Tag: ecosystem services (page 1 of 1)

A red flush of leaves

By T. R. Shankar Raman & Divya Mudappa

Splashes of red dot the evergreen canopy, like blood on green canvas. The canarium, stately white and tall, holds a red flush of new leaves above verdant, multi-hued forest. Skimming spectacularly over the trees, a great hornbill brushes grandeur onto the canvas. In the company of hornbills, a new year dawns on an unsuspecting rainforest.

… This post first appeared in the NCF blog, EcoLogic, and as ‘Rhythms of Renewal‘ in The Hindu Sunday Magazine on 2 January 2011. Read more, with updates, in The Wild Heart of India: Nature and Conservation in the City, the Country, and the Wild.

Twinges of longing, passing shadows

A primary concern in conservation is the extinction of species. Our work often leads us to ask: what should we do to save a species from extinction? The answer, or the search for answers, to this question spurs much of our research, our efforts. Yet, living as we are in the middle of an extinction spasm of the greatest import, we rarely ask the corollary: what should we do when a species does go extinct? In effect, when we fail to stave off an extinction? When a species passes on, should we just heave a collective gasp, drape a commiserative arm around our collective shoulders and move on to the next threatened species? Do we add another sample to the ever-growing database of extinct species for performing many-dimensional analyses of extinction that incrementally develop our knowledge of why species go extinct? Or should there be something more to it? For with the passing of a species, we also lose any connection we have once had with it.

… This post first appeared in the NCF blog, EcoLogic, on 19 September 2010. Read more in The Wild Heart of India: Nature and Conservation in the City, the Country, and the Wild.

Three cheetahs at Masai Mara, Kenya (Photo courtesy: Kalyan Varma)
The last cheetahs shot in India (Photograph courtesy: Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, Vol 47, 1948)

The PEST solution

In what is being heralded as one of the most visionary efforts in recent times to stem the extinction crisis, a collaborative effort by ecologists and economists from India, Brazil, and the USA has developed a novel solution for biodiversity conservation. Announcing this amidst great excitement today at a packed press conference at the Carneghee Lemon Hall at Park Avenue in Washington, D. C., senior scientist of the Natural Conservation Fund, Dr Ramon Gonsalves, said, “This is the solution. With this, the great wave of extinction will soon be behind us.”

The solution being proposed is a new scheme with an annual worth of 800 billion US dollars that has been given the moniker, Payment for Evolutionary Services and Technology fund (the PEST fund). Explaining the principle behind the PEST fund, Dr. Gonsalves said, ecstatically, “Species are the cornerstone of evolution. The extinction of a species signals the end of a long evolutionary process and deprives us of vital evolutionary resources that we could otherwise exploit for the benefit of mankind. In order to prevent the extinction of species, we have evolved a novel market-linked fund that will incentivise governments, private players, even individuals, to conserve evolutionary processes that make species what they are.”

Initiatives launched with the fund include a 10 million dollar grant to a field research centre in Ecuador to keep Darwin’s Finches evolving in the Galapagos Islands, a 2 million dollar community-based project that will enable villagers in Mexico to keep the mutualism between yucca and yucca moths going, and a seed-grant to an industrial consortium in Birmingham that will experiment with different kinds of air pollution to promote the evolution of different races of peppered moths in the region.

Laboratory-based evolutionary scientists around the world are also overjoyed at the initiative as it earmarks a full 50% or 400 billion US dollars for direct payments to labs breeding populations of the ultimate evolutionary milch-cow that never seems to run out of milk: the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. An additional 5% allocated just for experimentation related to tinkering of Drosophila salivary glands has left competing scientists working on other aspects, such as growing legs on fruit fly heads, virtually salivating.

Financing the fund is the world’s behemoth financial institution, the Bank of the Earth, which is providing the fund on easy terms. For implementing institutions in developed nations, it is provided as a low interest loan, while emerging economies may obtain these funds as interest-free loans or straight grants. This would be decided by economists at the well-staffed Bank of the Earth Coordination Centres currently being established within the offices of Prime Ministers and Presidents in the latter countries.

As in the case of many such large and popular schemes, the PEST fund has led to controversies in academic circles. Trenchant criticism has emerged from rival players who have tried to establish payments for ecosystem services (such as clean air, water, and carbon capture). Besides the loss of a pithy acronym to a larger project, proponents of payments for ecosystem services are worried that PEST funds will actually work against their own limited achievements thus far. The rival group is led by a group think-tank called the Coalition Against Vitiating Evolution for Monetary or Economic Net profits (CAVEMEN). CAVEMEN spokesperson, Dr. Clubb Hunter, in a press statement said, “Many evolutionary processes unleashed by humans work against nature and ecology, such as the evolution of more virulent diseases resistant to our best drugs, the varieties of invasive alien species spreading on every continent, and the evolution of couch-potato genes among certain human groups. Should we really be paying for all this, and that too in hard cash?”

Climate change nay-sayers also receive a fresh shot in the arm as aspects of human endeavour leading to further climate change that is likely to drive adaptation and evolution in plant and animal species are now eligible for PEST funds. The beneficiaries may range from airlines spewing greenhouses gases and engine fumes into the upper atmosphere over polar regions, nuclear and thermal power plants emptying warmed-up coolant water in cold rivers with endemic aquatic fauna, to those raising high-yielding, high-belching methanogenic cattle on Amazonian pastures adjoining biodiversity-rich conservation areas, observers of the PEST fund have noted.

The PEST fund has, however, won support from an unlikely quarter: social scientists and anthropologists. “This scheme is founded on well-established theory in social and human psychology”, said Dr. Eliza Doomuch, a retired social scientist and farmer in Kentucky and an architect of social revolution in the American South. “People will value things only if they are paid to do so”, she said. Taking a leaf from this successful scheme, she has founded a novel movement that promises to rid the world of racism, torture, and genocide, among other things such as parent-offspring conflict and sibling rivalry. This initiative, tentatively labeled Payments for Decency, will provide direct economic incentive to any human who shows basic decency, as defined by the International Consortium of Decent Human Beings, to other humans. Knowledgeable sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that keeping the future potential of this seminal idea to alleviate human suffering in mind, Dr Doomuch is already in the reckoning for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Yet, not everyone is happy. Among the first to raise questions about this trend to pay even for basic decency to other humans or to our planet is the Dixie Endeavor for Ecology and Population Solutions for Humanity In Transition, the only such NGO on the planet that does not use any acronym. When contacted for their opinion, this writer was told tersely, “We are refuse to accept this.”

None of these misgivings deterred the gala press conference in Washington, D. C., however. As Dr. Gonsalves said, in an euphoric tone, “We need to save species for human benefit. When humankind stands to gain so directly, it does not really matter how we do it, does it?”

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Disclaimer: All future events even remotely resembling the above fiction are entirely coincidental and unintentional.

This post first appeared in the NCF blog, EcoLogic, on 27 October 2009.