Killing animals for fun is an activity which divides opinion. It can also be a highly emotive issue, with high profile cases like the death of Cecil the lion sparking global media coverage and outcry. There were even calls for the American dentist who admitted killing Cecil to be charged with illegal hunting.
But despite the strong feelings it occasionally provokes, many people may be unaware just how common trophy hunting is. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) reports that between 2004 and 2014, a total of 107 countries participated in the trophy hunting business. In that time, it is thought over 200,000 hunting trophies from threatened species were traded (plus a further 1.7m from non-threatened animals).
Trophy hunters themselves pay vast sums of money to do what they do (IFAW claims upwards of $US100,000 for a 21-day big game hunting trip). But reliable data on the economic benefits this brings to the countries visited remains limited and contested.
Now the UK government has announced it is considering banning the trade of hunting trophies from endangered species – making it a crime to bring them back into the country.
Advocates of trophy hunting – including major conservation organisations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the World Wide Fund for Nature – argue that hunting wild animals can have major ecological benefits. Along with some governments, they claim that “well-managed” trophy hunting is an effective conservation tool, which can also help local communities.
This argument depends in part on the generation of significant income from the trophy hunters, which, it is claimed, can then be reinvested into conservation activities.
The broad idea is that a few (often endangered) animals are sacrificed for the greater good of species survival and biodiversity. Local human communities also benefit financially from protecting animal populations (rather than seeing them as a threat) and may reap the rewards of employment by hunting operations, providing lodgings or selling goods.
But it remains unclear in exactly what circumstances trophy hunting produces a valuable conservation benefit. We cannot assume a scheme that works in one country, targeting one species, under a specific set of circumstances, is applicable to all other species and locations.
Also, the purported benefits of trophy hunting rely on sustainable management, investment of profits, and local community involvement. But given the levels of perceived corruption and lack of effective governance in some of the countries where trophy hunting is carried out, one wonders how likely it is these conditions can be met.
And if trophy hunting is really so lucrative, there is every chance the profits will instead be used to line the pockets of rich (possibly foreign) operators and officials.
Death and suffering
This brings us to the question of ethics. Just because an intervention has the potential to produce a social benefit, does not mean the approach is ethical. And if it is not ethical, should it be considered a crime?
This is something of regular concern for social policy. If the evil that a programme introduces is greater than the evil it purports to reduce, then it is unethical to implement it.
I would argue that even if convincing evidence does exist that trophy hunting can produce conservation benefits, it is unethical to cause the death and suffering of individual animals to save a species.
In common with many green criminologists, I take a critical approach to the study of environmental and animal-related crime. This means that I am interested in behaviour that can be thought of as harmful, and may be worthy of the label “crime”, even if it has not been formally criminalised.
When considering global harms and those that impact heavily on the most powerless in society, this approach is particularly important.
Conservation is concerned with biodiversity and animal populations. Contrast this with an animal rights or species justice perspective, where instead of focusing on rights that benefit humans over all other species, the interests and intrinsic rights of individual and groups of animals are considered.
From this viewpoint, trophy hunting undoubtedly causes harm. It brings pain, fear, suffering and death. Add to this the grief, mourning and fracturing of familial or social groups that is experienced by animals such as elephants, whales, primates and giraffes. In light of these harms, trophy hunting is surely worthy of the label “crime”.
Allowing trophy hunting also perpetuates the notion that animals are lesser than humans. It turns wildlife into a commodity, rather than living, feeling, autonomous beings – beings that I have argued should be viewed as victims of crime.
Anthropocentric views also facilitate and normalise the exploitation, death and mistreatment of animals. The harmful effects can be seen in intensive farming, marine parks and “canned hunting”, where (usually lions) are bred in captivity (and sometimes drugged) as part of trophy hunting operations. Where money can be made from animals, exploitation, and wildlife crime, seem likely to follow.
Instead, local communities must be involved in decisions about conservation and land management, but not at the expense of endangered species, or of individual animals hunted for sport. Alternative conservation approaches like photo tourism, and schemes to reduce human-animal conflict must be embraced.
Banning trophy hunting would provide a much needed incentive to develop creative conservation approaches to wildlife protection and human-animal co-existence. And there is still substantial conservation income to be earned without resorting to trophy hunting.
