If the Strategy Doesnt Work, Change the Strategy

More and more people are questioning the lack of success of the sustainable use of wildlife model. Similarly, many are examining the policies of large conservation bodies which use trade to minimize human-wildlife conflict with the aim to save wildlife and natural environments: http://africageographic.com/blog/sustainable-utilisation-of-wildlife-not-so-sustainable/

After decades of these policies, we are losing wildlife in staggering numbers, natural environments at alarming rates and little has been done to address poverty. Why are we still talking about legalizing trade in endangered species and betting on a prescription that has failed over-and-over again?

The conservation sector has not been able to halt or reverse over exploitation of resources. Dominant neoliberal ideology insists on free markets and free trade, but doesn’t care about the consequences for ecosystems and choses to ignore the fact that ultimately we are dependent on them. Yet in search of funding the largest conservation charities have aligned themselves with governments (which are their biggest donors) and large business; are they unable to change now because they are trapped within the system? It’s time to ask, is there another way and what could be an alternative?

Tiered Basic Income Model Background

The Basic Income Model (http://basicincome.org/basic-income/) is not only being considered in developing countries as a way to support people out of poverty, improve health and education outcomes and facilitate entrepreneurship and social enterprise. It is also being researched as a way for the developed world to overcome the rapid rise in automation that will trigger mass unemployment in not too distant future.

Oxford ResearchResearch carried out in 2013 at the University of Oxford examined how susceptible jobs are to automation. They estimated the probability of automating 702 different occupations within the next 10-20 years, assuming only the engineering and automation challenges that have already been solved and are no longer considered ‘hard’. Based on these estimates, they examined the impacts of automation on the US labour market. According to their estimates, about 47 percent of total US employment are at risk in the next two decades, with most of these jobs having an 85%+ probability of being automated.

For those of you who want to know more about the Basic Income Model and why we will need it in an age of rapid automation, here are some options:

  1. The Oxford paper: http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/The_Future_of_Employment.pdf
  2. An overview at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/01/17/rise-of-the-machines-economist_n_4616931.html
  3. Video featuring Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) now teaching at Columbia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLHKlkyj5Is as he mentions in this video, no one is talking about the implications of this degree of automation on jobs.
  4. Video of Guy Standing, professor of Development Studies at the University of London, and co-founder of the Basic Income Earth Network: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRNhtGtO9pg

Self driving truckWhat is interesting to note, is that since the Oxford research was published in 2013, the timeframe for this automation process appears to be speeding up and the impacts are likely to be felt much sooner that the original 2013 estimates. Self-driving taxis are being rolled out now and delivery drones are being tested in many different contexts (Amazon, pizza etc.). In addition, computers are outperforming highly trained medical specialists in diagnosis and treatment planning already. Several fast-food outlets are trialing fully automated stores and supermarkets are rapidly transitioning to self-service check-outs.

These may be isolated examples, but transportation and retail employ ~25% of all workers. When we reach a tipping point, the current economic system will collapse because of lack of consumer demand – robots don’t buy anything!

Global debtDespite these obvious problems and the fact that since 2008 the only thing that has kept our economies sort-of going is a massive program of debt creation (total global debt is now 230 trillion dollars, 57 trillion of which has been created since 2008) the only prescription we have been served is more free trade and more debt. This no longer resonates with growing number of people and it won’t solve the automation challenge.

So why are large conservation bodies debating applying these same principles of trade to save nature, when there is little evidence they can save our societies?

In a 2015 article taking about rising inequality, ‘Zillionaires’ warned: wake up, it won’t last: http://www.executivestyle.com.au/zillionaires-warned-wake-up-it-wont-last-gi5vbj one of the people quoted, Paul Tudor-Jones, said that “such divides have historically been resolved in one of three ways: taxes, wars or revolution”. Though the article quotes the French Revolution, Tudor-Jones has seen a ‘revolution’ not so far back in history given he has a base in Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe is experiencing it again. Though automation wasn’t mentioned in this article, it will certainly speed up the inequality discussed and take it to a whole new level if we stay in the current, neoliberal system.

A guaranteed basic income is probably the only model known to date that can deal with this transition to a different type of economy.

Lets Test a (Tiered) Basic Income Model Linked to the New 3Rs (Re-habilitation, Re-vegetation, Re-wilding)

Pilots of the Basic Income Model are being considered around the world. Certainly, the model needs to be tested in a variety of settings while we still have time. Some small scale trials in developing countries have shown that a basic income can produce greatly improved outcomes for health, education and crime reduction.

Basic Income trials are happening on the African continent, but they are not yet linked to conservation. Giving Directly is preparing a 10-year trial for 60 villages in Kenya at a total cost of $30m, focused on poverty alleviation. This is the same amount as Howard Buffett gave to Kruger National Park for anti-poaching measures to protect rhinos and other wildlife. Surely this indicates that this model is worth testing and could be very cost effective model for saving wildlife and habitat.

I emailed Guy Standing recently to ask his thoughts on a tiered basic income linked to the new 3R’s approach. He responded “Many thanks for your very interesting email. I like the gist of your analysis. I am giving advice on pilot designs. But I do not know of any pilots that have touched on the issue that interests you directly.” I don’t know of any specific plans to link a basic income project to wildlife and nature protection, but I hope it is on the cards.

