Thursday, June 5, 2008

Jeff Sachs Writes, Tyler Cowen Asks, Wired Warns, Europe Ponders and E.O. Wilson Educates About Biodiversity

Some time ago in April of this year Marginal Revolution had a post featuring Jeff Sachs on biodiversity. Professor Cowen expressed his current perspective on the issue.

Now, loyal MR readers may remember that I am genuinely uncertain how much we should worry about the loss of biodiversity. I do know the following:

1. Many smart people who know much more science than I do are very worried about the loss of biodiversity.

2. Given that the human population has ballooned for the foreseeable future, massive losses in biodiversity are inevitable. The question is how bad the marginal losses will be, if we do not adapt policy accordingly.

3. If I had to conduct a debate and argue that the marginal loss of biodiversity was going to be a tragedy for human beings (obviously, I can see the loss to animals, and yes I do count that for something), I would not do very well. Yes Yana's children won't eat tuna and then I would sputter something about carbon and nitrogen cycles.

I genuinely would like to learn more.

The current source of information being Jeffery Sach's new book Common Wealth which devotes an entire chapter to this important topic. Sachs writes:

The main lesson of ecology is the interconnectedness of the various parts of an ecosystem and the dangers of abrupt, nonlinear, and even catastrophic changes caused by modest forcings...It is a basic finding that biological diversity increases the productivity and resilience of ecosystems. With more species filling more niches in a given location, a biodiverse ecosystem is better buffered against external shocks in is more adept at cycling nutrients, capturing solar radiation, utilizing water resources, and preventing the takeover of the system by single predators, weeds, or pathogens. In other words, preserving biodiversity helps to preserve all aspects of ecosystem functions. Removing one or more species from an ecosystem, for example, by selective harvesting of trees or fish or hunted animals, can lead to a cascade of ecological changes with large, adverse, and nonlinear effects on the functioning of the ecosystem.

Professor Cowen could get part of his answer from Wired Magazine's article Conserve Biodiversity or Risk Medical Losses, U.N. Warns via Wired Top Stories by Associated Press on April 23, 2008.

Poor stewardship of the Earth's diverse organisms could deal a major setback to medical research, a top U.N. environmental official says, because scientists are heavily dependent on naturally made chemical compounds to develop new medicines.
Here are some additional links from one of my network partners EUPHORIC which provides multiple perspectives on biodiversity and the efforts of the European Union in meeting them.

Finally, here is E.O. Wilson and the fruits of his TED Prize wish from 2007: Encyclopedia of Life launches! via TED | TEDBlog by on 2/28/08

Help me build the key tool that we need to inspire preservation of Earth's biodiversity: the Encyclopedia of Life. Today, the Encyclopedia of Life website has launched, with the first 30,000 pages, each one describing a single species, with descriptions and photos contributed by scientists and naturalists and people around the globe. Within a decade, it'll have more than 1.5 million pages, each for a single species.

More on this from the New York Times which provides additional background on this wish >>

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