Facilitating friends of the giant panda

Giant pandas are cute and cuddly (well, I presume they are, although I’ve never touched one personally). I loved my toy panda so much that at about 8 I remember developing plans for saving me and panda in case of fire. There’d have been no way I’d’ve left him (or was it her?) to die in the fire. And so I guess that’s why lots of people think biodiversity is about saving the panda. WWF’s also to blame for having such a damn effective logo. And I suppose it’s natural that we’re more concerned about watching out for endangered mammels than for a rare sort of wasp, snail or water plant. Anyway, why I’m talking about this is because I’ve just facilitated a fantastic group of biodiversity experts from Europe and they’re pretty frustrated about the difficulties in communicating just what biodiversity is.

Now, I’m not quite sure where this article’s going, but I’ve had a real learning experience so I guess I’m doing some post-workshop reflecting. I hope you’ll stick it out.

Countries all over the world have been trying to protect species of plant and animal, bird and insect – and even landscapes – for years. Germany’s first nature protected areas were established in the 1930s. It’s only in fairly recent years, though, that the rate in which species are being wiped out has become known. And, in terms of numbers, it seems quite scary. But then again, it’s all so far away, all so refering to stuff we’ve never heard of or don’t even like much (the aforesaid wasp). And as long as some birds are chattering in the garden and there are no reports of large beautiful carnivors threatened somewhere far away, we’re not really aware of any changes. Or really bothered about endangering another sort of bat or mouse or fern or mangrove tree.

However, biodiversity, as I learnt from so many wise and committed people over the last 5 days, is about making sure that the various ecosystems – such as wetlands, deserts, lakes, rivers, mountains, agricultural landscapes – remain able to provide us humans with essential “products” – so-called ecosystem services.

Anyway. That all means that a forest is also an air conditioner (i.e. stopping cities like Sao Paulo becoming unbearably hot); a river is a road; fish are food and a mountain may even have the ecosystem service value for some cultures of being their god.

Anyway, what’s that got to do with facilitation?

Well, in safeguarding our ecosystem services we are automatically caught up in facilitating a process of apparently different interests. Fishermen, industry, administrations and environmental NGOs will all have a lot to say about saving a lake from putrification. And they will, in a target oriented facilitated process, be able to come to co-operate and achieve results. Because every process to protect or develop ecosystems services will need a) to achieve joint fact finding, b) to decide on possible interventions to increase the resilience of the ecosystem, c) to make decisions on priorities and d) to implement the results. This is one of those ideal cases for facilitators.

It’s a complex system and complexity can be either reduced by scientists or managed by facilitators.

The giant panda is not what biodiversity’s all about. Neither is the gnat, bat or any other single species of flora or fauna. Biodiversity is about managing complex socio-ecological systems in which humans utilise and protect the ecosystems services they need today and – potentially – tomorrow.

What do you think?


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