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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Economic Incentives: Conservation's Weakest Link

As noted in this NY Times piece on the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), any conservation program that depends upon economic incentives will fail when there is a greater economic incentive take a less environmentally friendly position.

In the 1990s we saw this with ecotourism. If someone can make more money developing a golf course community than leaving their habitat in place for birders, guess what they are probably going to do?

Now that agricultural prices are climbing, we can't pay farmers enough to keep them from plowing up habitat to cash in on the latest boom.

Paying people to do the right thing only works until someone is willing to pay more for something else. In the end, if we are willing for it to be all about the money, then the money will win and the birds will lose.


Anonymous said...

Great point.

Time just did a great cover story on the real economic impact of biofuels. It's astonishing.

But at the same time, what other incentive is there other than money? In my experience, convenience and economics (fancy words for time and money) are incredible habit-changing forces. What would you propose?

birdchaser said...

I don't think there is any real solution as long as we have money as the bottom line.

So, unless we are willing to restructure our entire economy and sociopolitical system, habitat and birds are going to lose.

Since the problems are of such an enormous magnitude, agencies and organizations can go for over a hundred years and individuals can spend their entire careers winning piecemeal battles and claiming small victories while larger economic interests make larger gains by whittling away at our environment.

I have my own views about an alternative, but don't hold out any real expectation that most people would be willing to give up our current system for something more cooperative with an ethical, rather than a monetary, bottom line.

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