Does Focusing on Biodiversity Diminish Nature?


photo: ((brian)) via flickr

Unless you've just started following environmental issues you're probably aware that biodiversity is declining so much that the planet is seeing species go extinct at a rate a thousand times historical rates of extinction--and that we're collectively not do a very good job preventing human activity from accelerating that. Is part of the problem is the way we discuss biodiversity? It's a more complex (and more important question) than it may seem. Conservationist Paul Evans raises it in the new issue of Resurgence. Here's the part that really grabbed me:

Biodiversity is the variety of life, and in our culture we have learned to associate variety with choice. Can we do without certain species? Can we favor some species over others? In conservation, does the end ever justify the means?

Scientists may reject the questions but it's their term 'biodiversity' that makes space for them. Forcing 'biological' and 'diversity' into 'biodiversity' leaves out the 'logical' to produce an opaque term filled with values, which, in the more intimate, public language of Nature, creates doubt about what it really means. Biodiversity has inadvertently become a 'quantitative view of life' and appears the preserve of expert elites who describe it using the language of economics: competition, energy expenditure, strategies and dominance.

What has happened to Nature? For the bean-counters, Nature is primarily a resource, and biodiversity is now hitched to notions such as 'ecosystem services' and 'natural capital' - both free-market, consumerist ideals.

Evans goes on to explore the ethical questions of the ends justifying the means in conservation (should invasive species automatically be culled, etc...), but the question I want to ask of TreeHugger readers is this:

Personally and more abstractly, do you think it's possible to talk of 'ecosystem services' and 'natural capital' without reducing Nature (capital N intentional, the whole being more than the sum of the parts) to human utility value and losing some of the grandeur of it?

After all, that utility is inherent in the language used. Natural capital and ecosystem services both imply human uses as that's they way they are measured and prioritized. Do you lose something in coming down from the mountaintop, unified perspective of Nature capital N into the foothills and valleys of dualistic nature as useful to humans?

Perhaps this is a subset of the perennial question of does that ineffable poetic mystery of life remain when you know how the mechanics of it work?

Does knowing biologically how an acorn grows into an oak tree, and the ecologically role the oak tree have in the forest as a whole, and the symbolic role of oak trees in Pagan religious practices past and present, and how much it costs to make oak barrels for winemaking, and what the old British naval tune 'Hearts of Oak' or the newer Ted Leo album refers to, as well as all the animals dependent on that small acorn... does knowing all of that take away from the unified mystic, mythic and magnificent experience of experiencing the oak tree as a whole, solely in the present moment? Does it make the journey from acorn to oak tree any less miraculous?

Does breaking that list out and labeling part of all that ecosystem services lessen the whole?

For me it doesn't.

Like this? Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
More on Biodiversity:
Biodiversity: The Cinderella of the Environmental Agenda?
People Provide Missing Piece of the Biodiversity Puzzle
World Governments Failing Their Biodiversity Commitments - Pressure on Species Just Increasing
Rice Biodiversity Techniques Remain Intact In Rural Thailand
Why Biodiversity Matters, An Argument For Creepy Crawlies (Slideshow)

Tags: Biodiversity | Conservation

Best of TreeHugger 2014

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK