural resources and ecological processes) to provide for their on-going fundamental physiological needs.
However, with increasing demand for, and consumption of, such natural capital, many of our learned (and increasingly industrialised) practices of how we ‘catch fish’ (both in a literal sense, and furthermore in relation to wider resource consumption) are unsustainable. From pollution/ inefficient utilisation of our water supplies, the removal of nutrients from soil, the elimination of natural pollinators, the over farming/fishing of food stocks… we are negatively impacting the planet’s capacity to provide us the goods and services it supplies for free, and on which we rely for our survival.
This is not to say that we should stop consuming nature- I am no advocate of some kind of ‘environmental resource abstinence’. It is because I believe humanity (both currently alive, and future generations) should all be allowed the opportunity to benefit from what nature provides, that I support its protection and conservation. Our delivery of international aid, governance of economic systems, running of corporations, controlling of public services, and, fundamentally, the individual lifestyle choices we make, all contribute to the levels of natural capital available for society. Establishing levels of sustainable consumption that conserve this natural capital, as well as practices and behaviours to achieve them, are in our interests now, and for the future.
It could be said that we need to extend our understanding and application of the ‘fish adage’ to something like: ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime; implement sustainable fishing practices and he can feed himself, his family, his community, and future generations for years to come’.
Like most good maxims, this is relevant in a literal sense, and furthermore in a more universal and figurative context- in this case in relation to global economic, social and environmental development.