If biodiversity is so important, why is Europe not languishing?

17 03 2014

collapseI don’t often respond to many comments on this blog unless they are really, really good questions (and if I think I have the answers). Even rarer is devoting an entire post to answering a question. The other day, I received a real cracker, and so I think it deserves a highlighted response.

Two days ago, a certain ‘P. Basu’ asked this in response to my last blog post (Lose biodiversity and you’ll get sick):

I am an Indian who lived in Germany for quite a long period. Now, if I am not grossly mistaken, once upon a time Germany and other west european countries had large tracts of “real” forests with bears, wolves, foxes and other animals (both carnivore and herbivore). Bear has completely disappeared from these countries with the advent of industrialization. A few wolves have been kept in more or less artificially created forests. Foxes, deer and hares, fortunately, do still exist. My question is, how come these countries are still so well off – not only from the point of view of economy but also from the angle of public health despite the loss of large tracts of natural forests? Or is it that modern science and a health conscious society can compensate the loss of biodiversity.

“Well”, I thought to myself, “Bloody good question”.

I have come across this genre of question before, but usually under more hostile circumstances when an overtly right-wing respondent (hell, let’s call a spade a spade – a ‘completely selfish arsehole’) has challenged me on the ‘value of nature’ logic (I’m not for a moment suggesting that P. Basu is this sort of person; on the contrary, he politely asked an extremely important question that requires an answer). The comeback generally goes something like this: “If biodiversity is so important, why aren’t super-developed countries wallowing in economic and social ruin because they’ve degraded their own life-support systems? Clearly you must be wrong, Sir.”

There have been discussions in the ecological and sustainability literature that have attempted to answer this, but I’ll give it a shot here for the benefit of CB.com readers. Read the rest of this entry »

Damned by nature; damned by man

26 10 2012

I am a forest officer from India. I want to narrate a story. No, my story is not about elephants or tigers or snakes. Those stories about India are commonplace. I wish to narrate a simple story about people, the least-known part of the marathon Indian fable.

Humans are said to have arrived in India very early in world civilisation. Some were raised here from the seed of their ancestors; others migrated here from all over the world. Over the centuries these people occupied every inch of soil that could support life. The population of India today is 1.2 billion. Each year, India’s population increases by a number nearly equal to the complete population of Australia. Such a prolific growth of numbers is easy to explain; the fertile soil, ample water and tropical warmth of India support the growth of all life forms.

Not all numbers are great, however, and big numbers sometimes exact the price from the wrong persons.

This is my story.

I went to work in the state of Meghalaya in north-eastern India. Pestilence, floods and dense vegetation have made north-eastern India a most inhospitable place. Population is scanty by Indian standards. Life does not extend much beyond the basic chores of finding food and hearth. In the hills, far away from the bustle of modern civilisation, primitive tribal families practice agriculture in its most basic form. Fertilisers are unknown to them, so they cultivate a parcel of land until it loses its fertility, ultimately abandoning it to find other arable land. When the original parcel has finally recovered its fertility after a few years, they move back. It is a ceaseless cycle of migrating back and forth – the so-called practice known as ‘shifting cultivation’.  Ginger, peas, pumpkin, brinjal and sweet potato can be seen growing on numerous slopes in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya beside the huts of the farmers built on stilts, with chickens roosting below.

When I reached Meghalaya and looked about at the kind of world I had never seen before, I admit that I found the tribal folk a little strange. They lived in a way that would have appeared bizarre to a modern community. The people did not seem to know how many centuries had passed them by. For me as a forest officer, what looked worst was that that these people appeared to have no comprehension of the value of forests for the planet. They built their huts with wood. They cooked on firewood. Most of their implements were made of wood. A whole tree would be cut and thrown across the banks to make a bridge over a stream. Above all, their crazy practice of shifting cultivation would ultimately remove all the remaining forest.

I decided my main job in this place was to save the forest from its own people, and we enforced Indian laws to preserve the forests.

On one occasion my staff saw a young local man running with an illegally obtained log of wood and started to chase him, waving their guns in the air to scare him. He ran barefoot amid dense bushes a long distance before we managed to apprehend him. I had bruises on my arms and a leech hanging from my armpit drinking my blood by the time the race was over. I admit that in my anger at the time, I wanted to impale the man to the earth at the spot where he had cut down the tree. It was not the leeches and the bruises that angered me. The tree he was carrying was (until quite recently) in perfect condition.

