The planet is our bottle

22 05 2010

Professor Chris Thomas, conservation ecologist extraordinaire, tells it like it is. This might be a little basic for many ConservationBytes.com readers, but it’s the kind of pitch that might convince even the stupidest of yobs. I reproduce the Guardian article here in full.

Why do we care about nature, and can we actually quantify what the benefits are? This is what the UN’s The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb) project is all about, and the answer is remarkable. The natural world – biodiversity – provides us with food, materials and energy. We eat animals and plants; insects pollinate many of the foods we consume; microbes in the soil provide the nutrients the plants to grow; vegetation and soil biodiversity reduce flooding and release clean drinking water; vegetation soaks up a substantial proportion of the climate warming carbon dioxide gasses that we emit. The list goes on and on. Urban and rural citizens alike rely on these natural products and benefits.

The real cost of damaging nature, it turns out, is at least 10 times greater than the cost of maintaining the ecosystem as it is so that we can reap the associated benefits. To take an example close to the University of York where I work, the costs of flood defence construction and flood-related insurance claims in the Vale of York hugely outweigh the agricultural benefits of drainage ditches and overgrazing in the River Ouse catchment. Rather than treating nature as a pleasant luxury, Teeb argues that we should integrate the real costs and benefits within our decision-making. It should not be the preserve solely of environment and conservation ministries, but it should be at the core of the activities of finance departments. Teeb argues that we should get rid of subsidies that are environmentally damaging and reward beneficial activities that maintain natural ecosystems. This might be by including the costs of damage within the purchase price of products to encourage us to buy the least damaging items, and potentially by paying land owners and countries directly to maintain natural ecosystems. Farmers in the Ouse catchment have recently received payments for blocking their drainage ditches; and the perverse subsidies that rewarded farmers by the animal – resulting in over-grazing, trampling and erosion – have been removed. It can be done. Achieving this at a global scale is far more difficult. Read the rest of this entry »





Classics: Extinction from Climate Change

22 03 2010

© A. Wong

Amidst the mildly annoying, yet functionally irrelevant sensationalism of climate change politics, conservation biologists are taking the problem seriously and attempting to predict (and prevent) extinctions arising from a rapidly heating planet (see BraveNewClimate.com‘s excellent summary here, as well as his general category of ‘ecological impacts of climate change‘).

This week’s Conservation Classic describes the first high-impact paper to signal just how bad it biodiversity could fare from climate change alone (ignoring, for the moment, synergies with other drivers of extinction).

From about the 1990s onward, conservation biologists had been accumulating a large number of case studies quantifying the extent to which species had shifted in their geographic ranges, phenology and behaviour in response to a rapidly warming planet (Parmesan & Yohe 2003). Read the rest of this entry »