Courtesy Reuters

The Future of Conservation


If you want to see wild nature, your options are declining. Within a few decades, orangutans, Asian elephants, Sumatran tigers, Chilean flamingos, Amur leopards, and many other well-known species will likely disappear from the wild. The problems are not limited to large, charismatic animals. Untouched wild places have now shrunk to one-sixth of the Earth's land surface. Virtually all of the world's fisheries are distressed, and oceans have been depleted of predator fish, marine mammals, and birds. Tropical forests may still be dense with trees, but thanks to excessive hunting they no longer contain all the key animals needed to sustain their value to the Earth.

Wild nature is in deep distress, and whatever their occasional protestations, the international institutions charged with Earth's care are not managing it with an eye on "sustainability." Rising to that challenge will test the limits of diplomacy and development. It will also demand strategies in the private sector to rescue conservation from development and poverty alleviation from ecological degradation.

Global losses in biodiversity and wild places are not the stuff of environmental alarmism; they describe our world today, as detailed in volumes of hard scientific evidence. The long-term impact can be calculated in economic terms, but in truth, it represents much more. In the foreseeable future, most of the world's population will not know nature in any direct way. The cultural traditions and languages of peoples dependent on large natural ecosystems will disappear. Great animal assemblages and unique ecological events like those that have inspired humanity through the ages will vanish. As the world grows economically richer, it is becoming biologically poorer.

All these impending losses have a human origin. Economic expansion, population growth, urbanization, and development lead to greater consumption. In turn, growing consumer demand fires competition for fresh water, energy, arable land, forest products, and fish. And globalized production permits the harvesting of nature at ever more rapid rates.

Untrammeled development has resulted in increased demand for flood control and urban

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