Jobs for the Poor? Save the Wild for $1 a Day

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Sorry Beatles but researchers at Conservation International might contradict your song “Money.”

The best things in life aren’t free

But you can protect the birds and bees

Now give the poor money

The best things in life aren’t really free. Fresh air, clean water, and bountiful crops all depend on healthy ecosystems. But research published in BioScience pointed out that the communities which steward those environmental resources often do not receive payment for their services.

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Communities near natural areas which provide economically valuable environmental services are often some of the poorest. The natural areas they live near are some of the most biodiverse. Hence, a potential win-win-win situation exists, according to the research, if those areas are conserved and the people near them receive money for protecting them; everyone in a society benefits from ecosystem services, such as pollination, water purification, food production and climate regulation.

Paying people to steward the nearby ecosystems could help raise them out of poverty, noted the study authored by Will Turner and his colleagues at Conservation International.

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But it is much easier said than done.

The challenge is to develop an efficient and reliable way for whole societies benefiting from those natural areas to pay for the services, and to make sure money actually goes to the folks who live in or near them, as opposed to governments, wealthy land owners, or other powerful groups.

The potential for a bureaucratic tangle of regulations and payment programs seems a potential trap for any attempt to pay the poor to protect local wilderness, especially if the programs tried to cover too much land area. But payment programs could be effective even if they focused only on high biodiversity areas.

“The global potential for biodiversity conservation to support poor communities is high: The top 25% of conservation priority areas could provide 56%–57% of benefits,” according to the paper’s abstract.

Also, areas with above average biodiversity value provided 79 percent of ecosystem services.

Payments could amount to more than a dollar a day for approximately 331 million of the world’s poorest, estimated the researchers.

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Maps created by the researchers looked like a global board game. By dividing the planet into thousands of honeycombs, it allowed the researchers to look at local scale relations between poverty, biodiversity, and economically important environmental resources.

They divided the world into 58,000 hexagons, using resolutions of finer than 500 meters to look at ground cover and human populations. The researchers stated this level of detail was unmatched by previous studies.

Each hexagon told its own story of correlations between wildlife conservation hotspots, ecosystem services and the socioeconomic conditions of people living near those areas.

Giving those stories a happy ending is easier said than done. Ensuring equitable distribution of payments for ecosystem services is a potential problem. Building the political will to charge for those services is also a challenge, as is setting a dollar value on things people are accustomed to getting for free.

IMAGE:

People tour the Karimbam Biodiversity Center in Kerala, India (Tvjeevaraj, Wikimedia Commons)

The best things in life aren’t really free. Fresh air, clean water, and bountiful crops all depend on healthy ecosystems. But research published in BioScience pointed out that the communities which steward those environmental resources often do not receive payment for their services.

 

Those communities near natural areas which provide economically valuable environmental services are often some of the poorest. The natural areas they live near are some of the most biodiverse. Hence, a potential win-win-win situation exists if those areas are conserved and the people near them receive money for protecting them, according to the research, since everyone in a society benefits from ecosystem services, such as pollination, water purification, food production and climate regulation.

 

Paying people to steward the nearby ecosystems could help raise them out of poverty, noted the study authored by Will Turner and his colleagues at Conservation International.

 

But it is much easier said than done.

 

The challenge is to develop an efficient and reliable way for whole societies benefiting from those natural areas to pay for the services, and to make sure money actually goes to the folks who live in or near them, as opposed to governments, wealthy land owners, or other powerful groups.

 

The potential for a bureaucratic tangle of regulations and payment programs seems a potential trap for any attempt to pay the poor to protect local wilderness, especially if the programs tried to cover too much land are. But payment programs could be effective even if they focused only on high biodiversity areas.

 

“The global potential for biodiversity conservation to support poor communities is high: The top 25% of conservation priority areas could provide 56%–57% of benefits,” according to the paper’s abstract.

 

Also, areas with above average biodiversity value provided 79 percent of ecosystem services.

 

Payments could amount to more than a dollar a day for approximately 331 million of the world’s poorest, estimated the researchers.

 

Maps created by the researchers looked like a global board game. By dividing the planet into thousands of honeycombs, it allowed the researchers to look at local scale relations between poverty, biodiversity, and economically important environmental resources.

 

They divided the world into 58,000 hexagons, using resolution of finer than 500 meters to look at ground cover and human populations. The researchers stated this level of detail was unmatched by previous studies.

 

Each hexagon told its own story of correlations between wildlife conservation hotspots, ecosystem services and the socioeconomic conditions of people living near those areas.

 

Giving those stories a happy ending is easier said than done. Ensuring equitable distribution of payments for ecosystem services is a potential problem. Building the political will to charge for those services is also a challenge, as is setting a dollar value on things people are accustomed to getting for free.

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