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In the Light of Evolution: Volume II—Biodiversity and Extinction
Many moral and aesthetic values that connect people with nature are inspired by people who, by relating their personal experiences, make a compelling case for stewardship. Humans are interested in other humans, not only what they do but also what passion drives them to do it (Fleischner, 1990). The roots of environmentalism are found in places like Walden Pond, where emotion, art, and experience play a critical role in defining the value of nature. Not everyone can write like Thoreau, but when a biologist effectively relates his or her personal and emotional, and intellectual, experiences in the field and the laboratory, people respond.
The Economic Argument
As Ehrlich and Wilson (1991) stated, biodiversity has unquestionable economic value in terms of foods, medicines, and other benefits. Nonetheless, elaboration of this point must be carefully crafted. The economic argument may encounter objections from people who fail to understand why it is more important to preserve habitats than to log, farm, or develop them for more immediate and competitive economic needs. Conflicts in economic perspectives are also now apparent even in different groups who identify themselves as environmentalists. Some favor accelerated economic growth as a way of producing the wealth, education, and technological breakthroughs necessary to solve the big environmental problems (Shellenberger and Nordhaus, 2007). However, there are those who advocate a massive return to local “green” economies, that depend critically on both individual and cooperative behaviors for moderation and the reduction of consumerism (McKibben, 2007). Connections must be made between the stewardship of biodiversity and different models for putatively compatible economies. We also need to understand much better the complex economic, traditional, cultural, and environmental interrelationships of low-income people in developing countries, many of whom live in the most biologically diverse regions (Agrawal and Redford, 2006). An effective argument here is that biodiversity emphatically plays a role in strategies for more sustainable agriculture, one that calls for the development of croplands that mix agriculture with natural components and thus provide both crop foods and restored ecosystem services (Foley et al., 2005).
Another way of demonstrating the economic importance of biodiversity is to use examples of negative impacts of biodiversity loss. Such losses can destabilize relationships of communities, even countries. A perfect ecological, economic, and political storm is brewing in West Africa because of the complex interplay of overfishing by both African and European nations offshore, the accelerating devastation of wildlife on land for bushmeat, and periods of massive food shortages (Brashares et al., 2004).