Thanks in part to the emerging global economy and the widespread availability of the Internet, there are new ways to make economic growth benefit the environment, says Francesco Di Castri of the Center of Functional and Evolutionary Ecology of the French National Center of Scientific Research in Montpellier in the April issue of BioScience.
“Cultural enhancement of people and economic appreciation of the environment go hand in hand,” says Di Castri in one of eight papers in BioScience’s special roundtable section on ecology and economics. More on the link between ecology and economics is available at the website of the International Society for Ecological Economics, www.ecoeco.org.
In many parts of the world, exploiting natural resources is no longer the key to economic development. When people market a product or service that depends on intact habitats, conservation can benefit.
Marketing products can benefit cultural landscapes — where local people are integral to shaping the habitat — because subsistence agriculture is no longer enough to support the people, says Di Castri. Cultural landscapes are common in the Mediterranean, where people maintain the sunny, open spaces required by characteristic aromatic and medicinal plants. Mediterranean landscapes that depend on marketing products include France’s National Park of the Cevennes, where people grow sweet onion.
On Easter Island, the availability of the Internet lets native owners of small hotels to advertise and book their rooms inexpensively. This has effectively blocked the construction of large hotels and their accompanying heavy tourism infrastructure, both of which can damage the environment by concentrating tourists in one spot, says Di Castri. For instance, large hotels on beaches can threaten coral reefs.
Information technology and international trade can also benefit conservation by uniting fragmented populations of people who favor environment-friendly economic development. Both farflung Nordic aborigines and Polynesians scattered across small South Pacific islands are coordinating their cultural and eco-tourism efforts.
While these success stories are promising, Di Castri cautions that this does not mean we can substitute economic liberalization for environmental policies and regulations.
Di Castri, F. 2000. Ecology in a context of economic globalization. BioScience 50(4): 321-332.