IPBES needs to learn …. from biodiversity

When my human medium left the IPBES-5 late Thursday evening, flying back home, she was mumbling something again about this thing called money and that there is not enough of it for your IPBES animal. Following the squaks on twitter later on Friday it indeed became apparent that this thing called budget once again hinders that relevant endeavour to start flying. (And flying is difficult, I can tell you from own experience)

I guess I have mentioned several times that the human focus on small coloured pieces of mashed, dried tree pulp appear strange to a dodo, especially when you could invest it in reasonable things like IPBES. But as of now, it seems you don’t even seem to know some biodiversity and natural resource management basics. So let me help you: As a dodo population living on a small island, we had to live according to our local resources: we could only eat what was there, whether calvaria fruits (delicious, but don’t believe your early scientists about our relation with this tree – wrong, wrong wrong) or anything else. More dodos would have meant: more calvaria trees etc… As said: Basics!

Soooo: living and thriving beyond your resources is pretty hard, not to say unlikely. Translated back: putting too many dodos (assessments, task forces, deliverables…) on a too small island (your “budget”) is simple as unsustainable as all those unsustainable uses that you maybe will never address in the now scoped assessment on “Sustainable use of wild species”.

btw: I would also propose an additional study on the UNsustainable use of wild species – finally the dodo would be subject to IPBES, jointly with my friends up here in extinction heaven, the great auk, the passenger pidgeon, the moas, …- quite some insights to get from this as well – happy to be nominated as CLD for this  – Coordinating Lead Dodo.

IPBES wanted everything with its huge work programme, to please everyone, to feed everyone in its membership population and its baby deliverables. And many of those members just prefer to consume and don’t bring own calvaria trees in the deal. As in biology, this may work for a while (especially when a huge trunk of calvarias has been provided once, see IPBES/5/10, table 1, sixteenth row, third column – I think this were the elks?). You may grow and start flying (“oooh, we have a great first assessment and some nice new communication tools now, we even have flags…”), but shortly afterwards, the calvarias are eaten up, and maybe even the trees chopped (or giving the calvarias somewhere else…).And soon nothing left to nurture your babies called deliverables. Standard population biology.

On the other hand: thousands of motivated volunteers that provide calvaria substitutes for free… impressive, but you need some calvarias nonetheless to organise them… What do you do? Lessons from dodo biology:

  1. Don’t grow too fast (less deliverables, but relevant ones – see my opening address)
  2. Think carefully about where to put your calvarias (flags? Too many delegates paid? Which task forces?)
  3. Not only use but also value and acknowledge your volunteers – not only “as appropriate”
  4. Make an honest plan (you are so good in this if you want, but unfortunately you are also good in making them based on depth…) based on the lessons above
  5. Be aware of storms, consider some resilience….

For now, IPBES is back on the ground, like a flightless bird – belief me, I know this feeling, but it’s not as bad as it feels in first place. Living on solid ground has its advantages.

Yours, Dodopanic

Dodo’s opening address to #IPBES5

Dear human delegates, distinguished fellow species at the brink of extinction,

[Like many others of you I have stayed inactive between the last IPBES plenary and now. This is partly because my own human medium is so unreliable that I needed to find a new one. But it is also because I was once again, as every year between 1680 and now, bewildered by the level of human activity and ignorance against its own races’ interests. Evolution is a strange thing – it allows species to thrive that are so focussed on killing its own specimen… bracket closed]

As said last time in Kuala Lumpur (way better climate for a dodo than Bonn in winter, btw), IPBES is an impressive endeavour. With the finalisation of the regional and global assessments in 2018/2019 you will know better (or better: even more precise), how you are destroying the planet, the only place of living for my fellow species and yourself. You may also get reminded on the options you have, globally speaking, in reducing that threat (I don’t see how you may be able to stop it though…).

It also remains that this knowledge gathering endeavour is impressively triggered mainly by the about 1000 volunteers that spend their time (and their institution’s resources) on it. I am not economist (the dodo god may hinder me!), but surely the amount of 14 Mio USD (btw: the UN should switch to another currency these days…) announced by the secretariat is surely a heavy underestimation taking all the networks behind the official experts into account. So again, it is a quite poor sign that IPBES still has to beg for the small amounts they need to carry out its supporting work for these experts. This is a sign of disrespect to those working pro bono.

But let me come to the thematic issues at stake at IPBES-5.

