There are numerous ideas on how to approach conservation during the Covid-19 pandemic and 2020 global economic crisis. Ecological roots of the Covid-19 pandemic, of course, are now being recognized since we know that anthropogenic factors such as deforestation, habitat fragmentation, land-use, and uncontrolled urbanization have the ability to impact the transmission of zoonotic diseases to humans (Platto et al., 2020). One particular piece from Global Change Biology journal that was written by Javid Kavousi and others discuss the objective facts about global change, Covid-19 pandemic, and conservation funding; and this opinion piece also emphasizes the need for “realignments of objectives, from the current goal of preventing any extinctions (i.e., the maintenance of biodiversity per se) to a more utilitarian objective of maintaining human well‐being in the face of accelerating climate and health crises” (Kavousi et al., 2020). While I agree with the fact that “conservation will have to evolve to stay relevant in the age of global change‐induced human infectious disease.” I do not think society’s willingness to pay for conservation funding has to grow, as government budgets are not allocated according to society’s desires (one example might be that many companies and even industries are bailed out against the societies willingness to pay for it) (Jacobe, 2018). However, conserving the biodiversity through “preventing any extinctions” and adopting a more utilitarian approach is not mutually exclusive as governments (especially of well-developed countries) have the budget or can find/allocate the budget for funding both approaches, and stating this fact otherwise strengthen the false sense of “pseudo-scarcity.”
It is quite imperative that when we discuss the subject of conservation, we must also discuss why do we want to conserve biodiversity. Naturally, there are multiple answers to this question from numerous people as some parties may emphasize the intrinsic value, and others can point to the economic value. Nevertheless, a habitable earth for humans is not possible without conserving biodiversity (since biodiversity ensures stable ecosystems and much crucial ecosystem services such as purification of water and air, crop pollination, protection against natural hazards and many more) and it will only get worse as time passes (Diaz et al., 2006). At the same time, ecological catastrophes await humanity on relatively short notice. These events will eventually affect a large proportion of the world’s population through drought, sea level rises, hurricanes, pandemics, and so on. At this point, one should discuss the meaning of realigning the objective of conservation to preserve human well-being since human well-being is and will continue to be dependent on maintaining global biodiversity and preventing extinctions (Diaz et al., 2006).
Furthermore, one of the arguments for “triage in conservation biology,” which states that we require an astronomical level of funding, fails to recognize that this objective is a bar that has been set and when the bar is lowered, there is no guarantee that this would not result in perception such as “maintaining biodiversity is not that important of a task,” since scientists were advocating for it for such a long time; and this would accelerate the rate of extinction as lots of scientist and institutions will lose their funding with the “realignment of objectives.” Moreover, the need for this so-called astronomical level of funding will only grow as time passes since there will be much more work and many more species to conserve (McCarthy et al., 2012).
Governments have the budget or can reallocate the budget for funding conservation and this so-called “admitting defeat” approach may change the tides for the worst as it can lessen the value of preventing extinctions in the eyes of the politicians (Buckley, 2016). Additionally, one should contemplate if taking a defensive stance on this issue would help achieve the goal of “maintaining human well-being in the face of accelerating climate and health crisis”, as we know that our current level of funding is already insufficient. Therefore, the objectives and messages of conservationists should be diversified, not realigned. The only way out of this is to take an aggressive stance and demand more budget that governments already withhold from scientists and institutions. Thus, creating a false sense of “pseudo-scarcity” and advocating for “triage” may be the most significant mistakes one could make as the “well-being of humanity” depends on it.
- Sara Platto, Jinfeng Zhou, Yanqing Wang, Huo Wang, Ernesto Carafoli, Biodiversity loss and COVID-19 pandemic: The role of bats in the origin and the spreading of the disease, Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, 2020.
- Jacobe, D. (2018, November 14). Six in 10 Oppose Wall Street Bailouts. Retrieved December 14, 2020, from https://news.gallup.com/poll/106114/six-oppose-wall-street-bailouts.aspx
- Díaz, S., Fargione, J., Chapin III, F. S., & Tilman, D. (2006). Biodiversity loss threatens human well-being. PLoS Biol, 4(8), e277.
- McCarthy, D. P., Donald, P. F., Scharlemann, J. P., Buchanan, G. M., Balmford, A., Green, J. M., … & Leonard, D. L. (2012). Financial costs of meeting global biodiversity conservation targets: current spending and unmet needs. Science, 338(6109), 946-949.
- Buckley, R., 2016. Triage Approaches Send Adverse Political Signals for Conservation. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 4.