INFRASTRUCTURE FOR SUSTAINING BIODIVERSITYSOCIETY
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A World Bank Perspective
We live in a time of unprecedented assault on biodiversity and natural resources at global, national, and local levels. The battle for the environment is being fought between growing populations and the need to conserve natural systems in countless arenas. Solutions are attainable, but it will require our genius, commitment, and ability to cooperate if we are to secure a future that generations to come can celebrate, instead of looking back and condemning us for opportunities lost, challenges forgone.
From the World Bank's point of view, however, that does not translate only into protection of pristine environments and conservation of a rare plant or animal, important as these might be. Rather, it is about the maintenance of life-support systems and people. It is about recognizing the need to conserve resources and manage them sustainably so that people have access to clean air, clean water, and fertile soils both now and in the future. Today, such access is denied to much of mankind.
At the global level, we face the pervasive reach of poverty, uncertainty over food security and the resource base, and increasingly diminished if not lost natural habitats and ecosystems. Biodiversity is being eroded at an unprecedented rate, and we can only guess its ultimate impact. Of the estimated 10–100 million species on the planet, only 1.4 million have been named. Fungi are the least known (only 69,000 of the 1.6 million thought to exist have been described) and we can only imagine the complexity and wealth of the estimated 8 million arthropods. However, bacteria are the “black hole” of systematics, with only some 4,000 recognized. In a recent study in Norway, 4,000–5,000 species (virtually all
new to science) were indicated among the 10 billion organisms to be found in each gram of forest soil.
Humanity's call on the food base is precarious. Although staple cereal and root crops will continue to feed humanity for some time to come, the jettisoning of many useful plants will bring unnecessary costs. The decrease in the number of species used in forestry and in animal husbandry has also narrowed the genetic base, greatly reducing the options for adapting to change.
We continue to struggle in assessing the economic values of environmental assets, especially biodiversity. Methods are being developed to introduce conservation practices in the marketplace and to reduce the subsidizing of the mining of natural systemsfull-cost accounting, green taxes, economic incentives for conservation, and internalization of environmental externalities. New ways are being used to measure well-being by looking at the contribution of natural human and social capital, not just human-made capital, which is usually considered in financial and economic accounts. Recent findings reinforce the importance of the natural-resource base of all economies and the fundamental role of human resources in determining a nation's wealth and, in turn, the opportunities for welfare gains for a nation's population.
It is particularly sobering to contemplate the pervasive influence of humanity on the natural environment and the threats posed to ecosystems: marine fisheries are being harvested to extinction, land transformation and water use are pressuring every ecosystem, and modified rates of nitrogen fixation and CO2 concentrations are altering global climate. These and other human effects pose substantial threats to both sustainable development and the very quality of life.
The major causes of biodiversity loss are the fragmentation, degradation, or loss of habitats (through conversion by agriculture, infrastructure, or urbanization), overexploitation of biological resources, the introduction of nonnative species, pollution, and climate change. It is estimated that extinction rates of plants and vertebrates are some 50–100 times higher than the expected natural rate and that future extinction rates will be substantially more than 1,000 times the natural rate (Reid and others 1992). For some groups of plants and vertebrates, 5–25% of identified species are already listed as threatened with extinction. The result might induce profound changes in many ecosystems and render them much less useful to people even if not less complex ecologically.
The deforestation of tropical rain forests, the greatest cause of species extinction, is expected to continue. Some 50% of the world's species (estimated at 10–100 million) are harbored by rain forests, and the current rate of loss might exceed 50,000/year, 137/day, or 6/hour. The loss of old-growth forest remains a major concern in many temperate countries.
Sound management of the earth's precious water resources constitutes the greatest challenge to sustainable development and the conservation of freshwater biodiversity. Freshwater fish are the vertebrate group that has suffered the highest extinction rates in both tropical and temperate regions. The productivity of freshwater ecosystems and their economic benefits are well known; if not properly managed, the competing demands of water, increasing pollution, the alteration of the hydrologic cycle, and the introduction of alien
species will compromise the ability of freshwater ecosystems to sustain human livelihood.
Marine biodiversity is also experiencing overexploitation, habitat loss, and pollution; indeed, overfishing is the greatest threat to marine biodiversity and ecosystems. Protection of marine biodiversity is critical because the marine environment has greater diversity at higher taxonomic levels than landcoral reefs harbor over 1 million species of plants and animals and constitute the largest untapped source of bioproducts.
Change and disturbance are essential features of ecosystems, but ecologists view the survival of complex systems as depending on connectivity and interdependence among their parts and on feedback among related processes. This focus is helping lead to partnerships and to the understanding and building of motivational structures to achieve desired ends. Thus, biodiversity conservation and management are not just ecological concerns; for many countries, they are also intrinsic to socioeconomic development, particularly for the poor. Biological resources provide the most important contributions to livelihoods and welfare: food, medicines, health, income, employment, and cultural integrity. Over 80% of the world's population depends partly on traditional medicines and medicinal plants, and some 60% of plant species (35,000) have potential medicinal value. About 7,000 compounds have been extracted from plants, leading to products as varied as aspirin and birth-control pills; the search for more has never been greater.
Of the thousands of plant species deemed edible for humans, some 20 produce the vast majority of the world's food. Staple cropssuch as wheat, maize, rice, and potatoesare used to feed more people than the next 26 crops combined. Likewise, sheep, goats, cattle, and pigs supply nearly all land-based protein for human consumption.
The same process of specialization is evident for varieties within specieshumans are increasingly reliant on a narrow range of species and then on specific varieties of these species. Consequently, biodiversity conservation is equally concerned with sustaining greater varieties of specialized and nonspecialized species. To meet that challenge, two approaches are being adopted: ensuring an adequate supply of genetic diversity for such industries as agriculture and medicine, and protecting unconverted habitats for the supply of genetic diversity.
Conserving biological diversity needs to address complex issues that call for a wide range of responses across many private and public sectors. All responses are necessary, with adjustments for local conditions: in situ conservation, ex situ conservation, intellectual-property rights, indigenous knowledge, human and institutional capacity, access to technology, equitable sharing of benefits, morals and ethics, and biosafety and risk. Information on those issues is becoming more readily available, and this will help to address such central problems as limits to the flow of germplasm (particularly of processed products), the debate over intellectual-property rights, and trade rules. Basic inventory and fundamental research work should be carried out simultaneously with field action, the two forms of activity reinforcing each other.
High-yielding crop varieties produced during the “Green Revolution” helped to avert a food crisis in the 1960s. It has continued to save land, and its influence
is still spreading, but a huge agenda remains. More genetically diverse new crop varieties are needed, and we need to adopt integrated pest management to minimize the use of pesticides. Likewise, on-farm water and nutrient management combined with traditional wisdom will produce efficiencies for farmers and maintain the health and productivity of agricultural systems. And the promise of and obstacles to biotechnology continue a lively debate, but we can be confident that it too will play a seminal role in securing food on a more sustainable basis, recognizing the mutual interest of the material-rich states and the biodiversity-rich states in the development and conservation of the remaining biological diversity.
The World Bank is the largest financier of targeted environmental projects, with an active portfolio of more than 170 projects at a funding level of $15 billion. Lending in biodiversity conservation itself has grown to $956 million, involving 101 projects in 56 countries. Investment has leveraged an additional $536 million from borrowing governments and donors, bringing the total commitment since 1989 to $1.34 billion. In addition to projects and project components with specific biodiversity objectives (the biodiversity portfolio), the bank has supported environmental projects that can have a favorable, although indirect, effect on biodiversity. Of these “environmental” projects, the ones aimed at improving natural-resource management (“green” projects) and those designed to strengthen environmental institutions (“institutional” projects) can help to conserve biodiversity through improved natural-resource management and development of appropriate incentives and policies.
The emphasis on sustainable economic development, the better valuation of renewable natural resources, strengthening of national institutional capacity, and improvement in project preparation and implementation will all benefit the conservation and use of biodiversity. It is clear that biodiversity will not be conserved without consideration of the broader context, but improving the management of biological resources in general will not prove sufficient. Biodiversity can and should be addressed as a distinct problem although it is related to the degradation of biological resources.
Sustainable use and biodiversity conservation also require understanding of the social and economic contexts. In the case of the rural poor, biological resources are often the most important source of economic and social well-being in the form of food supplies, medicine, shelter, income, employment, and cultural integrity. Successful biodiversity conservation also depends on sound policies and effective institutional and social arrangements.
A wide range of national policies, laws, and regulations can create “perverse” incentives that discourage conservation even as other policies are intended to provide incentives to conserve. For example, the conversion of natural areas and loss of biodiversity have often been accelerated by economic policies that encourage production for export markets, promote population resettlement, or open remote areas to road construction and logging. Policies aimed at increasing agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and energy and industrial production can have similar effects. Appropriate policies provide the basis for national development and for meeting the economic needs of people, but inappropriate policies can result in unsustainable and inefficient natural-resource use and contribute unnecessarily to the loss
of biologically important natural habitats and species. Policies related to land tenure, forestry, and agriculture are particularly critical in this respect.
Diverse experience has shown that the role of institutions in conservation is complex and taxing. Top-down conservation has seldom been effective except when large budgets are available for enforcement and society is willing to accept a rather undemocratic conservation process. Giving responsibility to local government and nongovernment organizations appears to create both opportunities and potential problems. To take advantage of the former while avoiding the latter, it seems that a cluster of arrangements must be made as a whole if conservation is to work well in an institutionalized setting. These arrangements include provisions for local participation, capacity-building, and incentive structures.
Decentralization can increase local responsibility for biodiversity conservation, making it more relevant and useful to local people. Reforms that a country might make affecting self-regulation, tenure, and accountability will help to ensure that people who decide how to use biological resources are directly affected by the consequences of their decisions. By shortening the feedback loop between a decision and its effect, such reforms will reward cautious decision-making. In addition, changes that give authority specifically to people living in the managed environment encourage decisions that are responsive to local conditions. If other local stakeholders are encouraged and enabled to question the decisions, responsibility will be promoted and a strong force for good governance will have been created.
The tools that can be used to conserve biodiversitythe protection of critical ecosystems (in situ measures) and such entities as arboretums, aquariums, botanical gardens and zoos, and seed and gene banks (ex situ measures)all provide enormous benefits to humankind. Each conservation tool has its place in a comprehensive strategy for conserving biodiversity, including meeting human needs and maintaining the greatest possible numbers of species and genes.
Most national governments have established legal means for protecting habitats that are critical for conserving biological resources; the responsibility is often shared by public and private institutions. Although accomplishments have been impressive, the amount of protected habitat and ecosystems needs to be increased substantially if these areas are to ensure the long-term conservation of the world's biodiversity. However, such protected areas will succeed only if they are effectively managed and if the management of the surrounding areas is compatible with the objectives of the protected areas. That will typically mean making protected areas parts of larger regional schemes to ensure biological and social sustainability and to deliver appropriate benefits to neighboring populations.
Ex situ conservation programs supplement in situ conservation by providing for long-term storage and analysis, testing, and propagation of threatened and rare species of plants and animals and their propagules. They are especially important for wild species whose populations are severely reduced, serving as a backup to in situ conservation, as a source of material for reintroductions, and as a major repository of genetic material for future programs of breeding of domestic species. Some ex situ facilitiesnotably zoos and botanical gardensoffer important opportunities for public education and contribute substantially to taxonomy and field research.
Many of the current responses to the world's biotic impoverishment have been supported by international conventions that have fostered cooperation and partnerships in conserving biodiversity. These conventions, especially the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), represent unprecedented opportunities for the development of institutions concerned with fostering environmentally sustainable development. Posing unique intellectual challenges as it does, the CBD provides perspectives on a number of disciplinesits biological foundation is partnered by economics, sociology, and other social sciences to bring innovation and integration and to facilitate consensus-building. It will also help to define a systematic approach to encouraging investment in biodiversity.
Current approaches to sustainable development are still rudimentary. A roug-hand-ready set of initiatives is in place, the development cycle is undergoing change (from a project orientation to one of listening, piloting, assessing, and mainstreaming), new partnerships are emerging, and the increasing accessibility to information is challenging the ownership of decision-making. But promising though these developments are, we must be sure of their selective and rigorous application.
Progress has always been heralded by paradigm shifts that seemed somehow difficult and dangerous, but moved the world forward into new realms of freedom and prosperity. We need to promote a paradigm shift in how we think about developmentwe need to think holistically, and we need to consider what is best for the common good. We need to do that for the poor and the marginalized of the world. We need to do it for the women who are carrying the burden of continuing degradation and discrimination. We need to do it for the future generations for whom we are but passing stewards of this globe.
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World Bank. 1998. Biodiversity in World Bank projects: A portfolio review. Washington DC: World Bank.
Creating Cultural Diversity:
Tropical Forests Transformed
Today, there is “an increasing realization that cultural [diversity] and biological diversity are intimately and inextricably linked” (McNeely and others 1995:767). The enormous variety that underlies the structures, beliefs, knowledge, and cultural practices of peoples around the world is a unique and valuable reservoir of environmental knowledge and know-how. During millennia of careful observation and experimentation, human groups have developed different uses for the plants and animals that make up the diverse ecosystems of the world. Distinct cultural patterns have emerged, have become specialized, and ultimately have changed in response to coevolution, coexistence, and mutual transformation along a nature-culture continuum. These cultural lifeways are increasingly threatened, as are the biological systems that support them.
This essay explores the many ways in which indigenous peoples relate to each other and to components of the ecosystems in which they play an essential role.1
1 Indigenous peoples are members or communities that to a large extent follow their own cultural rules and their own social and economic practices and often also elect their own local leaders. Indigenous has been applied mainly to small-scale societies and often to New World (Amerindian) groups. The term seems to me less apt when applied, for example, to such rural farmers of Africa and Malaysia as the Ibo shifting cultivators of Nigeria or the Batak agroforesters of north Sumatra. Both those peoples are numerous and form part of large, semiautonomous political entities (they form nations within modern states). Moreover, indigenous is inapplicable to temporary or permanent migrants. Because other alternatives, such as native and tribal are even more inappropriate, I will be using the term indigenous here to refer in general to relatively autonomous tropical peoples. When possible, either the name by which certain groups are known in the literature or, even better, the name that the people themselves use (their selfdefinitional label) should be used.
Small-scale communities differ within themselves and between each other along several dimensionslinguistic, ideological, social, and politicaland in subsistence pursuits and modes of insertion into the modern global economy. I emphasize two interrelated aspects: human ecological and economic behavior, especially with respect to physical resources, and cultural constructs, which are the beliefs and attitudes that people have toward their natural surroundings. A truism worth repeating is that the mental and material systems humans have devised to survive and reproduce are, simultaneously, responses to the environment and ways of shaping its biological diversity for human use. Thus, scholars justifiably argue that nature and culture are indivisible and that the real subject matter of human ecology should be the analysis of socionatural systems (Bennett 1996). Doubtless, they are correct; all human existence presupposes a degree of ecological involvement. To facilitate making empirical generalizations and forging comparisons, I will focus this discussion on tropical areas of the New World, Africa, and Asia. These regions have particularly high rates of biological diversity and are inhabited by diverse rural peoples who have devised highly specialized and lowenergy, as well as high-energy, adaptations to multiple resources.
The Tropics: Biological Diversity
Tropical forests are among the most complex and diverse of terrestrial ecosystems, having the greatest number of dynamically interacting plant and animal species (Whitmore 1992). High temperatures, abundant rainfall, and fragile soils are their general characteristics, but tropical forests differ greatly from one another in terms of their composition, dynamics, and size. Commonly, a distinction is made between climax or mature rain forests that have ever-wet environments and monsoon or seasonal secondary forests that have a marked dry period, but this is an oversimplification. In reality, all tropical forests are dynamic, subject to constant processes of natural disturbance caused by a series of biotic factors (such as insects and vertebrates), abiotic factors (for example, tree falls, landslides, storms, and droughts), and anthropogenic disturbances (usually repeated and prolonged) (Denslow 1996).
About half the world's tropical areas are in the American Neotropics, including southern Mexico to Panama, the Amazon and Orinoco basins in northwestern South America, and central and coastal Brazil. Next in extent are the eastern tropics of the Indo-Malayan region, including Indonesia and continental Southeast Asia.2 The smallest block of tropical rain forest is in western and central Africa, including the Congo Basin.
2 The Indo-Malayan rain forest (also called the eastern rain forest) covers the western Ghats in India and the southwestern corner of Sri Lanka. It is centered on the Malay archipelago, in the phytogeographic region that botanists call Malesia (or Malaysia). The term includes peninsular Thailand, the Bismarck archipelago, and the northwestern corner of New Guinea (Irian Jaya). Furthermore, the IndoMalayan rain forest extends beyond the Malay peninsula into Burma, Indochina, southern China, and Vietnam. Rain forest also covers Indonesia, most of New Guinea, and Borneo (Kalimantan). See Whitmore (1992 10, [figure 2.1 11, 213 [glossary], 223 [index]).
These large tropical regions are by no means homogeneous. For instance, they differ in species diversity, that is, in the number of plant species present. Of the 170,000 species of flowering plants in the tropics, for example, about half are in the Neotropics, 35,000 are in tropical Africa, and 40,000 are in tropical Asia; the rest are found in Madagascar and Malesia (Whitmore 1992:28). In all of Africa, there are only about 15 genera and 50 species of palms (Whitmore 1992:28), compared with 71 genera and about 800 species in the New World (Henderson 1990:2–3).3 In the Indo-Malayan and Australasian regions, there are at least 93 genera of palms (Uhl and Dransfield 1987:550–3) and over 1,000 species. Although those three regions share plant families, they have few plant genera and even fewer species in common. The distribution of some kinds of vertebrates is similar. For example, 1,300 avian species exist in the Neotropics, 900 in the Asian tropics, and 400 in the African tropics (Myers 1992). With the exception of primates, fewer mammal species exist in Africa than in the other two regions.