As global body, IPBES still tends to strongly overestimate the global view  in its activities. Every second speech in Bonn will somehow recognize the importance of action and knowledge needs on local to regional levels. So you need to look at your instruments in a problem- and scale-oriented manner. No global models and scenarios will help you address this, no global assessment on the SDGs will do. For making a difference, IPBES has the right elements though in its work programme – its “smaller” assessments and tools. Speaking as a dodo, my extinction could have been prevented by having by 1650:

  • An assessment of values and valuation that would have made sailors coming to Mauritius of my intrinsic (and other) values
  • An assessment on sustainable use making these sailors aware that harvesting all trees (and dodos) from a small island is not so good for the future
  • An assessment on invasive species showing that introducing pigs, rats and goats to a tropical island might not be soo clever with respect to nature and economics
  • A catalogue of policy tools and methodologies might have helped early island settlers to at least roughly plan what they do and be aware of its impacts.

Of course, having such assessments on the global scale again waters down their concreteness (and they come roughly 370 years too late for the dodo) – but they have messages – a thing made big by the new IPBES communications strategy, I’d say. So: have courage and make these assessments NOW. And fill this catalogue (with these huge number of clever ways of using nature sustainably that humans have developed) and spread its use via capacity building and local to national action (IPBES is not an excuse for inaction – every country should have its -BES).

It’s not for me, you know, but for some other species and in first place yourself (I know human race is selfish, so I partly adapt).

Especially the assessment on your own values is so crucial – there is more than economics, and IPBES seems to be one of the few places humans discuss about this openly across nations – value this discussion on your values, strengthen it and spread the word.

That’s it from the dodo, courage for your deliberations.  

Start thinking about implementation – Dodo’s opening address to #IPBES4

Distinguished delegates, humans,

it is my pleasure to address you (virtually) on behalf of the human-activity caused extinct species of the Earth once again. Unfortunately, my closing speech to #IPBES3 came rather late due to flight problems, but this time I should be in time (which is quite a challenge for a species being extinction for about 333 years).

IPBES is an impressive endeavour. The reports and activities produced so far show the ambition and potential of human brains to understand their environment and find ways to cope with it sustainably. Yet, of course you also produce many counterproductive activities that hinder these (I know. “it’s the economy stupid”, but there are other ways than the economic mainstream). But the collaboration in IPBES (so far) is a positive sign, and I am impressed by those humans who are willing to put so much of their time in this. It will be interesting to see how the private sector will take such a platform serious and allow discussions on a level playing field for all.

At the same time, IPBES is frustrating endeavour. A huge work programme of a dozen assessments and many more deliverables is funded by a poor sum of 40 Mio Dollars, with nearly 10 Mio still missing from the pot. Are you nuts? These sums are peanuts! This is all about your livelihoods for now and in the future! Just spend a tiny little less on military – or just eradicate the environmental harmful subsidies – you promised to phase them out by 2020 anyway, according to your CBD targets. Or, or, or… many options to at least triple this sum. If IPBES gets the message across that its reports tell that safeguarding nature will profit everyone, the support shouldn’t be a problem (well, I am a naïve extinct bird, as you know…).

Oh, and yes: the private sector could also give a share of those profits they get from destroying nature and the habitats of my fellow animal species – another source for a huge boost in funding. Thus, you could also adequately value the work of the experts involved.

The stakeholder days this weekend have impressively shown that there is only one way forward to come to a joint living model between a growing human population and nature: cooperation between humans. IPBES stakeholders are willing, yet based on quite different values (like the member states). Talking about these values as well is thus crucial for joint understanding and mutual learning. So, finally starting the assessment on diverse conceptualisations of values and valuation should be a priority to IPBES members. It will further open your eyes that economic views can help (nature acts economically itself, somehow…) but other values are equally valid. As often stated the Conceptual Framework of IPBES is a good starting point, yet surely not a Rosetta stone (not sure if things fixed in stone are the right picture anyway when it comes to the living world).

In the end, IPBES will be pit against its achievements to support changes on the ground – the stakeholders again will be crucial here – and the way your results are communicated. Going back home being happy that another week of deliberations is over will not do it – every member needs to think about amplifying results in your own country and below. And for that, another 40 Mio Dollars of investments will not even be half a peanut.

I thank you for your attention.


The (non-)movement of small green pieces of paper towards international science-policy interfacing – IPBES budget in some perspective

The first days of IPBES-4 reminded me as an unimportant, virtual dodo without a bank account and thus not at all existing in a human perspective of some of some of the first sentences of the dodo friend Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide intro that humans try to get happy by largely being concerned about the movement of small green pieces of paper (“which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy” – according to Douglas Adams).

