Monday, August 11, 2008

Actions of individuals key to saving biodiversity -- and ourselves ... Preserving a substantial amount of biodiversity is critical to a healthy future for us, but how best to do that has been a subject of ongoing debate. A multi-pronged approach is the only way humanity can pull it off, according to Stanford biologists Paul Ehrlich and Robert Pringle. In an article to be published next week in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they argue that it is going to require not just governments but everyone to pitch in, on the individual level and in small groups.

But the good news, Ehrlich said, is that everyone can. While many people have bgotten the impression that only government-level action can have a significant impact, many small effective efforts are already under way. What is needed, he said, is for these small-scale efforts to be implemented more broadly and scaled up dramatically.

…Even as small an action as choosing to eat less beef or pork results in less of a resource drain. The more people who make that choice, the less the environment will be negatively affected. Other actions in the "hopeful portfolio" that Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies, and Pringle, a graduate student in biology, present are "stabilizing the size of the human population and reducing its consumption" and taking a series of steps "to ensure the efficacy and permanence of conservation areas."

Making human-dominated landscapes hospitable to biodiversity through such modest actions as "maintaining living hedges around agricultural plots and preserving remnant trees in pasture" can often buttress the biodiversity in these areas.

Ehrlich and Pringle liken each action to a wedge. Even though a particular action might start out small, as more people participate and the size of the effort grows, so does the effect. And just as many hands make work lighter, many wedges combine to have a significant effect of keeping down the rates of species extinction and destruction of habitats, thereby preserving biodiversity….

A sailboat on the Great Dismal Swamp Canal (either Virginia or North Carolina), Army Corps of Engineers,Wikimedia Commons

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