Public Priorities Where Does Biodiversity Rank

It would be unfortunate to dwell at length on the unbalanced public perception of various environmental issues without recognizing perhaps the most fundamental obstacle in communicating the urgency of these problems. We humans, of course, are confronted with many problems, environmental or otherwise, and without some sense of priorities, we would be totally overwhelmed by them. Recent surveys (Curry et al., 2007) show that in the U.S., environmental issues, even with the added concern over global warming, still rank below terrorism, the Iraq war, health care, the economy, education, the quality of government leaders, Social Security, illegal immigrants, and family values. One may have scientific, political, and social views that lead them to disagree with the higher rankings of some of these topics, but it would be absurd to claim that terrorism and health care do not warrant our serious attention. Nonetheless, environmental issues should elicit greater concern, simply because they are so integral to many of the high-ranking problems on the public radar screen. Biodiversity provides enormous actual and potential benefits in the form of food, pharmaceuticals, and other resources and commodities. The degradation of habitats and biodiversity has huge implications for human health, economics, political instability, and even conflict. As discussed below, the key approach lies in better communicating an essential message: biodiversity is not really in direct competition with many issues that people regard as critical to their health, wealth, welfare, and sense of responsibility to family and future generations.

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