In order to save biodiversity, society’s behaviour must change

September 9, 2010, University of Cambridge
In order to save biodiversity society's behavior must change, leading conservationists warn
Photo credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras of Fauna & Flora International

( -- Leading conservationists warn that in order to save biodiversity, society's behaviour must change.

An innovative grouping of conservation scientists and practitioners have come together to advocate a fundamental shift in the way we view biodiversity. In their paper, which was published today in the journal Science, they argue that unless people recognise the link between their consumption choices and biodiversity loss, the diversity of life on Earth will continue to decline.

Dr Mike Rands, Director of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and lead author of the paper, said: "Despite increasing worldwide conservation efforts, continues to decline. If we are to make any kind of impact, it is critical that that we begin to view biodiversity as a global public good which provides such benefits as clean air and , and that this view is integrated not just into policies but also into society and individuals' day-to-day decisions."

The conservationists, from conservation organisations as well as academia, recognise that biodiversity loss is typically the result of unintended human actions and therefore raises unique difficulties. They state, "The impacts of a particular action are often distant in space and time. This makes effective regulation difficult, as no single body has jurisdiction over the world's biodiversity."

As part of a solution, the authors advocate managing biodiversity as a global public good. They argue that an appreciation of biodiversity as a public good with economic and societal value, providing benefits that far outweigh the cost of conserving , should be central to all policy making that impacts on the environment.

They believe it is essential that biodiversity not be considered in isolation as part of the nation's environmental agenda, but must extend across all sectors of government from treasury to defence. This is especially important as some of the policies that most damage biodiversity, such as agricultural, transport and energy subsidies, are not overseen by most governments' environmental regulators.

Internationally, they stress the need for greater support to conservation efforts in developing countries that are rich in biodiversity, including the crucial task of building institutional capacity (the strengthening of the institution through improved regulations, governance and organisational support)

They advocate for economists and to work more closely together with policy makers to develop strategies that use incentives and regulations to shift individuals, governments, businesses and civil society toward more biodiversity-friendly behaviour.

Dr Rands continued: "Valuing biodiversity is vital to changing the way we view this important resource. Because we have received the benefits of biodiversity for free, we take it for granted. The costs of conserving biodiversity are massively outweighed by the benefits. As the United Nations General Assembly meets for a special session to discuss biodiversity, this is an especially timely and important message for world leaders to take on board.

"It is critical we incorporate the view of biodiversity as natural capital into management decisions and, more importantly, public policies which reward positive individual actions and penalize negative ones."

The paper emphasises this point, stating, "The value of biodiversity must be made an integral element of social, economic and political decision-making, as is starting to happen with carbon and climate change. Government, businesses, and civil society all have crucial roles in this transition."

Currently, the key pressures driving biodiversity loss are the degradation, fragmentation and destruction of habitats, pollution, overexploitation of species, invasive species and climate change.

As these pressures on biodiversity increase, the number of species faced with extinction continues to rise, with 21 per cent of all known mammals, 30 per cent of all known amphibians, and 12 per cent of all known birds under threat. Additionally, nearly a quarter of plant species are believed to be at risk.

Explore further: The broken biodiversity promise

More information: The paper 'Biodiversity Conservation: Challenges Beyond 2010' by Rands MRW, Adams WM, Bennun L, Butchart SHM, Clements A, Coomes D, Entwistle A, Hodge I, Kapos V, Scharlemann JPW, Sutherland WJ & Vira B will be published in the 10 September 2010 edition of Science.

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1 / 5 (3) Sep 09, 2010
holding back nature doesn't work...
stagnation is not conservation...
but it IS a wonderful way to bankrupt and make jobs over a futility

not rated yet Sep 09, 2010
It is not all about exploitation. We do not have to have a plan to keep biodiversity just because it may be useful to us to discover something that directly helps us as individuals. To an economist you do though. So we need a new way of looking at things and measuring worth.

Not everything is economics.

1 / 5 (2) Sep 09, 2010
This guys been singing(pun to birdlife intended) the same tune now for years. Doom and gloom. Doom and gloom.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 10, 2010
You don't have to wear a seatbelt, but you may choose to because it might save your life. Granted, the chance of actually getting into a life threatening accident may be quite low, but no point in taking the chance when simple precaution can help mitigate catastrophe.

This is the exact same situation. Right now we are driving without a seatbelt when it comes to our environmental impact on the planet. We do not know what the impacts will be one way or another. Probably nothing terrible will come of it, but do you know for sure? The fact is we don't know the impacts we are having in the long term yet.

It would be better to be safe then sorry, as being safe does NOT require dramatic social and civilizational restructuring or change as some people may claim. It simply requires us to be more aware of the day to day impacts our actions and decisions have on the world around us.

To say that these issues are definitively non-issues is to forget to wear your seatbelt.
not rated yet Sep 10, 2010
i took my seatbelt off to fill up the tank.
1 / 5 (1) Sep 10, 2010
i took my seatbelt off to fill up the tank.

Hard to fill up with it on! :)

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