Ann Pettifor

The biodiversity lament

It’s a gorgeous day here in Oxford…had a little wander yesterday during the lunch-break, and came across clusters of worried-looking students wearing a strange garment which flapped – like a short gown – sporting white, pink and red carnations. So I asked them why? It turns out that on the first day of exam writing, Oxford students have to wear a gown with a white carnation; on the second day it’s pink, and on the final day it’s red….and they are not admitted into the exam room unless they are wearing the above….Charming.

We’re on day three of this World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment…and spent yesterday trying to determine the agenda for research and inquiry to address frightening levels of biodiversity loss. We were asked to look back 50 years – and consider what had been lost, and to then look forward 50 years, and prefigure what might be lost……

I lamented the loss of sparrows. Recollected how when visiting Washington recently came across a little flock of sparrows scrabbling on the ground – and was suddenly struck that it had been years since I had seen such a sight….the feeling of loss was both intense, and surprising.

When it came to loss within the next fifty years: my group wrote FISH on our post-it note – and then fell into mournful, if momentary silence.

The group included some rebellious characters – who felt more research – more evidence – is not needed, is not enough to drive change. What is needed is an understanding of motivation – of what it is that drives people to act beyond their own interests.

Our ‘rapporteur’ is a delightful man, Professor  John Robinson, of ‘Futures’ at both the Smith School, but also the University of Columbia….who summarised our debate succinctly, and then wrote a limerick.

We care about biodiversity

And are very concerned with the perversity

Of continuing to grow

Without attempting to know

What pathways won’t cause great adversity.


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