No.86 - October 2012

For decades, the cri de coeur of conservation has been the same: preserve the rainforest or lose it forever. You can’t recreate pristine habitats. Once gone, they’re gone for good.

It was an article of faith among environmentalists. But now, a bunch of hereticscalled ‘restoration ecologists’ are daring to question it. They are pointing to evidence that lost landscapes can indeed be resurrected, or at least brought back from the brink of extinction, to something approaching robust health.

In ‘Recall of the wild’ [p26], Katherine Rowland surveys the contours of this brave new world, and asks whether we might even dare to dream of making nature ‘better than before’.

There’s one magical landscape in particular which has long been lost to urban dwellers, despite being the inspiration for countless works of music, art and poetry down the ages. Yet it can be recreated at the flick of a switch – or switches, rather. We’re talking, of course, about the landscape of the night sky: of moonglow and starlight.

It’s not just a whimsical quest, either. As Duncan Graham-Rowe points out in ‘See no evil, hear no evil’ [p16], bright lights and loud noise aren’t just some urban irritation: they are actively bad for our health, and that of wildlife, too. Dimming the lights and hushing the din would not only improve the quality of our everyday lives: it would save energy, carbon and money as well.

A different kind of energy saving comes under the spotlight in ‘Staying power’ [p22]. The full potential of ‘intermittent’ renewables, like solar and wind, can’t be realised unless we can keep the energy they produce, and release it when it’s needed. Sounds simple enough. But cheap, practical power storage has long proved elusive. Now there are signs that at last it’s coming into view, and for anyone frustrated at the slow progress of renewables, the results could prove very exciting.

It’s also one of the rare areas where action is, to some extent, being driven by government. Such instances these days are pitifully few. Earlier this month, I chaired a roundtable in Delhi where both Forum for the Future’s founder, Jonathon Porritt, and India’s leading environmentalist, Rajendra Pachauri, agreed that in the absence of government ambition for practical action, business had to take a lead. Encouragingly, it was a sentiment echoed by the assorted Indian CEOs around the table. It’s a theme taken up in ‘Brand new world’ [p20], where Emily Pacey explores the power of brands to promote sustainability, and not just stuff.

I’m in Delhi to work on Forum’s new programme, India: Innovation Nation. We’ll be picking out the leading sustainability success stories in this huge and crucial economy, and asking how they can best be brought to scale. You can read more about this exciting initiative at www.forumforthefuture.org/india-innovation-nation.

I’ll be back in the new year. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you in the more than capable hands of Anna Simpson, who will be acting editor for the rest of this year.

Price: £6.00

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