Despite their diversity, some forests throughout the tropics are monospecificthat is, they are dominated by a single species of canopy treesand can occur next to mixed-species, old-growth forests (Hart and others 1989; Hart 1990). Thus, it is possible for fruiting trees, including trees that might yield fruit edible for humans, to occur in large stands throughout particular forests. This phenomenon might have enabled forest peoples to survive in tropical regions during preagricultural times.
Rain-Forest Environments and “Pure” Hunter-Gatherers
During the last decade, scholars have vigorously debated the problem of whether foraging peoples (that is, hunter-gatherers) could have lived in mature forests without cultivating plants or domesticating animals or could have lived independently of their agricultural neighbors, with whom they exchanged forest products for food crops (Harlan 1995; Hladik and Dounias 1993; Piperno and Pearsall 1998:76–8). Those who argue against the possibility of foragers living independently portray the tropical rain forest as having limited food resources, especially wild starches and animals with adequate fat reserves (Hart and Hart 1986; Headland 1987; Bailey and others 1989). The Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Forest in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) are used as an example of how these constraints operate. It is said that in the Ituri Forest, important foodplant species, including yams, are rare, sparsely distributed, or seasonalas are other products, such as honey, grubs, and caterpillarsand that the mammals hunted are lean most of the year. In fact, however, large areas of the Ituri Forest are monospecific, dominated by the edible species Gilbertiodendron dewevrei, which
3 Genera and species numbers are constantly being revised and should be accepted with caution. For example, Corner (1966, 230, table 2) lists 255 genera and 2,009 species of New World palms; 24 years later, Henderson (1990:2–3) reduced these numbers drastically. Here, I have used Henderson's estimates.
produces sizable, starchy seeds. Although this tree yields for only 3 months of the year (October–December), other foods are abundant at other periods, including honey (May and June), termites (November), and fat animals (the dry season). Thus, seasonality might be important, but the seasons of abundant food tend to be staggered. Moreover, recent studies of the standing biomass of wild yams in the forests used by Pygmies have revealed year-round availability and considerable density (3–6 kg/hectare), certainly high enough for sparse populations to survive (Hladik and Dounias 1993). In fact, it has been estimated that even at a very low yam density of 2 kg/hectare, one Aka Pygmy camp of 26 persons foraging in a 2-km radius could feed itself on yams alone for 6 months; of course, other wild plant and animal foods are also available (Bahuchet and others 1991).
Other forest foragers, in Malaysia and the Philippines, also consume large amounts of wild yams. Some Pygmy groups, such as the Baka, encourage the regeneration of wild yams by carefully reburying the heads of the plants after harvesting them, a management technique that could have been used for other wildforest resources as well (Dounias 1993). Other plant species in other continents also are conserved; for example, palms are protected and tended in Amazonia, and the sago palm is carefully pruned by some foragers in Southeast Asia.
Recent excavations of 10 archaeological sites in the Ituri Forest of the northeastern Congo Basin confirmed that hunter-gatherers who exploited wild vegetable-oil resources were living in the African tropical rain forest in the 11th millennium BC, during Pleistocene times (Mercader 1997).
Today, hunter-gatherers might not consume as much wild food, simply because it is less work to obtain cultivated foods through trade. Thus, Efe Pygmy huntergatherers and Lese farmers in the Ituri Forest have become economically interdependent. The Efe exchange wild meat, honey, medicines, and their labor for crops that the Lese raisesuch as manioc, plantains, rice, and peanutsand for such items as metal tools, cloth, and pots (Wilkie 1988). Despite this symbiosis, the Efe have maintained their separate ethnic identity and cultural ways, if not their language. They have had a limited effect on the forest, scarcely more permanent or disruptive of ecosystem functioning than are the natural processes of forest disturbance.
The same might not be true of all hunter-gatherers. The aborigines that once inhabited Kangaroo Island in Australia, for example, had a marked impact on the forest. Well before the Europeans arrived, they had transformed naturally occurring thickets on the mainland into open woodlands (Harlan 1995). Elsewhere in Australia, native peoples flooded forests and built ditches to increase the abundance of wild plants and fish. They also dug up yams of the genus Dioscorea so intensively that the churned-up fields “resembled plowed fields” (Harlan 1995:11). Other “advanced” hunter-gatherers planted seeds, fertilized with ashes, settled in villages, and reached high population densities without domesticating either plants or animals. Only when and if their manipulative practices involved the deliberate selection and enhancement of useful traits in plant populationsaltering their genetic makeupcan we talk of plant domestication. The initial stages of this process are known as horticulture, and its later stages as fully developed agriculture.
Ancient Agricultural Developments.
Continental differences in the availability of plants and animals suitable for domestication presumably led to very different early patterns of food procurement and production in different regions of the world (Diamond 1997). Actually, a very small number of plant species provide the bulk of the food consumed by the world's population. Common opinion has it that none of the major crops originated in tropical foreststhat most economically important plants came from areas with low species diversity, such as the Middle East (or southwestern Asia), Eurasia, Mesoamerica, the Andes, and North Africa. Grains belonging to the grass family (for example, wheat, maize, rice, millet, and sorghum) and legumes (for example, beans, peas, peanuts, or groundnuts) all were cultivated first in independent centers of domestication that had marked dry and wet periods. Moreover, the five major big herbivores that were domesticated in the Old World had the same original distributions as the staple plants: sheep and goats from western Asia, and cattle, pigs, and horses from Eurasia and North Africa.
Recent evidence suggests, however, that the tropics did not lag behind other centers of early plant domestication (Friedberg 1996). In the highlands of New Guinea, native species of taro, bananas, and yams might have been domesticated by 9,000 years ago (Bayliss-Smith 1966:507–8; Golson 1997). In the tropics of southwestern Ecuador, Colombia, and Panama, squash (Cucurbita), maize, bottle gourd, avocado, and lerén (Sp.), or Calathea, a minor root or tuber crop, and perhaps also Maranta (arrowroot) were being planted by horticulturists between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago (Piperno and Pearsall 1998:182–227). In the southern Guianas, northeastern Brazil, and the Orinoco Venezuelan region, indirect evidence suggests that manioc and sweet potatoes also might have been cultivated early (Piperno and Pearsall 1998:230–2 table 4.5). Thus, in those tropical areas and perhaps in other regions, such as tropical Africa, that are less well known archaeologically, food production could have been more precocious than was thought previously.
In any case, complex centralized states and stratified chiefdoms eventually also flourished in those tropical areas. Some examples are the ancient Maya civilization of Mesoamerica, the chiefdoms of Central America and northwestern South America, the Mon Khmer states of Cambodia, the African forest kingdoms of Ghana and Nigeria, and the Polynesian chiefdoms of Hawaii and Tahiti. When Europeans reached the Old World and New Old World tropics, they encountered an amazing array of diverse peoples whose cultural accomplishments rivaled those of nontropical indigenous groups. Many of those cultures did not survive the diseases and destruction wrought on them by the newcomers. Thus, present conditions reflect poorly the great diversity that once existed among tropical-forest societies.
People of the Tropical Forests
As I already indicated, the biological diversity of tropical forests is not the same around the world. Has that affected the number of societies that various forest
ecosystems could support? A crude estimate, based on the number of ethnographically described groups that inhabit or in the recent past inhabited the main tropical areas of the world, reveals that it has not. Tropical America and tropical Africa are home to 434 and 445 ethnic groups, respectively; Southeast Asia and the Pacific (excluding Australia) harbor an additional 539 groups (Price 1990). Although humans have developed broadly similar types of ecological and economic adaptations in all three regions, a great deal of cultural diversity occurs at the local level. For example, the members of 46 households in a single Amazonian village (Santa Rosa, on the Ucayali River of Peru) practice 12 distinct types of agriculture and employ 39 strategies of resource use that they constantly modify over the short term (Padoch and de Jong 1992). In all these cases, cultural diversity can occur at inter-ethnic as well as intra-ethnic levels.
Let us return to the so-called Pygmies of central Africa. At least 10 ethnolinguistically distinct populations of these foragers are found unevenly distributed throughout the Congo Basin and adjacent areas. They differ markedly in subsistence and settlement patterns, as they do in other cultural aspects (Hewlett 1996). For example, the Efe hunt with bows, the Mbuti and Aka with nets, and the Baka with spears. Among the net hunters, female Mbuti participate in the hunt, but female Aka do not. Whereas the Efe and the Baka spend 4–5 months a year in the forest and camp close to villages, the Mbuti and Aka spend as long as 8 months in the forest, camp far away, and eat less food from the village. Although all these groups rely to some extent on cultivated foods today, they still make extensive use of diverse forest resources. Thus, the Mbuti of the Ituri Forest use more than 100 species of plants and over 200 species of animals for food, even though a much smaller number of species provide the bulk of their diet. In fact, the four distinct groups of Mbuti foragers have different cultural preferences for different foods (Ichikawa 1993). Research on these African foragers therefore suggests that as much cultural variability exists within the same ethnic group as between groups: the locus of diversity is not only cross-cultural but also intracultural. This diversity is only loosely related to the specific resources at hand. It also must be explained with reference to particular historical experiences that have shaped social processes, such as the systems of belief, the technologies used, and the division of labor by gender.
Turning now to Southeast Asia, a few distinct groups of hunter-gatherers remain in the tropical forests of Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Sumatra, and Borneo. On the island of Borneo, for example, live the Penan, who hunt wild boar and other animals and collect a wide variety of plants for food, especially the starch of the sago palm, which they prune regularly; they also use plants for shelter and craft materials (Hutterer 1998). Like most Southeast Asian and African foragers, the Penan rely on exchanges with their agricultural neighbors, trading mats and baskets for rice. Like many other foragers, they are struggling to save their forests. Other Southeast Asian groups exchange wild meat, resins, beeswax, medicinal plants, and other forest products with agriculturalists, even though they have the resources and know-how to survive solely on wild food species. Hence,
their adaptations to the forest are not only highly variable, but also different from those of their pre-agricultural ancestors thousands of years ago.
Amazonia is a third large tropical area where very diverse groups of humans still rely heavily on wild forest products that are hunted, gathered, and fished, in addition to the practice of slash-and-burn cultivation. Their knowledge of the forest is vast and accurate. It is believed that the Yanomami of Venezuela could have subsisted on wild products alone, provided that they remained numerically small, mobile, and able to exploit the diversity of microenvironments in their habitat (Good 1995). The Yuqui of lowland Bolivia might have remained true foragers until relatively recently, exploiting the patchwork dynamics of the forest through constant mobility, overlapping sexual roles, and active sharing of information (Stearman 1995). Their fine-tuned knowledge of the fruiting phenology of plants and the feeding behavior of animals sees them though periods of resource scarcity. Their Tupi-Guaraní relatives, the neighboring Siriono, were also primarily a trekking society before they became sedentary in the 1940s and 1950s. Although wild game is still very important in their diet, the Siriono make their camps on artificial mounds that were built up by previous horticulturalists in the midst of seasonally flooded lowlands (bajuras Sp.; Holmberg 1960). On these abandoned mounds, the Siriono gather the semidomesticated palms and fruit trees that had been planted by their predecessors (Balée 1995). Hence, like most foraging groups today, the Siriono no longer rely entirely on wild products from the forest.
Swidden or Slash-and-Burn Agriculture
Despite enormous variation, swidden cultivation (the temporary clearing of forested land to grow crops)also known as shifting cultivation, long-term fallow cultivation, and so onstill prevails in parts of the tropics around the world where population densities are relatively low and land is available for rotational forms of agriculture. The system is essentially the same everywhere it is practiced. During the dry season, the forest (usually secondary) is cleared, and trees are felled. Then the vegetation is burned just before the rains begin, and various plants are planted on the ashes in a manner that generally imitates the wild vegetation they replace (Harris 1972). In fact, “by substituting a diverse assemblage of cultivated plants for the wild species of the forest this type of polycultural conuco stimulates much more closely than monocultural plots do the structure and dynamics of the natural forest ecosystem” (Harris 1971:481). The same parcel may be cultivated for 2–3 years and then lie fallow for 5–20 years to restore its fertility. Not only soil depletion, but also weed growth and insect pests can force farmers to clear new land. The need for fallow periods requires that large tracts of land be held in reserve. In terms of labor input per unit time, however, swidden cultivation is often more productive than more labor-intensive methods of permanent cropping.
Those general statements aside, it is important to emphasize that people use a great array of planting techniques, crop combinations, and rotational practices in their swidden systems, even within the same general area. In West Africa, for example, the Sakata of the Democratic Republic of the Congo clear and burn
plots in the forest, sparing such economically useful trees as the kola and the oil palm (Grove and Klein 1979). They then plant manioc or cassava, maize, plantains, and bananas on mounds and abandon each plot after 3 years of use. They also grow vegetables, sweet potatoes, and other crops in gardens near their dwellings. In contrast, the Zande, who also live in the Congo, plant groundnuts and maize, finger millet, sorghum, and other minor crops. Although they might plant manioc in the third year, they are more dependent on grain crops than the Sakata are. It is difficult to find swidden farmers anywhere in tropical Africa who do not grow commercial crops as well, on a more permanent basis, such as oil palms, cocoa, coffee, and tea in the highlands. Growing single crops (monocrops) for the export market can increase the number of diverse groups that can live in a given region, but it can also reduce considerably the diversity of crops grown for subsistence purposes.
Swidden cultivation is still practiced widely in some tropical areas of the Indo-Malayan region (Aubaile-Sallenave 1997; Spencer 1966). Well known among swidden agriculturists are the Hanunóo of Mindoro in the Philippines, who grow or grew at least 430 cultivars, 40 or more of which can be planted in the same swidden plot, in parcels that they cultivated for 3 years and allowed to lie fallow for 8 years (Conklin 1957). Other, less well-known groups, like the Gidra of Papua New Guinea, are also swidden cultivators. The Gidra who live in inland villages rely on starch from the sago palm and meat from wild animals, whereas those who live in riverine villages rely more on garden crops and fishing (Ohtsuka 1996). Until recently, the former adaptation was the more successful of the two, but the sale of garden crops and the adoption of modern fishing technologies has conferred advantages to the riverine adaptation; this is another example of how intraethnic diversity can be created by outside influences.
The Kuikuru of central Brazil not only can name 191 trees, but also display an intimate knowledge of the multiple uses of 138 of themmany of them palmsincluding their role in feeding the animals that they hunt (Carneiro 1988). The Kuikuru cultivate 11 varieties of bitter manioc plus maize and several other food crops in swidden plots that average 0.61 hectare (1.5 acres), which they carefully plant and weed for 3 years, then abandon for as long as 25 years (Carneiro 1961). Kuikuru gardens produce 4–5 tons of manioc tubers per acre per year. Enough forest is available for clearing within walking distance of any village for settlements to be permanent. When the 150 or so inhabitants of a village change location, it is not for ecological reasons but for internal social pressures, most often disputes. Thus, as long as the population remains relatively small and the forest large, the swidden systems of the Kuikuru and some other Amazonian groups do not necessarily destroy the natural vegetation, even though they inevitably alter the species composition of the forest.
That does not mean, however, that all Amerindian tropical groups were equally well adapted to their environment. The Trumai, who lived along the Upper Xingu River in Brazil, not far from the Kuikuru, were much less successful. When they were first contacted by Europeans in the late 1930s, the total population was only 43 (25 in 1955 and possibly none today), and their tiny manioc gardens, of less than 0.2 hectare (0.5 acre) each, were barely large enough to feed their
households (Murphy and Quain 1955). Constantly under attack from their neighbors, and lacking leadership and strong kin ties, their community was breaking down despite their not having had face-to-face contact with Western society. Although introduced diseases had reduced their numbers, the recentness of their move into the region from the Southeast was the principal factor in their demise. Ecological conditions could not have differed greatly between the two regions, but the Trumai had not yet formed alliances through marriage and political ties with neighboring groups that would have permitted them to live peacefully in this ethnically diverse area. Hence, the particular social history of an individual group, including its relations with its neighbors, and not only environmental constraints or direct contact with nonindigenous peoples, can contribute substantially to the shape of its future.
Indigenous Forms of Agricultural Intensification
Agricultural production can be increased by applying ever larger amounts of labor to improving small parcels that are cropped permanently, rather than by enlarging the amount of land that is cultivated. Many agricultural peoples in the tropics, including swidden farmers, also practice some form of more intensive permanent cultivation. Frequently, they make small, permanent house gardens (also called home or dooryard gardens), in which they plant a diversified mixture of trees, vines, bushes, grains, root crops, medicinal plants, and spices, and fertilize them with kitchen debris and animal dung. House gardens play an important ecological and economic role. For example, among the Ibo of eastern Nigeria, who are short of land, a compound garden is a diverse plant community that can include 60 species, including tubers, vegetables, maize, small and large trees, and palms (Ruthenberg 1976). Although it occupies scarcely 2% of the land farmed by the Ibo household, the garden produces half the crops consumed. In Java, the house garden is also a complex and dynamic ecosystem made up of tuberous plants at ground level, bushes and small trees (such as papaya and banana) at the middle levels, and tall fruit trees at the upper level. A closed canopy helps to control weeds and lessens erosion, and the decaying vegetation produces fertilizer, imitating natural-forest dynamics and causing minimal environmental degradation. Here, anywhere from 15 to 75% of the land may be dedicated to gardens that provide more than 40% of the caloric requirements of the household and more than 20% of its monetary income (Stoler 1978). On the other extreme are the groups of rural Jola in southern Senegal who do not make house gardens at all or, if they live near towns, grow introduced, foreign vegetables, mostly for sale in the market rather than for household use.
