Conservation Economics: How to Save the Planet (Part II) (2 Comments)

CE-2

In part 1, I mentioned the major findings of The Economist’s issue on biodiversity, specifically regarding the relationship between national wealth and conservation. Part 2 will focus on the implementation of environmental policy and the cooperation required for it to be successful.

3. Conservation is slow and collaborative by nature
One of the report’s articles dealt with a town called Paragominas in northern Brazil, a region that once experienced heavy deforestation due to its proximity to the Amazon rainforest. Recently, Paragominas has concentrated its efforts on reducing illegal logging and providing more protected land to local species. In an incredible example of creativity and cooperation, the government has effectively helped to reduce annual deforestation in the Amazon from over 27,000 km2 in 2004 to less than 5,000 km2 in 2012. Apart from this promising statistic, what I took away from this story was how collaborative conservation efforts are. Even a president, with all the authority he or she holds, requires assistance from people on many different levels to successfully implement any management plan. Employees with creative or innovative solutions are required to tackle the difficult task of protecting natural resources. Legal enforcement is required to ensure violations don’t go unpunished. Financial (or ethical) incentives are required to guide businesses towards greener manufacturing methods. Outside organizations are required to monitor these efforts, and to lobby those in power to stay the course when things get tough. Independent media sources that cover and criticize such efforts and those involved are required to keep the public informed. And finally, as I mentioned before, the citizens must have a strong enough opinion on the topic to ensure the correct officials get elected to begin with and to practice responsible consumption.

4. Intensive farming is better for biodiversity than non-intensive farming
Much of The Economist’s report deals with broad conservation topics and biodiversity on a large scale, but there is one specific method the magazine seems to endorse that is worth discussion. The idea of intensive farming is not a new one, but given the scenarios faced by many countries seeking to be more green, it is certainly one deserving of consideration. This agricultural method allows more crop yield per area farmed by increasing labor and chemicals such as fertilizer. Many see it as the technique of the future, for obvious reasons. If populations are to continue growing we will need to become more efficient agriculturally in order to satisfy the higher demand for food across the globe. This is especially the case if we want to also set aside land for habitat use by other species, since that land could not also be used for farming. Therefore, it’s in our best interests (and, the article argues, planet earth’s) to adopt intensive farming methods in order to get more out of less. One major environmental concern with this method is the higher levels of fertilizer required for greater yields. All of this fertilizer will eventually be washed out into the surrounding area, and ultimately contribute to high levels of nitrogen in nearby water sources. This can be fatal for many freshwater and marine species, and is already a major concern in coastal cities. Greener fertilizers are certainly out there, but at the moment they are not cost-effective enough to be used on an industrial scale. Therefore, technological advancements will hopefully accompany intensively-farmed areas to minimize their harmful effect on aquatic biodiversity.

5. Environmentalists distrust growth
The final point I’d like to bring up is something mentioned in the report’s last article, “Averting the Sixth Extinction.” In it, The Economist portrays conservationists as distrustful of technology and growth, a sentiment that is not theirs alone. “Deep in the green movement’s soul lies a belief that the wrongs done to the planet were caused by technological change and economic growth, and that more of then can only lead to greater evil.” This needs to be addressed because not only does it hurt the credibility of those working towards conservation, but it is simply not correct. Yes, many of the problems currently facing the global ecosystem were compounded by the widespread adoption of environmentally-harmful practices, starting around the time of the industrial revolution. But it is not technology that we distrust; on the contrary, science and conservation relies quite heavily on technological advances. Additionally, it is naïve to suggest we distrust economic growth in all its forms. We are, however, skeptical of unchecked growth, and rightfully so. The special report cautions its readers that it is not advocating unregulated economic growth, but rather a controlled system to incrementally increase national wealth. Therefore, there is not much difference between what both The Economist and conservationists are seeking. The additional suggestion we have is that during this economic growth we consistently scrutinize its effect on our environment, and at all times minimize the associated damage. There are certainly those advocating for biological preservation through a societal return to our primitive roots. However, this is a small minority of conservationists as a whole, and I strongly believe most of us would endorse environmentally-responsible forms of economic and industrial growth.

The Economist’s special report on biodiversity sought to tie in the global environmental crisis with economic trends in an attempt to help remedy these issues from an administrative level. At the very least, it represents those in public policy and government beginning to recognize the importance of maintaining a healthy global ecosystem. Hopefully this will lead to a better dialogue between conservationists and administrators, which is the first step to creating a culture of environmental respect.

February 4, 2014

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  • Thanks for rounding this out, Nate! The part about intensive farming is definitely likely to be controversial, not only because of the downstream damage due to use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, but also because the current implementation of intensive farming appears to be implicitly monoculture. One group that believes that farm productivity and food security is critically linked to crop/forest biodiversity is Bioversity International (highlighted in a recent Flump). Agricultural/Silvicultural land is not separate from the surrounding ecosystems, but can contribute to them. I look foreword to seeing what the model will be for the next green revolution.

  • Great point Emily. This method of intensive farming is certainly not the end point, and hopefully more organizations like Biodiversity International continue to push for implementing the best available science, as well as environmentally-friendly practices, in industrial agriculture

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