Where’s the action?

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We all agree that we need to act on climate change. We all agree that biodiversity is a good thing. We all agree that we need to conserve as many species and as many ecosystems as possible. So why is there so little action?

The reasons are many, and Patrick O’Keefe cites a list, which includes perceived risks of change, ideological worldviews that tend to preclude environmental attitudes and behaviours, and uncertainty about possible solutions. There’s also a degree of inertia due to the slowness of change in any large government or society.

We can’t necessarily address all of these, but we can deal with some of them. In particular, it should be possible to deal with two: motivating people and governments to act, and providing appropriate solutions. Ecologists are constantly working on the latter, while Megan Evans discusses the former in a couple of her blog posts.

In one, Making Conservation Pay, she points out that we need to make our arguments relevant to farmers (and, by implication, other groups), and that we need to provide solutions that make it worth their while to conserve biodiversity.

In the other post, she discusses The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), a group that are working on putting a dollar value on the services provided by nature. The argument runs thus: without being able to point to a value for the services provided by nature, governments tend to discount it – giving it a value of zero, in effect. So whenever any issue has environmental repercussions, nature comes last, since it’s perceived as having no economic value. Similarly with budget allocations: conservation efforts often get the scrapings after everything else has been allocated, because it’s seen as ‘just a nice thing to have, but not necessary’ (whereas constant economic growth is seen as necessary).

There are many problems with this approach, of course, but given our current economic system, it may be one that will work. And while we’re probably unable to change the minds of people who are ideologically committed to the idea that climate change is a myth or that humans are entitled to do what they like with no environmental repercussions, we may be able to convince the more open-minded, and change the nature of policy and public debate, and thereby generate useful action.

[Featured image: Lemurs in Atsinanana rainforest in Madagascar. Photo by Jeff Gibbs, via Wikimedia Commons License]


    1. Hi Megan – I’ve been meaning to write something about your blog for a while now.

      No, I haven’t seen that article, but I’ll read it now. I’ve always liked Monbiot, as he has some very thought-provoking things to say. But his article of the state of economic valuation of ecosystem services in the UK is fairly discouraging, so I welcome a response that can rebut some of his points.

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