Dan Janzen calls himself a tropical real estate developer, but he's not clearing land and building vacation villas. Instead, the University of Pennsylvania ecologist sells nature's servicesas provided by the lush forests of Costa Rica's Area de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG). If the forest, home to such exotic creatures as jaguars, tapirs, and toucans, "pays its own bills," he reasons, then people will leave it relatively intact. A new study in Science confirms that this approach is badly neededand that wildlands like Costa Rica's tropical rainforests are worth more intact than they would be if they were converted to farming or large-scale logging.
By synthesizing hundreds of case studies from four continents and crunching numbers, the study's authors calculated that preserving wild areas worldwide would save 100 times what those areas cost to maintain. Mainstream economists gauge economic activity in terms of gross national producta measure of the price of goods and services that sell on the free market. But that tally ignores ecosystem servicesthings like clean air, clean water, and flood preventionwhich everyone benefits from but no one pays for, says Robert Costanza, an ecological economist at the University of Vermont and a coauthor of the Science study.
To reform the accounting approach, the researchers calculated the true costs and benefits of converting intact habitat worldwide to timber, farmland, or fish farms. Intact habitat was worth, on average, 54 percent more. Then they determined that an ambitious global program to set aside 15 percent of the land in each region and 30 percent of the seathe minimum that would be needed to preserve nature's serviceswould cost about $45 billion a year. That dwarfs what the world now spends on reserves, but it's a bargain compared with the roughly $4.8 trillion in ecosystem services it would save. With wildlands dwindling, Costanza says, what's missing now are ways to get the market to reflect the true value of preserving habitat.
That's exactly what Janzen and others have come up with in Costa Rica. In one prospective deal, they plan to persuade an orange-juice company to donate 3,445 acres of valuable rainforest to the ACG. In exchange, the juice company will compost 1,000 truckloads of orange pulp per year on wasted pastureland, smothering invasive grass and spurring the regrowth of tropical forest. Janzen is additionally working to persuade Costa Rican officials to charge pharmaceutical companies for the drugs they develop from the country's rainforest.
Many others are also devising new ways to sell nature's services, according to a recent book called The New Economy of Nature, by ecologist Gretchen Daily of Stanford University and journalist Katherine Ellison. For example, New York City officials invested $1.5 billion to stop pollution-causing development in a 2,000-square-mile upstate watershed that supplies the city's drinking water; the alternative would have been building a $6 billion filtration plant. Others are developing a market for carbon credits, called the Chicago Climate Exchange, in which investors will be able to buy and sell the ability of intact forests to store carbon and thus fight global warming. In each case, the investors win not by liquidating nature but by keeping it intact. As Janzen says about his tract of tropical forest, "The survival of the wild area is my bottom line."
Green Scissors is an annual campaign by public-interest and environmental groups concerned with promoting environmental protection and curbing wasteful government spending. Each year the campaign's Choice Cuts highlight the government programs most in need of reform. Some programs are national, while others are state based, but all are federally funded and threaten America's declining natural resources and habitats. Since 1994 Green Scissors and its leaders, Friends of the Earth, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and Audubon, have helped eliminate $26 billion in wasteful and environmentally harmful spending. Six proposed cuts from 2002 are featured below. For more information, go to www.greenscissors.org.
PRAIRIE ARE DEMONSTRATION PROJECT
The first salvo in the biology-textbook wars came a few years ago, when school boards in Kansas and Kentucky voted to delete all references to evolution in their high school teachings. Today the battle over educational curriculum has spread to Texas, where the state Board of Education recently rejected several high school environmental-science textbooks after a coalition of nine conservative groups charged that the books were "unpatriotic" and "biased." One of the groups, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), took aim at a particular text, Environmental Science: Creating a Sustainable Environment, labeling it "vitriol against western civilization and its primary belief systems."
"What the board said with their decision was that they were willing to reject a book based on ideological grounds," says Dean DeChambeau, associate managing editor at the textbook's publisher, Jones and Bartlett.
Another environmental textbook was approved by the board only after its publisher agreed to remove entire sections on climate change that were deemed offensive by conservative critics, including the sentence "Most experts on global warming feel that immediate actions should be taken to curb global warming."
In the case of another book, How the World Works and Your Place in It, published by J.M. LeBel Enterprises of Dallas, the TPPF successfully inserted the following: "In the past, the earth has been much warmer than it is now, and fossils of sea creatures show us that the sea level was much higher than it is today. So does it really matter if the world gets warmer?"
