The Upside of the Downslide


On the “every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining” principle…..the Christmas and year-end period is the busiest time of year for fundraisers in the developed world, and in a couple of weeks conservation organizations across North America and Europe will be seeing in the New Year by looking at their final-quarter numbers for 2008.

It’s unlikely to be a very festive occasion. However, in the midst of the gloom, it’s easy to lose sight of the many positive aspects of the economic crisis for conservation. Here are just a few:

  • The quicker the Chinese economy grinds to a halt, the better for biodiversity across South American grasslands, South Asian rainforests and African savannas as Chinese overseas investment dries up and Chinese consumption drops. That means a lot less land converted to agriculture while tropical timber exports hit a wall.
  • The Russian government has even less money on hand than the average American 401k: good news for Russia’s neighbours and even better news for Russian wildlife, given how much harder it just got for Russia to build pipelines, dam rivers and keep decrepit factories running
  • The debate over biofuels just became moot: we can’t eat out or drive anywhere anyhow. Food versus fuel is so yesterday now.
  • The United States can’t afford another Farm Bill like the last one, nor the European Union a Common Agricultural Policy like the current one…which means we might finally get developed world farmers growing something they can sell to consumers without help from your and my taxes. The worst thing about agricultural subsidies is that they make destroying natural habitat economically rational.

And last but not least….

  • All conservation organizations will finally go carbon-neutral as their travel budgets evaporate. Even if it was by accident, it’s the reality of it rather than how we got there that counts, right?

All of which begs the question — what have we been doing wasting our time on conservation all these years?

What we should have been doing instead was inventing something like collateralized debt obligations…and releasing them like little conservation bomblets into the bloodstream of the world’ s financial system.

The best argument for the Wall Street bailout is the one I haven’t heard anyone make yet — if we give them their money back, they’re bound to do it again! We’re all in the wrong profession. We could have done much more for conservation as investment bankers.

(Photo: Deforestation in Itaúba, Mato Grosso, Brazil. Credit: Leoffreitas under a Creative Commons license.)

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