In their new paper, “Where does biodiversity go from here? A grim business-as-usual forecast and a hopeful portfolio of partial solutions”, just published today in the Online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Paul Ehrlich and Robert Pringle, two researchers from Stanford University, propose a “hopeful portfolio” of seven strategies, to remedy the global biodiversity crisis. One such strategy involves getting biodiversity onto the cultural radar screen. Here it is – I have highlighted suggested actions –
For decades, conservationists have appealed to aesthetics as a principal reason to conserve wild areas and species. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the 13-billion-plus beholding eyes of the world are drawn to many things that are hostile to biodiversity: large families, tractors, treasure, pavement, goats, and Cadillacs, to name a few. The processes of economic and infrastructural development help to divorce people from the natural world. Moreover, although outdoor recreation and ecotourism are still important parts of many lives in rich countries, biophilic impulses seem increasingly swamped by other stimuli. In the United States, the rise of electronic media has coincided with a 20-year downturn in National Park visitation, after 50 years of steady increase. Recent findings indicate that similar declines in contact with nature are common to developed nations worldwide. Such trends will not be reversed and the biodiversity crisis will not be resolved until nature can rival virtual reality as a source of entertainment, intrigue, and inspiration. Janzen offers a compelling analogy: as books are uninteresting and useless to an illiterate person, so is biodiversity uninteresting and useless to a bioilliterate person. People keep what they use, and increasing bioliteracy would enable more people to find uses for biodiversity. Demand for ecotourism and perceived ‘‘existence values” would increase and, with them, biodiversity sustaining revenues. In a world of stingy appropriations for conservation, we have a wonderful academic literature on how to maximize returns on conservation investments. But we have spent comparatively little effort figuring out ways to create a world of biodiversity fanatics and conservation voters, where conservation resources would presumably flow more freely. The earlier in the developmental process comes exposure to nature, the better the odds of inspiring devotion to biodiversity and its conservation. It is a rare conservationist who did not encounter nature as a child. Every one of us can go to elementary schools to show pictures of animals and plants and tell funny stories about ecology. The teachers will be happy to have us. More ambitious people might think about how to finance and institutionalize school field trips to natural areas. Those of us who work in the tropics can do these things there, too. Clearly, we can also use other strategies. One method is to appropriate the very technologies that are currently enforcing the divide between people and biodiversity. Biodiversity is increasingly on the World Wide Web via projects such as the Encyclopedia of Life and Wikispecies. But we can do more. We can upload science and nature shorts to YouTube and contribute our knowledge to Wikipedia and its offshoots. We can post our lectures online. We can work to add ecological dimensions to online virtual-reality platforms and video games like Second Life, which currently has 10 million registered accounts. These are obvious ideas; many more are possible. There is hope here. Online sales have helped to revitalize classical music which is like biodiversity in that its devotees have long been predicting and lamenting its demise. Some have argued that the key to widespread biodiversity appreciation is the ability to know immediately what is what in nature. Janzen believes that this requires a comprehensive library of DNA barcodes along with a handheld, nanotechnological, field-portable sequencing device. We are hopeful about this dream, as well as any other means of achieving the same end. Profound social transformations are not impossible or ‘‘unrealistic.” Shifts happen. They have happened in our lifetimes. We all know these terms: segregation, Iron Curtain, apartheid. ‘‘Anthropogenic extinction” belongs on that list. More than anything else, the long-term future of biodiversity will be determined by our success or failure in helping to precipitate such an overhaul in popular perceptions of nature and what it means.
My way of getting biodiversity onto the cultural radar screen is to blog here, and on other blogs, and to link back to this post in my comments on other blogs. Also to tweet, and digg, and stumble, as much as I can about the topic. What can you do?