Of particular concern to some education advocates is that Texas's specially edited textbooks will be forced on students in other states. Texas is the nation's second largest textbook buyer (California is tops), and books adopted there will likely be offered to other unsuspecting states, cautions Ashley McIlvain, a spokesperson for the Texas Freedom Network, an anti-censorship coalition involved in the fight. Thus "changes may already be made before the teachers and public get a chance to consider the books," she says.
The educational consequences of self-censorship within the textbook industry are already being felt in some schools. Sherri Steward, an award-winning Texas high school biology teacher, contends that the new environmental text she has been forced to use is lacking "a great deal of scientific depth on every issue, from global warming to deforestation. They are quite watered down. There is no question in my mind that publishers have already bent over to pressure."
"If they were rats, we wouldn't have much of a problem," says Patrick Cooke, a specialist with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), of the 40,000 prairie dogs residing on Lubbock city property. His agency ordered the city to control the critters. But the public was not at all pleased with the plan: poisoningor blastingscheduled for December.
The prairie these animals now call home is Lubbock's "City Farm," where each day about 10 million gallons of treated wastewater are sprayed on crops like Italian ryegrass. Whether prairie dogs are really responsible for spiking nitrate levels is "anybody's guess," says Cooke, but their tunneling and eating habits have been blamed for accelerating the flow of effluent into the groundwater.
The city's decision to eliminate prairie dogs from the entire 6,000-acre sitedespite the fact that less than a third of them live in the area treated by the wastewaterunleashed a firestorm of irate letters, phone calls, and e-mails from across the country. "There's no science that says this needs to happen," says Jill Haukos, conservation chair for Lubbock's Llano Estacado Audubon chapter, which joined other environmental groups in a lawsuit against the action. The groups, along with wildlife agencies, remain unconvinced that eradication would solve a contamination problem that predates the prairie dogs themselves and that may very well result from the overapplication of effluent or the 3,000 head of cattle grazing on the land.
As Audubon goes to press, the TCEQ has reconsidered the wisdom of its order and has given the city 60 days to evaluate the situation and submit a new plan. While this may bode well for prairie dogs, "the way the law stands now, the city is still within its rights to remove them if it feels it needs to," cautions John Herron, chief of the Wildlife Diversity division of Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Prairie dogs are not a protected species. They are, however, on the waiting list to be considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Burrowing owls, which use abandoned prairie dog burrows, are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty, and ferruginous hawks, which hunt in prairie dog towns, are on Audubon's WatchList of birds at risk. "The buzz phrase these days is 'keystone species,' " says Rob Lee, a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And unlike rats, he adds, "that's truly what prairie dogs are."
Since the first Earth Day, in 1970, the amount of U.S. waste being recycled has nearly doubled every 10 years. But now, even as the volume of trash continues to grow, recycling has lost momentum, hovering nationally at about 23 percent. What's more, some cities, like New York, have pretty much thrown in the towel on recycling programs that took years to establish. Residents of Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, however, are bucking this trend with an innovative waste-management program that recycles and composts 85 percent of the 52,000 tons of garbage the island produces annually.
This amazing feat owes largely to the Digester, a 185-foot-long steel drum that converts trash and sewage sludge into compostsome of which is then used to help replenish the island's own sandy soils. (Because Nantucket has no industrial activity, its sludge, when turned into loamy compost, contains few toxins harmful to the environment.) The Digester, which was invented by a Swedish scientist, acts like a churning vat of microbes. In it biological processes are used to accelerate the decomposition of garbage. A separate component at the front end of the process removes glass, metals, and other recyclables, which are shipped to recyclers off the island. "I am so proud that this little island is using the latest in technology to close the solid-waste loop as much as we can," says Cormac Collier, an ecologist with the Nantucket Land Council. "Before this approach," he adds, "we were headed for a Mount Everest of trash out here."
With a year-round population of 10,000 and as many as 50,000 seasonal visitors, the former whaling capital of the world had, until 1999, depended on a 47-acre landfill that stood eight stories high. Runoff from the ever-expanding dump was contaminating a nearby freshwater wetlands, threatening both wildlife and the aquifer that supplies the island's drinking water. (In the winter months the contents of the old landfill are being put through the composting process as well, which has enabled the island to reclaim 24 acres thus far.)
When you consider that the Environmental Protection Agency says that 67 percent of America's household-waste stream can be composted, Nantucket's approach will be the wave of the future, predicts Charles Gifford, founder of Waste Options, the company that designed and manages the island's program. "Once we get a few more of these facilities in Massachusetts," he says, "this will become a mainstream solution for the whole country within five years."
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