But Meghalaya isn’t populated solely by subsistence-farming villagers – there are also a few successful traders originally from big cities who have settled in this economically depressed region. They dress smartly and speak impeccable English. At the time, I remembered wondering how these more sophisticated types could be maintaining their relatively lavish lifestyles among the poor villagers who walked barefoot in the dense forests. On a couple of occasions I dropped in at the home of a prominent trader.  He hosted me graciously in his beautiful home. I admit that I enjoyed these visits because they were my only link to the civilisation I had become used to prior to moving to Meghalaya. But I never visited the home of any tribal villager, for what could I talk to them about anyway?

Read the rest of this entry »

You’re not even remotely concerned enough

31 08 2012

I’ve just returned from a 6-week trip to the United States and I am now dealing with the intensity of things left undone for so long [sigh]. But that trip was interesting for many reasons. First, and as I’ve already posted, I finished a book with Paul Ehrlich that will be out sometime early in 2013 (but I won’t deal with that here). I also attended an interesting, if slightly confusing, conference on ecosystem services. And finally, I had the pleasure of meeting Tony Barnosky in person, and we decided that we should definitely collaborate on a few things.

Another thing that struck me – and this happens no matter how often I visit the U.S., is just how completely insane that country’s politics are. The extremist, libertarian, plutotheocratic bullshit spewed by the far right to the detriment of the very people who support them is enough to make you vomit. And this startling and thoroughly backward world-view is now starting to penetrate more and more into Australian society and politics. From an environmental perspective, it’s a continuation of a downhill slide that started with Reagan’s destruction of environmentalism in the U.S., and Joh Bjelke-Petersen‘s war on the environment in Australia, and will only continue to get worse.

Of course, the main victim of reason in all these polemic politics is that we are doing next to nothing to mitigate horrendous climate disruption. Only yesterday, George Monbiot was lamenting (nay, pleading) that our governments are doing practically nil to avoid what can only be described as the greatest threat to our way of life since the World War II – in fact, the War and its associated holocaust is small bikkies compared to what awaits us.

And this is the most stressing part – even people who choose to use their brains and accept that we have an immense, global problem on our hands generally are not even remotely concerned enough. Read the rest of this entry »

Degraded States of Ausmerica

20 08 2012

You might remember that I’ve been in California for several weeks now. The principal reason for my visit was to finish a book that Paul Ehrlich and I started last year. So, without the major distractions of everyday university life, I’ve spent much of my time lately at Stanford University in a little office next to Paul’s trying to finish (I also attended a conference in Portland, Oregon).

Yesterday, we wrote the last few paragraphs. A giant gorilla has now lumbered its way off my back.

So. What is the book about, you might ask? I can’t give away too many details, but I will give a few teasers. The book is called, at least for now, ‘Oz & US’, which is a bit of a play of words. In the book we contrast the environmental histories, current state of affairs, and likely futures of our respective nations. It’s written in a popular style so that non-specialists can learn a little something about how bad the environment has become in our two countries.

At first glance, one might wonder why we chose to contrast the U.S. and Australia – they are quite different beasts, indeed. Their histories are immensely different, from the aboriginal populations, through to European colonisation (timing and drivers), biological (including agricultural) productivities, carrying capacities, population sizes and politics. But these differences belie too many convergences in the environmental states of each nation – we now both have increasingly degraded environments, we have both pushed the boundaries of our carrying capacities, and our environmental politics are in a shambles. In other words, despite having started with completely different conditions, our toll on nature’s life-support systems is now remarkably similar.

And anyone who knows Paul and me will appreciate that the book is completely irreverent. We have taken off the gloves in preparation for a bare-knuckle fight with the plutocrats and theocrats now threatening the lives of our grandchildren. We pull no punches here. Read the rest of this entry »

A very pissed-off New Guinean versus the Destroyer of Forests

31 03 2011

I really don’t know where this came from (weird e-mail trail), but it was too good not to share.

For those of you who follow ConservationBytes.com, you might remember a fairly recent post where a group of leading conservation biologists exposed one of the most dangerous men in the world – Alan Oxley, the (very embarrassing to admit) Australian destroyer of tropical biodiversity and future welfare of hundreds of millions of people.

It seems he and his commercial interests (and my, do those fellas lay it on thick) have turned their attention to destroying the last tracts of intact South-East Asian forests (and associated biodiversity) in Papua New Guinea. Kiss some of the most endemic, biodiverse and biowealthy areas on the planet good-bye.

