Friday, 9 January 2004

Global Warming and extinctions

A personal perspective on the research into extinctions

Articles in New Scientist ( and Nature are predicting massive extinctions due to global warming. The figures are really scary, with a BEST case scenario predicting 9% of the world's species facing extinction as a result of global warming. Add this to the IUCN Red Data Book listing which classifies 10-30% of species as endangered, and the figures become truly alarming.

Endangered species have become fashionable subjects for research, but many of the scientists are simply modellers (what used to called arcmchair naturalists), using data from other scientists to make their predictions. Long gone are the days when conservation was a field occupied largely by dedicated amateur naturalists and a handful of field biologists. There's big money in conservation, and scientists are cashing in. I see very little evidence that most of the scientific research actually saves any wildlife. The majority of the endangered species that are being saved, tend to be the bigger, more spectacular species, and most of those will get saved regardless of the scientific research; they are being saved by public demand. And those less attractive, smaller species that are being saved, are being saved because of land conservation projects.

It's high time that we stopped talking about saving endangered species and did something. And conservation bodies should certainly stop most of their spending on research (unlikely because many of them are now controlled by scientists).

Time is rapidly running out and there is only one realistic solution, and that is to acquire as much as possible of the world's remaining natural habitats. This won't mean that research will suddenly cease -- universities, museums and other institutions will still carry on, but conservation dollars, pounds euros, pesos roubles etc, raised from the general public should go where it is most cost effective. And that is land purchase.

Global warming is a major issue, and so is habitat destruction and the many, many other forms of anthropogenic change that adversely affect wildlife. But most of these need governments to take action. Conservation bodies and the public should take action where they are most cost effective. Look at how much money WWF has spent over the past 40 years on research, then see how many acres of land that would have acquired world wide. In 2001 WWF's income was around £30,000,000 in the UK alone (I know a lot of that money could not be spent on land, even if they wanted to, but it does give an idea of tthe scale of things). £30 million would buy at least 1.2 million acres of land -- probably well over 5 million acres. Even in England it would probably buy over 10,000 acres. To give an idea of size, the State of Massachusetts is less than 2 million acres. And Belgium is just over 7 million acres.

And it's often been said that an area of rainforest the size of Belgium is lost every year -- just over 7 million acres. There is no doubt that $70 million could buy that much tropical rainforest.

The World Land trust is not alone in trying to save wildlife and habitat by acquisition, but we are a tiny minority. We need more support.

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