Partha Dasgupta’s observation is critically relevant to the continuing debates and objections on large companies and industrial units making an inroad into pristine natural landscapes and nature reserves to explore for minerals and oil, and in depleting vast tracts of primary forests for plantation of mono-crops such as oil palms in large commercial scale.
By Salam Rajesh
The discourses on biological diversity in the context of the current pandemic and impacts of human interventions on nature and natural resources, has been circulating across the global scientific and academic forums with renewed fervor and urgency. The sense of urgency arises from the deliberation on how earth would be impacted in the eventuality of an ever increasing global temperature rise by reasons of breakdown in the natural systems.
The latest in the scientific exercise is the publication of the report ‘The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review’ (London: February 2021) authored by Professor Partha Dasgupta (of St John’s College, Cambridge) which contains a massive 599 pages of discourse on the economics of biodiversity, wherein the perpetual conflicts of interest between humanity and the natural world rages unabated, largely owing to man’s continuing intervention in a very negative way.
Giving his forwarding note on the review, renowned naturalist David Attenborough says, “We are facing a global crisis. We are totally dependent upon the natural world. It supplies us with every oxygen-laden breath we take and every mouthful of food we eat. But we are currently damaging it so profoundly that many of its natural systems are now on the verge of breakdown”.
Providing his own insight into the dynamics of the economics of biodiversity, Professor Partha Dasgupta has this to put forth: “The thought was that human ingenuity could overcome Nature’s scarcity over time, and ultimately allow humanity to be free of Nature’s constraints. But the practice of building economic models on the backs of those that had most recently been designed meant that the macroeconomics of growth and development continued to be built without Nature’s appearance as an essential entity in our economic lives”.
This observation is critically relevant to the continuing debates and objections on large companies and industrial units making an inroad into pristine natural landscapes and nature reserves to explore for minerals and oil, and in depleting vast tracts of primary forests for plantation of mono-crops such as oil palms in large commercial scale. The destruction of biodiversity rich areas leading to loss in endemic and native species of plants and animals have more or less been connected to release of pathogens subsequently leading to spread of viruses such as the SARS-CoV-2 that ravaged the world recently.
Reflecting upon the setting of his report, Dasgupta emphasizes that the “Review has been prompted by a growing body of evidence that in recent decades humanity has been degrading our most precious asset, Nature, at rates far greater than ever before. Simultaneously, the material standard of living of the average person in the world has become far higher today than it has ever been. In the process of getting to where we are, though, we have degraded the biosphere to the point where the demands we make of its goods and services far exceed its ability to meet them on a sustainable basis”.
This reflection comes close to the global concerns on different aspects of climate emergencies including global warming, greenhouse gas emissions, carbon emissions, ozone layer depletion, ocean warming, sea level rise, temperature rise and several others. These in their totality threaten every aspect of the planet, including the very existence of all life forms. The unnatural phenomenon of the occurrence of earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclonic storms and other extreme weather conditions in increased instances not normal has become evident in recent times.
The mapping of biodiversity rich areas is in two aspects, literally, where the corporate view resource rich forest lands as highly viable for extraction of mineral ore, oil and gas, or to tap wild rivers for hydro energy. On the other hand, the scientific world views biodiversity rich areas as the resources to sustain life on earth by protecting, preserving and conserving the nature reserves to propagate life in its flow. The continuation of life through the unbroken chain of the natural cycle of life is vital to maintain equilibrium in nature. This is the basic argument in favour of the push for protecting nature reserves, specifically in locations which harbour biodiversity hotspots. North East India region comes under the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot and this defines the urgency to protect the nature reserves in the region from over-exploitation by business oriented companies whose sole objective is to tap the resources without caring for the enormous loss in ecosystem services.
In analyzing Nature-related financial risks, the report defines this as ‘financial risks that arise from changes in either the stock or condition (or combination of both) of natural capital and from societal responses to changes in the state or quality of natural capital. Nature-related risks include risks related to climate change and other environmental financial risks’. In laymen terminology this could be re-defined as the acute financial risks to states arising from extensive loss in biodiversity regime due to activities of extractive industries and mining companies who deplete forest and other natural resources to the extent where artificial crises are created, such as induced drought as result of diversion of river flow or decline in biodiversity as result of disruption in e-flow of rivers due to damming.
Delving more intricately into the discussion, the report outlines that “Loss of biodiversity results in greater volatility and uncertainty around the goods and services ecosystems provide. Changes associated with aspects of natural capital, such as biodiversity loss, water stress and resource scarcity, have significant financial implications. More generally, a range of anthropogenic changes in Nature – such as droughts, erosion, invasive species, air pollution, and contamination of water bodies and soil – have had identifiable adverse financial effects, such as declines in real estate prices, stock prices and bank defaults. The Covid-19 pandemic, which has its roots in disrupted ecosystems, has had global macro-economic and financial implications”.
The discussion, as propounded in the Review, closely looks at the dynamics of economics from the perspective of biodiversity loss which impacts extensively on businesses as an after-shock of damages suffered from the intrusion upon the nature reserves. The discussion on global warming which is said to be influenced by methane gas releases and carbon emissions accentuated by human activities, understandably affects glacier melts leading to sea level rise which have tremendous financial implications for nations who have to fight sinking coastlines, sinking cities, and sinking nation islands.
The Review is important in the sense that it gives a broad birds-eye-view of the gross financial losses incurred or to-be incurred by nations as fallout of unnatural calamities that originates from anthropogenic activities in the very first place. The enormous implication of extensive financial losses incurred by the nations as necessitated in combating impacts from extreme weather conditions, cyclonic storms, tsunamis and massive earthquakes is certainly reminder of what the world can expect from continued destruction of nature.
(The writer is a media professional and an environmentalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)Economics of Biodiversity, The Dasgupta Review