So it was interesting to receive this email that had been sent to Oxley’s front-company, International Trade Strategies (ITS) Global, by one very pissed off Papua New Guinean. I have no idea who ‘Bush Kanaka Mangi’ is, but he sounds the real deal and I wouldn’t want to be Oxley if he ever came across him. I cite verbatim1:

Mr Alan Oxley,

HONESTLY : I am sick of getting this bloody rubbish, bullshit from you and your company ITS Global about palm oil is good for PNG, logging is good for PNG. Who the hell do you think you are ????, you seem in all your articles and consultancy reports as the expert about our country and more knowledgeable about the Melanesian society very well. My assessment of all your electronic newsletter which you circulate widely, your reflections and recommendations all are in no way closer or nearer to the way we Papua New Guineans think and want to do things and develop our nation, all of what you say are totally and purely and absolutely RUBBISH and yet you claim to know everything and know the problems of PNG and our people and on ways to solve our problems and continue your bullshit campaign in support of R&H and all its doing here destroying our forests, our society, manipulating our systems and creating confusion and hell is loose here. Read the rest of this entry »

One billion people still hungry

12 11 2010

A few days ago, that printed mouthpiece of Murdoch’s News Corporation in Australia – The Australiani, attacked Paul Ehrlich with a spectacular piece of uninformed gibberish (‘Population bomb still a fizzer 40 years on‘) that we both feel compelled to contest.

The Australian, well-known for its ‘War on Science’, refused to give us the opportunity to respond officially in an Opinion Editorial, so we are compelled to fight back using the blogosphere and our collective networks (which, we might add, probably exceed the distribution of said newspaper). Frankly, it was no surprise that The Australian chose to ignore us.

The article in question was written by Oliver Marc Hartwich of the so-called ‘Centre for Independent Studies’, the hyper-conservative Australian propaganda machine reminiscent of the ultra-right wing American Enterprise Institute, made up of some of Australia’s most powerful business magnates and with no academic affiliation whatsoever. Anything vaguely left-of-centre and even remotely promoting environmental responsibility is considered a viable target.

Recently, we blew the whistle on an equally dangerous man and the institutes he represents – climate-denier Alan Oxley; he and the business interests he represents are responsible for more deforestation, biodiversity loss and financial inequity in South East Asia over the last few decades than almost any single group.

Now we turn our attention to expose the true colours of the Centre for Independent Studies and Mr. Hartwich. Read the rest of this entry »

Wolves masquerading as sheep: the fallout

29 10 2010


© New Zealand Films


Well, we’ve managed to stimulate quite a lively conversation after dropping the Open Letter about Scientific Credibility and the Conservation of Tropical Forests regarding the questionable tactics employed by Alan Oxley and his industrial lobbyist organisations.

Mr. Oxley has responded with vitriol, hand-waving, red herrings and straw men, and failed to address even a single one of our accusations. I am particularly amused by his insinuation that we, the proven scientists, don’t know what science is – but that he does.

Below I reproduce Mr. Oxley’s reaction to our original letter, followed by our response.

I’ll let you, the reader, decide who is most reasonable.


There is too much pseudo-scientific hype today about environmentalism and forestry and not enough fact.

I put this double-barrelled question to the Group of 12 scientists who have rather laboriously wandered over the work of World Growth: What biodiversity is expressly protected by a global cessation of conversion of forest land to other purposes and how is that biodiversity scientifically measured? And let’s have some technical response, not political blather. Read the rest of this entry »

Wolves in sheep’s clothing: industrial lobbyists and the destruction of tropical forests

25 10 2010



As of this morning, a group of distinguished scientists (which I have had the honour of being invited to join) has released an Open Letter to be published in various media outlets worldwide. The letter addresses some of our major concerns over the misinterpretation of facts, and openly misleading statements, by proponents of deforestation in the Asian tropical region. Professor Bill Laurance, an old favourite on ConservationBytes.com, has led the charge and organised a most impressive and shocking list of assertions. I produce the letter below – I encourage all my readers to distribute it as far and wide as possible in the social media-verse.

An Open Letter about Scientific Credibility and the Conservation of Tropical Forests

To whom it may concern:

As professional scientists employed by leading academic and research institutions, we are writing to alert the general public about some of the claims and practices being used by the World Growth Institute (WGI) and International Trade Strategies Global (ITS), and their affiliated leadership.

WGI and ITS operate in close association. ITS is owned by Alan Oxley, an Australian industrial lobbyist, former trade representative, and former Ambassador who also heads WGI. According to its website1, ITS also has “close associations” with several politically conservative US think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation.

In our personal view, WGI and ITS — which are frequently involved in promoting industrial logging and oil palm and wood pulp plantations internationally — have at times treaded a thin line between reality and a significant distortion of facts. Specifically, we assert that: Read the rest of this entry »

Conservation Biology for All

26 12 2009

A new book that I’m proud to have had a hand in writing is just about to come out with Oxford University Press called Conservation Biology for All. Edited by the venerable Conservation Scholars, Professors Navjot Sodhi (National University of Singapore) and Paul Ehrlich (Stanford University), it’s a powerhouse of some of the world’s leaders in conservation science and application.

