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Friday, March 23, 2007

Jeffrey Sachs: Absent-Minded Killers

Jeffrey Sachs wants us to stop "chasing other species off the planet":

Absent-minded killers, by Jeffrey Sachs, Project Syndicate: ...We humans are now so aggressively fishing, hunting, logging, and growing crops in all parts of the world that we are literally chasing other species off the planet. Our intense desire to take all that we can from nature leaves precious little for other forms of life.

In 1992, when the world's governments first promised to address man-made global warming, they also vowed to head off the human-induced extinction of other species. The Convention on Biological Diversity, agreed ... to conserve biological diversity...

Unfortunately, like so many other international agreements, the Convention on Biological Diversity remains essentially unknown, un-championed, and unfulfilled. That neglect is a human tragedy. For a very low cash outlay - and perhaps none at all on balance - we could conserve nature and thus protect the basis of our own lives and livelihoods. We kill other species not because we must, but because we are too negligent to do otherwise.

Consider a couple of notorious examples. Some rich countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Australia, and New Zealand, ... engage in so-called "bottom trawling". Bottom trawlers drag heavy nets over the ocean bottom, destroying ... marine species in the process. Complex and unique ecologies, most notably underground volcanoes known as seamounts, are ripped to shreds, because bottom trawling is the "low cost" way to catch a few deep sea fish species. One of these species, orange roughy, ... already is being fished to the point of collapse.

Likewise, in many parts of the world, tropical rainforest is being cleared for pastureland and food crops. The result is massive loss of habitat and destruction of species, yielding a tiny economic benefit at a huge social cost. After cutting down a swath of rainforest, soils are often quickly leached of their nutrients... As a result, the new pastureland or farmland is soon abandoned, with no prospect for regeneration of the original forest and its unique ecosystems.

Because these activities' costs are so high and their benefits so low, stopping them would be easy. Bottom trawling should simply be outlawed; it would be simple and inexpensive to compensate the fishing industry during a transition to other activities. Forest clearing, on the other hand, is probably best stopped by economic incentives, perhaps combined with regulatory limits. Simply restricting ... land clearing probably would not work, since farm families and communities would face a strong temptation to evade legal limits. On the other hand, financial incentives would probably succeed, because cutting down forest ... is not profitable enough to induce farmers to forego payments for protecting the land.

Many rainforest countries ... suggest the establishment of a rainforest conservation fund by the rich countries, to pay impoverished small farmers a small amount ... to preserve the forest. A well-designed fund would slow or stop deforestation, preserve biodiversity, and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide [from] the burning of cleared forests. At the same time, small farmers would receive a steady flow of income, which they could use for micro-investments...

[W]e should designate a global network of protected marine areas, in which fishing, boating, polluting, dredging, drilling, and other damaging activities would be prohibited. Such areas not only permit the regeneration of species, but also provide ecological benefits that spill over to neighbouring unprotected areas.

We also need a regular scientific process to present the world with the evidence on species abundance and extinction, just as we now have such a process for climate change. Politicians don't listen very well to individual scientists, but they are forced to listen when hundreds of scientists speak with a united voice.

Finally, the world should negotiate a new framework ... to slow human-induced climate change. There can be little doubt that climate change poses one of the greatest risks to species' viability. ...

These measures are achievable... They are affordable, and in each case would ultimately deliver large net benefits. Most importantly, they would allow us to follow through on a global promise. It is too painful to believe that humanity would destroy millions of other species - and jeopardise our own future - in a fit of absent-mindedness.

    Posted by on Friday, March 23, 2007 at 12:15 AM in Economics, Environment, Regulation | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (27)

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