Conservationists have tried petitions, protests, provocation, and heartfelt pleas to kings, presidents, and popes in order to convince humanity that it needs to make more of an effort to preserve endangered species. Now, a group led by Prof. Uri Shanas of the University of Haifa is trying a different tactic – the power of the purse.
A new crowdsourcing campaign led by Shanas seeks to raise $25,000, a sum that will allow the establishment of a group whose purpose will be to buy up biodiversity “hot spots” containing significant concentrations of endangered plant and animal life.
Those hot spots, Shanas believes, occupy just 1.4% of the earth’s land mass. Purchasing these areas and transforming them into nature reserves will save these species, and thereby save life on the planet, according to Shanas.
“It is neither possible nor necessary to conserve the entire planet all the time,” said Shanas. “But if we manage to conserve even a small percentage that is home to an unusual diversity of plant and animal life in danger of extinction, we can go some way to halting the current process of species extinction.”
Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of species go extinct each year, depending on whose figures one believes; the estimates range between 200 and and 100,000. What scientists can say with greater certainty is that the the extinction rate in the modern, industrialized era is between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the “natural extinction rate” – the rate at which species would die out without human intervention.
Most of those losses are taking place at the site of the greatest biodiversity – tropical forests, which, according to Shanas, are disappearing at a rate of 5,400 square meters every second. “Most of this land in areas with high biological diversity hotspots is privately owned, and thus at risk of development and destruction. Our goal is to purchase lands for conservation of these biologically rich areas.”
To accomplish that, Shanas is crowdfunding the establishment of TIME – This Is My Earth, an international group that will target the biodiversity areas, raise funds, and make deals for their purchase. The decision on what parcels to target first will be made by all members.
According to the plan, anyone around the world, adult or child, will be able to join by making a payment of at least one dollar. Once a year, all the members will vote on how to invest the organization’s funds, based on a list of biodiversity hot spots prepared by an international team of scientists. Every member will have an equal vote, no matter how much they pay.
While there are other groups working to stem biodiversity loss, TIME is different, said Shanas, and will involve much more local involvement than do current schemes to save the planet.
“The goal isn’t to engage in some kind of ‘green colonialism,’ but to enable local residents to manage their own natural resources,” said Shanas. “We are interested in founding an organization that can help educate people to involvement, environmental conservation, and democracy from an early age. And yes – to save the Earth in the process.”
There may be as many as 100 million species on earth, and fewer than 2 million have been identified. But just because a species hasn’t been identified, that doesn’t mean that it is not important – perhaps very important – for the health of the earth’s ecosystem. “We can’t always predict the consequences of the disappearance of a single species from the ecosystem,” said Shanas, “but there are examples of systems that have collapsed to an extent that has influenced human life following the extinction of a single species.
“For example, the disappearance of the sea otter in the Pacific Ocean led to an increase in the population of sea urchins,” Shanas said. “The sea urchins ate seaweed that provided the necessary underwater habitat for development of fish and other sea life. The consequence was a collapse of fisheries that affected many fishermen and their families.”
Shanas, a professor of conservation biology at the University of Haifa – Oranim, currently a visiting researcher at Portland State University in Oregon, has lined up a group of internationally recognized environmental activists and academics to push the idea forward.
“Our biggest challenge is to market this new initiative throughout the world,” he said.
“This Is My Earth has the potential to bring millions of people from around the world to participate in nature conservation,” Shanas said. “By providing a democratic platform for citizens of the world to act and influence decision making via the single most important conservation management tool, preserving land and biodiversity, our new organization can help lead global conservation into a new era.”