The book strives to “…provide cutting-edge but basic conservation science to a global readership”. In short, it’s written to bring the forefront of conservation science to the general public, with OUP promising to make it freely available online within about a year from its release in early 2010 (or so the rumour goes). The main idea here is that those in most need of such a book – the conservationists in developing nations – can access the wealth of information therein without having to sacrifice the village cow to buy it.

I won’t go into any great detail about the book’s contents (mainly because I have yet to receive my own copy and read most of the chapters!), but I have perused early versions of Kevin Gaston‘s excellent chapter on biodiversity, and Tom Brook‘s overview of conservation planning and prioritisation. Our chapter (Chapter 16 by Barry Brook and me), is an overview of statistical and modelling philosophy and application with emphasis on conservation mathematics. It’s by no means a complete treatment, but it’s something we want to develop further down the track. I do hope many people find it useful.

I’ve reproduced the chapter title line-up below, with links to each of the authors websites.

  1. Conservation Biology: Past and Present (C. Meine)
  2. Biodiversity (K. Gaston)
  3. Ecosystem Functions and Services (C. Sekercioglu)
  4. Habitat Destruction: Death of a Thousand Cuts (W. Laurance)
  5. Habitat Fragmentation and Landscape Change (A. Bennett & D. Saunders)
  6. Overharvesting (C. Peres)
  7. Invasive Species (D. Simberloff)
  8. Climate Change (T. Lovejoy)
  9. Fire and Biodiversity (D. Bowman & B. Murphy)
  10. Extinctions and the Practice of Preventing Them (S. Pimm & C. Jenkins)
  11. Conservation Planning and Priorities (T. Brooks)
  12. Endangered Species Management: The US Experience (D. Wilcove)
  13. Conservation in Human-Modified Landscapes (L.P. Koh & T. Gardner)
  14. The Roles of People in Conservation (A. Claus, K. Chan & T. Satterfield)
  15. From Conservation Theory to Practice: Crossing the Divide (M. Rao & J. Ginsberg)
  16. The Conservation Biologist’s Toolbox – Principles for the Design and Analysis of Conservation Studies (C. Bradshaw & B. Brook)

As you can see, it’s a pretty impressive collection of conservation stars and hard-hitting topics. Can’t wait to get my own copy! I will probably blog individual chapters down the track, so stay tuned.

CJA Bradshaw

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Ray of conservation light for Borneo

25 07 2009

This was the most interesting 20 minutes I’ve spent in the last wee while.

Up until just now, I had never heard of Willie Smits or what he’s been doing in Indonesia. I’ve been fairly hard on Indonesia in some of my papers and blog posts because of the ecological tragedy taking place there. I’ve focussed on the immense rate and extent of deforestation, the oil palm explosion, peatland destruction and air pollution arising from runaway fires there – I have thus far ignored any real positives because I didn’t really believe there were any.

Then I saw Smits’ TED talk. Two words – very impressed. I usually enjoy and even barrack for TED talks, and this is no exception.

This man and his organisation have really been applying a great deal of the research mentioned on ConservationBytes.com, as well as collecting data proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that if you integrate people’s needs with those of biodiversity, you can restore not only entire ecosystems, you can make humans benefit immensely in the process. A chronic pessimist, I can scarcely believe it.

He talks about a whole-system approach where agriculture, full rain forest restoration, climate control, carbon sequestration, monitoring and local governance all work together to turn once bare, fire-prone, species-poor deforested grasslands into teaming jungles that support happy, healthy, wealthy and well-governed human communities. Please watch this.

CJA Bradshaw

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Global conservation priorities based on human need

13 07 2009

© Wiley-Blackwell

A paper recently posted online in Conservation Letters caught my eye as a Potential on ConservationBytes.com.

Gary Luck and colleagues’ paper Protecting ecosystem services and biodiversity in the world’s watersheds is a novel approach to an admittedly problematic aspect of conservation biology – global prioritisation schemes. While certainly coming in as a Conservation Classic, the first real global conservation prioritisation scheme (Myers and colleagues’ global biodiversity hotspots) was rather subjective in its approach, and many subsequent schemes have failed to reproduce the same kinds of priorities (the congruency problem). I’m certainly not knocking biodiversity hotspots because I believe it was one of the true paradigm shifts in conservation biology, but I am cognisant of its limitations.

Another big problem with conservation prioritisation schemes is that they are a hard sell to governments – how do you convince nations (especially poor ones) to forgo the immediate gains of resource exploitation to protect what many (incorrectly and short-sightedly) deem as irrelevant centres of biotic endemism?

