Scientists and economists recently collaborated in a study of five natural habitats converted for human use and commercial profit. A tropical forest in Malaysia was razed for intensive logging, a tropical forest in Cameroun was converted to oil palm and rubber plantations, a mangrove swamp in Thailand was turned over to shrimp farming, a freshwater marsh in Canada was drained for agriculture, and a coral reef in the Philippines was dynamited for fishing.
The researchers came up with some surprising results. Had those five natural habitats been left in their wild state, their long-term economic value to the community would have been from 14 to 75 percent more than after conversion. In fact, an ecosystem loses, on average, half its value as a result of human interference, and each year, environmental conversion costs $250 billion. By contrast, preserving natural systems would cost $45 billion. The researchers say that goods and services –in the form of food, water,air,shelter, fuel, clothing, medicine, and storm and flood protection –provided in return are worth at least $4.4 trillion, a 100-to-1 benefit-cost ratio, reports London’s newspaper The Guardian. Dr. Andrew Balmford of Cambridge University, England, who led the study, said: “The economics are absolutely stark. We thought that the numbers would favor conservation, but not by this much.”
Sadly, even since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 11.4 percent of the earth’s natural environments have been converted mainly because of ignorance of what is being lost and a desire for short-term financial gain. Ten years later at the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, no clear solutions were forthcoming to resolve the dilemma. Dr. Balmford expressed his concern, saying: “one-third of the world’s wild nature has been lost since I was a child and first heard the word ‘conservation.’ That’s what keeps me awake at night”.