For the last 5000+ years there has been two integral parts of human society, social and economic. Humans are the most rapidly developing organisms on the planet, conquering land sea and sky through the development of technology. There was a time when humans co-existed peacefully with nature and realised their dependence on the natural world. In recent times however, with the growth of machinery and cities, people have become disconnected with their natural environment and take the importance of the land for granted.
New broadcasting mediums such as newspapers, television and the internet now allow scientists to distribute the previously unknown truth, that humans are extracting too much from the natural world and not allowing any time for regeneration, species across all phyla are beginning to disappear and finally, after over 200 extinction events in a century, people are beginning to take notice.
This newfound interest into the well being of our planet has thus introduced a third part to human society, the environment. The current economic policy undertaken by the majority of governments continue to try and marginalise this third subset by rapid development and ruthless capitalism. In this essay I will argue the point that addressing the problem of biodiversity loss requires economic as well as ecological perspectives to be adopted.
Since the dawn of mankind humans have always used nature, as all organism do to survive. For many years they used it wisely and in moderation with what they needed. Existing harmoniously lasted through the ages of early hominids, hunter gatherers, early civilizations and beyond. It was between the 17th-19th centuries that man endeavored to exploit the natural world more than he needed to, for economic gain and scientific experimentation.
The age of revolutions saw a new dawn for man, but a bleak dusk for biodiversity across the globe. War, industry and agriculture all changed and desolated natural environments like never before. The agricultural revolution involved rebuilding the way humans produced food and water sources. The world saw a paradigm shift as men shifted away from their hunter gatherer lifestyles and developed machines to increase productivity in land use. In the modern era over 15% of the world’s surface has been altered from the natural environment into agricultural land. This affected ecosystems worldwide and altered the face of the planet.
The industrial revolution is, in many developing countries, still underway and has been for two hundred odd years. This was a huge step into affecting biodiversity on the planet as it involved moving away from the hugely depleted wood stocks on planet earth and onto carbon rich fossil fuels such as coal, petrol and gas. These new high energy fuels have been burned in excess for centuries now and have caused migratory pattern shifts in birds due to air pollution, extinctions due to habitat destruction and ecosystem fouling due to spills. Whereas the agricultural revolution affected the surface of our earth, the industrial revolution altered our atmosphere for the worse and put all life on earth at risk.
And then came the notion of stewardship.
In the modern era a new revolution has risen from the ashes, like a phoenix promises rebirth, so too does the environmental revolution.
Comparable to the previous two revolutions mentioned in that it relies on scientific advancement and technological break through in order to change the fuel society runs on, both in order to remedy the hurts we have inflicted on our earth and to survive economically once we burn the last fossil fuel. Similar to the other two revolutions also, the environmental revolution will change the face of the earth. However instead of spanning centuries and slowly cracking the secrets to improving industry and agriculture, the environmental revolution has a sense of urgency about it. Kicked off in the 1960’s with the release of Rachel Carson’s iconic book silent spring, the movement has advanced in the last 60 years at a rate deserving of its status, however the more we learn, the less we do it seems. The ugency is not fueled by a sense of responsibility, but by a sense of foreboding; Fossil fuels are running out and the 1.7 trillion dollar industry that so many economies rely on needs to be reinvested into finding a new sustainable and powerful energy source. Fast.
For developing countries dependent on imported fuel the development of wind, solar and sea energy could free up large sums of money that could be reinvested into the country domestically both to save ecosystems and biodiversity from future harm and to improve the economic state of the country.
The sad notion is however, humans have little interest in saving biodiversity and in comparison to saving economies, they have none.
We do not however have a true evaluation of what biodiversity is, or what it can do for us. When people envision biodiversity they think of thriving ecosystems, however, often times, just the megafauna. People rarely take into account the trophic levels and indeed cascades that occur in ecosystems. Biodiversity is inclusive of everything from the grizzly bear that picks the berry of a tree, to the tick that sucks its blood and to the cells and genes inside all of these creatures that build up an ecosystem. Humans have only researched 7% of species on earth for medical or economic use to society. By desolating ecosystems we may be wiping out biochemicals or formulae that could be indicative to saving lives from virus’ or incurable disease.
Preserving the fragile state of earth’s biodiversity now isn’t just essential for further research or even to save wildlife, but it comes down to what humans care most about, self preservation. If we continue to wreck our planet we will see irreversible and dooming ecological shifts. Our food sources could deplete massively with the extermination of natural pollinators or biological controls, causing a trophic cascade which could eventually wipe out agriculture entirely. Environmental stability is something already in a state of flux that could spiral out of control and cause a new wave of more destructive and less predictable natural disasters such as floods, eruptions and wildfires. The taxpayer needs to stop thinking of biodiversity as a hippy project if they wish to flourish on this planet for much longer.
The question is, how do we as a modern society evaluate nature?