As stated in my opening address to IPBES-4, I had feared already that the work of this rather young science-policy animal called IPBES would be heavily depending, as we are dealing with humans here, on the non-movement of such small green pieces of paper to it – the budget. The tiny, tiny amount of less than 10 Mio paper pieces are missing to conduct the work programme that was agreed by all just 3 years back – and now some of those partners that agreed on this say to delay work because such few green pieces or paper are missing. O.K., today they are just numbers on a bank account, I know – even if I am extinct for 333 years, I am not ignorant to the modern world (– I am even blogging, you know, which is quite a challenge as extinct species !?).

And this modern world makes it so easy to put this into perspective:

10 Mio green pieces of paper are roughly equivalent to:

  • A few hundred metres of newly built motorway in a “developed” country [individual cars to be outdated soon anyway]
  • 2% of a what some humans assume to be a right way of flying – a jet fighter type F35 II [including share of development costs: 304m pieces of paper]
  • 00221% of the fine from the US Department of Justic to BP for Deepwater Horizon oilspill (or should I say oilkill? No, that would be politically incorrect) [according to dodopedia*, this was 4.525bn pieces of paper]
  • 00198% of the construction costs of the “Large Hadron Collider” at CERN [according to dodopedia* this was 8.345bn pieces of paper]
  • 00022% of the 2015 budget of agricultural subsidies (“Common Agricultural Policy” in the European Union [according to official numbers: 41.680bn Euro pieces of paper]

As said, this is just for perspective.


Your turn – it’s your pieces of wood mashed up and pressed flat, not mine.


*dodopedia is the free encyclopedia of us dead dodos up in extinction heaven. As we are few, we copy quite some stuff from wikipedia, which I hope you humans can bear…

Why extinct Dodos feel the blues – a Dodo Lament

My human medium keeps reading these frustrating articles and even scientific articles about the decline of so many fellow species on planet Earth. Just recently, some science guys including @IUCNscience published their recent red list analysis saying that humans keep on “overexploiting” biodiversity and destroying habitats. Well – whom do you tell – this happened to my (with love from you) about 400 years ago on Mauritius, including the introduction of some rats, pigs and goats to eat my food and eggs… 

Conservation biologists keep on publishing papers about it, but rarely have an impact – following a well known quote of human neo-liberal times: It’s not the natural science knowledge that makes the difference, it’s the economy, stupid (see also the recent post in conservationbytes). In the end it’s about changing human behaviour, not about whether you may know the population behaviour of a few of my fellow endangered friends better. Sorry – conservation scientists often tend to be late for action. Human greed is always faster.

You see, your dear Dodo is easily depressed again when writing too long texts, so somehow, I am again in a blue mode… Blues music is really THE music for the way nature might feel about humans. If glaciers could feel, they would feel blue from melting right now (well, their ice is shiny blue sometimes anyway…).

So here is my dodo lament, in blues format (inspired by a piece of human blues, I admit), updated with some more recent insights of a dodo looking at humans… 

Feel free to play it everywhere, to share my lament…

Dodo Lament

(„They only know you, when you’re dead and gone“, inspired by Jimmy Cox’s “Nobody knows you”)

Once I lived the life of the dodo, yeah!

Spend my time havin’ a good time, didn’t have much to care.

Had lots of endemic friends, on an island so fine,

Ate calvaria fruits all day, from nine to five.

Then these humans made me fall so low,

Did loose our forest, had nowhere to go.

Was competed out, by goats, pigs and rats,

And ‘overexploited’ by sailors with strange hats.


They only know you,

When you’re dead and gone,

Human development just takes the lead,

And for a dodo, there’s no place left for your feet.

You never get back on your feet again,

The scientists, they come too late, just to collect your bones – and then?

I squak: it’s strange, without any doubt,

Humans only care for you, when you’re extinct and out.

I must admit, some few humans seem to care,

Saved some of my Mauritius friends – something to hope for, I never really dared.

Today I’m an extinction icon, in logos everywhere,

But if this helps save species, who knows, and I don’t care…


They only know you,

When you’re dead and gone,

Human development just takes the lead,

And for a dodo, there’s no place left to run to.

You never get back on your claws again,

The scientists, they come too late, just to collect your bones – and then?

I squak: it’s strange, without any doubt,

Humans only care for you,….

Yes, humans only care for you…

Humans only care for you, when you’re extinct and out.


Your new science-policy animal IPBES – some dodo reflections

As it happens, my dear human medium keeps on visiting large scale assemblages of humans talking about biodiversity.

You latest global invention in this respect is IPBES (which’s complete name already tells you how crazy humans are with naming things…).

I had the honour to co-visit its last big meeting, called IPBES-3 in Bonn (that’s what I call a short, cozy name…) early this year.