Agroforestry is a variant of the house-garden option; by incorporating trees into the agricultural landscape, it also reproduces the structure and dynamics of the natural forest. In Indonesia, for example, fruit trees of local forest species often are cultivated, as are bamboo, useful fibers, and so forth, all of which are only slightly modified genetically (Michon and Bompard 1987). Indeed, many of the species in these special forests are protected and tended but not necessarily planted deliberately. These systems often surround the village, linking the
agrarian landscape with the natural forest. In southern Sumatra, agroforestry accounts for more than half the territory and is based on multiple species of treesin some areas more than 300. This culturally created forest might have a greater biomass than the “natural” forest has (400–700 trees/hectare, compared with 500 trees/hectare, respectively), and they are similar in density and structure. The wood, resins, fibers, and so forth from these trees bring monetary revenue, and the fruits are used as complementary food.
In central Sumatra, planting trees, or favoring their spontaneous regeneration, legitimizes a farmer's rights to productive land. Customary rules dictate that “the land near the lake belongs to those who make it fruitful” (Aumeeruddy 1994:23). If productive treesincluding commercial timber species, coffee, and cinnamonare not grown in these highly diverse agroforest gardens, the land will be taken back by local community authorities, namely the customary chiefs, and assigned to others. In pioneer fronts, however, collective control of scarce resources is weak or nonexistent. Wealthy farmers are cutting down the forest to plant profitable cash crops. Monocrops are now being grown on hillside areas where a wise and carefully managed complex agroforestry system would have prevented the rampant erosion that is now menacing the fragile soils. This is one more example of how profit can compromise future productivity.
Among the Chiripa, a Guaraní people living in Paraguay, agroforestry has taken a different course than in Indonesia. The Chiripa integrate subsistence gardening and hunting with commercial harvesting from the forest of yerba mate leaves, which are used to make a kind of tea that is drunk widely by Paraguayans. “Rather than simply harvesting foliage, however, yerbateros have developed techniques that protect the standing trees and promote the growth of new ones” (Reed 1995:27). Stages in the production cyclefirst gardens, then fallows that are still managed for food, and finally treesreplicate the natural succession of tropical ecosystems. Unlike their nonindigenous, mestizo neighbors who work as hired labor in such enterprises as logging under a coercive patronage system, Chiripa yerbateros belong to independent communities that comprise nuclear families integrated through bilateral kin ties and affiliation to elderly religious leaders. These enduring social institutions are not simply defined by productive relations; they are the principal explanation of why and how the Chiripa have survived as an ethnic group. Thus, agroforestry can allow indigenous peoples to participate in the national economy without irreversible damage to the environment, provided that they have the right social institutions in place.
In some societies, the entire farming system can rely on intensive techniques. The Kofyar of the Jos Plateau in Nigeria enhanced the natural productivity of the soil by making permanent, terraced homestead fields where crops are intermixed and heavily fertilized with dung from corralled goats. With no more than simple tools, small, independent Kofyar households can grow most of the family food (Netting 1968). The Jola of Senegal and other peoples living on the swampy coastal lands of the Upper Guinea coast cultivate wet (irrigated) rice in permanent diked paddy fields that are annually transplanted on with a single crop (Linares 1981). An individual family owns parcels in all the important sections of the rice fields, improving soil fertility by careful tilling and controlling water
quality by diking and draining. Through centuries of careful experimentation, the Jola have developed multiple varieties (landraces) of the West African rice species Oryza glaberrima, to which they have added introduced varieties of the Asian species Oryza sativa, thus staggering harvest time and other labor requirements and spreading the risk of failure if precipitation is insufficient. As among the Kofyar, land among the Jola is privately owned but inalienable, and production is organized on the basis of independent nuclear households that exchange labor rather than extended households or larger lineages (Linares 1992). These social organizational features can, in fact, be shared by other intensive farmers elsewhere.
The rice economies of East and Southeast Asia vary in the intensity with which they use land, labor, and capital, but most farmers grow at least two crops a year, using household or family labor, exchange organizations, and irrigation societies (Bray 1986). Rice cultivation is used as the basis of economic diversification into commercial cropping and manufacturing. The combination of rice, fish, and silk production creates an enriched, diversified ecosystem capable of sustaining very high population densities (as in Java with 600 persons/km2).
The examples discussed above suggest that most tropical forests have been inhabited by humans for a long time; to one degree or another, these forests are anthropogenic, having been transformed through human agency. Everywhere, indigenous groups have developed diverse and ingenious techniques to incorporate the biological diversity inherent in tropical forests into cultural patterns of resource use. Regardless of whether they are hunter-gatherers or intensive agriculturalists, some of their practices have had little effect on the environment and others have greatly modified it. In all instances, the particular lifeways that have emerged are a product of historical processes of cumulative social change and continuing adaptation. Culture is not in any simple way determined by nature, but rural economies are doubtless forged in the mutual interaction of humans with the diverse ecosystems that they occupy. In the process of engaging nature, indigenous farmers have created hundreds of varieties of cultivated plants (landraces), thus increasing food security through plant genetic diversity that confers resistance to pests, pathogens, and adverse climatic conditions. That is only one of the many ways in which local peoples have actually increased diversity.
Clearly, then, indigenous peoples have the capacity to transform tropical rainforest environments without destroying their biodiversity. “Cultural knowledge leads to different land-management practices that increase biological diversityprotection of sacred forests, building and maintaining hedgerows, planting a diversity of crops and varieties, and protecting plants in the forest” (Brush 1996:2–3). Such practices are generally sustainable as long as population numbers are kept down and land continues to be plentiful or as long as access by densely settled peoples to scarce resources, such as fertile soils, is carefully managed for the common good. Even under ideal conditions, however, examples of tropical forest peoples who misuse resources can be cited: in the Amazon, they overexploit game and fish populations; in Northern Luzon, they deforest (Lawless 1978); in the
Upper Guinea coast, during years of drought, they cut down and burn palm groves to grow rice (Beye and Eychenne 1990). But those instances do not add up to a worldwide systematic and massive assault by native peoples on their resource base.
Before the 1950s, deforestation rates in the world's low-latitude tropical forests were “of negligible proportions” (Jones and Hollier 1997:317). Since then, conditions have changed; the world's tropical forests and the people living within them are increasingly under threat from overpopulation; from land-hungry peasants, unskilled migrants, loggers, miners, and cattle ranchers; from government projects to build roads and dams; and from commercial plantations and crop monocultures. Cultural diversity is being reduced even faster than biological diversity. Within the next century, 90% of the world's languages might disappear (Krauss 1992; Maffi 1998). It is estimated that in Brazil alone there were 230 indigenous cultures in 1900 but only 87 in 1957 (Sponsel 1995). With the loss of lives goes the loss of cultural knowledge about the forest and the myriad beneficial uses to which people can put its plants and animals as food, medicines, dyes, fibers, industrial materials, and so forth. But the forest itself is also disappearing fast. Close to 3 million hectares of Amazon forest are being cut down every year. Between 1990 and 2020, tropical deforestation might wipe out 5–15% of the world's 10 million species of plants and animals, or a yearly loss of 15,000–50,000 species (Reid and Miller 1989:37). If forest alterations by logging and surface fires are taken into account, however, the present rate of annual deforestation in Brazil's Amazonian region may be underestimated by a factor of 35–50% (Nepstad and others 1999). Doubtless, we are facing cultural and biological extinction rates of unprecedented magnitude.
There are no easy, blanket solutions to halt this destruction, for it is rooted in intractable socioeconomic problems having to do with overpopulation, poverty, neglect, exploitation, and commercial greed. Added to these is the precarious and ambiguous juridical status in which indigenous groups in the African, Asian, and American tropics find themselves (Grenand 1993). What seems evident, however, is that whatever diversity is inherent in tropical forests can be protected only by using diverse means and methods, to be applied alone or in combination, often case by case, with the full participation and empowerment of the local populations affected. In most instances, farmers must be compensated for safeguarding, in situ, crop genetic diversity (Orlove and Brush 1996; Wilkes 1991). In other instances, new forms of gaining a livelihood must be found for people living in protected areas; and educational opportunities must be extended to them (Redford and Mansour 1996). In many cases, local populations must be granted secure land rights before they are willing to conserve their patrimony. Intellectual-property protection and prospecting contracts for indigenous communities might work in some cases (Brush and Stabinsky 1996; Greaves 1994). Nonetheless, caution should be exercised in this connection (Cleveland and Murray 1997). Governments in the developing world must enforce legislation that respects the rights of poor rural peoples and should offer them new incentives to develop productive and profitable farms. The increased use of such arrangements as debts for nature swaps and restrictive measuressuch as prohibiting the exploitation of particular trees for timber, imposing selective tariffs, taxing extractivist
activities, and outlawing illicit miningshould also help to ensure a wise use of the forest. And among the citizens of the industrial world, a less rapacious attitude toward the resources of their southern neighbors should be encouraged.
In every instance, the general rule should be “to put more faith in the rural population, the people whose way of life depends on how well they manage their biological resources” (McNeely and Ness 1996, p 64). Everywhere, but crucially in the world's tropical forests, fulfilling cultural needs and conserving biodiversity must proceed hand in hand.
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Endangered Plants, Vanishing Cultures:
Ethnobotany and Conservation
We live in a time of mass extinction of biological species. Although there is a public outcry over the demise of well-known species, such as whales or condors, the relentless extinction of species affects all taxonomic groups. May and others (1995) reported that 485 animal species and 585 plant species are known to have become extinct since 1600. Although this is an extremely high level of extinctionfor plants, the average rate of extinction is 0.5% of all species per centurywhat is more alarming is the increase in these rateshalf of all those extinctions occurred within the last century. As a result, the period from inception to demise of a bird or mammal species has been reduced from 5–10 million years to about 10,000 years (May and others 1995).
The creation and extinction of biological species is, of course, a natural process that occurs over evolutionary time. Those few living relics of earlier geological periods, be they coelacanths deep in the oceans or ancient conifers hidden in Australian valleys, are quite properly regarded as objects of curiosity. It is not the fact of extinction, but the acceleration of extinction that concerns conservation biologists. If present trends continue, future generations will inherit a planet of greatly reduced biological diversity. Although this is not the first mass extinction caused by peopleone need think only of extinctions of birds in Hawaii or Pleistocene extinctions of mastodons in North America (Martin and Wright 1967; Pimm and others 1995)ours is the first known human-induced mass extinction of plants. Botanists are particularly troubled about the extinction of plant species,
because, with only a few exceptions, plants form the foundation of all known ecosystems. Plants also constitute the major sources of food, medicine, and building materials throughout the world and have strongly influenced the trajectory of human civilization (Balick and Cox 1997).
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently lists 12% of the world's plant species as threatened with extinction. This figure is almost certainly an underestimate, in that the IUCN lists only species known to science. With the rapid destruction of tropical rain forests, ecosystems in which roughly one new plant species is discovered for every hundred collected, many unknown plant species are disappearing. If current rates of extinction continue, nearly half of all plant species worldwide will disappear in 3,000 years (May and others 1995).
What has driven this high rate of extinction? The oft-cited ultimate causes are deforestation, pollution, and growth of the human population, but little is known about the proximal processes that lead to extinctions of plants. Sometimes the fate of an entire species can hinge on small things. We are just beginning to understand how the loss of small insects, birds, flying mammals, and other pollinators and seed dispersers can lead in turn to extinctions of plants (Bond 1995; Buchmann and Nabhan 1996). Temple (1977), for example, argued that the extinction of dodos (Raphus spp.) in the Mascarene Islands led to a lack of dispersal and germination of seeds for Sideroxylon trees. At this point, no new seedlings of Sideroxylon are being produced in nature.
In oceanic islands that have limited guilds of pollinators, loss of pollinators can affect plant assemblages dramatically, affecting major structural components of the rain forest and creating cascades of linked extinctions. In Samoa, more than half of all canopy-level trees depend on flying foxes of the genus Pteropus for pollination (Banack 1998). When the flying foxes began to disappear because of commercial hunting and destruction of habitat, biologists became concerned that their loss could lead ultimately to loss of the Samoan rain forest (Cox and others 1991). An urgent appeal was made to the 108 signatory nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, who responded by banning international traffic in Samoan flying foxes (Pteropus samoensis). The US Congress also used the finding about the importance of flying foxes as pollinators as a justification for granting national-park status to several areas in American Samoa, a US territory (Cox 1997a).
Many extinctions of pollinators occurred before protective legislation had been envisioned. In Hawaii, the native Hawaiian birds that had pollinated the flowering vine Freycinetia arborea became extinct in the late 19th century, but pollination was continued by the Japanese white-eye, Zosterops japonica, an introduced species (Cox 1983).
Another cause of extinctions of plants, particularly in oceanic islands, is the introduction of exotic species. Introductions of beneficial plants to islands seem to be the exception rather than the rule, so it should be no surprise that half the plants (263 of 553) on the endangered species list in the United States are from Hawaii. Recent exotic plant introductions to Hawaii, such as Clidemia, pose grave threats to native plants, particularly in the aftermath of hurricanes or forest fires,
a pattern that occurs throughout Oceania. In Samoa, introduced weeds, such as Mikania micrantha, have slowed dramatically the regeneration of native forests from hurricanes (Elmqvist and others 1994). This vulnerability of island flora to foreign weeds long has been known.
From the extraordinary manner in which European productions have recently spread over New Zealand and have seized on places which must have been previously occupied, we may believe, if all the animals and plants of Great Britain were set free in New Zealand, that in the course of time a multitude of British forms would become thoroughly naturalized there, and would exterminate many of the natives. Yet the most skilful naturalist from an examination of the species of the two countries could not have foreseen this result [Darwin 1859].
Although a skillful naturalist might not have foreseen the extirpation of native New Zealand's species as a result of the introduction of exotic competitors, Darwin learned in New Zealand that native Maoris predicted not only biological extinctions but also cultural extirpations. “As the white man's rat has driven away the native rat, so the European fly drives away our own, and the clover kills our fern, so will the Maoris disappear before the white man himself” (Crosby 1986). Clearly, the Maoris foresaw early the link between biological extinction and cultural loss.
A variety of animal species ranging from social insects to chimpanzees can be said to have societal structures complete with communication systems, but human cultures are distinguished by the complexity of the languages used. The ability to use language, symbolic systems of vocalization that have sophisticated grammar and syntax, is one of the characteristics of our species. As a species, we have used language for at least 40,000 years and perhaps far longer.
Just like biological species and populations, languages vary in range and size. Some, like Mandarin, are spoken by millions and even billions of people, while others, such as the Eyak language of Alaska, are limited to one or two living individuals (Krauss 1992). Just like species, languages originate in different ways but eventually become extinct or significantly altered. Within the last century, Bishlama, a pidgin language spoken in Vanuatu, has arisen, whereas Dalmatian, a Romance language, ended when the last native speaker died. The current lingua franca of international commerce and scholarship is English, like Latin, Arabic, and Greek before it; but if the historical pattern of change continues, this role in the future likely will be accorded to some other tongue, such as Mandarin, Hindi, or Japanese.
Many parallels exist between languages and species. Just as museums catalog Tasmanian tigers or passenger pigeons, so do linguists attempt to classify and display extinct languages. Hattic, Sumerian, and Etruscan once were spoken widely among flourishing populations in Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and Northwestern Italy, respectively, but these languages now survive only in clay tablets, stone inscriptions, and ancient scrolls. Like European bison, which are extinct in the wild but
protected in zoos, Latin, Sanskrit, and other “dead” languages are cared for lovingly by scholars.
The analogy between endangered species and endangered languages is not perfectunlike biological species, languages once extinct can still be revivedbut the correspondence is closer than might be thought. As the number of species is an indicator of the planet's ecological health, so is the number of languages a manifestation of the world's cultural diversity. As the declining number of species alarms biologists, so does the vanishing number of languages dismay linguists. Krauss has estimated that of the 6,000 languages present at the beginning of our century, half have disappeared. By considering languages to be “endangered” if they are no longer being learned by small children, Krauss (1992) believes that the coming century “will see either the death or doom of 90% of mankind's languages.”
As the rate of extinction of species is but a crude index to the actual loss of the world's genetic diversity, so is the rate of disappearance of languages only a rough estimate of the world's vanishing cultural diversity. If we accept that both the biological and cultural diversity of the world are imperiled, then it seems that ethnobiology, the study of the interaction between human culture and biodiversity, will assume increasing importance in the future.
Given the reliance of human cultures on biodiversity, it should not be surprising that the individual who invented the binomial system of nomenclature that underlies modern assessments of biodiversity also invented the field of ethnobotany, which provides the intellectual foundation for assessing interactions between cultural and biological diversity. In 1732, a young botanist in Uppsala, Sweden, became consumed with wanderlust. Unlike other students of his time, he decided to travel not to the academic centers of Europe, but to learn directly from indigenous peoples. “I set out alone from the city of Uppsala on Friday, May 12, 1732, at eleven o'clock,” Carl Linnaeus wrote in his journal with characteristic precision, “being at that time within half a day of twenty-five years of age.” Equipped with only 400 copper dalers from the Swedish Royal Society, a plant press, a hand lens, a fowling piece, and a change of clothes, Linnaeus began a 5,000-kilometer, 5-month-long journey to the land of the midnight sun. As the Galapagos were well surveyed before Darwin's arrival, so had Lapland been well mapped and explored before Linnaeus commenced his journey. The scientific significance of the travels of both Darwin and Linnaeus stemmed not from the novelty of the itineraries, but from the originality of the questions that they pursued.
The complete record of Linnaeus's journey to Lapland can be found only in his foolscap diary, which is carefully protected in the vault of the Linnaean Society in London. Written in Swedish and Latin, filled with sketches and notes, the handwritten travel diary of Linnaeus was never intended for publication. An abridgment of his diary was not published until 33 years after his death, first in
English, then, 78 years later, in Swedish. The diary is of enormous historical importance. “I here made the following observations relative to the remedies used by the Laplanders,” Linnaeus penned on July 4, 1732, at the beginning of the first recorded interview of an indigenous healer by a trained botanist.