So governments around the world should introduce bans on trophy imports – alongside providing support for alternative, ethical developments that benefit both wild animals and local communities. Anything less is complicit support of a crime against some of the world’s most vulnerable wildlife.
During the Antarctic summer, thousands of mesmerising blue lakes form around the edges of the continent’s ice sheet, as warmer temperatures cause snow and ice to melt and collect into depressions on the surface. Colleagues of mine at Durham University have recently used satellites to record more than 65,000 of these lakes.
Though seasonal meltwater lakes have formed on the continent for decades, lakes had not been recorded before in such great numbers across coastal areas of East Antarctica. This means parts of the world’s largest ice sheet may be more vulnerable to a warming climate than previously thought.
Lakes affect ice shelves
Much of Antarctica is surrounded by floating platforms of ice, often as tall as a skyscraper. These are “ice shelves”. And when some of these ice shelves have collapsed in the past, satellites have recorded networks of lakes growing and then abruptly disappearing shortly beforehand. For instance, several hundred lakes disappeared in the weeks before the the catastrophic disintegration of the Larsen B Ice Shelf – when 3,250 km² of ice broke up in just two months in 2002.
The collapse may have depended on water from these lakes filling crevasses and then acting like a wedge as the weight of the water expanded the crevasses, triggering a network of fractures. The weight of lakes can also cause the ice shelf surface to flex, leading to further fracturing, which is thought to have helped the shelf become unstable and collapse.
Ice shelves act as door stops, supporting the huge mass of ice further inland. Their removal means the glaciers feeding the ice shelf are no longer held back and flow faster into the ocean, contributing to sea-level rise.
Melting the ice sheet surface
Scientists already knew that lakes form on the Antarctic ice sheet. But the latest study, published in Scientific Reports, shows that many more lakes are forming than previously thought, including in new parts of the ice sheet and much further inland and at higher elevations.
Since the cold and remoteness makes it logistically challenging to measure and monitor Antarctica’s lakes in the field, we largely know all this thanks to satellite imagery. In this case, one of the satellites used was the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 which provides global coverage of the Earth’s surface every five days and can detect features as small as ten metres.
My colleagues analysed satellite images of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet taken in January 2017. In total, the images covered 5,000,000 km² (that’s more than 20 times the area of the United Kingdom).
Because water reflects certain wavelengths very strongly compared to ice, lakes can be detected in these images by classifying pixels in the image as “water” or “non-water”. From these images we can pinpoint when lakes form, their growth and drainage, and how their extent and depth change over time. The largest lake detected so far was nearly 30 km long and estimated to hold enough water to fill 40,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Cause for concern?
In a warming world, scientists are particularly interested in these lakes because they may contribute to destabilising the ice shelves and ice sheet in future.
Like a sponge, the more that ice shelves become saturated with meltwater, the less they are able to absorb, meaning more water pools on their surfaces as lakes. More surface lakes mean a greater likelihood that water will drain out, fill crevasses and potentially trigger flexing and fracturing. If this were to occur, other ice shelves around Antarctica may start to disintegrate like Larsen B. Glaciers with floating ice tongues protruding into the ocean may also be vulnerable.
Meanwhile in Greenland, scientists have observed entire lakes draining away within a matter of days, as meltwater plunges through vertical shafts in the ice sheet known as “moulins”. A warm, wet base lubricated by meltwater allows the ice to slide quicker and flow faster into the ocean.
Could something similar be happening in Antarctica? Lakes disappearing in satellite imagery suggests they could be draining in this way, but scientists have yet to observe this directly. If we are to understand how much ice the continent could lose, and how much it could contribute to global sea-level rise, we must understand how these surface meltwater lakes behave. Though captivating, they are potentially a warning sign of future instability in Antarctica.
The UK’s Labour Party has pledged to offer voters a Green New Deal at the next election. This is a radical programme for decarbonising society and the economy by 2030, through phasing out fossil fuels, investing in renewable energy and creating a public works programme to build the zero-carbon infrastructure of the future.
