Conservation: Calculation lesson

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Conservation: Calculation lesson
Conservation: Calculation lesson

Calculation hour

Conservation costs money and money is tight. So it is saved. A bad miscalculation, show ecologists who quantify Mother Nature's services: If all the items that arise are actually on the bill, the bottom line is definitely a profit.


Protection of the primeval forests, the coral reefs, the unique flora and fauna - demands that are heard again and again. "And what are we supposed to live on?" is often the banal and not entirely unjustified answer. After all, why shouldn't one be allowed to use the natural we alth of one's own homeland? Why should people of all people who live in the lap of luxury discourage you from hunting in the forest on your doorstep or cultivating fields? After all, they themselves have largely destroyed their original nature - so they should keep quiet with their claims. Or pay for it.

Why do you have to protect biodiversity at all? Because it makes ecosystems more stable against disturbances, because otherwise more species will become extinct, because we have an ethical responsibility towards nature - answers that will hardly convince an economist or even a small farmer: You cannot make money from it, let alone live from it (es unless they are engaged in ecotourism). In a cost-benefit analysis, nature conservation is therefore one of the unloved items in which nobody likes to invest. As a result, the discipline suffers from a chronic lack of money and is desperately looking for ways to distribute the thin means as sensibly as possible.

But only in recent years have ecologists and economists realized that their calculations were not entirely correct: they did not have the services of ecosystems - such as food sources, drinking water supply, medicine kits, carbon storage or even simply recreational space - as a free offer listed first. A big mistake, because if they are given a corresponding value, the balance sheets suddenly look very different. And nature conservation planning is also getting a whole new face and vision.

One of the last examples comes from South America. Robin Naidoo and Taylor Ricketts from the World Wildlife Fund analyzed the costs and benefits of conservation measures for the Mbaracayu Biosphere Reserve in eastern Paraguay. The researchers take five factors into account: the supply of the forest as a source of meat and wood in sustainable management, a source of possible pharmaceuticals, carbon storage and its emotional importance for humans, which is difficult to quantify. They compared these numbers to the expected profit if the forest were cleared and converted to farmland.

Overall, the values for all components considered varied greatly spatially. The most lucrative factor was the potential carbon store, which is why the researchers underscore the demand made elsewhere that the avoidance of deforestation should also be able to be credited globally as a climate protection measure. If they added up the individual totals of the ecological services of the subareas, they came up with two to over a thousand dollars per hectare. Clearing and use, on the other hand, only yielded up to 978 dollars per hectare - at least in some areas this resulted in a significant loss [1].

Kai Chan of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and his colleagues proceeded in a similar way, but several kilometers to the north: They made a cost-benefit analysis for the California Central Coast from Santa Barbara to San Francisco and estimated the performance of the individual ecosystems in terms of pollination and food supply for grazing animals, flood regulation, water supply, recreational space and, in turn, carbon storage. In addition, they recorded the biodiversity of the individual plots into which they had divided the area. They then examined which strategy would be the best to further increase or maintain services and biodiversity: Should funding measures be concentrated on regions that are particularly rich in species? Or those who scored the highest on utility?

Both had their upsides and downsides. Biodiversity protection also secured Mother Nature's range of services to a good degree, and conversely the species inventory benefited when the focus was on particularly productive service areas. With both concepts, however, the "hanging along" aspect suffered. In the end, the scientists found an optimal middle ground in ignoring those areas that were outstanding in terms of pollination and the fodder supply for grazing animals. Then, regions with high biodiversity coincided with those that scored well for the remaining ecosystem services. There were slight losses on all sides, but overall the biggest gain [2].

Protecting the environment and biodiversity is therefore worthwhile – and not just for vague arguments. The billed services of nature may seem rather hypothetical, they are fact. And they are numbers - numbers that explain many things better than lengthy, tortuous explanations that are difficult to grasp. Balance sheets that have been improved in this way give nature conservationists a good tool for their planning, they also make decisions verifiable and comprehensible. And that's exactly what matters when the difficult but legitimate question of why arises.

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