Monday, June 27, 2011

Link between improvement of the environment and society?

While I am aware of my tendency to discount anything older as 10 years as ancient in science terms, I do try to sketch a brief historical of each issue I discuss in (most of) my research articles. However, I am always surprised by the lack of "history" in quality reporting on scientific progress. A recent story in Nature, "Can conservation cut poverty", investigated the link between preserving biodiversity and positive influences this might have on the local inhabitants. The story points out the conflicting evidence, and seems to be a puff piece for the announcement of a new programme:
A UK-funded programme to catalogue and assess conservation and poverty reduction projects in Africa, South Asia, China and the Amazon should help unpick some of the confusion. The seven-year Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme, announced at the end of last year, is being funded with more than £40 million (US$62 million) from the UK government's Department for International Development, the Natural Environment Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council. The first call for projects will come in the next few weeks.
Since I teach both Community Ecology and Biology of Polluted Waters, and since my father is director for COPROGRAM, the Flemish federation of NGOs for foreign aid, I scan the literature on this subject a little bit. And it seems that the Nature story missed a couple of "old" stories, articles, or even in-depth studies:

Especially the last one is really interesting, since it has an unbiased account of funded projects with both environmental and poverty alleviation outcomes, and uniform gains measurements.

As you can see above, only 5 out of 22 projects were in the 'win-win' situation. While this seems at a first glance to be painting a negative picture, the article goes into greater detail in investigating the characteristics of these win-win projects. This is the true value of these exercises, because this can result in increasing the development of projects that maximize the benefit for everybody, humans and other-than-humans.

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