Well, Luck and colleagues have taken us one step closer to global acceptance of conservation prioritisation schemes by basing this latest addition on ecosystem services. In their paper they divided the world by catchments (watersheds) and then estimated the services of water provision, flood prevention and carbon storage that each provides to humanity. Water provision was a estimated as a complex combination of variables that together can be interpreted as the capacity of ecosystems to regulate water flows and quality that benefit humans (e.g., influencing seasonal water availability or nutrient levels). Flood mitigation was estimated as the system’s capacity to reduce the impact of floods on communities, and carbon storage was estimated as the system’s capacity to uptake carbon in soils and vegetation.

In general, the catchments in need of the highest priority protection were found in the poorest areas (namely, South East Asia and Africa) because their protection would be the least costly and benefit the most people. Luck and colleagues are therefore the first to incorporate cost–benefit trade-offs explicitly in developing global priorities for protecting ecosystem services and biodiversity. I take my hat off to them for a modern and highly relevant twist on an old idea. Great paper and I hope people take notice.

CJA Bradshaw

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Conservation Scholars: Paul Ehrlich

4 07 2009

The Conservation Scholars series highlights leaders in conservation science and includes a small biography, a list of major scientific publications and a Q & A on each person’s particular area of expertise.

paulehrlichOur thirteenth Conservation Scholar could easily be placed on the ‘Grandfather of Conservation Biology’ pedestal – Paul Ehrlich. He really needs little introduction, but I’m honoured to do so here for those few wayward souls who don’t know about him. I had the immense pleasure of having lunch with Paul last week at Stanford University and found him to be immensely entertaining and stimulating. I’ve not yet worked with the ‘Grandfather’ (although I do have a chapter ‘in press’ in a book he has co-edited with Navjot Sodhi due out later this year), but I do hope I get the opportunity soon. Introducing one of the more thought-provoking scientists today, Paul Ehrlich (WARNING: you will probably feel inadequate after reading his bio).


Paul Ehrlich is the Bing Professor of Population Studies and President of the Center for Conservation Biology, Department of Biology, Stanford University. He has been a member of the Stanford University faculty since 1959. His research focuses on population biology (including ecology, evolutionary biology, behaviour, and human ecology and cultural evolution). Ehrlich has carried out field, laboratory and theoretical research on a wide array of problems ranging from the dynamics and genetics of insect populations, studies of the ecological and evolutionary interactions of plants and herbivores, and the behavioural ecology of birds and reef fishes, to experimental studies of the effects of crowding on human beings and studies of rates of cultural evolution. He collaborates with colleagues in biology and in the disciplines of economics, psychology, political science, and the law, in policy research on the human predicament.

As a writer, Ehrlich is prolific. He has authored and coauthored some 950 scientific papers and articles in the popular press and over 35 books, including The Population Bomb, The Process of Evolution, Ecoscience, The Machinery of Nature, Extinction, Earth, The Science of Ecology, The Birder’s Handbook, New World/New Mind, The Population Explosion, Healing the Planet, Birds in Jeopardy, The Stork and the Plow, Betrayal of Science and Reason, A World of Wounds, Human Natures, Wild Solutions, On the Wings of Checkerspots, One with Nineveh and The Dominant Animal. Ehrlich is a member of many scientific societies and organisations, serving as director or board member for many; and was President of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He is an Honorary Member of the British Ecological Society. Among his many other honours: the First AAAS/Scientific American Prize for Science in the Service of Humanity; the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Crafoord Prize in Population Biology and the Conservation of Biological Diversity (an explicit replacement for the Nobel Prize for disciplines where the Nobel is not given); a MacArthur Prize Fellowship; the Volvo Environment Prize; and the International Center for Tropical Ecology, World Ecology Medal; International Ecology Institute Prize; UNEP Sasakawa Environment Prize; the Heinz Award for the Environment; the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement; the Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences; the Blue Planet Prize of the Asahi Glass Foundation, Japan; the Eminent Ecologist award of the Ecological Society of America and the Ramon Margalef Prize for Ecology and Environmental Sciences. Ehrlich has appeared as a guest on many hundreds of TV and radio programs including some 20 on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show; he also was a correspondent for NBC News. In addition, he has given hundreds of public lectures in the past 40 years.

Major Publications

Questions and Answers

1. There have been many estimates of our changes to ‘background’ extinction rates. How much and in what ways do you believe humanity is changing  biodiversity extinction patterns?

