Resolving the Environmentalist’s Paradox

7 04 2011

Here’s an extremely thought-provoking guest post by Megan Evans, Research Assistant at the University of Queensland in Kerrie Wilson‘s lab. Megan did her Honours degree with Hugh Possingham and Kerrie, and has already published heaps from that and other work. I met Megan first in 2009 and have been extremely impressed with her insights, broad range of interests and knowledge, and her finely honed grasp of social media in science. Smarter than your average PhD student, without a doubt (and she has even done one yet). Take it away, Megan.

© T. Toles

Resolving the ‘Environmentalist’s Paradox’, and the role of ecologists in advancing economic thinking

Aldo Leopold famously described the curse of an ecological education as “to be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise”. Ecologists do have a tendency for making dire warnings for the future, but for anyone concerned about the myriad of problems currently facing the Earth – climate change, an ongoing wave of species extinctions and impending peak oil, phosphate, water , (everything?) crises – the continued ignorance or ridicule of such warnings can be a frustrating experience. Environmental degradation and ecological overshoot isn’t just about losing cute plants and animals, given the widespread acceptance that long-term human well-being ultimately rests on the ability for the Earth to supply us with ecosystem services.

In light of this doom and gloom, things were shaken up a bit late last year when an article1 published in Bioscience pointed out that in spite of declines in the majority of ecosystem services considered essential to human well-being by The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), aggregate human well-being (as measured by the Human Development Index) has risen continuously over the last 50 years. Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne and the co-authors of the study suggested that these conflicting trends presented an ‘environmentalist’s paradox’ of sorts – do we really depend on nature to the extent that ecologists have led everyone to believe? Read the rest of this entry »