In my recent report, A Green New Deal for Nature, I argued that giving land back to nature could be another part of this vision. Restoring forests and other natural habitats to 25% of the UK’s land surface could sequester 14% of the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions each year. As emissions are scaled down and these ecosystems expand, they could continue to remove much greater quantities of carbon dioxide (CO₂) in future.
Often called “natural climate solutions”, restoring forests and wetlands draws carbon down from the atmosphere and stores it in the tissue of new vegetation and soil. On a large scale, and alongside leaving fossil fuels in the ground, this could help to limit global heating to well below 2°C.
These habitats can be restored through rewilding, which means giving natural processes a helping hand by stopping the draining of peatland for example, or letting a woodland regrow. Reintroducing species that were once extinct in a region can also help ecosystems regenerate. While letting nature take care of itself isn’t appropriate in all cases, rewilding is one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways to resist climate breakdown and wildlife loss at the same time.
But what might that look like in practice?
The “green” in the Green New Deal
For wildlife, it’s important that restored habitats are connected. Linked habitats allow plants and animals to move more easily as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns change. If species can migrate through green corridors to cooler areas, they could avoid local extinctions. This could mean a network of expanded hedgerows and woodland that criss-crosses the land, connecting wild habitats and ensuring species can migrate safely between them.
Other changes include reintroducing European beavers to flood plains to help manage flood risks. In remote places like the Scottish Highlands, wolves could return to keep herbivores in check and help woodlands rebound, increasing their long-term potential to store carbon. Rewilding instead of burning or draining carbon-rich peatlands would allow their vegetation and carbon stocks to recover. Wildlife, from insects to birds and large mammals, would have space to flourish. The UK would switch from being one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries to a green and vibrant land.
This may sound utopian, but it’s not. The UK is a densely populated country, and with 72% of the land area used for agriculture, it might seem that there’s little room for anything else. But less than 20% of the UK is occupied by crops or dense urban communities, so 80% of it could be better managed for nature and storing carbon.
Some 45% of the UK’s land surface is given to grazing livestock. The poorest land for agricultural productivity is only farmed because of taxpayer subsidies. Meanwhile, about 13% of the UK is allocated to grouse-shooting and deer-stalking, often on degraded peatlands that are managed at huge environmental cost for the benefit of a tiny number of hunters. This land is currently of little value for food production, but it could store plenty of carbon if rewilded.
The exact locations should be the subject of local knowledge and consultation, but reducing grazing land from 45% of the UK to 33% and returning that 12% to wild habitat could provide half of the carbon storage needed. Restoring half of the UK’s peatlands could add 6% more land, alongside protecting the 7% of the UK that is already broadleaf woodlands and wildflower meadows. Together, this would make 25% of the UK’s land a refuge for wildlife and a vast reservoir of CO₂.
How can it be done?
Farm subsidies currently give £3 billion to UK farmers ever year. By some estimates, subsidies are half the income of many farmers. After Brexit, this money could be given to farmers to reward them for storing carbon and rewilding, making this more financially viable than grazing on agriculturally poor land.
Economy-wide carbon taxes could also pay for rewilding schemes, while the government could also issue green bonds to raise funds to lend to landowners, helping cover the early costs of restoring land to wild habitat.
Reducing the demand for farm produce from land will also be key to making space for nature. This means cutting down on the most inefficient use of land – farming for meat and dairy, which uses between four and 100 times the land area to produce a single gram of protein compared to beans, nuts and other plant sources. Policies which make it easier for everyone to eat food that’s healthy and sustainable – including less meat and dairy – are the final pieces of the puzzle.
Less climate change, more wildlife, and a longer life lived closer to nature. That’s a lot to gain from modest investments in how land is used in the UK.
Last month we lost Dr Penny Whetton – one of the world’s most respected climate scientists and a brilliant mentor to the next generation of researchers. Penny will also be remembered as a passionate environmentalist, artist, photographer and champion of the transgender community.
Penny was at the forefront of climate change projection science for more than three decades. She played a key role in putting CSIRO, and Australia, on the map as a world-leading centre for climate change research. Her groundbreaking scientific work was among the first to raise awareness of the challenges of a warming world, laying the groundwork for possible solutions.