The major ways we are accelerating rates of both population extinctions (most important because they reduce ecosystem services and presage species extinctions) include:

  1. Continuing land-use change, especially in aid of agriculture (including biofuels production), leading to habitat fragmentation and destruction,
  2. Causing ever greater climate disruption,
  3. Dispersing increasing quantities of toxic substances, especially those which are hormone mimics and may have non-linear dose-response curves,
  4. Moving organisms into areas they did not previously occupy.

The drivers of all of this are, of course, human population growth, over-consumption by the rich, and the continuing use of environmentally malign technologies.

2. Your famous 1968 scenarios in The Population Bomb have been highly contentious over the years. The events you envisaged may not have eventuated yet, but we still seem to be headed towards over-population and resource depletion. Since your last major book on this issue, The Population Explosion in 1990, how would you update your views now?

Signs of potential collapse, environmental and political, seem to be growing, many elements going in the same directions as suggested by The Population Bomb scenarios (which were explicitly stated not to be predictions): famine, disease, resource wars, etc. The pattern remains classic – population grows to the limits of current technologies to support it, followed by technological innovation (e.g., long canals in Mesopotamia, green revolution in India, biofuels in Brazil and U.S.) accompanied by more population growth and environmental deterioration, while politicians and elites fail to recognise the basic situation and focus on expanding their own wealth and power. The current failure to do anything serious about climate disruption is an instructive example.

On the population side, it is clear that avoiding collapse would be a lot easier if humanity could entrain a gradual population decline toward an optimal number. Our group’s analysis of what that optimum population size might be like came up with 1.5 to 2 billion, less than one third of what it is today. We attempted to find a number that would maximise human options – enough people to have large, exciting cities and still maintain substantial tracts of wilderness for the enjoyment of outdoors enthusiasts and hermits. Even more important would be the ability to maintain sustainable agricultural systems and the crucial life support services from natural ecosystems that humanity is so dependent upon. But too many people, especially those in positions of power, remain blissfully unaware of that dependence.

The Population Bomb certainly had its flaws, which is to be expected. Science never produces certainty. Nonetheless, we are all, scientists or not, always attempting to predict the future (will the stock go up or down? Will he be a good husband? Will it rain later?). And when we plan, we do the best we can. One of our personal strategies has always been to have our work reviewed carefully by other scientists, and The Population Bomb and Population Explosion were certainly no exceptions. Both were vetted by a series of scientists, including top leaders in the scientific enterprise. That is one reason that long ago the fundamental message of The Bomb moved from a somewhat heterodox view to a nearly consensus view of the scientific community. Consider the following two 1993 statements. The first was the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (1993) and signed by more than 1500 of the world’s leading scientists, including more than half of all living Nobel Laureates in science. The second was the joint statement by 58 of academies participating in the Population Summit of the World’s Scientific Academies, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and the Third World Academy.

The World Scientists’ Warning said in part: “Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.”

Part of the Academies’ pronouncement read: “the magnitude of the threat… is linked to human population size and resource use per person. Resource use, waste production and environmental degradation are accelerated by population growth. They are further exacerbated by consumption habits.… With current technologies, present levels of consumption by the developed world are likely to lead to serious negative consequences for all countries…. As human numbers further increase, the potential for irreversible changes of far-reaching magnitude also increases.”

These statements recognised that humanity has reached a dangerous turning point in its domination of the planet, a view even more common in the scientific community today. The same genius that allowed us to achieve that dominance now must be harnessed if we are to prevent our very success from sealing our doom. When The Population Bomb was written I was very optimistic about what could be done to avoid collapse and pessimistic about what humanity would do. Now I’m optimistic about what could be done, but very, very pessimistic about what will be done.

3. What would be the best ways to manage human over-population?

Work much harder to give women education, job opportunities, access to safe contraception and back-up abortion, and equal rights — world wide. The most overpopulated nation — third in numbers and first among large countries in per-capita consumption — the United States should recognise its impacts on Earth’s life-support systems and develop a comprehensive population policy.

4. Raising awareness in people to value species intrinsically has failed to curtail extinctions. Economic valuing of biodiversity and ecosystem services is another approach, but we still seem to be a long way off. What else can we do to convince people not to destroy biodiversity?

This is basically a problem of public education and changing the course of cultural evolution. We know more than enough science to know what directions humanity should be moving; the problems is now in the academic ballpark of the social sciences and humanity. A group of scholars is trying to get a Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior (MAHB) going. It is still in a very preliminary stage — among other things to initiate a global discussion among peoples on what people or for and how they can deal with the human predicament.

CJA Bradshaw

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Perceptions on poverty: the rising Middle Class

16 03 2009

I’m being somewhat ‘lazy’ this week in that I have unfortunately less time to spend on pertinent blog posts than I’d like (lecturing, looming deadlines, that sort of thing). So, I start out this week’s posts with one of my favourite TED talks – Hans Rosling debunks myths about the developing world.

