Biodiversity as Natural Capital

October 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Diversity is more than just a mantra. Beyond the mission statements, glossy admissions brochures, and announcements at meeting time, we feel the importance of diversity intuitively, viscerally. Are we hard wired to seek diversity? On a more rudimentary level, does a healthy society require diversity? Public Radio International’s fascinating daily program The World features a story today, “Biodiversity as Natural Capital” about the work of Thomas Lovejoy, who examines the importance of biodiversity to our ecosystems.

Nations are rallying as more species slide to extinction; urgent action, and the outlay of resources in the form of expertise, equipment and funding, seems the only way to prevent these massive collapses, and the consequent loss of biodiversity.

The idea of “Natural Capital” is a hopeful formulation for reframing the debate on humanity’s relationship with the environment. In short, if we begin to consider natural resources (clean watersheds, healthy plants/animals, open space, and sustainable foodways) as a form of wealth, then we might reorganize our priorities, both as individuals and communities. Some of these resources already play a supporting role in monetary calculations like real estate values, so the leap isn’t as great as it might initially seem.

By extension, we might very convincingly make the argument that just as biodiversity is essential to a healthy ecosystem, diversity of background and perspective is essential to any human community. Polycultures are healthier, richer, more resilient organizing structures than monocultures.

Slogans and value propositions aside, diversity is a lived experience, perhaps even one that is encoded in our DNA. It’s high time that we demand the same standards from our communities and organizations that nature asks of us as organisms. It’s one thing to be rich, and quite another to be truly wealthy.

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