How to Share the Earth
Room to roam
There is a limit to the amount of space that humans and their works can take up if we are to share the biosphere. It's not a question just of our numbers, although we simply cannot continue population growth at present rates. But some lifestyles make a far greater demand on the ecological resources of the planet (which other species also need) than do others. A single nuclear family in Los Angeles, dependent on fossil fuels to drive the freeways, the hydro-engineering of rivers to fill their swimming pool and agro-chemicals to support their meat-based diet, makes more claims on ecological resources than does an entire village in Bangladesh. If we are to ask the poor peasant farmers of the tropical South to bear the brunt of defending the biodiversity of the fragile rainforest they must have access to some of the resources that we so gleefully squander.
Stop the wildlife trade
The trade in the body parts of endangered species for reasons of human decoration or medicinal or health enhancement should be stamped out. This needs a two-pronged assault: consumer education in the industrial West and the Far East, plus a vigorous campaign of harassment against the poaching and transport of skins, heads, tusks, feathers and internal organs. The enormous cost of such an undertaking cannot be left to cash-starved parks and customs services in the South.
Turtles for supper
The harvesting of non-endangered wild species should be done by local peoples for food in a sustainable fashion. Industrial technologies that 'mine' wildlife, such as drift nets or high-powered weaponry, often wreak such destruction that it is impossible for population levels to recover. The limited hunting of game for supper, however, gives local people a stake in species survival and defence of the rainforest. For example, the Amazon Green Turtle is a much better and more efficient existing foodsource than clearing precious rainforest in order to get poor cattle-grazing pasture. In-shore fisheries are often quite sustainable if the big factory trawlers stay tied up to the pier.
Love a swamp
Most species are only as good as their habitats. The deafening roar of dams, dynamite and 'dozers is drowning out the spring chorus of frog-trills and birdsong. If wetlands and other vulnerable ecosystems disappear, small populations of wildlife will exist only in zoos or recreational parks. It is far more desirable to maintain natural ecosystems large enough to support viable wildlife populations. This calls for a combination of political will, sound land-use planning, and economic incentives for preservation as strong as those for destruction. One hopeful sign is the growing body of experience in restoring lands suffering from deforestation, degraded salt marshes and other wetlands, or grasslands recovering from the rigours of industrial agriculture.
Support animal lust
Conservation science must be utilized in order to save species, sometimes in-situ but most frequently ex-situ in zoos and other breeding facilities. This is tricky work that involves keeping together a small yet diverse population of captured animals and birds and creating conditions in which they can reproduce without excessive in-breeding assuming they are in the mood, of course! Captive-born wildlife can be re-introduced into the wild if its habitat of choice is not under too dire a threat. Some of the many types of endangered species that are currently being conserved in this way include the Chinese Alligator, the Arabian Oryx, the Mountain Gorilla and the Pygmy Goose. This work depends on the same public funding that is under pressure from the conservative budget-cutters almost everywhere. It badly needs public support.
Eat your seaweed
The human species is tailoring biodiversity to meet its narrow needs. Actually we use very little of the world's total flora and fauna that could be employed to clothe, shelter and feed us. Today some 80 per cent of the world's food supply is based on fewer than two dozen species of plants and animals. The wide range of crops and even mammals that could be utilized successfully by humans is giving way to a wasteful monoculture geared to industrial fashion and taste. Biodiversity needs to be part of our lives if we are to maintain a complex biosphere. There are hundreds of species of edible plants and nuts as well as indigenous rainforest animals, such as the Paca of Central and South America or the Bearded Pig of Indonesia and the Philippines, that arepotential food sources compatible with existing ecosystems.
Issue 288 Contents
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