7 steps to solve the global biodiversity crisis
August 11, 2008
Prominent Stanford scientists propose seven measures to end the current human-driven mass extinction event.
Foremost among these is reducing the global footprint of mankind. Ehrlich and Pringle say this can be done by encouraging initiatives that slow population growth (including birth control and women's education) and diminish resource use through reduced consumption (including decreased consumption of meat) and more efficient design and technological innovation.
Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant (Lophotriccus pileatus) at Las Cruces, Costa Rica
Ehrlich and Pringle next highlight land management techniques that enhance the biodiversity of human-dominated landscapes. Termed "countryside biodiversity," the idea is that small and inexpensive measures such as tree-planting and safeguarding riparian forests can significantly boost biodiversity without diminishing agricultural productivity.
The authors continue by arguing that emerging markets for ecosystem services — including carbon sequestration, water filtration and flood control, erosion mitigation, and pollination, among others — will provide to unlock the economic value of forests, wetlands, and other habitats. Such "natural capital" could offer new ways to finance conservation as well as increase the opportunity costs of converting wild lands for short-term exploitation.
Ehrlich and Pringle's final three recommendations are to 1) fund restoration and reclamation of degraded and destroyed ecosystems, 2) encourage community involvement in conservation efforts, and 3) promote environmental education worldwide. Noting declining interest in National Park visitation in the U.S., they write "such trends will not be reversed and the biodiversity crisis will not be resolved until nature can rival virtual reality as a source of entertainment, intrigue, and inspiration."
Treehopper in Suriname. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Ehrlich and Pringle say that interest in the natural world can be increased by greater exposure to nature at an earlier age and enhanced by creative use of popular entertainment platforms and delivery systems including — perhaps counter intuitively — youtube, Second Life, and the Internet. Scientists will play a key role in facilitating the effort.
"Profound social transformations are not impossible or 'unrealistic,'" they write. "Shifts happen. They have happened in our lifetimes. We all know these terms: segregation, Iron Curtain, apartheid. 'Anthropogenic extinction' belongs on that list."
"More than anything else, the long-term future of biodiversity will be determined by our success or failure in helping to precipitate such an overhaul in popular perceptions of nature and what it means."