Previous botanists, such as Rauwolf and Rumphius, had returned from distant lands with accounts of the use of plants by local peoples, but Linnaeus's journey to Lapland in 1732 was the first time that a trained botanist had traveled to another land with the express purpose of interviewing indigenous people about their use and perceptions of plants. Although the term ethnobotany was not coined until a century and a half later by Harshberger (Balick and Cox 1997), the ethnobotanical field techniques pioneered by Linnaeus continue to provide evidence of the biological sophistication of indigenous peoples. Although it waned in the 1970s, ethnobotany has become reinvigorated and popularized. Ethnobotanical research methods vary (Martin 1995), but on one point nearly all modern ethnobotanists agree: indigenous knowledge about plants and animals is vanishing throughout the world.
The historical importance of ethnobotany in drug-discovery programs, coupled with new screening techniques, has generated an explosion of interest not only in the ethnobotanical approach to drug discovery, but also in related issues of indigenous intellectual-property rights (Cox 1990, 1995, 1997b; Cox and Balick 1994; Greaves 1994; Reid and others 1993). The potential importance of using indigenous knowledge to unlock the benefits of biological diversity is what led the international community to include preservation of traditional knowledge in the Convention on Biological Diversity drafted in Rio de Janeiro.
Linnaeus not only invented modern botanical nomenclature and ethnobotany; he also served as a pioneer of conservation. “I do not know how the world could persist gracefully if but a single animal species were to vanish from it,” Linnaeus wrote in his journal. Today many people around the world share Linnaeus's view of the importance of conservation. Perhaps one of the most important manifestations of that sentiment in recent years was the Convention on Biological Diversity, commonly known as the Rio Treaty, which now has been signed by 161 different nations.
Although this convention emphasizes international responsibilities to protect the environment, its article 8j discusses the need to conserve traditional knowledge. This article mandates that, subject to national legislation, each signatory nation will “respect, preserve, and maintain knowledge, innovations, and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations, and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge, innovations, and practices.” The parties to the convention thus commit to three major obligations:
• to respect, preserve, and maintain traditional knowledge;
• to promote wide application of traditional knowledge, with the approval and the involvement of the holders of such knowledge; and
• to encourage equitable sharing of benefits from traditional knowledge.
Properly implemented, article 8j of the convention can be a powerful tool in protecting both biological and cultural diversity. Although as some have pointed out (Glowka and others 1994), a narrow reading of article 8j could suggest that these obligations can be obviated through national legislation, but originally this provision sought to avoid inadvertent conflict with national laws that were in place before the convention was signed, such as proscriptions against administration of traditional ordeal poisons.
Different nations can point to different ways that they are implementing article 8j. In Japan, skilled practitioners of traditional knowledge are considered “living treasures,” a rather explicit demonstration of the respect for traditional knowledge required under article 8j. This concept could be expanded in other countries to include weavers, healers, shipwrights, or others who serve as custodians of traditional knowledge. Sweden has sought to preserve and maintain traditional knowledge by launching a national survey of folk knowledge about Swedish plants and animals. The resulting multivolume work will be published by the Swedish Biodiversity Centre in Uppsala and a consortium of Swedish museums and universities. Regional museums in particular have demonstrated an important ability to involve Swedish citizens beyond the confines of traditional academe. Thailand has sought to promote wide application of traditional knowledge by educating its citizens about traditional Thai medicine. Mahidol University has produced a series of informative books and a filmstrip designed to be shown in schools and to community groups. Belize seeks to encourage equitable sharing of benefits from traditional knowledge by granting oversight of a rain-forest preserve to an organization of traditional healers. Proceeds from a book on traditional medicine and from a line of “rain-forest remedies” are used to provide pensions to healers (Balick and Cox 1997).
Although the US Congress has yet to ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity, indications are clear that it supports the provisions of article 8j. Congress required that a new national park in American Samoa be managed with the input of an advisory council of village chiefs. Nominees to the council convened in 1998 at the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Hawaii to discuss rules for the park. In addition, the US House of Representatives recently passed the Tropical Forest Conservation Act of 1998 (HR 2870), which not only facilitates the exchange of international debts for conservation of rain forests, but also requires consultation with indigenous peoples in the use of funds for conservation.
The Role of Botanical Gardens in Ethnobotany
Clearly, all these efforts depend on the ability to document traditional and indigenous knowledge and to identify the custodians of such knowledge. This
in turn highlights the need to provide far broader opportunities for ethnobotanical training in the future. Yet, with the exception of a few institutions, such as the Autonomous National University of Mexico, universities have been slow to fill the breach. Although interest in ethnobotany has expanded rapidly among students, universities have been slow to present ethnobotany among the traditional academic disciplines. Pharmacognosy courses, which can provide a stepping stone to ethnobotany, long since have disappeared from most pharmacy schools, and chairs in ethnobotany are rare in liberal-arts institutions. As a result, meetings of the Society for Economic Botany or the International Society for Ethnopharmacology are often attended by students of anthropology, botany, and chemistry who lack mentors in ethnobotany at their institutions. The minimal requirements for a program in ethnobotany include access to a well-curated herbarium and a good library, which is why attempts by the private sector (such as those by firms that produce herbal supplements or pharmaceutical firms) to launch research programs in ethnobotany so often fail.
Universities are not the only public institutions that have significant herbaria and libraries, however. Botanical gardens, particularly those with significant living collections, offer an untapped but potentially important resource for training ethnobotanists. In the summer of 1998, a pilot course in tropical botany and ethnobotany was cosponsored by the National Tropical Botanical Garden and the Swedish Biodiversity Centre. Students from Canada, Estonia, Ethiopia, Korea, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, and Tanzania were offered the opportunity to be trained by ethnobotanists, plant systematists, and resident Polynesian weavers and healers in a large species-diverse garden and its associated preserves. The course is expected to be offered annually to students from around the world, in addition to a specialist course in ethnobotany begun in 1999.
Both plant species and indigenous knowledge are disappearing at an alarming rate. The loss of plant species is particularly acute in oceanic islands, where as much as 50% of island flora is endangered. Folklore about plants might be disappearing even faster than the species themselves, as suggested by the loss of indigenous languages: half have disappeared in this century, and, of the remaining languages, 80% are endangered. Ethnobotany, which deals with the relationship between biological and cultural diversity, can play a crucial role in helping nations meet the obligations under article 8j of the Convention on Biodiversity to respect, maintain, and preserve traditional knowledge. Although universities have been slow to meet the demand for ethnobotanical training, botanical gardens offer a unique setting for students and custodians of traditional knowledge to meet and discuss strategies for protecting both species and cultural biodiversity. Most countries of the world have botanical gardens, and those gardens should work now to fill the breach in ethnobotanical training, emphasizing the relationship between endangered plants and vanishing cultures.
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Religion and Sustainability
Two of my environmental gurus, and also close friends, died this last year, just before Christmas. Carl Sagan and Laurens van der Post could not be more different, but they were equally passionate stargazers. Science and religion agree that we humans and the planet itself are made of stardust, so I offer these words on religion and sustainability in grateful memory of those remarkable latter-day astrologers.
Let me begin with a story about Sir Laurens that Larry Hughes told at van der Post's funeral in London on December 20, 1996. Larry was his American publisher of 37 years and 25 books, and the story took place on Laurens's second trip to New York, in 1961.
It was a summer evening and I was accompanying Laurens to a supper party. When we entered the large lobby of the building in which our host had an apartment, we saw three or four people excitedly running around trying to catch a pigeon which had flown in through the front door, but couldn't find its way out. Immediately, but in a very quiet way, Laurens took charge. He directed that someone open a back door which led out to a garden and that all of us stand absolutely still. Within minutes the pigeon flew down to the lobby floor and from about 10 feet away stood inspecting Colonel van der Post with that sideto-side movement that pigeons employ when sizing up a situation. Then the pigeon took one last look at this smartly dressed stranger, turned, and flew out the open back door into the garden. Am I imagining that Laurens spoke to this bird? I believe he did because I remember thinking ‘here we have Montgomery of Alamein and Francis of Assisi rolled into one’ (Hughes 1996).
Later, as I came to read and learn more about Laurens van der Post, I realized that communication with animals was a very natural part of his life. Can we forget his persuasive chat with that stubborn camel or his meeting with that tiger on a jungle trail, or his marvelous portrayal of Blady the horse, or of Mantis or Hintze, the African ridge-back? As the hunter in The Hunter and the Whale explained: One of the reasons why nature, and animals in particular, were so important to us today was because they are a reminder that we could live life not according to our own will, but to God's' (van der Post 1987).
Such is our context this afternoon: pigeons, humans, aquifers, apartment buildings and rain forests, stubborn camels, and starsin particular, the structural interdependence and interconnectedness of all creatures. “Inter” is today's buzzword for us because it is the necessary qualifier for everything that touches both sustainability and religion: interrelatedness, interdisciplinary, intercontinental, intergenerational, interracial, intercultural, interspecies, interfaithall interdependent, all interconnected. No manor womanis an island, especially in the age of the Internet.
I want to give you my particular twist in defining religion and sustainabilitythat specific environmental subset of ecology. And then, like every preacher, I will briefly outline what I will say, then say it, and then tell you what I have said.
Defining Religion and Sustainability
The etymology of the word religion is so utterly fundamental and simple that it surprises many people. It comes from the Latin verb religare, which means to connect, to join together, to assemble, to create connectedness, to create community. By definition, then, being religious means being inclusive, perhaps even being compulsive about the idea that no one, indeed nothing in Heaven or on Earth, is left out. This primary “action” definition of religion as “connecting” is my particular slant in contrast with defining religion as believing such-and-such. “Believing” comes much further down the line. Mine is the more primordial meaning of religion as community-building and maintenancegetting all the people together, keeping them together, and celebrating cosmic togetherness. I will speak of several generic and universal rituals of connecting that people all over the world have practiced since time immemorial and also of their manifold variations and often striking differences. But my point is to celebrate diversity in religious practices in the same way we celebrate the unique gifts that different trees bring to the forest and thereby save us from missing the forest for the trees or vice versa. Religion and ecology both deal with individual persons and individual trees but always in the context of connecting the whole creation, the whole forest.
In fact, this fundamental etymological closeness of religion and ecology has led several of my environmental pals to claim with a grin that ecology is the flip side of religion, maybe even the religion of the new millennium. We could do worse.
But if so-called secular ecology defines itself as the study of connectionsof how biological systems connect with each other and with their larger environmentwhen we come to the definition of sustainability, we plunge once again
into the incense-laden atmosphere of religion. Sustainability is the whistle-blower of ecology, the hard-nosed safeguard and guarantor of harmony and balance within a given “connectedness,” lest it become overwhelmed by one or a combination of factors. The precise mission of environmental sustainability is to monitor and turn around threats to harmony and balance due to overconsumption, overproduction, and overreproduction and, equally important, due to disrespect for human rights and disregard for Earth's regenerative capacities. But whistleblowing is also a cry for justice and compassion that overlaps with another function of religion, stretching from the Hebrew prophets to the two Martin Luthers on to Sadat and Rabin and Mandela and Rachel Carson and Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa.
In short, with the ancient rituals and connecting rhythms of the world's religions basically in synch with the music of modern-day ecology and sustainability, have we not just about got it made? Are not religion and ecology almost two sides of the same coin?
What Went Wrong?
Often a situation comes into focus instantly if we reverse gear or look at a negative photo print. For a few minutes, let us define “bad” religion and “non”sustainability. Immediately we see the drive to all-inclusiveness and interconnectedness turn into its oppositeto exclusiveness, to one community splitting into factions, to communion turning into excommunication, to Us versus Them, to words and credos speaking louder than actions and behavior. And on the environmental side, is not nonsustainability inevitable if life is driven by economic determinism and its three bedfellows of maximal production with cheapest resources, psychological advertising, and unlimited consumption? The Me Generation becomes the me cosmos, and mono crop is king. Exit biodiversity.
Time out for the depressing light of reality: If we ask Mr. and Mrs. America and the families of Japan and Europewe'll hold off asking Africa, the Far East, Latin America, and China for the momentif we ask these “developed” folks where in their lives they honestly rate the importance of religion and the crisis of the environment, I think the answers to both will be lukewarm. Of course, positive polls can be cited about “belief in God,” increased church attendance here and there, and even the recent inclusion of the word environment in national surveys of important issues facing humanity. But what seems lacking is any widespread dimension of urgency or immediacy. Instead, what appear to be dominant characteristics of modern religions in developed countries are their privatized and sectarian nature and their being optional, as in sports or collecting. In no sense today is religion recognized as a generic and given part of basic human reality, like breathing, eating, sex, communication, tools, and art. To put it simply, religion in recent years has been severely trivialized.
Similarly, most people's concern about environmental sustainability is on the back burner, but for different historical reasons. Since the 18th century, what we in the West have thought of as the environment has been largely subsumed under the abstract category of Nature with a capital N and therefore eternal, invisible
(apart from 18th-century landscape painting and new science), and just there as a stage and resource for the human project. Sustainability, let us remember, was virtually unheard of until 1992 and Rio de Janiero; and for most people it is still an unknown word.
The history of abstract Nature, structurally divorced as it was from concrete humanity, is similar to the history of light. That is why Marshall McLuhan put a photograph of a very concrete light bulb on the cover of his 1966 book The Medium Is the Message to awaken people to the all-pervasive, and therefore invisible, medium of light.
But it took an additional 22 years for the abstract environment to become visible and concrete for most people. Indeed, it took a series of four blockbuster events beginning in the sweltering hot summer of 1988 to accomplish this visibility. First, that lonely garbage barge as it wandered the oceans seeking a place to dump its cargo; second at the peak of the summer's heat wave, the closing of New York's public beaches because of the piles of smelly washed-up trash, hospital wastes, and orange peels; third, as shown in Newsweek's August 1988 cover drawing of the modern nuclear family (mom, pop, junior, and sis) sweating like pigs under a bell jar, “the greenhouse effect”; and fourth, as shown in Time's man-of-the-year December 31 issue with its lurid cover titled “Planet of the Year,” Christo's wrapped, deflated beach ball sporting the moonshot image of Earth, washed up and sagging on the shore.
Genesis of a New Global Environmental Forum
Now, back to a sense of urgency and immediacy. Even with the creation of Earth Day in 1970 and the valiant slugging efforts throughout the 1970s and 1980s of the environmental groups and of those relatively few scientists and activists and statesmen whom we all know, environmental concerns didn't begin to become priorities at the American breakfast table until 1988, for a variety of unplanned, serendipitous convergent reasons. In addition to the four media events of that hot 1988 summer just mentioned, one of the surprising alliances of 1988 was the remarriage of science and religion. Of course, as in most marriages today, there had already been a number of one-night stands and some closeted attempts at cohabitation. For example, Gregory Bateson, Rene Dubos, Margaret Mead, Carl Sagan, James Lovelock, and 2 dozen other environmental scientists and scholars had regularly preached at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine beginning in the 1970s. But I was considered an oddball in the tradition of my predecessor Dean James Pike and the famous Red Dean of Canterbury. According to hallowed English tradition, Anglican Cathedrals are often known as “Royal Peculiars.”
At any rate, because of this decade-long practice of using the pulpit of St. John the Divine as an open forum for environmental issues as religious issues, I had been approached in 1985 by a delegation of three wise men, headed by Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke, and including Claus Nobel and Akio Matsumura. All
three had worked for several years with global population issues involving parliamentarians and UN agencies. Now they had a new agenda and wanted my help to expand their population concern to include the full spectrum of environmental issues and to bring religious leaders worldwide into association with their band of global parliamentariansin short, to create a new global forum combining church and state, an obvious no-no both to the UN and to all so-called modern states.
I replied that I thought this was just what the world needed, especially if we invited major scientists to join the plot from the beginning. They agreed, and I immediately called my friend Carl Sagan for help.
We organized ourselves that year as a nonprofit called the Global Forum for Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders and set about planning our first meeting for spring 1988 in Christ Church College, Oxford. We all had agreed that it should take place in the most kosher setting possible. It was to be under the formal patronage of the archbishop of Canterbury on the religious side, joined by the Dalai Lama, Cardinal Koenig of Vienna, Mother Teresa, and the high priest of the African rain forest and on the political side by two senior senators, Sat Pal Mittal of India and Manuel Ulloa of Peru. Most astonishing was the arrival of a delegation from the Soviet Union that included archbishops, rabbis, imams, cosmonauts, the president of the Supreme Soviet, and Gorbachev's chief nuclear adviser, Evgeny Velikov, who headed up the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In all, 300 persons worked together under the huge banner of the planet seen from the moon: 100 sitting parliamentarians, 100 spiritual leaders, and 100 scientists, artists, and journalists. We were together for 4 full days; major addresses were by given by Sagan, Velikov, James Lovelock, Father Tom Berry, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama; and we closed with a banquet at Blenheim Palace, where Dr. King's right-hand organizer, the Rev. C. T. Vivian, offered the blessing, and Carl and I chatted over port about atheismour unending conversation.
I have treated the 1988 Oxford meeting at some length for two reasons. First, it really was the first major public viewing of environmental science, religion, and politics as partners in the common enterprise of living sustainably on Eartha solemn return to the way all the world had operated until the modern era. But second, and perhaps more important, the Oxford meeting had a substantial impact in the United States on the forthcoming remarriage of environment and religion. The two marriage brokers were Carl Sagan and his Russian colleague, Evgeny Velikov, who reported to Gorbachev that a meeting just like Oxford, only much bigger, should take place in Moscow as soon as possible. They told Gorbachev that it would re-educate Russian scientists, politicians, and religious leaders about how to work together to rehabilitate the dangerously degraded “Chernobylized” Russian environment. Gorbachev gave an immediate go-ahead (he was just approaching the zenith of his power in 1988) and scheduled a 5-day meeting for the second week in January 1990, when all his new election and restructuring procedures would be in place.