Do we see it as a commodity that will benefit us economically or industrially?
Or do we feel a sense of stewardship and responsibility towards the species on the planet that are dying everyday because of the atrocities we commit?
That is the question in understanding this conundrum.
So how do we invest in nature ? Ecologically or economically?
Were we to invest in nature economically it would be pitch-able to the taxpayer. It would be a cleaner more sustainable world, however there is a chance that it would become a sterile environment where the only species surviving are the ones needed for human development and economic growth. When we examine the amount of economic investment going on in the field of natural resources at the moment, excluding fossil fuels, it is surprisingly low. Developed countries and economic powerhouses such as USA, Japan, China and Germany show less than 1% investment into this field.
Developing countries have a higher investment, perhaps as they have a closer relationship with fuels such as wood, however this is predicted to drop as industry improves in these countries. There is a complete correlation between high natural resource – slow economic growth in developing countries, this trend does not exist in established economies as they have already moved onto more powerful and economic fuels. This trend line is worrying as it suggests that if countries wish to speed up economic growth they will be forced to tear down their remaining wilderness in order to make way for agri-development and industrial growth. This is already evident in Brazil where the industrial triangle continues to grow whilst the Amazon rainforest is being shredded for agricultural land. Most of the wood is not even used. This is leading not only to animal displacement and plant destruction, but to the death of local human tribes who have lived in the region for hundreds of years.
If countries are not investing in economic natural resources, then why would they even listen to the idea of investing in economically useless wilderness and the protection of biodiversity? The answer is simple. Common sense.
The field of wilderness ecology has evolved over the past 100 years, it is now less about understanding and researching species and more about how we can save these species and their ecosystem as a whole.
In fact, countries have actually invested more in ecological and environmental protection of late than they have in natural resources. In Sydney Australia, the IUCN World Parks Congress was held and one of the most exciting prospects that emerged from this was the announcement that the small multi-island nation of Comoros would be increasing their level of terrestrial parks by 18% and their aquatic parks by 5%. This is following an investigation into the feasibility of investing in nature. Comoros, having taken up industry and abandoning the land they thrived on for years are now facing food shortages, water pollution and increased natural hazards due to the respect they gave the land. By increasing their wilderness areas they hope to reduce floods, naturally filter water, reduce carbon in their environment and improve agricultural development with the help of a thriving ecosystem. The research points to the fact that a thriving natural world will lead to a cleaner more sustainable human environment also. Thailand is also pouring huge amounts of money into the developments of their wetland areas in order to protect the next deluge that comes out of Bangkok.
In other words, healthy protected ecosystems provide precious natural infrastructure for green growth today and a low-cost insurance policy for the shocks and stresses of tomorrow.
In order to create funding for ecological investment however we need to pitch the idea to the taxpayer. In a survey answered by over 400 people in Ireland the taxpayer said that they would be willing to pay 0.06% of their salary for national park development and ecosystem protection. This is roughly €30 for a person earning €50’000 per annul. That is why it is so important for larger companies and governments to reveal the state of the environment and the risk increased development with no protection for wildlife poses. Lack of food, clean water and healthy air is what will motivate the taxpayer to contribute more of their hard earned money into saving species and improving the state of their own environment both for this generation and their children children generation.
With the backing of major corporations and the taxpayer ecological science could explode in the next few years. This would lead to a huge amount of of data analysis and research expeditions that would shed more and more light onto the state of our planet and the best way to fix it in recent years. A by product of this would be of course, economic sustainability and preparation for natural disasters, but also employment in the environmental science sector. There is a need for more and more scientists carrying out experiments all over the world in order to combat global warming and to investigate the adverse effects we have had on biodiversity worldwide. With this knowledge and the proper funding we should be able to save millions of species and clean up the earth we live on to make it a more beautiful, ecologically diverse and economically stable planet for all.
As you can see from the evidence conveyed in this essay in order to address the problem of biodiversity one needs to realise that it requires a symbiotic relationship between economics and ecology. Each one needs the other to best do its duty and to provide a better world for the people living on it. I believe a government tax on annual salary in order to protect and establish wilderness areas in countries all over the world is the essential first step for this transition to take place. Of course, all of us in Ireland have seen how the taxpayer responds to issues they are taxed on that they know little about. In a survey designed for this essay 70% of people said they had a weak understanding of biodiversity, 67% of people said they were unaware as to the troubles the earth faces environmentally in coming years and over 80% said they would be disgruntled or reluctant to accept such a tax were it to be imposed.
The key here is education. Were the people educated on the dire straights they have worked themselves into surely they would prefer to pay a small fee now than a large sum later in order to repair their house from a natural disaster, buy food if prices soar or have access to clean water. The lesson I learned from this essay is that of course addressing the problem of biodiversity requires both perspectives, and that people from scientific and business backgrounds working together will be the catalyst that saves the world.
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