One fifth of animal and plant species are threatened by extinction, a global study warns, but conservation efforts have pulled some back from the brink. Host Lisa Mullins talks with biologist Thomas Lovejoy about the economic value of biodiversity and intact ecosystems. Lovejoy is in Nagoya, Japan, for a global summit on the biodiveristy crisis. Download MP3
Read the Transcript
This text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to firstname.lastname@example.org. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
LISA MULLINS: The fate of the world’s animals, plants, and ecosystems is on the agenda this week at an international summit in Tokyo. Delegates are meeting there for the UN Convention on Biodiversity. They’re trying to stop a global wave of extinctions and ecological disruption. Host country Japan tried to jolt the talks forward today. It offered two billion dollars to help developing nations preserve endangered species. But the negotiations have been rough going. Thomas Lovejoy is the Director of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics & the Environment in Washington. He says people rarely pay attention to the free benefits we get from nature.
THOMAS LOVEJOY: Basically, we take it all for granted and then get surprised when it’s not delivering. One of the most interesting examples is the New York City watershed. And I grew up in the city and I remember how good the water was. And maybe 15 years ago or something like that, the watershed had deteriorated to the point where EPA was going to require the city to build a eight billion dollar treatment plant and then somebody said, hey wait a minute, maybe for a lot less we could just restore this watershed. Let biodiversity do the job it was doing before and then we won’t have to spend all that money.
MULLINS: So it was like a natural filtration system?
LOVEJOY: That’s right. So, it starts raining on a forest or some kind of wild habitat like that and it works its way through the system and comes out as just this gorgeous water.
MULLINS: So, the eight billion dollar water treatment plant…
LOVEJOY: Never had to be built. And for something like a couple billion dollars, there was a bond issue which basically bought up the development rights, and restored it to the natural ecosystem and restored the water quality. And it’s fixed forever.
MULLINS: There are examples of countries that have taken the ecosystem into account in terms of natural capital and maybe you can describe what natural capital is and where it’s being realized now?
LOVEJOY: I mean natural capital is recognizing what the biology of your landscape does for you. And one of the countries that have really sort of embraced that is Costa
MULLINS: There’s an interesting case that you’ve written about, you say it’s a classic study concerning coffee plantations in Costa Rica.
LOVEJOY: Well, that’s right. I mean if you have a coffee plantation in Costa Rica and you happen to have it by a forest, you end up, because of the wild pollinators, getting maybe 20% more pollination. So you’re actual realized income is on average $62,000 a year more. And yet all that’s considered free benefit from the forest. So, now we need to figure out how to get that into landscape planning and management.
MULLINS: What you’ve written is, we need to move from thinking of nature as just something set aside in a protected area in the midst of a human dominated landscape to a vision of humanity and its aspiration imbedded in the planet’s natural infrastructure. So, what’s the conventional line of thinking?
LOVEJOY: The conventional thinking of natural capital is that it doesn’t exist. That nature’s something nice, but you protect a little bit of it and put a fence around it and you do whatever you want in the rest of the landscape. The whole point here is that we need to think differently about what nature does for us and instead of letting all the mangroves in Vietnam be cut down and then having terrible flood damage, you restore the mangrove. It protects against flood damage.
MULLINS: Well, you know, having cheap shrimp growing in what used to be mangrove in Vietnam is an attractive thing for a lot of people. What would change the incentive there [OVERLAPPING].
LOVEJOY: For all we know, it is in the short term. But if you’re in the country of Vietnam, or some other country that’s considering ripping down more mangrove to do shrimp agriculture, you really do the economics of it and it’s really important in protecting the communities, important in terms of supporting the fisheries. If you actually start counting that up economically, you just would never do that.
MULLINS: You are in Nagoya, Japan right now for this UN meeting and I wonder what’s on the table for the meeting and whether or not you expect to see any progress?
LOVEJOY: So, one of the really interesting things that’s here but not on the table for negotiating is just the kind of accounting we’re talking about. In the meantime, in the negotiating room, there’s all kinds of picky negotiation going on and what could well get lost, but it’s not over yet, is having this meeting lead to some real action. The really great move on the table is to set targets for 25% of the land area of the planet to become [INDISCERNIBLE] protected areas and 15% of the marine areas. And that’s a bold suggestion on the table.
MULLINS: It is. A quarter of the land area being protected?
LOVEJOY: Well, that’s right. If you really think about what the planet needs to function and what humanity needs to benefit, it’s not unreasonable at all.
MULLINS: That’s Thomas Lovejoy, who’s the director of the Washington-based Heinz Center for Science, Economics & Environment and a professor at George Mason University in Virginia. He spoke with us from the UN’s biodiversity summit in Nagoya, Japan.
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at email@example.com.