Innovation in Biodiversity Conservation – servicing our debt to Pachamama

We all know the range of benefits that biodiverse ecosystems bring, right? As a source of food, materials, medicine, shelter and refuge, in addition to providing valuable natural services like carbon sequestration and filtering toxic substances and a realm of natural aesthetic beauty, we can’t deny that we owe the natural environment more than a few golden handshakes for its contribution to our modern lifestyles. This is despite the increasing disconnect to nature many urbanites experience as their everyday bubbles grow (seemingly) smaller and smaller and the extent of their lifestyle impact grows most definitely wider and more complex.

In supporting these modern lifestyles, the varying impacts of production, processing, transport and disposal on biodiversity loss are indeed significant. The FAO estimates that, in some countries, more than 90% of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List species of mammals, birds and amphibians are threatened by the impacts of value chains from livestock and crop production alone.

agSource: FAO (2013)

“So then, oh great professors and philosophisers of lifestyle doomsday scenarios, what’s the damn solution?” Is it about promoting greater awareness and responsibility of lifestyle impact? Is it about greater cooperation between business, government and civil society to tighten those orange mocha frappuccino supply chains? And how do we bring the informal sector into the mix of our ideal ‘1 size fits all’ solution, often both unregulated and unmapped. In many Least Developed Countries (LDCs, if you’re a fan of TLAs) this presents a complex dilemma. But, unfortunately, it’s not just the LDCs where economic development and environmental sustainability go head to head – and socio-economic development becomes a key bargaining chip to temporarily overlook degradation, at least in the short term. But the rest of us promise to catch up and play nice later, don’t we?

T’here’s probably a way through all this mess we’ve caused. And indeed, what a mess. In their paper, “A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems”, Parmesan and Yohe suggest that up to 41 percent of all wild species have been affected by “RECENT” climate change, based on analysis of 30 biodiversity impact studies covering more than 1700 species (including insects, vertebrates and plants). But even when you subtract the impacts of climate change (for the sceptics’ sake) we are still left with land clearance, over exploitation of natural resources and introduction of invasive species. Yes, by now we’re starting to figure out the a range of ways to mitigate and adapt together and trying to catch up, maybe not fast enough, but trialling new conservation techniques takes time and we have technology on our side to help with the scale-up later, your average joe eight-pack might say, hoping the IUCN’s next Red List isn’t due anytime soon. But, whilst we ponder and dabble, how will any of these expected (or at least hopeful) improvements and reduced impact towards biodiversity levels even be monitored, where it’s working and even where it’s not? And what incentives need to be included to ensure both emerging and ongoing efforts are maintained by governments, business and communities on an equally fair basis?

There’s a few great things going on. And I’m pretty sure we could think of a few more if our lives depended on it. And don’t they?

All in all, there are clearly still limits to how far we are willing to go with risk. Because in this case, it’s not just the investment that may have to be written off. But by building on existing evidence through the piloting of new approaches, increasing capacity within communities, civil societies, government institutions and business (both method and monitoring) and identifying the right incentives for the different movers and shakers, we’re taking the best steps towards showing Pachamama how much we actually care. It’s just a pity they weren’t the first steps we were taking.


Joseph Manteit, 2015


About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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