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France

Eye on France: National generosity and biodiversity in decline

media L'abeille butineuse est un élément clé de la biodiversité grâce à son travail de pollinisation. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

Two crises are making front-page news in France this Wednesday. The first, the plight of French charities, who say 2018 was a black year for their take from public generosity. And Le Monde reports that populations of the nation’s plants and wild beasts are also in massive decline, with more than one quarter of native species on the verge of extinction.

Let’s start with the humans.

Why are French people giving so much less to charity?

Le Monde says that income in 2018 was down by 200 million euros compared to the average over recent years. It reminds readers that last year saw the end of wealth tax in France, with changes reducing the number of those households liable to pay for being rich from 350,000 to about one third of that number. Under the old regime, the really well-heeled gave to charity since they could reduce their tax bill by as much as 75 percent of all donations up to a ceiling of 50,000 euros. Now, since Emmanuel Macron’s investment-boosting shift of the tax focus from cash to property, the terribly better-off have no incentive for generosity.

Fifty-four percent of those who used to give to the poor when the wealth tax made generosity profitable stopped giving last year, costing French charities as much as 150 million euros.

Confusion over new tax collection system

The other major problem is this month’s introduction of income tax being directly deducted by the employer, not as the system has been, with wages paid in full to workers who subsequently got a bill from the state. Under the old system, we used to be able to claim tax rebates for even modest contributions to charities. That will still, in fact, be the case, but confusion about how it will all work in practice has seen one-third of givers plan to change their habits.

Although the new scheme is only just about to come into operation, charitable organisations saw their income reduced by 7 percent in the first three months of last year, with the defecting tax payers explaining their change of heart by an uncertainty about how the new tax regime will work. When in doubt, stop giving!

Problems reported across the spectrum

Charities have suffered across the board, with those working with the homeless, with refugees, the everyday hungry, complaining that they don’t have enough to finance their basic work. Medical research is the worst affected. Cancer charities, those working on autism, and the Pasteur disease research wing have seen their income reduced by millions of euros.

To complete the sombre portrait of a nation overtaken by self-interest, Le Monde notes that proposed changes to the way French pensioners are taxed mean that one of the most generous sectors of the population has been forced to rethink. Sixty percent of those who give to French charities are at least 60-years-old.

So while income is, for all these reasons, rapidly declining, the demands on many of the charities concerned have simply exploded.

One director says his organisation’s income has decreased by 10 percent, at the same time as appeals for emergency aid have shot up by as much as 40 percent.

If you think that's bad, try being a skunk!

Bad and all as that is, the situation facing 26 percent of French wildlife is a lot worse.

According to the latest report on biodiversity by three official agencies, the only surprise is the rate at which the plight of certain creatures is deteriorating.

Some of those in trouble, like the upland lynx or the wild mountain goat, are almost household names. Others you wouldn’t recognise if they bit you in the bum. The Lesser Grey Shrike, for example, or the Bearded Vulture, are among those once common elements in the French countryside who will soon simply croak – literally and metaphorically.

A global issue, not a French one

When you take in the national sea-floors and the overseas territories, France actual accounts for no less than 10 percent of the globe’s biodiversity, including 19,000 species which are found nowhere else.

Bats are doing badly, with a 40 percent decline in the overall population over the past decade. Skunks are having a stinking time, as are seals.

The reasons are the usual suspects ... too many chemicals, too few places to live because humans go on changing land-use patterns, invasive species which have arrived with climate change and are damaging native populations.

 

The only good news is that more human beings than ever seem aware of the problem, with the number of those contributing to nationwide census projects for endangered species now up to 50,000, an increase of two and half over the past six years.

 

The real danger is that there’ll soon be nothing but corpses left for them to count.

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