Science - July 2, 2020

‘We have not taken biodiversity to heart’

Tessa Louwerens

While researching the funding of nature conservation, PhD-candidate Nowella Anyango-Van Zwieten realized the real problem was not lack of money. That’s why she proposes: Capitalism is not the root of the nature problem; indifference is.

PhD candidates are expected to submit a set of propositions with their thesis. In this feature, they explain their most thought-provoking proposition. This time, Nowella Anyango-Van Zwieten of the Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group , who obtained her PhD on 12 June for her research on nature conservation funding.

‘Very often, even in the scientific literature, capitalism is given as the root cause of the deterioration of nature. Capitalism is portrayed as a wild, uncontrollable monster seeking profit everywhere. I agree that capitalism is highly problematic, and is a major driver of the careless way we treat nature. But the beast can be tamed. I don’t think we should point at an external cause  of our heedless destruction of nature, because this is mainly an internal problem. It’s a matter of the heart. How we spend our money shows what we value most.
‘The highest estimate of the sum that would be needed to protect global biodiversity is  seven trillion US dollars per year. That sounds like a lot. But if you look at it in the context of the global economy, it is only a drop in the ocean. It is nothing in comparison with other funding such as agricultural subsidies or international aid. For example, of all the aid that goes to Africa, only about one per cent goes to the environment. We have not really taken biodiversity to heart yet, and it gets very low priority.

We have not really taken biodiversity to heart yet, and it gets very low priority

‘Look at what’s happening now with the coronavirus crisis, and how much money has become available to prop up the economy.  I’m sure if we really wanted to, we could raise the funds needed to protect all the biodiversity on the planet in a matter of weeks. But that won’t happen as long as we keep thinking the problem is external. We have to own it. Not just as individuals but also at the level of governments and industries. As long as we don’t, species will keep on becoming extinct at a rapid rate.’