What’s the relevance to biodiversity conservation? I’ll admit, it may appear somewhat tangential, but there are a few important messages (both potentially good and bad):

1. POSSIBLE BENEFIT #1: The rising wealth in the developing world and associated reduction in family size may inevitably curb our human population growth rates;

2. POSSIBLE DISADVANTAGE #1: Rising wealth will necessarily mean more and more consumption, and as we know at least for tropical developing nations, resource consumption is killing biodiversity faster than anywhere else on the planet;

3. POSSIBLE DISADVANTAGE #2: As family wealth rises, so too do opportunities do opportunities for the Anthropogenic Allee effect (consuming rare species just because you can afford to do so);

4. POSSIBLE BENEFIT #2: Better health care associated with rising wealth and lower infant mortality might make education a higher priority, teaching more people about the necessity of safeguarding ecosystem services.

I’m not convinced the advantages will necessarily outweigh the disadvantages; regardless, Prof. Rosling’s amazing 20-minute presentation will both entertain and enlighten. I recommend it for a lunchtime sitting or that late-afternoon attention wain.

CJA Bradshaw

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Conservation Scholars: Bruce Campbell

19 11 2008

This series on ConservationBytes.com takes a page out of our book Tropical Conservation Biology (Sodhi, Brook & Bradshaw) – therein we produced a series of ‘Spotlights’ describing the contributions of great thinkers to conservation science. Each highlight of a Conservation Scholar includes a small biography, a list of major scientific publications and a Q & A on the person’s particular area of expertise.

Our sixth Conservation Scholar is Bruce Campbell


I was trained as an ecologist, going into ecology because of the enthusiasm of a mentor who really believed in the ability of individuals to make a difference in the world. But after moving to Zimbabwe and initiating work in the tropical savannas, where humans have had an impact for 1000s of years, I found that a purely ecological perspective limited my ability to grapple with complex conservation issues. So I branched out into resource economics, and into institutional arrangements for common property management – I did this by reading basic texts, but more importantly, by working closely with some world-class resource economists and sociologists – they were important in shaping my career. For about twenty years I focussed mainly on African tropical woodlands and savannas, but then joined the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) based in Indonesia, and started work in the humid tropics on three continents. CIFOR, with sites throughout the tropics, offers a wonderful environment for in-depth cases studies combined with synthesis based on a global perspective. Now at Charles Darwin University [Editor's note: Prof. Campbell has recently returned full time to CIFOR although he still collaborates with colleagues at Charles Darwin University], I have started work on Aboriginal natural resource management, while still working with teams of researchers in some 20 developing countries. My work currently covers household economics (can natural resources lead to pathways out of poverty?), conservation and development dynamics (can there be win-win situations for forests and livelihoods?), and common property management (can collective action and community-based management lead to improved outcomes for forests and livelihoods?).

Major Publications

Questions and Answers

1. Is big industry such as logging companies, or expanding human populations the more important threat to tropical ecosystems?

This depends on the context – but in general I believe that population, especially local population is not a major driver. Colleagues and I work in the Brazilian Amazon, in the forests of central Africa and in Indonesian Borneo. In the Amazon site the most important threat relates to the expansion of commercial agriculture (soya beans and livestock), resulting in considerable forest loss. In Central Africa forest is not really being lost – but the bush-meat trade for expanding urban populations, is impacting negatively on biodiversity. At the Indonesian site forest destruction is driven by logging companies and those issuing the permits. Context, context, context…

2. Why is the bush-meat trade, an ancient human activity, no longer sustainable in many tropical areas?

The scale of hunting is now much higher than before – to supply the expanding urban markets. But I should also note that areas far from roads (and there are many of those) are not that severely impacted. But as roads further penetrate into the forest, bush-meat exploitation will follow.

3. In what way can small-scale enterprises, which rely on the exploitation of tropical forest products, be beneficial to conservation?

Many conservation agencies will spend considerable resources to improve the livelihoods of those living in and around protected areas. Small-scale enterprises can be used to build good will among local people towards conservation areas. Where local people value a particular enterprise and want it to be maintained, they can themselves institute management measures to ensure sustainable harvest. Some of the best examples of this are in southern Africa where wildlife hunting is proving a win-win situation for people and conservation (but even there, context is important – some schemes will not work because of a number of factors, e.g., too many people, too few prized hunting animals, discord in communities).

4. How can cross-disciplinary co-operation and facilitation in conservation be made to work given the lack of incentives for such teamwork from bureaucracies?