A tiered basic income model, providing a guaranteed income for communities living next to protected wildlife areas can enable communities to reduce reliance on poaching and illegal harvesting of timber. Similarly, linking the different basic income tiers to wildlife and nature protection activities increases cultural significance and community support for conservation (all benefit, not just select few who are employed by a conservancy or national park).

Feral George MonbiotBTB is very interested in the Universal Basis Income as an alternative/additional way to look at human-wildlife conflict. The idea would be to have a tiered approach that would aim to have a percentage of local people and communities be involved in activities protecting nature in its wild form. As opposed to the current ‘sustainable utilisation’ of local wildlife model as a way to reduce human-wildlife conflict, which has had only a limited effect, this tiered basic income model would enable people to be involved in what Breaking the Brand calls the New 3R’s Model (Re-habilitation, Re-vegetation, Re-wilding).

The reason to starting thinking about this is that escalating poaching levels have triggered an employment and training opportunity in the range countries, such as Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa etc. Our concern is that, as demand reduction strategies improve and become more focused on behaviour change in the current users, we will get the user behaviour change in the demand side countries we want and, as a result, poaching should fall; this is the outcome we want, but what happens to the people employed in the anti-poaching sector? If there is a chance that they will lose their jobs, in countries where unemployment is already very high, this may undermine the breakthroughs on the demand side. Breaking The Brand would like to see a model in place that provides an income:

  1. For a new 3R’s type model (Re-habilitation, Re-vegetation, Re-wilding), and
  2. Where an ecologically sustainable trade is not appropriate/possible, such as for the rhino. You can see my reason for this statement in: http://breakingthebrand.org/farmed-rhino-horn-not-seen-as-substitute-product/ and http://breakingthebrand.org/smart-trade-no-foolish-assumptions-yes/

This Universal Basic Income linked to the New 3R’s Model (Re-habilitation, Re-vegetation, Re-wilding) strategy is something the Breaking The Brand leadership team has started developing.

Is it affordable?

Trials are certainly affordable. As I have already mentioned that Giving Directly is preparing a 10-year trial for 60 villages in Kenya at a total cost of US $30m. At the same time the combined annual budget of just the 3 largest global conservation agencies is US$3bn. Given the lack of outcomes these huge amounts of money have produced, isn’t it time we start talking about diverting funds to test alternative approaches?

Of course this strategy is not consistent with current conservation model or mindset. It is also not consistent with the even larger budgets for economic development and aid programs financed by 1st world governments, which have equally failed to produce lasting change. USAID alone has an annual budget of US $35bn, which, if used as a basic income for poor African communities, is enough for 35-50 million people. And it addresses health, education, nutrition, crime and wildlife protection all at the same time! In addition, there are the funds highlighted in the Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.

Whilst we applaud the recent renewed interest in the Universal Basic Income model, trials for conservation, rewilding, rehabilitation, appear not to be part of the plans – they are the missing piece in the puzzle. If we can demonstrate equally good results in the reduction of wildlife poaching and timber harvesting as with the socio-economic indicators, we would have a better strategy at our disposal than persisting with the failures of the past or the free-trade mantra currently still in vogue despite the lack of any demonstrable conservation success attached to it.

Getting such a trial off the ground requires a cross-disciplinary effort together with economic development specialists supportive of basic income approach and large-scale fundraising. The former is already happening for the latest round of basic income trials. The latter can be brought about by changing the mindset of wealthy donors and linking giving to conservation to Magnificence: http://breakingthebrand.org/re-inventing-magnificence-conservation-is-the-new-black/

Current philanthropic endeavours overwhelmingly favour human causes in developed countries. This may have been an adequate approach to philanthropy whilst we can indulge in the fantasy of never-ending economic growth and a rising tide that lifts all boats, but both of these ideas are in reality dead in the water, so to speak. The failure of economic growth in developed countries since the early 80s has in reality been disguised by issuing trillions of dollars’ worth of debt, but even that crutch is no longer working and growth has essentially stopped.

If we are to invest in our future, we need to invest in nature – nature needs more and communities needs to benefit from our collective desire to protect natural resources.
You can’t fix the mess we have made:environment damage collage

With this:

Phil All giving 2015

With just 3% of all donations going to the environment and animals, we have no chance of turning things around.

In addition, this shouldn’t be about philanthropy and tax deductions. This is the ultimate ‘renovation rescue’, we have allowed our home to fall down around us. This ‘extreme makeover’ could provide the jobs of the future, it will take many hands to clean up the mess made by unchecked consumption and manufacturing that has not paid the true cost of production for decades, if not longer.


Revegitation before and afterThe current conservation paradigm has failed in terms of protection, sustainability and economic development – it is now time for a rethink. Despite 50 years of conservation efforts the situation is much worse, not better. Neoliberal ideology will have you believe that there is no alternative to free markets and unfettered economic growth. Large conservation has aligned itself with this neoliberal ideology to maintain access to government funding. It has to be asked, is it unable to change now because it is trapped within the system?

There is an alternative and it is gaining traction in public discourse because the failures of neoliberalism are now too obvious to ignore. If large conservation remains stuck, then alternatives have to be developed outside the confines of the ideology and the large, existing players. One key alternative is a basic income model linked to conservation outcomes – targeting communities in range countries which can then redevelop a healthy relationship with land and wildlife if their livelihood is secure.

These are the views of the author: Dr. Lynn Johnson, Founder, Breaking the Brand