Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Balancing act - addressing the needs of man and nature

Hou! Hou! Hou! I hopped out of bed and made my routine trip to the dining hall as calls from the howler monkeys in the distance signaled that it was time for a new day in La Selva to begin. Nature’s very own alarm; I much rather wake up to this than to the digitized tones emitted by my phone each morning. The only benefit of the latter was the fact that it can be snoozed. Looking down at my bowl of chocolate rice krispies and the banana that sat next to it, I was reminded of a line from a book that I have been reading over the past few weeks: “It is apparently difficult for us all to see the connection between the knife that slices the banana into our cereal bowl and the chain saw that slices tree trunks onto the rain forest floor.”
Having grown up with a fondness for biodiversity and wildlife, I have often been a strong supporter of conservation programs and envisioned myself as someone who would contribute to the cause in the future, either in the shoes of a naturalist, ecologist or conservationist. Yet this quote from Breakfast of Biodiversity reminded me that at the same time, I am also a member of a consumerist system that contributes directly to the destruction of the natural places I wish to protect. Anecdotes from this book, coupled with a visit to a local banana plantation, showed me how consumer behavior, of which I am a part, leads to wastage of produce from plantations that drives the need to convert more rainforest to plantations.  Despite having some reservation with regards to some of the points brought up by authors Vandermeer and Perfecto, I agree with them that the way forward in conservation is not purchasing tracts of land and disallowing alternative land uses. Rather we need to approach the issue as a systemic one, unraveling the interconnected links and addressing it within its own framework.
Of the issues we have discussed this semester, one that very much remains an enigma to me is balancing ecosystem protection and catering to the needs of people. Having grown up in a relatively affluent environment, it is easy for me to demand that people cut back on consumption to protect forests. Yet at the same time, I have come to realize the importance of being cognizant of the fact that the very people living around the forests do not enjoy similar luxuries and privileges. With few options for them to make a livelihood with, it is not difficult to see why they would choose to carve out a living from a “free” natural resource surrounding them – the forest.
Although I presently do not have any solutions to how such a balance can be achieved, our discussions on conservation issues have given me an awareness that has spurred me to aim to be part of the conversation and hopefully somewhere in the near future, join scientists and policy makers in reaching a compromise and delivering a promising answer.
Donovan Loh
Duke University

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