This past September The Economist put out a special report on global biodiversity, detailing its recent decline and the even more recent attempts by conservationists to reverse this trend. And while many of our devoted readers have surely seen these sorts of articles before (hopefully on our own site), The Economist’s had an M. Night Shyamalan twist. Well, a pre-Lady in the Water M. Night twist, because I didn’t vomit in disappointment and anger after it. The unique argument presented in nine different articles was that economic growth is good for biodiversity, in that it aids conservation strategies and increases their success. I wanted to summarize a few of their points and offer my own interpretation in this post, since the report presents an interesting perspective and that’s what we’re all about here.
1. National wealth is critical for conservation
Money may not be able to buy happiness, but it turns out that if you want to set aside some land for a habitat recovery project you should be ready to spend some cash. Therefore, countries that have greater levels of national wealth and per capita income are often better equipped for long-term conservation efforts. And it’s not just because these nations can pick up the tab for such projects. They typically also have qualities that are critical for managing the complex problem that is the decline of global biodiversity. According to The Economist, “As countries get richer, they tend to become more peaceful and better governed and their population growth slows down. Technological progress has improved life for other species, making conservation efforts more effective.” All of these things working in conjunction have the potential to greatly benefit wildlife. Countries that are lacking in any of the afore mentioned qualities may focus more on their respective absence. If you’re the president of a nation constantly at war, afflicted by political corruption, or experiencing rapid population growth (and the associated reduction in available food or living space), you will most likely devote all your resources to alleviating these problems. This may be one reason why Haiti, having a GDP per capita of $771, has forest cover on less than 2% of its land while its neighbor to the east, the Dominican Republic (which has a GDP per capita of $5,736) has 28.5% of its land covered in forests. Only when a country is stable can it better manage its natural resources, and this stability seems to be correlated with a certain level of wealth. In addition to state-of-the-art technology, which can greatly aid conservation efforts, more wealth also means more leisure, which brings us to their next point.
2. Free time is critical for conservation
It shouldn’t be a surprise that people who spend all week working in offices or manufacturing facilities don’t want to spend their weekends there as well. After a certain level of economic growth, countries can begin instituting such luxuries as the five-day work week, giving its citizens time off to pursue other interests. And it turns out that over 100 million Americans have a hobby, such as fishing or wildlife photography, which requires some exposure to nature. All this points to the fact that we like being outdoors and experiencing the natural world, and that given the opportunity many people will invest in its future. However, many of these investments, such as national parks and nature reserves, rely on government money or other forms of public funding. Those citizens who can’t afford the time or cost of visiting a national park are not likely to provide donations for its upkeep. Even relatively inexpensive conservation efforts require some level of national support, support that won’t come easy if you aren’t exposed to the great outdoors regularly. All citizens need to make a living, so unless that living involves working outside many people need leisure time to enjoy nature. Not surprisingly, people with higher levels of income tend to have more free time to pursue other interests. This tends to correlate with higher levels of support for conservation efforts, a good sign for the future of our planet.
These two prerequisites for successful conservation efforts correlate well with emerging or strong world economies. Countries like the United States, the U.K., China, Russia, India, and Brazil are all on the path to satisfying these requirements. Many of these countries are also located in regions of high biodiversity (southeast Asia and the Amazon to name a couple). Therefore, in the next few decades they have the potential to do great things for our planet’s wildlife, and hopefully set a standard of conservation for future generations. In part 2, I will discuss why cooperation and coordination is vital to save local ecosystems, the impact intensive farming will have in the future on biodiversity, and the need for conservationists and administrators to find common ground in order to save our environment.
 Leon, V. (2013, May 29) Believe it or not, deforestation in Haiti is not about trees. Haitian Times. Retrieved from http://www.haitiantimes.com/category/opinion/
January 21, 2014