Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty

This year Blog Action Day is about poverty. 'Keep your post related to your regular blog topic' they say.

However, linking ants to poverty seems impossible. The best I could come up with was a video criticism of a Neocon version of the parable of the ant and the grasshopper which, whilst true, is not exactly interesting or relevant. So I'm moving up to the overarching theme of biodiversity, as there are many links between biodiversity and poverty.

Money is so often made at the expense of the natural world, most often not by locals, who are exploited just as badly as the environment in which they live. However, it doesn't always have to be like this. Anyone who's been watching Bruce Parry's Amazon (which should be everyone, as it's brilliant) will know about the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve, within which local communities are encouraged to live sustainably. The local communities feel that being part of the programme operating within the reserve benefits them and increases their quality of life.

Last year, the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) published a report entitled Biodiversity and Poverty Reduction; The importance of biodiversity for ecosystem services. I'd recommend reading the summary of this report at least. It lists some of the ecosystem services on which the poor are particularly dependent, including:
  • 'Varied diet (including flavourings and micronutrients), famine foods and food security - provided directly by components of biodiversity that are consumed, and through a wide range of biodiversity that is crucial for food production, including that involved in the services of pollination, pest and disease control, and soil fertility.
  • Water quality and availability (including regulation of flooding events), and erosion control - affected variously by vegetative cover at local and landscape scales.
  • Medicines and health, both through the supply of natural medicines, and through the regulation of infections and emerging diseases.
  • Cultural values, closely tied in many societies to components of biodiversity, typically at the species or landscape level.'

One of the main points that the report makes is that the rich can 'buy-in' services when ecosystems stop providing them. The poor cannot do this, so are much more dependent upon greater diversity through a heterogeneous local environment.

Combating both poverty and the loss of biodiversity are two of the greatest challenges to face us in the 21st Century, so it is good that the two are not mutually exclusive. What will probably have to change are current economic policies, as these generally operate at the expense of the poor and biodiversity - though, given the current global financial crisis, maybe now is the time for significant change anyway. Ultimately, we as citizens of rich nations have to make a decision about which is important: other members of our species and the world in which we live, or money. Only one of these will not matter when we are gone.

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