How do we save the tropical rainforests of the world, answering the clarion call of so many environmental groups? For John Terborgh, a tropical biologist, the answer is dark and sobering: despite our best intentions, we may not be able to, for we lack both a coherent plan and, starkly put, the political will to do so. Sustainable development, "the mantra of the conservation movement," is of small help, Terborgh believes, because the realities of economic development are such that where the needs of humans are weighed against the needs of the natural world, nature always loses. Ecotourism, heralded as a model of economic possibility, is not much better because the novelty of seeing giant trees soon wears off and the chances of seeing wildlife are few ("restricted visibility means that most animals are not detected until the visitor is already well within the animal's flight distance, the distance at which a creature flees in the presence of a human"). If we're to save old-growth forests, Terborgh suggests, we'll have to suspend all economic activity in them, ending logging, prospecting, and recreation; only if we leave them alone do they have much of a chance. It's a grim view, and one that is unlikely to take much sway, no matter how correct it might be. Terborgh notes as much himself in his well-argued polemic, writing, "Whether we like it or not, tropical forests are worth more dead than alive. Nothing can save them short of a sea change in public opinion that registers not only in politicians' statements but also in their actions. Saving biodiversity will have to become a global obsession, not merely a pastime." --Gregory McNamee
From Scientific American
Development by humans is rapidly overwhelming the natural environment, according to Terborgh. Already, he says, "the global balance stands at roughly 5 percent for nature (counting only parks and other strict nature preserves) and 95 percent for humans," and the inevitable growth of the human population will make matters worse. Moreover, parks as they are now operated rarely work well. Even in developed countries, they are often too small to encompass the full spectrum of plant and animal life, and in developing countries they are poorly run. Terborgh, a professor of environmental science and botany at Duke University, has a few suggestions for improving the situation--national conservation trust funds, strict policing of protected areas and the internationalization of nature protection--but he does not seem optimistic that they will be widely adopted.