Fourth, and last, economic and fiscal policies and incentives must be changed to reduce or eliminate the forces we all know exacerbate loss of forests and biological diversity. For example, most developing countries with large mature forests have failed to adopt revenue systems that come close to capturing real timber values for the public treasury. Fees charged the timber harvester typically represent a very low percentage of the real cost of replacement and forest management. In the Philippines, for example, this is an incredibly low 10%.

Other policies relating to transmigration and cattle ranching often result in major habitat disruption. If developing nations continue to encourage these projects, then the least we can do is to make known the real costs of environmental degradation and lost future harvests, in addition to whatever values we can assign to the loss of biological diversity.

But in the last analysis, will all these things be done? I worry about the scale of our response. Money certainly is not the solution to all this. Education and public commitment are fundamental. But without much more money, much of it in the form of development assistance, we are simply not going to conserve and manage the biological diversity we are all talking about.

Consider these figures, for example:

  • The World Wildlife Fund has spent only $110 million dollars on conservation projects over its 25-year history.

  • The biodiversity legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in 1986 designates less than $10 million dollars per year for conservation projects outside the United States.

  • By comparison, the Tropical Forestry Action Plan estimates that 10% of the global effort, or $800 million dollars, will be needed over the next 5 years in tropical forest conservation. And this is only for tropical forests—it does not include coral reefs, wetlands, prairies, and all the other ecosystems (WRI et al., 1985).

  • Total development assistance now amounts to about $32 billion dollars per year worldwide, only a tiny fraction of which, less than 2%, goes into forest conservation and development. The United States leads the way with about $9 billion dollars per year, mostly to Egypt and Israel. But we are only eighteenth in foreign assistance in terms of percent of our GNP (Tropical Forestry Task Force, unpublished data, 1985).

  • Contrast all this with the $80 billion dollars per year contributed by Americans to their favorite charities. Nearly half this amount is given to support their churches. Far less than 1% is spent on conservation in the broadest definition of the word. Even most of the conservation money is spent here in the United States, rather than in the tropics where it is badly needed to save biological diversity (Thomas and Garred, 1986).

  • Finally, at the end of the scale, about $800 billion dollars per year is spent worldwide on armaments and defense. This annual amount is 100 times the 5-year amount needed to carry out the Tropical Forestry Action Plan.

The real irony is that often only a few thousand dollars is all that is needed to help a local community in Peru or Zambia get to the point where it can meet its own food, wood, and fuel needs without continuing to destroy the nearby forest.

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