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60-Second Earth

How to Stop the Ongoing Loss of Species

Can the world tackle poverty and the biodiversity crisis at the same time? It'd better, David Biello reports

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

Species of plants, animals and other categories of living things are disappearing. And millions of people still live in extreme poverty. But is there a connection? For example, is the ongoing destruction of the Indonesian rainforest driven by the economic development of Indonesians? Or is the global demand for wood products to blame? Is it a combination? Or are there other factors that are more important?

The bad news is that answer isn’t clear. And the worse news is that the world's countries have not lived up to their pledge under the Convention on Biological Diversity to reduce the rate of species loss by 2010.

One reason for that failure: no one has agreed on what are true indicators of whether biodiversity is being preserved or lost. So argues Matt Walpole of the United Nations Environment Programme in this week's issue of the journal Science.

There’s a lack of good data from the front lines of the biodiversity crisis in the developing world. And even good data doesn't extend far enough back into time to make good judgments possible.

What is clear is that an approach that looks at both biodiversity and poverty is going to be needed. To give just one example of how the two can work together, producing more crops per acre can both help poor farmers and preserve existing forests.

Economist and Scientific American columnist Jeffrey Sachs argues in the same issue of Science that a new global treaty addressing biodiversity is needed—one that is paired explicitly to poverty alleviation. So that’s the challenge ahead: providing for the nine billion humans expected to be alive in 2050 without destroying the world’s remaining wildlife.

--David Biello 

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