Liononomics: hard cash trumps t-shirts with fluffy lions on them

Why WWF campaigners should have been working for the Zambian tourist board.

According to reports, Zambia has just banned lion hunting, but only because it can make more money per lion from tourism than from hunting.

So much for all that campaigning and wearing of T-shirts - turns out that those WWF devotees should have been working for the Zambian tourist board all along.

Sylvia Masebo, Zambia's minister for tourism, told Reuters that the big cat numbers were decreasing too rapidly to merit the estimated £1.8 m earned from hunting each year:

"Tourists come to Zambia to see the lion and if we lose the lion we will be killing our tourism industry," said Masebo. "Why should we lose our animals for $3 million (£1.8 m) a year? The benefits we get from tourist visits are much higher."

According to blog zambianwatchdog.com, though, she kinda took this back afterwards, in various "clarifications". Now she's saying that although potential hunters will no longer be awarded tenders, those with existing tenders can still hunt:

“Some of the clarifications on the process are that no tender that was awarded has been cancelled, instead, what was stopped was the process of tendering itself. I did not cancel the tender for safari hunting but merely stopped the process,” Masebo said much to the astonishment of the delegates.
From the meeting, it was clear that Masebo acted emotionally to announce the ban on leopard and lion hunting mainly on account of wrong advice from her friends, a close associate to Masebo said.
“Masebo is a puppet of individuals like Yousuf Zumla who is her chief advisor and has personal agenda to settle old score with competitors  and has been using his relationship with Masebo not knowing that he is harming the entire sector,” said one of the delegates close to Masebo.
 

Awww. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496