As a virtual animal, of course I wasn’t allowed to speak during the plenary (although I would be the perfect stakeholder, even if dodos can hold hardly anything…), so I had to deliver my final speech to the plenary in tweets… Which of course no one recognized by then as everyone was going home and making appointments for their next babble-exchange encounter (probably something from CBD… or maybe the World Parcs Congress?). And, well, I had to leave myself… So, here, I would like to document my closing speech, as somehow it didn’t make it into the final report of the meeting… strange… should at least try to register myself as official virtual observer…

Distinguished stakeholders, fellow non-extinct birds, dear front rows.

Thank you for an interesting and funny week at #ipbes3. I sincerely hope that your IPBES plans will help to make Earth a better place for humans and Mother Earth… and its birds and other fellow species. Whatever the outcomes of the planned IPBES assessments will be: take them serious, as the real situation is likely to be worse. 

No IPBES birds assessment is planned, yet the world is getting poorer and poorer. Of birds, fellow animals, plants, ecosystems. Many animals suffer, and so do humans. All of you loose the basis for a safe, valuable, life. I lost mine long ago due to early human ignorance [today, you would probably spend millions to save me, if only a few of my species were left, see my dear friend Sirocco, the  @spokesbird of the kakapos]. It would be pretty nice to stop that ignorance now that you know better with the help of the wit and wisdom humans indeed have, maybe…

Let me conclude #ipbes3 with a quote of one of these human authors fascinated by us dodos, the late Douglas Adams. “Humans are not an endangered species themselves yet, but it’s not for a lack of trying.” Thank you, #ipbes3. Squak!

Yeah, well, although I didn’t give the speech, I admit I stayed with the formalism of such events of being resonably kind and concise. But now that they started some of their “asssessments”, I can maybe reflect a little more. Generally it is great that your decision takers (or makers? not sure) want to listen more closely to what you know about your natural environment and how you so un-elegantly destroy it. You even made it to create a framework that connects humans and nature for this in just a few pages, where in fact the real reason for the destruction, your decisions and institutions, are at its core.  Well done, took some time if you remember the framework of your Millennium Assessment. Calling it a “rosetta stone” though, is something quite overbearing, as you are still far away from understanding nature in its entity… Nonetheless, some of you seem to understand better now…

The question that bothers me is how these surely clever findings that IPBES will deliver will actually make it to the real decision takers. IPBES doesn’t even have money to properly make its results known, the money spent by your rich countries on helping nature to be better off is still poor, yet you call it a vital foundation for your development. The 2-day meeting of seven humans (“G7”) where this was presented in fact cost more than  the work programme of IPBES for four years… Well, you don’t even manage to spend your money wisely for your own purposes and respect the individuals of your own species, I just remember… So what should I say…

I might just go back to my extinction heaven repository and have a call to Douglas in your very own heaven about this (they are separated for our own sake…).


Gerald Durrell in Carl Jones' ICCB plenary talk - and a skeleton of myself...

Looking back on ICCB – four days turned upside down

ICCB was fascinating, even for a dodo not writing a Ph.D. in conservation biology right now, so many dedicated conservationists, yet so few discussions on what might actually matter…

Conservation works, well, sometimes. My dodo’s ICCB reflection actually starts at its very end, with Carl Jones of the Durrell Wildlife Foundation showing a picture of a skeleton of myself with his foundation founder, Gerald Durrell standing next to it, seemingly deeply in thoughts about how my fate could be prevented for other species to join in. Carl Jones showed that obviously the foundation does a reasonably good job on this on my former island Mauritius, saving the Mauritius kestrel, the pink pidgeon, and the echo parakeet and many more, but also making clear that even with having some reasonable numbers, these species will need human support and care for — decades. Their habitat is so badly altered that they will not make it without additional food, shelter from invasives and other supportive activities, which may even include introducing supplements for those species that are gone forever, e.g. the according giant tortoises… I somehow expected that Carl Jones might even talk about a supplement for myself, but he didn’t. Maybe the story of the calvaria tree is already too much overstretched. [and by the way, hey: can you imagine ANYTHING that comes close to a dodo?! Of course not…. ;-)].

In the end, this talk was the classic “dedication saves species”, sometimes with a huge amount of good scientific knowledge as a basis, sometimes just with action, educated guesses and good luck, and of course with being rooted well in the local human environment. The conservation classic.