But while the Moscow preparations were zooming ahead, things were moving at a snail's pace in the American religious community with respect to any recognition of crisis, let alone action, on issues of sustainability, even after the hot
summer of 1988 with its garbage-strewn beaches and Newsweek and Time covers. I thought that the obvious course to follow was to go to the very top religious leaders with a blue-ribbon delegation of respected environmental true believers. Several polite meetings with the highest muckety-mucks actually took place, but eyes glazed amid confusion about the meaning of environmental stewardship. Were we talking about fund-raising stewardship as in churches and synagogues?
I was exasperated, and so was Paul Gorman, my sidekick and environmental partner at the cathedral. What next? We called Sagan and out of our shared frustration, a brilliant, totally different strategy was forged: To convert religious leaders, we decided to “lead with the enemy” and have Sagan recruit a small army of the world's most distinguished scientists, who would implore the religious leaders to join them in their urgent appeal to save the world. A one-paragraph cover letter signed by four impeccably placed national religious leaders paved the way and was followed by an impassioned appeal signed by 34 impeccable scientists with Sagan's name at the top of the list (Sagan and others 1988). And the miracle happened. All the top American religious leaders, deeply flattered, immediately signed up, and we had an instant Joint Appeal of Science and Religion sent to every minister, rabbi, and priest in the country (Hurst and others 1988).
As it turned out, our Machiavellian plans were providentially timedthe appeal letter had been mailed in November 1989, and replies arrived like Christmas cards just in time for presenting to the January 1990 meeting in Moscow.
Moscow Global Forum.
Indeed, the Moscow Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders was the full flowering of the seed planted at Oxford in 1988. Some 1,200 people sat for 5 full working days under the banner of planet Earth seen from the moon; the meeting was opened by UN Secretary General Perez de Cuellar, followed by keynotes from Elie Wiesel and Jim Grant of UNICEF; Senators Al Gore and Clayborne Pell and Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Tim Wirth all pushed the emergency button; 15 American 8th-graders attended with their 15 Moscow 8th-grader hosts; and a delegation of 55 indigenous religious leaders came from five continents. The expected tradeoff also occurred: nine Chinese delegates came on condition that the Dalai Lama not be invited. But on the last day, Carl Sagan and Evgeny Velikov asked all the assembled world religious leaders to join their American confreres and add their names to the “Joint Appeal of Religion and Science,” bringing the total to 300. And every session was opened by either a prayer or a chant or a moment of silent meditation from the religious traditions of the planet.
The meeting was extraordinary in its urgency and spirit. Artists made remarkable contributions, and vast amounts of vodka were joyously consumed in the midst of bureaucratic Moscow's predictable nonfunctionality: the telephone system, faxes, office supplies, and literally tons of fresh food all had to be imported from Finland and Frankfurt. But what a pivotal moment! Of the 1,200 attendees, 800 were from Russia; and for the first time since the revolution, religious leaders, elected public officials, scientists, news reporters, and artists mingled freely and in small buzz groups opened their hearts about a world after Chernobyl with
its contaminated breast milk, poisoned rivers and aquifers, and deformed animals and insects.
The final session, on Friday afternoon, was held in the Kremlin in the ceremonial Hall of the Soviets, a climax past imagining. On the wall behind the podium stood a colossal 12-ft statue of Lenin, the only decoration in this exceedingly austere chamber, and on the rostrum were eight chairs: Gorbachev in the center flanked by Archbishop Pitorim, Angie Biddle Duke, Senator Manuel Ulloa, Akio Matsumura, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, Carl Sagan, and me. To the astonishment of all 1,200, the session began when a skinny saffron-robed swami from India, who happened also to be a well-known microbiologist, mounted the podium, rapped the floor with his walking stick, and slowly began to chant “om.” The entire room joined in the om-ing, and I wondered what Lenin thought from his lofty perch above us.
Gorbachev's speech was like Martin Luther King's 1963 “I Have a Dream” call to arms. He acknowledged the environment as the major global crisis before us, now that nuclear arms were coming under control, and then apologized very candidly for Russia's major role in creating a polluted world and pledged his personal leadership to meet the challenge. His final words were a very practical proposal. The great humanitarian achievement of the 19th century, he reminded us, was the creation of the Red Cross to alleviate human suffering from natural and human-made disasters. What the world needs today, he concluded, is the creation of an international Green Cross to heal the wounds of the degraded and ravished natural environment and to restore harmony to the total created order.
A final comment about the extraordinary timing of the Moscow meeting in January 1990: In the very same week that Gorbachev made his speech on Friday afternoon, the citizens of the Baltic states threatened to leave the Soviet Union if they were not granted their political independence. I remember Gorbachev's impassioned face on Russian television on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, imploring the crowds in the streets of Vilna; and on Thursday, we were told that the president very much wanted to keep his appointment with us, but that we must recognize the unpredictability of his schedule. After Friday afternoon actually happened, with the Green Cross buzzing in our brains, along with the prospect of a vodka and caviar reception with Gorbachev, the two dozen or so Jewish members of our ranks, Sagan included, gathered in a basement room of the Kremlin Hall of the Soviets and said prayers for the beginning of the Sabbathcertainly the first time that ceremony had ever taken place in that building. More miracles of timing.
Perhaps no one will ever know how important the Moscow meeting was, but several specific results are important for our brief consideration of religion and sustainability. First, the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders barged ahead and asked Gorbachev whether he would agree to be president if we did all the leg work of organizing his International Green Cross. Those negotiations took the better part of the next 2 years but provided the impetus for our planning a third global forum, to occur in Rio de Janeiro as part of the Environmental Summit in June 1992. That meeting in 1992 took place in Rio de Janeiro's original city hall, and all our by now faithful regulars chimed inAl Gore, Tim
Wirth, Carl Sagan, Perez de Cuellar, Maurice Strong, the Grand Mufti of Damascus, and even the Dalai Lama, who just happened to be in Rio de Janeiro. The high point came when Senator Manuel Ulloa announced that Gorbachev had indeed agreed to be president of the newly forming International Green Cross, and we were to go ahead full speed in getting its organizational shape together in preparation for an inaugural meeting to take place a year hence, in 1993 in Japan. Keep in mind that at this point Gorbachev's domestic problems were coming to a boil, and his own political future was very unclear.
Moscow's second direct result for religion and sustainability was the tremendous affirmation it gave to the newly forming “American Joint Appeal of Religion and Science for the Environment.” Paul Gorman at the cathedral made his priority the organizational task of transforming enthusiastic responses to an impassioned letter into a functioning program. Once again, major input came from Carl Sagan, Al Gore, and Tim Wirth; and by April 1990, the joint appeal came into existence as an organization, with Paul Gorman as its director, I as chairman, and offices based at the cathedraljust 3 months after Moscow.
The American Religious Communities' Commitment to Global Concerns
In the following June (1991), the new joint appeal held its first conference, beginning at New York's Museum of Natural Science and continuing at the cathedral, where 24 top religious leaders metJewish, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, mainline Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox leaders, and executives of the historically black churchesto be briefed by no less than Peter Raven, E.O. Wilson, James Hansen, Sherwood Rowland, Henry Kendall, Anne Whyte, Beverly Davison, Steven Jay Gould, Ann Druyan, and, of course, Sagan, Gore, and Wirth. At the end of the second day, the 24 religious leaders issued a powerful public statement committing the American religious community to solid environmental concerns.
Urgency at last was truly the name of the game. In March 1992, the Joint Appeal held a consultation with top leaders of the Jewish community (with Sagan, Gore, and Wirth again as principal teachers); and in May 1992, the Joint Appeal made its maiden trip to Capitol Hill with its “Mission to Washington.” First, 50 heads of religious denominations were lectured by 50 scientists (the same faithful soldiers), and then in pairs they took on representatives, senators, and finally a joint congressional committee.
That night, after it was all over and the exhausted triumphant faithful sat down to strong drinks and dinner at a favorite Italian hideaway of Gore's, the second baby from the remarriage of religion and the environment was conceived. The question was, What next? And by the time the party had broken up, it had been decided to go for broke: seriously to take on the American religious establishmentobviously as partners, not adversarieswith a powerful up-front goalguaranteeing that for local churches and synagogues the environmental crisis would have a clear priority for prayer and meditation, for study and proclamation and public action. In short, a central religious issue in the same sense that justice,
peace, and poverty had become intrinsic religious concerns, not just “secular” issues. At long last, it looked as though the old sacred-secular standoff could be put to rest and that all of creation could be seen as holy and the very stuff of religion. Could it be that our starting point of religion and ecology as flip sides of each other, as the twin practitioners of connecting everything, just might be gaining ground?
National Religious Partnership for the Environment
That was all in May 1992; the next month, off we went to Rio de Janeiro and the environmental summit with its new word, sustainability. By fall of 1992, we were laying the groundwork for the new child of the Joint Appeal, a brand new baby to be called the National Religious Partnership for the Environment and to be composed of four religious partners: the Roman Catholic Church, the three denominations of Judaism, the National Council of Churches (including all the mainline Protestant, Orthodox and black churches), and the Evangelical Christians (including the Southern Baptists and all the Pentecostal churches). That is a huge mouthful, but the point is that its structure included virtually all the Christians and Jews who together make up the majority of Americans.
What made it politically important was its organizational structure with a small governing board composed of the top brass of the four religious partnersthe folks who control the denominational budgets and make the policy decisions. Carl Sagan and Henry Kendall from MIT were also on the governing board maintaining the strong link with the scientific community, I continued to serve as chair, and Paul Gorman was president of the new organization, still with its offices at the cathedral. This trim structure proved excellent for fund-raising, the fact that Gore was in the White House did not hurt, and in 1 year we raised enough millions from major foundations to assure each of the four partners an annual grant of $250,000 for each of 3 years to be used by their own staff in their own style to make environmental sustainability come alive for their own religious tradition. The bottom line is that today we are involved directly with 50,000 local parish churches and synagogues. It is a major foot in the door. Again and again, we receive deeply moving testimonies of something cooking with kids in Sunday school, of how a certain team of interfaith activists turned around a certain city's incinerator policy, of extraordinary sermons and study groups and retreats and liturgies that have literally changed people's lives. It has just begun, and the consortium of foundations has already renewed grants for another 3 years.
But there is a negative side. Inertia remains all too real. The reality of unsustainable lifestyles is still our daily breadJames Lovelock's unholy trinity of cows, cheeseburgers, and chain saws. Sagan is dead, and the national environmental agenda has taken a tough political beating in spite of Gore and Wirth. Gorbachev's Green Cross has gone nowhere, although his very expensive State of the World Forum has kept the environmental flicker somewhat alive. In late June 1997, the UN convened its special summit session to review progress on the environmental commitment that the nations had made at Rio de Janeiro five years before in 1992. Rio plus 5 rather uneventfully came and went, although Steven Rockefeller's heroic work on creating a charter, with major input from the
religious traditions of the world, is a hopeful sign that had its preliminary airing in draft form at the June UN meeting. We hope that it will be ready for adoption by the total General Assembly for the millennium. So fasten your seatbelts!
My only dour reminder is the final statement in Elizabeth Dowdeswell's preface to the excellent 1997 UN Environment Program paperback Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-1), prepared for Rio plus 5: “We know that the knowledge and technological base to solve the most pressing environmental issues are available. However, the sense of urgency of the early 1990s is lacking. Progress towards a sustainable future has simply been too slow.”
How troubling it is once again to return to a lack of urgency! We already know that both ecology and religion are about the connections that include every iota of creation. And we know that both sustainability and religion are whistle-blowers, prophets, and trouble-makers when situations become nonsustainable either for human justice or for Earth's capacity to regenerate itself and remain livable. But it is urgency that alone seems to be the lifeblood, the spiritual linchpin that can make ecology truly sustainable and make religion truly religious. Indeed, if history can be our teacher, it seems that only a giant environmental disaster equivalent to Hiroshima or a global stock-market crash could produce the urgency necessary to make it crystal clear that the present situation is genuinely life-threatening. There is historically only one alternative that is not catastrophic and that is capable of generating the urgency to turn people around. And that is a profound spiritual awakening.
I do not mean the urgency of shouting preachers or millennarian threats on television. A spiritual awakening can stem from any source or any combination of sourcespolitical, scientific, artistic, religious, media, cyberspace. Because this awakening must be spiritual, I cannot exclude any possibility. But whatever the sources, it must produce a profound urgency that turns our whole lifestyle and life orientation upside down for the long haulnot for 2 years but for 2 millennia. It must be an urgency that converts us and makes us gladly adopt a positive asceticism that can literally preserve Earth and all life on it. We can all learn these ascetic disciplines from folks who have been practicing them for years, for centuries, and who are willing to teach us howfrom Buddhists and Benedictines, from Quakers and Jains and Jews and Hindus and Sufis and medicine men and women. Spiritual poverty was not grim or sentimental for St. Francis, but vital and urgent, full of guts and joy. Urgency gives us an earthy sense of humor with human tears and with the sincere expectancy of surprises from many quarters. Spiritual urgency makes us capable of being at home in any situation.
The disciplines of positive asceticism that I am talking about can awaken us to the basic spiritual orientations of urgency and immediacy and vitality. They can open our eyes to the fact that most in life is not either-or, but a necessary combination of opposites like body and spirit, and that so-called spiritual disciplines in fact deal with physical breathing and diet and mantras and prostrating and sex. Positive asceticism can make us see that it is spiritually urgent for everyoneliterally everyoneto experience both city living and real wilderness; that it is likewise urgent for everyone to understand intellectually the structures of stasis and kinesis, of crystals and gases, of classicism and romanticism; and that everyone's
life is made up of the opposites of enthusiasm (literally en-theos or god inside us) and abstention, of Easter and Ramadan, of Yom Kippur and Divali.
Spiritual asceticism teaches us that nothing is more vital than the urgency of rhythm. Rhythm itself is the basis of all religious practice, coming from our private internal and inescapable rhythm of the heartbeathence, the primordial urgency of the shaman and his drum, of music as the necessary handmaid of religion with tambourines and thundering organs and deeply monotonous unvarying chants. These rhythms sustain us and get us through life. Weekly rhythms, feasts and fasts, the rhythm of the seasons with solstices and equinoxes, spring and fall, the summer powwow and the piercing sundancethey make our blood circulate.
As a New Yorker, I have come to be sustained by our cathedral's annual environmental extravaganza for the Feast of St. Francis. Every year on that first October Sunday, everyone brings an animal to church. Paul Winter performs his Missa Gaia with full band, with African dancers and drummers, with a choir of 600 and the recorded voices of timber wolf and whale, and with legendary sermons by Carl Sagan and Al Gore. The climax comes with a procession down the aisle led by an elephant, followed by llama, horse, cow, sheep, owls and macaws, hamsters and tortoises, New York rats and cockroaches, a tree, a treasured moon rock and meteorite, and finally a glass vial containing 500 trillion blue-green algae. Last year, 6,000 two-leggeds were inside, and 1,000 had to listen from loudspeakers in the garden. It is urgent and immediate, vitality itself, deeply sustaining, deeply environmental, deeply religious.
Religion in this most basic primordial form can raise us to ecstasy, where we can experience our connectedness to everything that is and where we can see the true meaning of urgency and the necessary cost of a universal spiritual asceticism for the long haul that will make catastrophe unnecessary and instead make a sustainable future for the planet possible.
My penultimate comment is personal. Since 1972, 1 have worked to reveal the primordial rhythms and vital connectedness of creation itself as the essence both of religion and of environmental sustainability. I have worked from a base that is necessarily limitedAmerican, Christian, Anglican, Episcopalian. We have done some good things, and I think the cathedral is still a useful model 25 years later.
The Interfaith Center
But starting in January 1997, a small group of us have been approaching the same reality of sustainability and religion from the other end of the stick. We started a new project in New York called the Interfaith Center, where our base is not one religion but many of the world's major religions working togetherHindus and Moslems, Sikhs and Buddhists, Jews and Christians, Taoists and Shintos, Jains and indigenous traditions, and so onin short, the de facto religious picture of New York City, which is only a mild exaggeration of the religious mix in Toledo or Miami or Los Angeles. Today, there are more Moslems than Presbyterians in Houston, Texas, and more mosques than Anglican churches in Birmingham, England. All life today is urbanized and every city worldwide is increasingly an implosion of the planet's religious, racial, and cultural diversity into new demographic containers of connectedness. To help make this given unavoidable
physical connectedness also spiritual, sustainable, vital, and urgent is the task that our new Interfaith Center has set for itself. We all know that this kind of compression of different traditions is causing increasing conflict everywhere. But we believe that conscious cultivation of interfaith respect based on interfaith exposure and cooperation is the way to go.
So we are about developing curricula for 3rd- and 4th-grade public-school kids to learn the stories and songs of the world's religions just as they are learning about the different continents and their peoples. Just think of the pictures the kids can color! We will work heavily with the whole gamut of religious art and music and poetry and dance and drama. It will be deeply cultural. And we will train rabbis, imams, ministers, and priests to become skilled in conflict resolution. We will work closely with the UN and its agencies. We will have a Web site and also an interfaith gift shop and bookstore. We really want to do everything to make our given connectedness visible and understandable in all its beautiful diversity so that everyone can learn to appreciate both the forest and the trees, both the pigeons and the stars.
Now let me end where I began with our two stargazers, Laurens van der Post and Carl Sagan. On the fourth advent Sunday in December for the last 5 years, Laurens has preached at the cathedral and included in his sermon the story about the Kalahari bushman from his book A Mantis Carol.
Van der Post answers a woman's question about the reasons that a bushman dances. There are two different dances, he tells her: the Dance of the Little Hunger and the Dance of the Great Hunger.
The first one is of the physical hunger the child experiences the moment he is born and satisfies first at his mother's breast, and which from then on stays with him for the rest of his life on earth. But the second dance is the dance of a hunger that neither the food of the earth nor the way of life possible upon it can satisfy. It is the dance of the Bushman's instinctive intimation that man cannot live by bread alone, although without it he cannot live at all; hence the two.
