Saving species does not harm poor

17 08 2008

Poor-Amongst-YouHere’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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