23 October 2008

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Watching the Numbers and Charting the Losses—of Species,” by Verlyn Klinkenborg (Editorial Observer, Oct. 15), is precisely on the mark regarding the urgency and importance of today’s plant and animal extinction crisis. And Mr. Klinkenborg’s conclusion that an international effort similar to what is happening to address the current global financial crisis will be necessary to protect species prompts a question.

What would it cost to stabilize our planet’s biological health by protecting species and their natural habitats? An estimated $13 billion a year would be enough to maintain and expand protected areas in the tropics, where the vast majority of plant and animals species are found.

The most recent estimate of what we actually do spend on conservation a year is about $6 billion. Of that, most goes toward conservation in the United States and Europe, and only a fraction is spent to protect tropical forests.

As we approve $700 billion to bail out failing banks, what is happening to financing for conservation? The United States is losing its historic leadership position in international nature conservation, as countries like Germany, Norway, Britain and others have made financial pledges that begin to dwarf United States yearly financing rates to address deforestation and species conservation.

With the next administration, the United States has an opportunity to regain that leadership. The huge financial bailout package has been put in place in record time. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on species, which are the basis of ecosystems that give us fresh air, water and countless other natural resources necessary for human well-being worldwide.

Once the world’s threatened species are gone, no amount of money can bring them back.

Russell A. Mittermeier
President, Conservation International
Arlington, Va., Oct. 16, 2008