Whenever I asked them about this great hunger, he writes, “they would only say not only we dancing, feeling ourselves to be raising the dust which will one day come blown by the wind to erase our last spoor from the sand when we die, lest others coming and seeing our footsteps there might still think us alive, not only we feel this hunger, but the stars too, sitting up there with their hearts of plenty, they too feel it and feeling it tremble as if afraid they would wane and their light die, on account of so great a hunger.
When we know that the stars too share our hunger, then life on Earth can really become sustainable. Because we will know its deep urgency in our bones and in our blood.
Hughes L. 1996. Funeral address for Laurens van der Post. London UK: 20 December 1996.
Van der Post L. 1987. The hunter and the whale: a story. London UK: Chatto and Windus.
Van der Post L. 1994. A mantis carol. Washington DC: Island Pr.
Reaching the Public:
The Challenge of Communicating Biodiversity
Scientists tell us that we stand on the brink of a great wave of extinction, unparalleled since the demise of dinosaurs. This time our own species is the driving cause. The planet stands to lose an untold storehouse of genetic information. Unique and miraculous expressions of Creation will be erased forever. Lost, too, will be precious threads in Earth's complex tapestry of life called biological diversity. We do not know which are the critical threads that hold together the magical system of oxygen, water, nutrients, food webs, and climate that sustain life on Earth, but when each loss is permanent, there is no turning back.
Scientists are worried about the future survival and well-being of humans on a planet whose life-support systems are being eroded and changed so rapidly. But where is the public outcry, the mandate for action to stem the loss of biodiversity? We have learned from the debate on global climate change that even when there is widespread and convincing scientific evidence of impending environmental danger, the public does not rise automatically to demand a political response.
Americans have lived with messages about environmental Armageddon since the first Earth Day, and they continue to be bombarded with fearful messages ranging from water pollution to destruction of the rain forests. How do we reconnect the American public with the natural world and engage its involvement in stemming the biodiversity crisis? In this paper, we discuss the context of biodiversity as a public issue and how Americans perceive it, and we recommend approaches for increasing public awareness and action.
Concept and Context
Scientists coined the term biodiversity in 1986 to describe the diversity of life and life systems on Earth and as a way to focus growing concern and expertise within the scientific community on the high rate of extinctions throughout the world. After more than a decade of use within scientific and environmental circles, biodiversity is commonly defined as the diversity of genes, individuals, species, and habitats on Earth. This definition, however, fails to convey the concepts of interconnectedness and interdependence and ecological processes, which most conservation biologists also associate with the term. In the environmental community, the term biodiversity has been adopted as a shorthand description for the variety of species in an ecosystem, a definition that frustrates those who seek to convey a richer and more complex meaning with the word.
In retrospect, we can only wish that some linguists had been among the scientists involved in planning the first National Forum on Biodiversity in 1986. The word describes a scientific construct; it was not part of common English then, nor is it now. Biodiversity is both a challenging concept and a difficult word around which to design a public-education strategy. It requires explanation. It is simultaneously a cause and a scientific term (Takacs 1996), and it suffers from carrying both meanings. Terms like clean water and safe sex are elegantly simple and easy for the public to grasp, having common meanings and adjective-noun structure. Biodiversity, unfortunately, is not a user-friendly word. In an age of sound bites and slogans, the word provides us with a challenging starting point for public education.
Focus-group research commissioned by the Communications Consortium Media Center (CCMC) in 1995 (Belden and Russonello 1995) revealed that the word biodiversity communicates different types of life, but it does not imply other key concepts surrounding biological diversity, such as interconnectedness and ecological relationships. A more familiar term, ecosystem, was used by focus-group participants, who understood “eco” to refer to the environment and “system” to the interconnected parts.
Champions of the word biodiversity need to link the term to the other concepts that help define its implications. The 1996 CCMC Biodiversity Poll (Belden and Russonello 1996) showed that only one in five Americans has an awareness of the term biological diversity, but once it is explained to them, Americans overwhelmingly express support for the concept of protecting habitats and species, at least superficially. In addition, many Americans easily grasp the concepts of interconnectedness and interdependence of life. This alone is an encouraging foundation for public education.
A Nexus for Action, or a Common Component of Multiple Action Agendas?
Almost every environmental issue embraces some aspect of biodiversity, but most environmental-policy and activist groups do not focus their work through the lens of biodiversity. Biodiversity provides valuable scientific justification for
protecting wilderness, large landscapes, endangered species, and many other longstanding objectives in the environment movement. As a result, biodiversity has been embraced widely in the environment community and invoked in countless debates as a new reason for protecting natural habitats and species. In spite of this enthusiasm, for a large portion of the environment community, protecting biodiversity is simply one more reason to achieve more traditional end points: saving places, stopping pollution, or moving a particular policy through the system. As one forest activist exclaimed at a Biodiversity Project working-group discussion on forests, “If biodiversity will help me save my forest, I'll talk about biodiversity. If it won't, forget it!”
Unlike “wilderness,” for example, biological diversity lacks a driven, grassroots, quasi-religious base of activism with a clear policy agenda. Conservation of biodiversity, whether labeled so or not, is part of the overarching agenda of such organizations as the World Wildlife Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, and the National Audubon Society. However, no national “biodiversity coalition” or similar coalescing point exists. In the overall tapestry of the environmental agenda, biodiversity is the warp: It holds the fabric together but is not seen on the surface.
This hard-working common thread invites us to frame the educational message and strategies for conserving biodiversity in multiple ways across issues and agendas. For example, clear-cutting, destruction of wetlands, and toxic pollution of the food web are all biodiversity issues. In some instances, biodiversity itself is the issue, such as the UN Convention on Global Biodiversity. Arguably, the Endangered Species Act is almost exclusively a biodiversity issue. However, each of these large-scale policy debates embraces only a portion of the broader public debate that will determine the fate of biodiversity in the long run.
Public Perceptions and Attitudes
In February 1996, the public-opinion firms of Belden & Russonello and R/S/M, under the auspices of the CCMC, conducted a national public-opinion poll on biodiversity and the environment to define more sharply the findings of the focus group conducted in 1995. The telephone survey was administered to 2,000 adults in late February and early March 1996.
In the last 10 years, the public has consistently supported government action to protect the environment, and the 1996 poll indicated that large majorities are in favor of maintaining strong clean water (85%) and endangered species (76%) acts. There is, however, a limit to the public's approval of government action. Support for the environmental position drops off on issues that juxtapose competing values, such as an individual's private-property rights versus protection of public resources like wetlands or endangered habitats.
The 1996 survey showed that majorities of Americans are aware that species are being lost (69%) and that humans are the cause (59%), but appreciation for biological diversity proves to be superficial when such countervailing pressures as jobs, property, or human convenience are introduced. In the poll, 87% of Americans expressed support for maintaining biological diversity, that is, preventing the
extinction of plants and animals. However, this broad support can be eroded quickly; 48% of the public said that protecting jobs is more important than saving habitat and 49% that it is acceptable to eliminate some species of plants and animals. This decline in support for maintaining biodiversity when other priorities come into play tells us that the major task for environmentalists is not simply to reinforce the facts about loss, but to demonstrate clearly why the loss is so important to our lives and our world. The poll offered some insights for communication about the effect of the loss of biological diversity. The educational messages that register the most concern are those related directly to dangers to human health and threats to habitats and ecosystems that clean our air and water. Beyond these human-centered reasons, educational messages that appeal to the appreciation and enjoyment of places in nature are also of broad concern to the public: loss of ancient forests that cannot be replaced, places of natural beauty, and recreational areas. Other areas of high public concern are the elimination of possible new medicines to cure diseases and the loss of jobs in fishing and tourism owing to a loss of biodiversity.
Making sense of the clash of public concerns over the environment requires an understanding of the values that underlie attitudes. The poll identified responsibilities to family and saving Earth for future generations as the most widely held values that form attitudes toward the environment. Other valuessuch as respecting God's Creation, aesthetics, personal use and enjoyment, patriotism, and a belief in nature's rightswere fundamental to segments of the public but not as broadly held as responsibility to family and future generations.
Thus, the 1996 survey revealed that Americans will be most responsive to messages about biodiversity that address the values of family, responsibility to future generations, and, for some audiences, respect for God's Creation. Education about the meaning of biodiversity for humans and the value of habitats will be a key to building greater public commitment to maintaining biodiversity in the future.
What Should an “Aware” Public Know?
Early in its development, the Biodiversity Project identified three fundamental educational goals for building broad public support for policies, practices, and personal behaviors that will maintain biological diversity. These are to increase comprehension of biodiversity issues, to heighten recognition of the threats to biodiversity, and to generate public support for policies and actions to reduce those threats.
Although the public has a broad appreciation for protecting the web of life, public-opinion research shows that this appreciation is shallow. If Americans do not understand the basic components of the living environment and the policies that influence that environment, they will have difficulty recognizing or truly caring about what diminishes biological diversity. Moreover, if individuals do not comprehend their particular connection to living systems and species, they are less likely to be motivated to care or act.
Our perceptions are shaped by what we experience in life, and to many Americans biodiversity (or the balance of nature) is only a concept, not something that
can be seen or experienced. Yet the workings of biodiversity are all around and within us. Educators and communicators need to be able to illustrate biodiversity so that it can be seen and understood. For example, if Americans cannot distinguish between a pine plantation and a healthy natural forest, they will have difficulty grasping the value of biodiversity.
We also face the challenge of reconnecting the American public to the natural systems and species in their home ecosystems. If biodiversity is only something that happens “out in nature,” we will lose the ability to motivate many Americans to change public policies and behavior as consumers. By linking biodiversity and habitat to our air, water, food, and so forth, we can make essential connections to the local landscape and living systems that are in our daily experience as well as provide a basis for making global connections: We can make biodiversity tangible.
A general cognizance that humans are the primary cause of extinctions and loss of habitat is insufficient to help the public recognize and respond to threats to species and critical habitats. The public must become aware of and knowledgeable about specific causes of loss of biodiversity and the actions that individuals and society can take to address these problems.
Environmentally sensitive policies and community practices will come about only if the public can be engaged to support positive changes. To translate concern and awareness into action, the public needs to understand what it can do and then be inspired and empowered to take action. Americans have become more mistrustful of government institutions, and they are searching for solutions and actions that individuals and communities can take themselves. These individual actions need to have some direct (or easily understood indirect) effect on conservation and need to expand beyond practices like recycling, which are already widespread.
At the same time, the public needs to participate more in major policy decisions to offset the pressures that are driving environmentally damaging policies. Activists need to address policy with attention to values and the public's primary concerns about the environment. Jargon or technical language and government processes themselves present barriers to communication with the public. In summary, we propose the following educational objectives as a starting point for framing a strategy to increase public awareness and involvement:
• Help Americans recognize biodiversity in their everyday experiences.
• Help the public understand its dependence on nature.
• Raise fundamental ecological literacy.
• Help the public understand the specific effects of humans on biodiversity.
• Help the public understand its capability to act to conserve biodiversity.
• Motivate the public to act to conserve biodiversity.
Engaging the Public.
Public-education strategies for biodiversity need to be designed on the basis of widely accepted, solid scientific grounds to sustain their credibility and on the
basis of widely held values and concerns that will engage the public. We recommend taking a broad approach to education about biodiversity, which uses the tremendous energy and activity in the broad range of issues in which biodiversity is a key element, rather than seeking to raise the profile of biodiversity as a standalone concept. Many issues can raise the profile of biodiversity when it is an obvious element, such as protection of forests, wetlands, and marine fisheries. For other issues, such as suburban sprawl and climatic change, in which it is not so obvious, we will need to direct attention to the idea of biodiversity.
Regardless of the issue, the dialogue for education should begin with easily grasped concepts rather than with scientific statistics or pronouncements of impending doom. Aldo Leopold cautioned that it is important to keep all the parts (Leopold 1978), and this is perhaps the fundamental principle from which strategies for public education about biodiversity can begin. This and similar principles, such as the value of keeping all the “connections,” can provide a framework for public awareness, through which the public can evaluate and respond to rapidly changing information and debates about policy. The concepts are far more important than the word “biodiversity.” We should use familiar terms like “nature,” “web of life,” and “ecosystem” to introduce biodiversity to the public.
Ultimately, conserving the diversity of life on Earth will require action on global and individual levels and on many levels in between. We need to reach Americans as parents, as consumers, as participants in their communities, and as citizens of Earth. Education about biodiversity needs to be well grounded in science, but scientific information must be translated in a manner that can resonate with the public. Moreover, it is not enough for the public to be aware of the loss of biodiversity and threats; the public must be given the means and the motivation to participate in the decisions that will form the basis of conservation of biodiversity. Providing the motivation for citizens to participate as players in a democratic society is perhaps our greatest challenge.
A clear and widely embraced domestic policy and action agenda for biodiversity, with tangible goals and objectives, is one step that would help engage the public; it provides a starting point for solutions, and it provides benchmarks for charting progress. Organizing an agenda-setting dialogue among leading scientists and nongovernment organizations could provide a forum for exchanging ideas and developing such an agenda and could serve as a test of using biodiversity as a nexus for advancing policy on many issues.
Who can do the Job?
To raise public awareness to a level at which conservation of biodiversity is integrated into public policy, consumer behavior, and corporate accountability, we must move beyond traditional public-education efforts that are linked to a specific policy for a short term. Legislative and regulatory mechanisms alone will not save sufficient habitat and species to sustain biodiversity, and, even if they could, we currently lack a popular mandate to enact the policies that would be effective. Thus, we must embrace new strategies that reach citizens at the following levels:
• values and ethics through religious, cultural, and community institutions;
• fundamental literacy and critical thinking, through formal and informal educational venues; and
• awareness and participation in social and political issues through news and popular-cultural media and through consumer and health education.
The responsibility to carry this agenda forward falls on a broad array of institutional communities within the biodiversity-conservation family. It includes the policy and advocacy groups, the land trusts and conservancies, recreational-user groups, environmental educators in many sectors, scientific and academic leaders, the grant-making community, organized religion, health and medicine, Hollywood, Madison Avenue, the news media, and even corporations. Forging a partnership at this scale is untested and unprecedented in circles of environmental education and policy, but the scope of the task begs for a concerted effort.
The fraying tapestry of life on Earth respects neither human institutions nor the challenges of working across traditional boundaries of specialty, discipline, and expertise. At the Biodiversity Project, we are persuaded by the daily, if not hourly, disappearance of species and by the rapid destruction of habitat throughout the globe that the urgency of this issue demands creative new responses. Future generations will not forgive our hand-wringing at how large the task is; they will thank us only if we rise to this challenge of survival and embrace our partnership with the diversity of life on Earth.
Belden N, Russonello J. 1995. Communicating biodiversity: summary of focus group research findings conducted for the Consultative Group on Biological Diversity. Available from the authors.
Belden N, Russonello J, Breglio V. 1995. Human values and nature's future: Americans' attitudes on biological diversity. A public opinion survey analysis conducted for the Communications Consortium Media Center. Available from the authors.
Elder J, Farrior M. 1997. Report of the Biodiversity Project Message Development Working Group on Forest Ecosystems. Workshop held 15 April 1997. Available from the authors.
Leopold A. 1978. Sand County almanac. New York NY: Ballantine Books, p 190.
MacWilliams, Cosgrove, Snider, Smith, Robinson. 1996. Final presentation, Mississippi River Project, a private study prepared for the McKnight Foundation, February 1996.
Takacs D. 1996. The idea of biodiversity. Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins Univ Pr.
Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC):
A New Multi-Institutional Partnership to Prepare the Next Generation of Environmental Leaders
Solutions to the crisis of biodiversity loss will be as complex as the forces that led to it. Therefore, the serious task of educating and training current and future leaders of the public and private sector must include all areas of environmental management and conservation that are critical to the health of the ecological-support systems on which we rely. The fields of environmental management and conservation not only are complex and multidisciplinary, but also extend beyond the realm of the natural sciences.
We describe here the outcome of the first 5 years of a long-term effort to build an innovative and productive training and research consortium, the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC), through a new multi-institutional partnership of existing organizations. In New York, we have a unique opportunity because of the presence of several biodiversity-research institutions of international caliber complemented by an internationally renowned research university. Hence, we chose a strategy to bring them together: Columbia University, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Botanical Garden, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Wildlife Preservation Trust International.
Much has been written about how education and training in environmental conservation should be delivered (Jacobson 1995). Universities in the United States have been criticized because their professors and students alike are so
narrow in their perspective that the universities fail to turn out graduates who can find employment in government agencies and nongovernment organizations (NGOs), much less make a substantial contribution to environmental conservation if they could find a job (Noss 1997). In fact, the need to broaden the definition of who should teach in this field, as well as who should be taught, was one motivator for the development of CERC.
It is clear, from the type of institutions and researchers that have been brought together to form the consortium, that we are not using a narrow definition of a research-university professor as the conveyor of knowledge. Our multi-institutional staff has a range of experience in academic institutions, research institutions, NGOs, and government agencies and as field-based practitioners. Equally diverse are our students, who are upper-level high-school students, undergraduates, graduate students, midcareer professionals, and those who already occupy positions of leadership in government and nongovernment institutions. Perhaps most important, we have sought the participation of both teachers and students who have diverse personal backgrounds; for example, those who come from nations of high or unique biodiversity and those from groups that are underrepresented in the academic and conservation communities in the United States.
By providing education and training programs that extend from high-school students to high-level environmental managers, CERC hopes first to generate interest among and identify those high-school and college students who have the greatest aptitude for environmental conservation. Second, we hope to provide unique opportunities to build the capacity of future environmental leaders at the level of graduate students and midcareer professionals. Finally, we hope to enhance the background knowledge of current environmental leaders and their staffs. We believe that such a broad-based approach is needed if we are to find solutions to the complex environmental problems we face now and those we will face in the future. If our five institutions can implement the consortium's goals successfully, then, in the process, we will have created a new model for conservation education and research in which the expertise of each institution is brought to bear on significant issues beyond the scope of any one institution.
