A Certain Conundrum About The UN’s Biodiversity Report

There’s that report out from a part of the United Nations telling us that we’re slaughtering all the cute bunnies out there and that this is a bad idea. Could well be true too, both assertions. However, we also get told that we should be against trade, against industrial farming. The problem is that we can’t go around saying that all are bad ideas:

All of which, to me at least, is the joy of this and other similar reports. We can take seriously their warnings about nature and the biosphere, in which case we should want as much industrial production of food and energy as we can — that mine to feed a nuclear power plant might kill a few bugs but it’ll leave more space for nature than solar panels to produce the same power — so that we leave more room for the biodiversity we desire to save. Or we can say that we don’t need to worry about that room for not-human activity to thrive, in which case we have enough to allow ourselves the luxury of resource-intensive things such as organic farming and other inefficiencies such as local production. But what cannot be true is both, that we must mind the world by intruding upon it less and also go back to inefficient methods of production.

For any given level of resource use trade gives us a higher standard of living than not-trade. For any given level of standard of living trade uses fewer resources than non-trade. Thus, if we desire less resource use we desire lots and lots and lots of trade in order to have less resource use.

Similarly, if our major worry is that it is land use changes which are driving other species extinct – a major assertion of this report – then we want industrial farming because this uses less land than alternatives like organic farming.

All of which is long before we get to the interesting point that only rich – meaning capitalist and free market – societies have the economic surplus for people to be willing to divert some to saving the cute bunnies. Poor people eat them into extinction as our forefathers did the megafauna in every place they got to – and as they got to those places.

Which is rather a joy, isn’t it? That in order to save that biodiversity, as the Green rightly insist we should, we should do absolutely nothing the Greens otherwise recommend, in fact perform exactly the opposite action. Drenching the Cerrado in chemicals to feed the world is exactly and precisely what will save biodiversity.

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