"Compassionate Conservation": Update

Writer: 
October 1, 2007
January-February 2006 
"Compassionate Conservation"

Responding to popular demand for creative responses to global warming, FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, instituted a "carbon-neutral" policy for its 2006 World Cup in Berlin. All carbon emissions associated with hosting the massive tournament, including the airline travel of participants and spectators, had to be offset in some way. For the 2010 World Cup, to be held in South Africa, the organization has pledged to follow its own precedent.

Delivering a speech at the annual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology held in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in July, Stuart Pimm chipped in with a suggestion for officials. He urged FIFA, in cooperation with South Africa, to take on a major reforestation project, planting indigenous trees. "It's a low-tech option with extraordinary potential," he was quoted as saying in the country's Herald.

For Pimm, Doris Duke Professor of conservation ecology, the beauty of planting indigenous plants (as opposed to, say, buying generic carbon credits) is that they serve not only as carbon-storage space, but also help locally to combat the loss of biodiversity as well as soil erosion. He says South Africa, where he also serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Pretoria, is already busy exploring carbon offsets. The country has, in recent years, undertaken several conservation-minded initiatives to remove invasive plants, like the eucalyptus, and replace them with native species.

 While there for the meeting, Pimm was also able to connect with one of his research teams, which employs several current and former students from Duke. The team's work involves tracking elephant migration patterns in the hopes of convincing governments to change national-park boundaries across Southern Africa to better reflect the animals' natural movements.

In August he returned for a spell to the Brazilian rain forest to continue his conservation work there, the subject of a Duke Magazine feature in January-February 2006. But for Pimm, a soccer fan as well as an ecologist, the 2010 World Cup was still a rosy thought in the back of his mind.