The central administrative and education facilities of CERC are on the campus of Columbia University. Facilities include offices for administrative staff and faculty, a computer and student center, seminar and lecture rooms, a teaching and research greenhouse, and a planned, integrated set of teaching and research laboratories. In addition, students, visiting scientists, and teaching and research staff have a variety of laboratory, library, and computer facilities available on the same campus. It is at these facilities that many of the programs we will describe are based, but the true strength of the CERC consortium is realized in the activities, facilities, and expertise of the staff drawn from the five consortium-member institutions.
The American Museum of Natural History has one of the world's most extensive collections of animal species, and its staff have world-renowned expertise in
identifying, cataloging, and systematizing animal diversity. Through the use of collections, individual research, and participation in field projects organized by individual curators and the Museum's new Center for Biodiversity, the museum staff offer an array of opportunities for animal-diversity research.
The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), which has the largest herbarium in the Western Hemisphere plus a botanical library of more than a million books, journals, and other items, is the most comprehensive botanical-research center on a single site in North America. Its participation in the consortium is through its two key research divisions, the Institute of Economic Botany and the Institute of Systematic Botany.
The Wildlife Conservation Society, which was founded as the New York Zoological Society, has the largest field staff of any international conservation organization based in the United States. It conducts more than 250 field projects in more than 50 countries throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The Bronx Zoo in New Yorkwhich has experts in captive breeding, veterinary medicine, school-curriculum development, and data analysiscomplements these field programs.
Wildlife Preservation Trust International (WPTI), working through local conservation scientists and educators, conducts interdisciplinary, small-scale projects at the grassroots level in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa. WPTI works to protect threatened species and their habitats in areas where human pressures and human-wildlife conflicts exist in highly diverse or unique ecosystems. To train local conservation professionals, WPTI provides on-site backup and formal courses.
Columbia University in New York City is one of America's top research universities and the most internationally oriented. CERC is integral to the university's Columbia Earth Institute (CEI), which brings together scientists from a broad range of natural and social-science disciplines to understand better how the earth works and to mitigate the negative effects of human activities on natural systems. In addition to CERC, eight divisions of the CEI or the university itself have direct relevance to CERC's mission.
• The School of International and Public Affairs offers a Master's of International Affairs concentration in environmental policy and collaborates in the environmental-policy certificate offered by CERC to its PhD students.
• The Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory supports graduate education in the earth sciences and is the home of the new International Research Institute for Climate Prediction.
• The Goddard Institute for Space Studies was the first to identify global warming.
• The Biosphere 2 Research Center (in Arizona) provides opportunities for conducting closed-system ecological research and relating it to other atmospheric research.
• The Black Rock Forest, which is run by a consortium that includes Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History, is a temperate
research forest 50 miles from New York City that has an array of habitats, including a patch of rare primary, climax vegetation.
• The Rosenthal Center for Alternative/Complementary Medicine is an institute that investigates the relationships between traditional health practices, ethnobotany, and related areas of environment, biodiversity, and economic development.
• In the School of Public Health, the Division of Environmental Health Sciences is involved in a number of international projects that focus on the relationships between environmental change, climate variations, and emerging diseases.
• Finally, the Program for Information and Resources is composed of a group of applied mathematicians and economists who study the relationship between environmental changes and economic trends.
All these schools, centers, and institutes offer a broad array of expertise to our students and visiting scientists, and they provide a variety of powerful resources for all the member institutions of CERC.
To ensure the participation of all member institutions of CERC, we have created joint committees to assist in the development of our education, training, and outreach programs, to evaluate small-grants proposals, to identify potential affiliate centers throughout the world, and to handle general issues of interinstitutional integration and consortium policy. In addition, undergraduate and graduate students are mentored by both Columbia faculty, some hired specifically for CERC's educational programs, and adjunct faculty, consisting of selected staff members from all five CERC institutions.
The programs of CERC are in three areas: degree-granting education, professional training and public outreach, and interdisciplinary research. In all areas, the paramount goal is to provide opportunities for individuals to improve their ability to assess the effect of human activities on natural environments and the services they supply and to help develop the scientific, economic, and political means to mediate effects that adversely affect important ecosystems and the species they contain.
Undergraduate Program. CERC staff have designed a new interdepartmental undergraduate major, Environmental Biology. Graduates of this major have a strong foundation in the life sciences and an exposure to relevant fields in the social sciences, such as economics and anthropology. This major also provides the necessary training for students who wish to pursue graduate studies, such as the new biodiversity-conservation-based Ecology and Evolutionary Biology PhD program offered by CERC, the Conservation Biology MA program offered by
CERC, and the social-science-based Environmental Policy master's programs offered by Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).
The undergraduate course of study includes a two-semester sequence of earth and environmental sciences, a two-semester sequence of molecular and organismal biology, and several other introductory courses in physics, chemistry, and quantitative methods. These introductory studies are followed by elective courses in such areas as environmental policy and economics, conservation and population biology, ecology and behavior, and evolution and genetics. The courses are taught by Columbia faculty and by adjunct faculty from CERC. These collaborations have borne productive fruit, including cross-cutting courses in ethnobotany and human ecology and in biodiversity loss and human disease.
Besides the novel policysocial-science component as part of a natural-science majorwe require and facilitate a summer internship for each student major between the junior and senior years at CERC. In many cases, these internships are overseas and place students with researchers from one of the five CERC institutions. They also may be in New York, where they may involve collections or policy-related research. The purpose of these internships is to expose students to practical biodiversity-conservation research and to help them focus their interests and goals for their future careers.
Master of Arts Program in Conservation Biology. The 2-year, stand-alone MA program emphasizes the biological sciences but includes a basic foundation in environmental policy. After taking specially developed MA core courses in the natural science of conservation biology and the social science of environmental policy, students have the option of tailoring their remaining coursework to follow either an academic or a professional track. The academic track is designed for students who wish to continue on to a PhD program, and the professional track is for students pursuing positions with nongovernmental organizations, government agencies, or consulting firms concerned with the conservation of biodiversity or environmental protection.
In addition to the required coursework, all students must complete an internship and a thesis. This experience provides the practical experience necessary to pursue a career in a field related to natural-resource conservation. For the academic track, the internship, done during the summer after the first year of the program, is usually conducted in the field or in a laboratory at one of the CERC institutions; a thesis results from this research. Students in the professional track can do original research or conduct their internship with a conservation organization or government agency. In the latter case, a report or policy formulation is the expected focus of the thesis.
PhD Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. The Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) program is designed to provide the broad scope of education needed to describe, understand, and conserve the diversity of life on Earth. This program offers specializations that are strictly biological (ecology, evolution, systematics, and population biology) or are at the interface of biology and human activities (ethnobiology). The aim is to prepare students to conduct ecological,
behavioral, systematic, molecular, genetic, and other evolutionary-biological research and to formulate or implement biodiversity-related environmental policy. Graduates of the program likely will pursue academic careers as researchers and teachers or take professional positions in national and international-conservation, environmental, and multilateral-aid organizations. It is also our hope that some of our graduates will fill public-sector positions in environmental ministries, national park systems, and other agencies that deal with environmental conservation and sustainable-development planning.
Students in this program take two core courses at the outset that include the basics of ecology, evolution, systematics, population biology, and genetics. This initial semester is followed by several semesters of electives in these areas and at least three laboratory or field-based research internships. After passing the qualifying examinations and an oral defense of their research proposal, students engage in original research. The CERC consortium is so rich with conservation-oriented research projects being conducted around the world that the opportunities for internships and research projects are enormous in scope and number.
Perhaps the truly unique aspect of this PhD program is that all the students must complete a certificate in environmental policy. This certificate program is designed to give candidates in the biological sciences a better understanding of the workings of the markets, policy, and law that affect the efforts to preserve biodiversity. The certificate program, co-organized with SIPA, includes the completion of six courses and one internship, participation in a problem-solving workshop, and preparation of one interdisciplinary research paper.
Outside the CERC program, we also offer a parallel certificate in conservation biology for social-science PhD students, to give candidates in the social sciences a strong foundation in areas of biology that will enable them to contribute as much as possible to the formulation of sound environmental policy.
Professional Training and Public Outreach
Training and outreach to nontraditional, non-degree-oriented students are often conducted by nonacademic institutions rather than universities, although universities harbor the research infrastructure and pedagogical resources to have a major effect on this audience. Recognizing this, CERC has established the Morningside Institute (MI) as a way of directing energy and resources to these nontraditional audiences, giving them the opportunity to fill in gaps in their academic background, gain new skills, and profit intellectually from the interaction and exchange of ideas with others in the CERC community.
The MI programs include career days, 1-day workshops designed to bring the staff of the five CERC institutions up to date on the latest areas of inquiry and the latest technology used in biodiversity conservation and environmental management. Formal training in these areas is relatively recent, and many individuals have learned their trade on the job. To enhance the ability of every member institution in CERC to work more effectively, we have offered workshops in such areas as environmental economics, conservation genetics, geospatial positioning systems and mapping, the use of computers and the Internet in environmental management, environmental ethics, environmental education, and ecotourism.
These workshops have been a great success in providing exposure to new fields and have provided an opportunity for interaction among people who have similar interests, which can lead to new research collaboration.
Another MI program is the annual Environmental Leaders' Forum (ELF), which was created to help high-level conservation managers from countries of high or unique biodiversity in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and eastern Europe to develop strategies to carry out their individual mandates for conserving biodiversity. The curriculum includes sessions on strategic planning, on emerging techniques such as conservation genetics, in systematics research, in population biology, and in resource economics. The member institutions of CERC participate by presenting to the environmental leaders the types of research and training opportunities they offer. Each ELF culminates with a group statement on the status of biodiversity conservation and the critical needs of the developing world in this area.
Each participant becomes part of a growing communication network of environmental leaders around the world. An electronic newsletter has been developed to invite communications and observations from all former participants and to provide an opportunity for information exchange among high-level managers around the world. So far, 66 leaders from 29 countries have participated in the ELF program. We believe that ELF is an important instrument of training and communication for conservation managers. For example, a program of community use that was established by the head of Chitwan National Park in Nepal was presented at the ELF and likely will be considered by the environmental ministry in Cameroon, whose head officer also attended that forum.
The High School Summer Program is a 1-month intensive course for highschool juniors and seniors that includes lectures and practical field projects. During this course, teachers from the CERC faculty and staff engage students in grappling with critical biological and policy issues at a level that they can understand. They visit nearby protected areas and meet staff from the member institutions of CERC as part of the course. In this way, the information they get is given life, and they can begin to identify potential role models and career paths. We believe this program will become a major vehicle for generating interest in environmental conservation among high-school students in our region.
The Visiting Scholars Program is designed to allow selected scholars and environmental-resource managers to spend 1–6 months at CERC. It is intended to provide the intellectual environment necessary for an international group of practitioners to read widely, interact with other environmental scholars, and write on their concerns. The resources we have at the CERC institutions, particularly our libraries and computer systems, are resources we want to share for the completion of critical research and of the formulation of policy.
The Mid-Career Certificate in Conservation Biology is a two-semester sequence in the science, techniques, and policy of conservation biology that is designed for professionals who want to enhance their knowledge to perform their jobs better or to reorient their careers. Courses are held in the evenings and are taught by the faculty and research staff of CERC. Classes are designed to give participants a broad overview of the basic science of conservation, the techniques used to
conduct research, and the social-science issues that are related to policy development. The program consists of four intensive courses that cover the theory and practice of conservation biology and resource use by humans. The brevity of the training program, compared with degree programs, still provides substantial coverage of key topics in conservation science, but it is extremely appealing to individuals from fields as diverse as law, business, finance, public service, and teaching. More recently, we have designed specific tracks in this program for high-school science teachers and international trainees.
To stimulate new cross-disciplinary, cross-institutional research in biological conservation, we have established a small-grants program to assist in the development of research teams and the collection of preliminary data that would stimulate research on a much larger scale. Projects this program has supported so far and the disciplines they have involved include developing models for trading in carbon-sequestration credits (agronomy, economics, and human ecology), preliminary research on the relationship between climatic variability and vector-borne diseases (climatology, ecology, and epidemiology), and a multifaceted approach to conservation of manatees, including basic biological monitoring and communitybased ecotourism (marine biology, community development, and wildlife management).
We have set up affiliate centers in Indonesia and Brazil and are engaged in discussions with colleagues in Madagascar, Vietnam, and Belize. We hope to have 10 such affiliates around the world that can act as regional training centers and provide a means of identifying individuals who would benefit from one of the many New York-based programs of CERC. In its ideal form, the affiliate-center model involves a university, an NGO, and a government division. In the case of Indonesia, we have forged an agreement with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Studies and with the University of Indonesia. In Brazil, we have concluded an agreement with the Instituto de Pesquisas Ecologicas and with the government of São Paulo. In Madagascar, the agreement will be with the major national university and the government. In each case, a small annual budget is provided to the affiliate center to improve facilities, initiate innovative research, and assist students in the pursuit of their training.
The Center for Environmental Research and Conservation is an ambitious experiment to meld the many strengths in science and policy of its member institutions into a cohesive effort that can make a difference globally in the education and training of both current and future environmental leaders. It is a model worth trying in other regional centers of biodiversity research in the United States and
abroad. Indeed, given the rapidity with which biodiversity is being lost, we, as a community of researchers and practitioners, need to move as quickly as possible to make the most of our collective resources. To do less would be difficult to comprehend and even more difficult to defend.
Jacobson SK (ed). 1995. Conserving wildlife: international education and communication approaches. New York NY: Columbia Univ Pr. 302 p.
Noss RF. 1997. The failure of universities to produce conservation biologists. Cons Biol 11(6):1267–9.
The world is entering a period of historical and economic discontinuity that will change our lives in radical ways. The discontinuity is brought about by a fundamental shift in the relationship between industrialism and living systems. Industrial systems have reached pinnacles of success and are able to muster and accumulate human-made capital on vast levels, but living systems, which are the sources of our natural capital, and on which we depend to create our industrial capacity, are all declining.
Humankind has a long history of destroying its natural capital, especially soil and forest cover. The entire Mediterranean region shows the effects of siltation, overgrazing, deforestation, and erosion or salinization caused by irrigation (Hillel 1991). In Roman times, one could walk North Africa's coast from end to end without leaving the shade of trees; now it is a blazing desert. Today, human activities are causing global decline in all living systems. The loss of 750 metric tons of topsoil per second worldwide and 5,000 acres of forest cover per hour becomes critical. Turning 40,000 acres a day into barren landthe present rate of desertificationis not sustainable, either (UNEP 1996). In 1997, more than 5 million acres of forest were destroyed by “slash-and-burn” industrialists in the Indonesian archipelago. The Amazon basin, which contains 20% of the world's freshwater and the greatest number of plant and animal species of any region on Earth, saw 19,115 fires in a 6-week period in 1998, five times as many as in 1995. In the oceans, the losses are similar. Our ability to overfish oceans with 30-mile-long lines results in 20 million tons of annual bycatchdead or entangled swordfish, turtles, dolphins, marlin, and other fish that are discarded, pushed overboard,
tossed back, or, in the case of sharks, definned for soup. The bycatch that is thrown overboard is the equivalent of 10 lbs. of fish for everyone on Earth (San Francisco Chronicle 1998). By now, almost all the world's fisheries are being exploited at or beyond their capacity, and one-third of all fish species (compared with one-fourth of all mammal species) are threatened with extinction. A 7,000-square-mile “dead zone”the size of New Jerseyis growing off the coast of Louisiana. No marine life can live there, because nitrate runoff in the form of agricultural fertilizers borne by the Mississippi River has depleted supplies of oxygen. The growing marine desert threatens a $26-billion-a-year fishing industry (Yoon 1998). Each fire, each degraded hectare of crop and rangeland, and each sullied river or fishery reduces the productivity and integrity of our living planet. Each of them diminishes the capacity of natural capital systems to process waste, purify air and water, and produce newmaterials (Hawken and others 1999).
It is often assumed that environmental improvements are expensiveclean water, elimination of dangerous chemicals, efficient nonpolluting transportation, a pesticide-free food supply, preserving our ancient forests, providing for the health and safety of people in nonindustrialized nations. In fact, these and most other environmental improvements can be brought about at a profit, not a cost. To put it differently, the massive inefficiencies that are causing environmental degradation cost far more than the measures that would reverse them. In energy, transportation, forestry, building, and other sectors, mounting empirical evidence suggests that large savings can be achieved by radical, even paradigmatic, improvements in efficiencynot the constant marginal improvements that industry continuously seeks, but leap-frog changes in design and technology that presage a different economic system.
Industrialism was a system of organized mechanistic production that increased the productivity of human beings. It did not replace the system before it, but subsumed an agrarian society within a new framework of production and understanding. In the next century, as human population doubles and the resources available per person drop by one-half to three-fourths, a remarkable transformation of industry and commerce can occur. Through this transformation, society will be able to create a vital economy that uses radically less material and energy. This economy can diminish our use of resources and begin to restore the damaged environment of the Earth. These necessary changes can take place because they will promote economic efficiency, ecological conservation, and social equity. The change in business economics can be called natural capitalism. Natural capitalism recognizes the critical interdependence of the production and use of human-made capital and the maintenance and supply of natural capital.
Natural capitalism includes four distinct yet intertwined patterns of change. The first is a shift from an economy based on incremental improvements in human productivity to one emphasizing dramatic and in some cases radical gains in resource productivityincreases of a factor of 4–10, which means getting 4–10 times as much wealth from the same resources. That is a critical message because much of this productivity revolution is available at “negative cost”, that is, profitably. Countries moving toward resource productivity will become stronger, not weaker, in their international competitiveness. The second is the use of biomimicry as the
means and basis of redesign of industrial systems. Reducing the wasteful throughput of materialsindeed, eliminating the very idea of wastecan be accomplished by reimagining industrial systems on biological lines, changing the nature of industrial processes and materials, enabling the constant reuse of materials in continuous closed cycles and often the elimination of toxicity. The third is a fundamental change in the relationship between producer and consumera shift from an economy of matter and things to one of service and flow. This describes a new perception of value, a shift from the episodic acquisition of goods as a measure of affluence to the continuous receipt of quality, utility, and performance. A fourth stage is a centuries-long reversal in ecosystem and habitat destruction wherein profitable investments will begin to maintain and increase our pool of natural capital. All four are interrelated and interdependent, and all four generate numerous other effects in the environment, finance, resources, and society.
