Academics and environmental campaigners from the Beyond Extinction Economics (BEE) network say challenging questions about confronting the risk to global biodiversity were left unanswered by a recent Guardian briefing article
Damian Carrington are to be congratulated on a wide-ranging and informative article on the urgency and scale of the current global threat to biodiversity and the Guardian (What is biodiversity and why does it matter to us?, theguardian.com, 12 March). However, we of the Beyond Extinction Economics (BEE) network have reservations about the article’s diagnosis of its causes, and proposals for addressing the crisis.
First, to say “we” or “human activity” is responsible for biodiversity loss sidesteps the more serious challenge of identifying the specific socio-cultural, and, more centrally, economic drivers of destruction. Second, to slip easily from population rises to industrial development, housing and farming as the causes of the destruction of wild areas evades critical questions about what sort of industry, producing what sort of consumer goods and what kind of farming and food distribution system – let alone questions as to who has the power to decide and who gets to consume and who doesn’t.
Proposing remedies such as commercial big game hunting and “sustainable” tourism misses the central point of the article’s analysis: while loss of iconic big mammals is dreadful, the future of humanity and of life itself is threatened by deeper, wider and less visible processes such as the vast scale of loss of invertebrate species and populations, soil microorganisms and oceanic flora. The drastic declines in biodiversity not only compete with climate change for importance, but are intertwined with it and with the other processes of environmental degradation which together constitute a multi-dimensional crisis in the relationship between the dynamics of our global economy and society and the earth that sustains us. As to “natural capital”, this approach is well meant but risks of capitulating to the language and values of the very economic forces that are the most powerful drivers of destruction. Popular pressure and inter-governmental cooperation to restrain these forces by such measures as planning and regulation are urgently needed. In the longer term, only deep economic and social transformations give us any hope of a liveable and genuinely sustainable world.
Ted Benton Professor emeritus, University of Essex, and Red-Green Study Group
John Blewitt Schumacher Institute
Russell Elliott Compas, Cymru
Brian Heatley Green House
Jenneth Parker Schumacher Institute
Pritam Singh Professor of economics, Oxford Brookes University
Martin Stott Chair, Garden Organic
Sian Sullivan Professor of environment and culture, Bath Spa University