August 17, 2006

Intellectual preoccupations

Human well-being is improving. The well-being of the world poor is improving faster than the well-being of the rich, so inequality of well-being is decreasing. Unless, that is, you regard private jets and stock shares as more important elements of well-being than food, health, longevity and education.

The world poor are getting better because they have greater access to cheaper goods, such as industrially produced food, clothes and medicines. Many of the world poor are moving from the countryside to cities, where they have better access to these and other goods, and where they contribute to their production. This is what economic development in China and many other places is about. Economic development benefits people. More economic development benefits more people.

Some authors, however, blame economic development for people's hardships:
People who rely most directly on ecosystem services, such as subsistence farmers, the rural poor, and traditional societies, face the most serious and immediate risks from biodiversity loss. [...] Economic development that does not consider effects on these ecosystem services may decrease the quality of life of these vulnerable populations, even if other segments of society benefit. Biodiversity change is therefore inextricably linked to poverty, the largest threat to the future of humanity identified by the United Nations. This is a sobering conclusion for those who argue that biodiversity is simply an intellectual preoccupation of those whose basic needs and aspirations are fulfilled.
Let me restate my view. Economic development lifts people out of mere subsistence, brings people to cities where they get richer, and turns traditional societies into modern ones. Economic development makes people better off and less dependent on biodiversity.

The quote above comes from the PLoS Biology essay Biodiversity loss threatens human well-being (open access). It reflects the intellectual preoccupations of Sandra Díaz, Joseph Fargione, F. Stuart Chapin and David Tilman.

1 comment:

  1. How much common sense does it take to see that farmers are locked into a battle against biodiversity. A corn field is one species away from being as biologically impoverished as a mall parking lot.