Radical Resource Productivity
Radical resource productivity means getting the same amount of work or service from a product or process while using 75–90% less resources. That increases the value we can obtain from each unit of resource and will create vast new opportunities for business and society. As a society, we have become extremely productive with respect to labor and capital. Companies and designers will be making natural resourcesenergy, metals, cars, water, forests, and oilwork 5, 10, even 100 times harder than before. Radical improvements in resource productivity offer a new terrain for business invention, growth, and development. They are critical because resource productivity will eventually determine which countries and corporations succeed. It is a hopeful concept because it means we can increase worldwide standards of living while reducing the energy and materials we use and the impact of their use on the environment. This concept can help to dispel the misunderstanding that core business values and environmental wisdom are incompatible or at odds.
For the last two decades, there has been a quiet design revolution in products, materials use, and energy. There are cars on drawing boards that can cross the country on the equivalent of a tank of gas, buildings that can create more energy than they consume, plastics that can be reused for centuries. The list is long and somewhat technical. Reading about an air conditioner that uses 90% less energy might not fascinate the average citizen, but the fact that it is utterly quiet while dramatically reducing energy costs will be compelling. As you move through life, listen to the din of daily life, the city and freeway traffic, the airplanes, the garbage trucks outside your windows and remember this: Most noises are the signs of inefficiency and will disappear as surely as did manure from the streets of 19th century London. If not in a city, then one need only look from the window of a low flying plane to see the enormous devastation and waste of living systems throughout America and other lands. Either way, the signs are everywhere. For reasons that are essentially inevitable, industry will need to redesign everything it makes and does to meet this coming efficiency revolution and in the process greatly reduce its impact on living systems.
The present industrial system is like a person with a metabolic disorder. It eats too much and gets too little exercise. Our overmature industrial system runs on machines that require enormous heat and pressure, is petrochemically dependent and material-intensive, and requires large flows of toxic and hazardous chemicals that degrade the environment in unforeseen ways. Those industrial “empty calories” end up as pollution, acid rain, and greenhouse gases. The result is bloated amounts of waste that harm environmental, social, and financial systems. Despite the reengineering and downsizing trends that were supposed to sweep away corporate inefficiency, the overall industrial system is only about 1–2% efficient, probably less. (When economists refer to efficiency, they are usually measuring a process or outcome in terms of moneyhow much labor or other input costs compared with what was produced. Here, efficiency refers to resource efficiency, both material and energy. In the case of energy, it means how much work is accomplished by an input of energy. In the case of materials, it means the total material flow that is required to create a given product or service. Living systems are not affected by monetary calculations. What matters is how effectively we use the flow of energy and material resources to meet human needs. That is the only measure of efficiency that matters over the long term.)
Chemists, engineers, and designers are turning away from mechanistic systems requiring heavy metals, combustion, and petroleum and toward something closer to biological systems that require smaller inputs, low temperatures, and enzymatic reactions. They are moving from linear take-make-waste systems to closed industrial loops where technical nutrients, synthetic materials used in a prior product, become the raw material for successive production. In energy, this means the end of high-temperature, centralized power plants and the growth of small distributive sources feeding a grid. In transportation, it means hybrid-electric vehicles. In fuels, it means a continuing decarbonization of energy sources. In food, it will mean dramatic reductions in input of fuels and chemicals with increasing yields.
To create breakthroughs in radical resource productivity, chemists, materials scientists, process engineers, biologists, and industrial designers are reexamining the energy, materials, and manufacturing systems required to provide the specific qualitiesstrength, warmth, structure, protection, function, speed, tension, motionrequired by products and end users. Business is rapidly switching to biomimicry and ecomimesis (imitating biological and ecosystem processes, respectively): replicating natural methods of production and engineering to produce chemicals, materials, and compounds and soon maybe even microprocessors. Some of the most exciting developments come from emulating nature's low-temperature, low-pressure, solar-powered assembly techniques, whose products rival anything made by humans. Janine Benyus's book Biomimicry points out that spiders make silk, strong as Kevlar but much tougher, from digested crickets and flies, without needing boiling sulfuric acid and high-temperature extruders. The aba-lone makes an inner shell twice as tough as our best ceramics. Trees turn sunlight, water, and air into cellulose, a sugar stiffer and stronger than nylon, and bind it into wood, a natural composite with a higher bending strength and stiffness
than concrete or steel. We might never get as skillful as spiders, abalone, or trees, but smart designers are apprenticing themselves to learn the benign chemistry that natural processes have mastered (Hawken and others 1999).
Pharmaceutical companies are becoming microbial ranchers, managing feedlots of enzymes; chemical companies are rearranging the genes in corn stalks to produce polymers as strong as nylon; biological farming, the precursor of tomorrow's industrial thinking, manages soil ecosystems to increase the amount of biota and life per acre by keen knowledge of food chains, species interactions, and nutrient flows, minimizing crop losses and maximizing yields; meta-industrial engineers are creating “zero-emission” industrial parks and their constituent tenants as an industrial ecosystem in which they feed on each other's nontoxic and useful wastes, just as farmers would intercrop, optimize yields, and nourish predators; and architects and builders are creating structures that process their own wastewater, capture light, create energy, and provide habitat for wildlife, all the while improving worker productivity, morale, and health. This revolution in thinking will cause high-temperature, centralized power plants to be replaced by smaller-scale, renewable power generation. In chemistry, it means an end to the witches' brew of compounds and nasty surprises invented in this century: DDT, PCB, CFCs, thalidomide, Dieldrin, xeno-estrogens, and so on. The 70,000 chemicals manufactured every year have ended up everywhere, as biophysicist Dana Meadows puts it, from our “stratosphere to our sperm”, to accomplish functions that can be far more efficient with biodegradable compounds and naturally occurring toxins that imitate nature's assembly techniques. In transportation, ultralight hybrid-electric vehicles will replace carbon dioxide-spewing gas-guzzlers. There will be hydrogen fuel cells to power our cars (theoretically, 5,000 miles between fillups), with onboard 20-kw generating capacity as the utility of the future. There will be printable and reprintable paper that reduces printing-fiber use and forest impact by 90%. In materials, high-strength synthetics made of biodegradable or reusable engineered compounds will become common. Weeds will be grown to make pharmaceuticals and corn stalks to make biopolymeric plastics that are both reusable and compostable; bioremediation will be intensively used for cleanup; luxurious carpets will be made from landfill scrap. Not all those technologies will succeed, and some might have side effects that are unwanted and unexpected. Nevertheless, they and thousands more are lining up like salmon to swim upstream toward a world of radical resource productivity.
Service and Flow
Beginning in the middle 1980s, Swiss economist Walter Stahel and German chemist Michael Braungart began to imagine a new industrial model that is now slowly taking shape. Rather than an industrial model wherein goods are sold, they imagined a service economy. This was not the often-discussed and conventional definition wherein service workers outnumber manufacturing workers. Their idea of a service economy is based on ecological models. In it, the concept of value undergoes a radical shift. In an industrial society, value is the selling price of a given product. In a service economy, value is measured by the flow of services
received by the end user over some period. The industrial model is static and transactional. The service model is dynamic and relational.
Stahel's work focused on product life and durability. As a strategy to reduce the demand for resources and energy dramatically, Stahel proposed that manufacturers think of themselves not as sellers of products, but as providers of longlasting, upgradable durables that provide customers with services. The product would remain the property of the manufacturer primarily because the focus would shift to the service needed by the user. In practical terms, instead of purchasing a washing machine, you buy the service of clean clothes. Just as in the use of a copying machine wherein you are charged for the number of copies rather than the machine, in the service economy products are valued by the quality and extent of the services they provide. The washing machine remains the property of the manufacturer. This would apply to computers, cars, and hundreds of other durable products that we now buy, use up, and ultimately throw away. The Carrier Corporation, a division of United Technologies, is now selling warmth and “coolth” to companies while retaining ownership of the equipment. The Interface Corporation is leasing carpets. Agfa Gaevert pioneered the leasing of copiers. Stahel's focus was on selling results rather than equipment, performance and satisfaction rather than motors, fans, plastics, or condensers.
In a service economy, the products are returned to the manufacturer, broken down, and then used to make new products. This concept of “cradle-to-cradle” was invented and first articulated by Stahel, who also named it “extended product responsibility” (EPR). EPR is now becoming a mandated or voluntary standard in European industry. The concept of an economy consisting of a flow of services rather than an amount of material products meshes extraordinarily well with biological concepts of ecosystem flows on which industry depends.
Braungart's model of a service economy focused not on product life, but on material cycles. Even if a product lasts longer, but the materials used cannot be reincorporated into new manufacturing or biological cycles, then society is still creating cumulative waste with its attendant problems of toxicity, worker ill health, and environmental damage. Braungart, working with architect William McDonough, proposed the intelligent product system wherein products that were not compostable would be designed so that they could be completely reincorporated into technical nutrient cycles of industry. In other words, all products would become the raw material of future products. Another way to look at Braungart and McDonough's concept is to imagine an industrial system with no landfills. If you knew that nothing that came into your factory could be thrown away and that everything you made would come back, how would you design the materials and products? That is precisely how Earth works. Braungart and McDonough's system is essentially an industrial system that mimics the nutrient cycles that maintain life on Earth.
Investing in Natural Capital
Businesspeople are familiar with the traditional definition of capital as accumulated wealth in the form of investments, factories, and equipment. But natural
capital consists of the resources we use, both nonrenewable (such as oil, coal, and metal ore) and renewable (such as forests, fisheries, and grasslands). Although we usually think of renewable resources in terms of desired materials, such as wood or fish, their most important value is the services that they provide. Living systems feed us, protect us, heal us, clean the nest, and let us breathe. These services are related to but distinct from resources. They are not pulpwood, but forest cover; not food, but topsoil. They are the “income” derived from a healthy environment: clean air and water, climate stabilization, rainfall, ocean productivity, fertile soil, watersheds, and the less-appreciated functions of the environment, such as processing of waste, both natural and industrial.
A capitalistic system needs all three types of capital: financial capital in the form of money, investments, and monetary instruments; manufactured capital in the form of infrastructure, machines, tools, and factories; and natural capital in the form of resources, living systems, and ecosystem services. The industrial system is a transformation of natural capital in the form of energy, metals, trees, soil, water, and so on, into human-made capital: goods, highways, cities, transport systems, houses, food, and services, such as health and education. It was an ingenious system and continues to be especially now as computer and telecommunication technologies revolutionize our lives. A system based on natural capital recognizes the critical dependence between the production and use of human-made capital and the maintenance and supply of natural capital. Costanza and others, writing in Nature (15 May 1997), estimated that the flow of ecosystem services flowing directly into society from our stock of natural capital is worth $17–54 trillion a year. World GDP in 1998 is about $39 trillion. The approximate valuation provides some measure of the value of natural capital to the economy.
Former World Bank economist Herman Daly believes that humankind is facing a historic juncture in which, for the first time, the limit to increased prosperity is not human-made capital, but natural capital. For example, the limits to increased harvests of fish are not boats, but productive fisheries; the limits to irrigation are not pumps or electricity, but viable aquifers; and the limits to pulp and lumber production in many areas are not sawmills, but forests.
Historically, economic development has faced a number of limiting factors, including labor, energy resources, and financial capital. A limiting factor is one whose lack prevents a system from surviving or growing. If marooned in a snowstorm, you need water, food, and warmth to survive. The scarcest one is the limiting factor. Having more of one factor cannot compensate for the lack of another. Drinking more water will not make up for lack of clothing if you are freezing, and having more clothing will not feed you. Limiting factors cannot be substituted for one another. They are complements; as with the mountaineer marooned in a snowstorm, the scarcest complement is what must be increased if the enterprise is to continue.
The economy has faced limiting factors to economic development in the pastlabor, energy resources, and financial capital. Industrial countries were able to continue to develop economically by increasing the limiting factor. It wasn't always pretty. Labor shortages were “satisfied” shamefully by slavery, as well as by
immigration and high birth rates. Energy came from the discovery and extraction of coal, oil, and gas. Labor-saving machinery was supplied by the industrial revolution. Tinkerers and inventors created steam engines, spinning jennies, cotton gins, and telegraphy. Financial capital became universally accessible through central banks, credit, stock exchanges, and currency-exchange mechanisms. When new limiting factors intervene, everything changes, nothing works as before, and a restructuring of the economy occurs.
Daly (1994) believes that the current relationship between natural and humanmade capital gives rise to the following propositions or principles:
1. If factors are complements, then the scarcest one will be the limiting factor. The question is, Which type of capital is scarcest, human-made or natural?
Are cars or television sets scarcest? Or potable water, salmon runs, and old-growth forests? Business is already seeking to substitute human-made capital or services for natural capital or ecosystem services. Pure bottled water is the one of the best-selling beverages in the United States (2.95 billion gallons a year) (Hays 1998). There are even “oyu” (water) bars in Tokyo. But bottled water is not a substitute for freshwater flows. The act of manufacturing, storing, shipping, and selling bottled water uses natural capital rather than replacing it, as gasoline, trucks, steel, plastics, highways, ships, stores, lights, paper, and boxes are used to deliver what was once a free good. The more “pure water” is produced, the greater the loss of natural capital. Conversely, the more polluted water becomes, the greater demand for bottled watera positive-feedback loop.
2. This proposition, according to Daly, gives rise to the thesis that the world is moving from an era in which human-made capital is the limiting factor into an era in which remaining natural capital is the limiting factor.
There is no threshold point to verify the thesis. Although the complexity of living systems defies simplistic quantification, the Nature paper totaling the value of ecosystem services provides a perspective from which to understand the dynamics better. Knowing that freshwater tables are falling in China, Africa, India, and North America, that forest cover continues to shrink by about 17 million hectares per year, that topsoil losses are about 26 billion tons a year, and that thousands of lakes worldwide are biologically dead can become numbing. Seeing the problem in the context of the whole system makes clear the need to move toward upstream solutionsresource productivity, biomimicry, service-and-flow, and restoring natural capital.
As natural capital becomes a limiting factor, we need to remind ourselves what income is. In 1946, J.R. Hicks defined income as the greatest amount of goods that a community can consume at the beginning of an extended period and still be able to produce the same or greater amount at the end of the period. That requires that the capital stock used to produce incomewhether a soybean farm, semiconductor factory, or truck fleetremain in place and complete. In the past, this definition of income was applied only to human-made capital because natural capital was so abundant. Obviously, it should also apply to natural capital. That means that to retain, let alone increase, income, we have to maintain stocks of both human-made and natural capital.
3. Economic logic requires that we maximize the productivity of the limiting factor in the short run and invest in increasing its supply in the long run.
This is common sense. If you have a distribution system and the roads are falling apart but you have abundant supplies of gasoline and trucks, you fix the roads. The only way to maximize natural-capital productivity is to change consumption and production patterns. Inasmuch as 80% of the world receives only 20% of the resource flow, it is likely that the majority will require more consumption, not less. The industrialized world will need to radically improve resource productivity, both at home and abroad, so that there does not have to be a reduction in quality of life.
4. When the limiting factor changes, behavior that used to be economic becomes uneconomic. Economic logic remains the same, but the pattern of scarcity in the world changes; the result is that behavior must change if it is to remain economic.
That last proposition does more than any other to explain the despair and excitement on both sides of the issue. On the environmental side, scientists are frustrated that business does not understand the basic dynamic involved in the degradation of biological systems. For business, it seems unthinkable, if not ludicrous, that you cannot extrapolate the future from the past and continue with present methods. In this intensely uncomfortable phase, people recognize, one by one, that economic activities that were once successful can no longer lead to a prosperous future. In itself, that recognition has caused polarization, frustration, anger, and name-calling. At the same time, it is already fueling the next industrial revolution.
The patterns of change that underlie natural capitalism appear to be the only known way to improve ecological health, create net economic growth, and provide meaningful employment in a world where one-third of the workforce1 billion people and increasingis marginalized, with no decent work or no work at all. It has been said that people are the only species without full employment. And we are also striving earnestly to make this ever more so, jettisoning people to create one more wave of short-term profits. The zeal to eliminate people is rooted in an obsolete industrialism designed for the bygone world of scarce people, general poverty, sparse technology, and abundant nature. The success of industrialism and capitalism has largely reversed those conditions. Today, continuing to deplete natural capital to make fewer people more productive and more people unemployed exhausts both the environment and society. Its logic is backwardusing more of what we have less of (natural capital) to use less of what we have more of (people). The result is massive waste on three fronts: overstressed resources and hence deteriorating living systems, underworked or overworked (either way, harried and disrespected) people, and the expenditure of vast sums expended to try to cope with the costs of both.
Civilization in the 21st century is imperiled by three main problems: civil societies' dissolution into lawlessness and despair, the deteriorating capacity of the natural environment to support life, and the dwindling of the public purse needed to address these problems and reduce human suffering. All three megaproblems share a cause: waste. Its systematic correction is a common solution, equally unacknowledged yet increasingly obvious.
Natural capitalism is the key that unlocks the reversal of that waste. A manifold reduction in resource use can increase the overall level and quality of employment while dramatically reducing harm to the environment. The economy can grow, use less material, free resources for those who need them, and start to restore living systems. We should be laying off not productive people, but rather the wasted barrels of oil, gallons of water, pounds of metals, and acres of forest, thus regenerating natural capital, hiring more people to do so, and cutting total cost. Gradually and fairly rebalancing factor inputs to substitute increasingly abundant labor for increasingly scarce nature will help to heal society and Earth.
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