Penny was a strong believer in the power of each person to make a difference, at work and elsewhere. Her professional career is a great example. She also encouraged those around her to seek out challenges that could benefit the world. That creative energy continues to flow through everybody who was close to her.
A global climate science pioneer
Penny’s work focused on understanding the emergent threat of a changing climate on Australia and the region. She authored papers and reports that have become fundamental to our understanding of how climate change would affect us.
Penny was recruited to the CSIRO’s new climate impacts group in 1990, after completing a doctorate at the University of Melbourne. She rapidly established a reputation for high quality science and innovative thinking.
Penny was a senior leader for much of her career and managed many large collaborative projects with colleagues in CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology. After retiring in 2014, Penny became an honorary research fellow at CSIRO and the University of Melbourne, where she continued to be involved in climate research, advisory panels and consulting work.
Over her 25 years at CSIRO, Penny drove innovation in making climate projections useful to decision makers. Her clear grasp of the science and its impact led to novel ways of communicating many complicated concepts.
One of Penny’s many great ideas was to combine historic climate observations with future projections in a single timeline of data – creating a seamless path from past to future. This visualisation method is now a standard part of the climate projections toolkit.
Penny led the development of national climate change projections for Australia in 1992, 1996, 2001, 2007 and 2015. The 2015 projections remain the most comprehensive ever developed for Australia. They are widely used by the private sector, governments and NGOs and were one of Penny’s proudest achievements.
Penny’s science was renowned internationally as well as at home. She spoke at dozens of international conferences, and workshops and journalists sought her out regularly for interviews.
She was a lead author for three climate change assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading authority on the subject. Penny’s work was recognised many times, including with a Eureka Prize in 2003 and internationally as part of the IPCC team that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
More recently, Penny provided scientific assurance on the external advisory board for the European Climate Prediction system, a project strongly influenced by methods and thinking developed under her leadership in climate projections for Australia.
Generous collaborator and mentor
Penny was instrumental in forging links between researchers in CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and universities. This led to several collaborative, high-impact reports on climate change projections.
Penny was generous with her time and guidance – committed to developing the next generation of climate change specialists. Always with a smile on her face, she combined a great intellect and strongly held opinions with a receptiveness to the ideas of others.
Many of us writing this were mentored by Penny at various stages in our academic careers. Anyone who’s studied for a Masters or PhD knows meetings with academic supervisors can be stressful. But meetings with Penny were quite the opposite – she was friendly, but academically rigorous. Collectively we owe her an immense debt of gratitude.
Penny’s diverse knowledge and skills – including geology, geography, meteorology, climate, history, carpentry, painting and photography – gave her unique perspectives to draw on when tackling the wicked problems posed by climate change.
Penny made our lives richer
Penny was a real friend to many. Students became colleagues, colleagues became friends, and all of us were invited to be part of her life in a diverse extended family. We were pleased to support Penny in her own gender affirmation, and for many LGBTIQA+ scientists, Penny was both role model and supportive friend.
Penny had a wonderful knack for making inclusive conversation, whether at work or over dinner. Her contributions were insightful and grounded in truth, very often tinged with humour, and always kind and understanding.
We all assumed there would always be another dinner, and another opportunity to enjoy her company and be fascinated by her conversation. Sadly, and shockingly, this possibility has been taken from us.
Penny made our lives richer, more interesting and more human. Her absence leaves a massive hole in our community and our lives.
Penny Whetton is survived by her wife Janet and adult children John and Leon.
The following people contributed significantly to this article:
Aurel Moise (Bureau of Meteorology), Barrie Pittock (retired), Chris Gerbing (CSIRO), Craig Heady (CSIRO), David Karoly (CSIRO), Debbie Abbs (retired), Dewi Kirono (CSIRO), Diana Pittock (retired), Helen Cleugh (CSIRO), Ian Macadam (University of New South Wales Sydney), Ian Watterson (CSIRO), Jim Salinger (University of Florence, Italy), Jonas Bhend (MeteoSwiss, Switzerland), Karl Braganza (Bureau of Meteorology), Kathy McInnes (CSIRO), Kevin Hennessy (CSIRO), Leanne Webb (CSIRO), Louise Wilson (Bureau of Meteorology), Mandy Hopkins (CSIRO), Marie Ekström (Cardiff University, UK), Michael Grose (CSIRO), Rob Colman (Bureau of Meteorology) and Scott Power (Bureau of Meteorology).
