Connecting islands of life

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”   [Attributed to Goethe]

I am a great believer in serendipity – especially since I read the Goethe quote above nearly 40 years ago.  With every major change in career direction over the last 40 years, surprising – seemingly chance – events dramatically shifted my ability to accelerate the new journey I had begun.  My latest career development is no exception.

In 1992, I attended the UN Earth Summit in Rio and returned home confident that we had finally committed to a more sustainable and equitable future for current and future generations (see my 1992 lo-tech video report here).  At that time, I had four young children.  20 years later – now with four young grandchildren – I flew away from the Rio+20 UN conference as pessimistic as I had been optimistic a generation before: on virtually every indicator, my generation has pushed the environmental needles in the wrong direction.  Last year, five months after my return from Rio+20 – on my 63rd birthday – I realised that I had spent exactly 40 years ‘serving’ my companies, my staff and my clients.  2013, I concluded, would be different: my time would be given rather than sold; and it would focus on micro rather macro change where I could directly help shift the needle positively and measurably.

Standing apart from the general disappointments of Rio+20 were two positive highlights.  The first was the emergence as a major discussion theme of the need to properly value natural capital – measuring, managing and internalising the economic contributions of biodiversity and ecosystem services.  Triggers for this were the publication of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report; and the ground-breaking leadership of Puma under its Chairman, Jochen Zeitz, in publishing a P&L which internalised the ‘hidden’ environmental costs of its business operations.  The second was a meeting with Cynthia Ong, a dynamic woman from Sabah, Borneo who briefed me on various projects she is stewarding in Sabah; these combine to set a goal of ‘transitioning to a diversified, equitable, green economy’ by 2025.  She asked whether I could find time to advise on the project during 2013.

In July, I visited Sabah and have, since then, invested time to support this ambition.  In the process, serendipity has been in overdrive – with extraordinary connections being made both with new and old contacts.  Having not, I am embarrassed to admit, been able to point to Sabah on a map when it was mentioned in Rio, I have since discovered many direct connections with Sabah from friends and colleagues to clients such as Nestlé and Shell and to my academic network in Oxford (world leaders in forestry and biodiversity research with major projects centred on Sabah).  During my visit I had meetings with the senior management of the Sabah Forestry Department and offered to explore ways in which the value of their extraordinary natural capital could bring environmental, social and economic benefits to Sabah – to help them through the ‘economic famine which is following the de-forestation feast’, to quote Sabah’s charismatic Director of Forestry.  I have been asked to share my thoughts and recommendations as a keynote speaker at the Heart of Borneo conference in Sabah in early November.

On Saturday morning, I read an article by Simon Barnes (Times Sports Editor, but with a weekly column on wildlife and a World Land Trust Council member).  Under the headline ‘Let’s buy the orang-utan a slice of Paradise’, he describes an ambitious project of the World Land Trust (WLT) to raise £1 million by 16 October.  My goal is to help achieve that by my 64th birthday next Monday.  My best birthday present would be to take to next month’s Heart of Borneo conference the news that the WLT’s project had succeeded in raising the funds to bridge between islands of pristine rainforest through newly purchased and protected ‘corridors’ of forest.  This would permanently reconnect wildlife whose future is otherwise jeopardised by human erosion of their natural habitats.  Until 16 October, WLT benefactors have committed to match fund any donations.

I realise that everyone receiving this has equally important causes to support and I apologise for making yet another appeal to your conscience.  Follow the World Land Trust link below, however, if you are interested in the campaign.  And if you are not inclined to make a donation, you may still feel it is worth sharing my email with your own contacts.  The protection and enhancement of Sabah’s natural capital is not only a gift to their ecosystems and wildlife, but a gift to all of us and to succeeding generations.

Thank you for any help you can give.

Click the following links to learn more about Sabah and the WLT corridor project:

Sabah at the heart of the World Land Trust

Sabah Forever at the heart of its people

Sabah at the heart of tropical rainforest research

And finally, Sabah for the fun at heart (with apologies to Lennon & McCartney). Adapted from ‘When I’m Sixty Four’.

Now I’m Sixty Four

As I get older losing my flair,
Many years along,
Could you still be giving me a helping hand,
Birthday greetings, parcel of land?

As I’ve been out to Sabah this year
Will you help this cause,
Will you still read me, will you still heed me,
Now I’m sixty-four?

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oooo
You are older too, (ha ha ha ha ha)
And if you say the word,
You could help them too.

You could be handy sending a note
As some friends have done.
You can save an orang from your fireside
Sunday morning give for a guide.

Buying some forest, spreading the word,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still read me, will you still heed me,
Now I’m sixty-four?

Send them an email, drop me a line,
Stating point of view.
Indicate precisely what you mean to say
Yours sincerely, Working Away.

Give them your answer, fill in a form
Yours for evermore
Will you please read me, will you please heed me,
Now I’m sixty-four?




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