Knowledge to non-action. Then, looking back at the hundreds of posters and hundreds of talks in dozens of sessions before this final session, I got very mixed feelings about these conservation biologists and their relatives. Sometimes I wondered, whether at all some of the speakers and session organisers had even looked beyond their own, small specialised section of conservation science – into the other sessions and their approaches and even more about the practices and failures of human-nature interactions in general happening all around. E.g., there was a huge number of talks addressing the picture of human-wildlife conflicts – many analysed the problems around them (more or less well), much fewer provided (potential) solutions, and often the solutions might be found in parallel sessions, e,g. with those talks (fortunately in increasing number compared to earlier conferences) addressing the social human dimension of unsuccessful conservation and nature destruction.

My dear humans: with your wit and greed and huge number, you have made this planet a very complicated, stressed placed. Before you came up, we only had this thing your dear Mr. Darwin called evolution to make our life stressful, the human factor messed this all up, so it is a major factor for keeping species alive today – the thing, again, you call conservation.

A question unanswered more than before. And here we are with the question that so deeply divides these very dedicated and positive conservationist – the Why of their work – WHY CONSERVATION? For the sake of species, for the sake of humans and their bad feelings on their impact on nature, or for the sake of their very own interests of survival and/or greed? A point that was fascinatingly rare discussed among all these talks. In fact each talk should have started with a short statement by the presenter on her or his take on this matter. Would have made quite some talks more understandable – or easier to leave after this first statement.

A lion that stirred up, and great campaigns… The session where these issues of the underlying values of conservation maybe came out best was the one not on the programme: the ad-hoc “plenary session” where some few interested participants gathered as small group in the huge plenary hall (somehow very fitting…) at noon on Wednesday to discuss the murder of Cecil the Lion, analysing this strange outcry in the human social media sphere on it (we as extinct and murdered animals just welcomed him as another inhabitant of extinction heaven). The discussion culminated in the strong believes and values behind being against these kind of actions, but maybe for hunting for the sake of conservation, intertwined in the human relationships towards nature. How does conservation relate to hunting (well, we would like not to need it, but we are not able to avoid it hardly anywhere…) and to animal welfare.

Sweet cuddly lions with a name getting killed is unacceptable, when animal welfare emotions come into play, conservation rationale is second choice… of course this can also be used positively – see the great campaigns of Asher Jay on rhinos and elephants, which she introduced in an inspiring session on how to look at conservation differently. But not to forget (I hate that one…) – hunting also seems to be a positive emotion for some of your fellow humans. They are junkies to it, like many of you for alcohol… someone nicely put it during the session: forbidding hunting lions would be like the prohibition of alcohol: it simply wouldn’t work for the junkies and just cause a black market (it is there anyway – you will always find someone with enough money and greed to pay for hunting the last of its kind….) So in the end, this session ended with some good ideas, but not with a common understanding on how the Cecil case should be addressed by SCB, showing the so many perspectives that conservation may take under its sound joined meme of “yes, we want to save species and habitats”… (see also National Geografic Blog on the session and Paul Jepson’s vid summary).

I don’t want to be too unfair, even as virtual dodo I could only attend one session at a time, especially as my dear human medium carried me into some pretty strange ones (still no clue, what a systematic review is and why you should invest much money in it, sorry…), but also from twittersphere on ICCB2015 I couldn’t spot so many discussions on this very central matter, but just like for myself as big-headed dodo, the topic of values in conservation might be too grand for others to put into 140 human letters.

Extremes what for? The Kareiva-Spash shadowboxing. So looking back in the end on WHY conservation only the so called “discussion” between Peter Kareiva of the TNC and Clive Spash, renowned criticial “social-ecological economist” on the first day of the conference stood out. Both witty and articulated in their views, but nonetheless painting black and white pictures and not really presenting options on how things could be improved in a diverse world. Peter: What remains of a natural world if you only define it by humans needs? Grass, corn, cows and chicken? Clive: What would be the consequence of wanting to scrap entirely the economic side of human societies? Even I as one of the early victims of early human economic endeavours see that without economics as a way of organising your own interactions and those with the natural world (to some, limited extend), this human dominated world will fall apart even more if not build somehow on the current fundament. So in the end, this shadowboxing was entertaining for the crowd, including many in it being enthused in their emotions about the world by one or the other talk… It left the conference with something to ooh and aah around on, but hardly taking the underlying discussion serious (but see the good tweet reflections by @AmandaConsSci on this – in 8 tweets, so 1.120 letters ;-). This is done elsewhere, but not at ICCB obviously.

So in the end – Why a 2000 people conference with a carbon footprint worth a few thousand 40 pound-dodo-equivalents? For sure, great networking and exchange for the complicated small problems of conservation of species and habitats, and often, also the human-nature relationship (there was really some quite impressive work!). But the big questions, I am afraid will need to be answers elsewhere than in the conservation science arena. The problem with mankind are larger…