The Economic Argument

As Ehrlich and Wilson (1991) stated, biodiversity has unquestionable economic value in terms of foods, medicines, and other benefits. Nonetheless, elaboration of this point must be carefully crafted. The economic argument may encounter objections from people who fail to understand why it is more important to preserve habitats than to log, farm, or develop them for more immediate and competitive economic needs. Conflicts in economic perspectives are also now apparent even in different groups who identify themselves as environmentalists. Some favor accelerated economic growth as a way of producing the wealth, education, and technological breakthroughs necessary to solve the big environmental problems (Shellenberger and Nordhaus, 2007). However, there are those who advocate a massive return to local ''green'' economies, that depend critically on both individual and cooperative behaviors for moderation and the reduction of consumerism (McKibben, 2007). Connections must be made between the stewardship of biodiversity and different models for putatively compatible economies. We also need to understand much better the complex economic, traditional, cultural, and environmental interrelationships of low-income people in developing countries, many of whom live in the most biologically diverse regions (Agrawal and Redford, 2006). An effective argument here is that biodiversity emphatically plays a role in strategies for more sustainable agriculture, one that calls for the development of croplands that mix agriculture with natural components and thus provide both crop foods and restored ecosystem services (Foley et al., 2005).

Another way of demonstrating the economic importance of biodiversity is to use examples of negative impacts of biodiversity loss. Such losses can destabilize relationships of communities, even countries. A perfect ecological, economic, and political storm is brewing in West Africa because of the complex interplay of overfishing by both African and European nations offshore, the accelerating devastation of wildlife on land for bushmeat, and periods of massive food shortages (Brashares et al., 2004).

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Human population densities in Africa are higher where biodiversity is higher, suggesting that biodiversity is itself a better index for comparative wealth than we once had realized (Balmford et al., 2001). Biodiversity enrichment, in its transformed mode, means arable land, a great enticement for needy and opportunistic nations. Such pressures lead to conflict. Many important areas rich in biodiversity lie on international borders, especially tropical rain forests between nations that have not always maintained the most peaceful relations. History shows that people have made war over gold, oil, and water; they may do so over biodiversity.

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