I think there are a number of success factors for cross-disciplinarity. Questions posed by conservation biologists that require expertise from another discipline don’t generally provide enough excitement to that other discipline. To engage other disciplines in any real sense, one must invite resource economists, sociologists, etc. to the initial meetings where the research questions are defined. Respect is key – with the different languages and approaches of different disciplines it is easy to find fault – there must be a high degree of mutual respect in a team. To build respect and derive common visions about the research requires time. There are bureaucratic hurdles but I think these can be broken down by committed teams.

5. How is the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) being effective in changing policy and having an on-ground impact?

CIFOR has a very conscious approach to achieving impact. This can be broken down into five elements. 1) Understanding where impact is possible and getting focus on a few topics. 2) Building impact strategies so that one clearly understands, for each programme of work, the kinds of research that will be produced, who the users of that research will be, what formats are needed for the research outputs, and what processes need to be engaged with (e.g., if impact is sought at the international convention level, how do we interface with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity?). 3) Building partnerships with agencies that are crucial for the uptake of the research. 4) Making sure that there is time and budget for the necessary processes and products after the formal research is completed (e.g., media campaigns, policy briefs, key stakeholder meetings).

CJA Bradshaw

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(with thanks to Navjot Sodhi, Barry Brook, Ward Cooper, Wiley-Blackwell and Bruce Campbell for permission to reproduce the text – buy your copy of Tropical Conservation Biology here)

Tropical Conservation Biology

8 09 2008

An obvious personal plug – but I’m allowed to do that on my own blog ;-)

I’d like to introduce a (relatively) new textbook that my colleagues, Navjot Sodhi and Barry Brook, and I wrote and published last year with Blackwell (now Wiley-Blackwell) Scientific Publishing – Tropical Conservation Biology.

We’re rather proud of this book because it was a timely summary and assessment of the scientific evidence for the degree of devastation facing tropical biodiversity today and in the future. I’ve summarised some of the main issues in a previous post covering a paper we have ‘in press’ that was born of the text book, but obviously the book is a far more detailed account of the problems facing the tropics.

This introductory textbook examines diminishing terrestrial and aquatic habitats in the tropics, covering a broad range of topics including the fate of the coral reefs; the impact of agriculture, urbanisation, and logging on habitat depletion; and the effects of fire on plants and animal survival.

One of the highlights of the book is that each chapter (see below) Includes case studies and interviews with prominent conservation scientists to help situate key concepts in a real world context: Norman Myers (Chapter 1), Gretchen Daily (Chapter 2), William Laurance (Chapter 3), Mark Cochrane (Chapter 4), Daniel Simberloff (Chapter 5), Bruce Campbell (Chapter 6), Daniel Pauly (Chapter 7), Stephen Schneider (Chapter 8), Stuart Pimm (Chapter 9) and Peter Raven (Chapter 10). These biographies are followed by a brief set of questions and answers that focus on some of the most pertinent and pressing issues in tropical conservation biology today. It is our intention that readers of Tropical Conservation Biology will benefit from the knowledge and be inspired by the passion of these renowned conservation experts.


  1. Chapter 1: Diminishing habitats in regions of high biodiversity. We report on the loss of tropical habitats across the tropics (e.g., deforestation rates). We also highlight the drivers of habitat loss such as human population expansion. Finally, we identify the areas in immediate need of conservation action by elucidating the concept of biodiversity hotspots. Read the rest of this entry »

Saving species does not harm poor

17 08 2008


Here’s a great one for the Potential list:

A paper just published online in the journal Oryx by Kent Redford and colleagues entitled What is the role for conservation organizations in poverty alleviation in the world’s wild places? challenges one argument used by anti-conservation humanists to avoid preserving intact habitats.

When rainforests and other high conservation-value habitats are set aside for protection, humanists will often complain that it destroys the livelihoods of the people living there because the listing prevents them from farming, hunting or otherwise providing themselves with income. Not so say Redford and colleagues – they found that most of the world’s poor (measured by proxy using infant mortality rates) were predominately associated with high-density urban areas and not with more intact wild areas.

Critics of the finding argue that this should not take the onus away from richer nations or governments to bolster the economic prosperity of these people, and I agree. However, this is a major finding that in some ways validates what we are beginning to understand about habitat intactness and ecosystem services. Destroy the ecosystems around you and you generally have lower water quality, higher incidence of catastrophic events, poor agricultural returns, greater disease prevalence, etc. that will drive people into poverty, rather than drop them further down the economic scale.

If this conclusion stands up to analytical scrutiny and supporting evidence from other analyses, I dearly hope that it is noticed and embraced by governments worldwide struggling to find the balance between economic development, poverty alleviation and conservation of biodiversity to maintain ecosystem services.

CJA Bradshaw

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