There is a phrase in the novel East of Eden that springs to mind every time politicians speak of “drought-proofing” Australia:
And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.
While author John Steinbeck was referring to California’s Salinas Valley, the phrase is particularly pertinent to Australia where the El Niño-Southern Oscillation exerts a profound influence. Water availability varies greatly across the country, both in space and time. El Niño conditions bring droughts and devastating bushfires, while La Niña is accompanied by violent rainfall, floods and cyclones.
This variability is innate to the Australian environment. And now, climate change means that in some regions, the dry years are becoming drier and the wet years are becoming less frequent. Managing water resources under a changing climate and burgeoning population requires innovative and realistic solutions that are different to those that have worked in the past.
Drought-proofing is impossible
Planning for the dry years involves setting sustainable usage limits, using more than one source of water, efficiency improvements, managed aquifer recharge, water recycling and evaluation of the best usage of water resources. It does not involve misleading claims of drought-proofing that infer we can somehow tame the unruly nature of our arid environment instead of planning and preparing for reality.
Unlike managing for the wet and dry periods, drought-proofing seeks to negate dry periods through infrastructure schemes such as large dams (subject to huge evaporative losses) and dubious river diversions. It fails to acknowledge the intrinsic variability of water availability in Australia, and modify our behaviour accordingly.
The reality is that in many parts of the country, groundwater is the sole source of water and the climate is very dry. A cornerstone of the recently launched $100 million National Water Grid Authority is the construction of more dams. But dams need rain to fill them, because without rain, all we have is empty dams. And we have enough of those already.
A history of denial
Just because Dorothea Mackellar wrote of “droughts and flooding rains” over 100 years ago, it doesn’t mean water management should proceed in the same vein it always has.
Australia has always had a variable climate, which changes significantly from year to year and also decade to decade. This not the same as a long-term climatic trend, better known as climate change.
Climate change is making parts of Australia even drier. Rainfall in the south-eastern part of Australia is projected to keep declining. We cannot rely on blind faith that rains will fill dams once more because they have in the past.
Yet inevitably, during the dry years, claims that Australia can be “drought-proofed” are renewed. Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack recently praised the Bradfield scheme, an 80 year old infrastructure project intending to divert northern river flows inland. It has been so thoroughly debunked on all scales, it is better described as a pipe-dream than piping scheme. It has no place in reasonable water management discourse.
The concept of drought-proofing harks back to the days of European settlement. Early water management techniques were more appropriate for verdant English fields than the arid plains of Australia.
In the early twentieth century, water resources were vigorously developed, with government-sponsored irrigation schemes and large dams constructed. During this time, little thought was given to sustainability. Instead, the goal was to stimulate inland settlement, agriculture and industry. Development was pursued despite the cost and ill-advised nature of irrigation in particular areas.
Shifting long entrenched perceptions of water management
All this said, irrigation certainly has its place: it supports a quarter of Australia’s agricultural output. And there are substantial efforts underway to rebalance water usage between irrigation and the environment.
However, acknowledgement of the relative scarcity of water in certain parts of Australia has only really occurred in the last 30 years or so.
Widespread droughts in the late 1970s and early 1980s highlighted the importance of effective water management and shifted long-entrenched perceptions of irrigation and development. Water reforms were passed, mandating future water development be environmentally sustainable development, which meant, for the first time, water resource management sought a balance between economic, social and environmental needs.
Antiquated ideas about drought-proofing, pushed by politicians, promise much yet deliver little. They distract attention and siphon funds from realistic solutions, or actually re-evaluating where and how we use our limited water resources.
We need practical, effective and well-considered management such as water recycling, efficiency measures and source-divestment that accounts for both shorter term climatic variability and long term changes in temperature and rainfall due to climate change. A big part of this is managing expectations through education.
Attempting to drought-proof Australia is not “managing for the dry periods”, as advocates claim. It is sticking our heads in the dry, salty sand and pretending the land is cool and green and wet.