A Day at the Zoo

Yesterday I had the good fortune of being a fly on the wall during the second day of meetings and presentations of a regional committee for International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), held at the Conservation Pavilion of the National Zoo in Washington, DC.

The IUCN is the largest umbrella organization for conservation groups worldwide. It is a vast entity that brings together 213 nation states and over 11,000 NGO’s to form unified policies and strategies for conservation and regeneration of biodiversity around the world. This was a meeting of the committee representing the North America and Caribbean region.

While a significant portion of the day was understandably taken up by issues of internal governance, the presentations and discussions were fascinating to me personally, and would be to anyone interested in habitat restoration and biodiversity in general. The concerns represented the leading edge research and thinking of ecologists, biologists and conservationists, which echoed and validated the very concerns and interests that sparked the creation of this blog.

An overview of the rapidly developing field of synthetic biology created a buzz even among the attendants, raising immediate questions among them over the definition of nature itself, the obvious ethical questions around introducing genetically altered lifeforms into the world, and also interestingly the potential uses of the rapidly developing technology in conservation and restoration efforts. It was interesting to know that the IUCN is developing an official policy position and document addressing synthetic biology, to be approved at their next general congress, which will likely represent the Gold Standard of ethics and Best Practices around these very difficult but exciting questions.

Even more interesting to me was the panel discussion around the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The panelists spoke at length about ecosystem services, and their overlapping categories of Nature’s Contributions to People, emphasizing the importance of communicating the economic and intangible value of these. I was happy to learn that teh IUCN identifies 18 specific contributions of Nature to humanity:

  1. Habitat creation and maintenance
  2. Pollination and dispersal of seeds
  3. Regulation of air quality
  4. Regulation of climate
  5. Regulation of ocean acidification
  6. Regulation of soils
  7. Regulation of freshwater quality
  8. Regulation of freshwater quantity
  9. Regulation of hazards and extreme events
  10. Regulation of organisms
  11. Energy
  12. Food & feed
  13. Materials and assistance
  14. Medicinal, biochemical and genetic resources
  15. Learning and inspiration
  16. Physical and psychological experiences
  17. Supporting identities
  18. Maintenance of options

It was also startling to learn that the data from IPBES showed significant losses in all of these categories except for Energy, Food and Material production – which interestingly are the items most easily monetized and quantified in economic terms. Listening to Bob Watson reiterate the importance of communicating the economic and intangible value of all of these services was reassuring and inspirational.

Overall, the experience was very informative and useful. It is positive to see that there are truly great minds working in the world of conservation at the highest level of policy. I also found it comforting to know that there is such a wealth of work and resources to draw upon for any organization or individual interested in conservation, land management and ecosystem restoration, and that there is no need to reinvent the wheel in many instances. Future innovations and initiatives have a wide international support network and body of knowledge with which to build solid foundations.

If anything, I was surprised I had not been previously more aware of the breadth of IUCN’s work and the many organizations that form it. Perhaps this is an area where a little effort could go a long way to inspire more public action around the urgent need for conservation. A robust and steady media production arm for the organization could capture imaginations and empower people worldwide who experience our shared anxiety over the future of Nature. The IUCN produces the world’s best contemporary conservation and restoration philosophy and policies. I am glad to have been exposed to its inner workings for a day, and hope to use their resources for future projects, and blog posts!

Published by ecosocialdesign

I am a graduate of Gaia University's action learning program where I developed a number of experimental techniques on rooftop gardening and the use of bamboo in the construction of human powered machines. I later focused on ways to use action learning to bring higher education recognition to Indigenous holders of traditional knowledge. I currently collaborate with my family in Chiapas, Mexico to promote agroecology and alternative markets with Indigenous communities there. My interest is in the burgeoning field of integrative eco-social design, specifically as applicable to landscape and habitat restoration. I am interested in the nexus between productive human activity and biodiversity conservation as I believe there can be no sustainable conservation that does not directly address and resolve the needs of human populations. Other areas of interest for me include traditional Indigenous knowledge around habitat management and food production. I am specifically interest in creating business opportunities for landscape and forest restoration specialists to engage with industry and community stakeholders in long term management contracts, as I believe this will become an essential part of all projects from their inception and design moving forward. This blog is a repository for my ideas on conservation and human productivity in the post-natural age.

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  1. Good thoughts, Ian. Maybe a way to monetize some of the other categories (or at least assign a value to them) is to look at the healthcare costs to people whose lives have been affected by this degradation, and approach health insurance companies or agencies about investing in preventative measures to reduce health care costs.


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