Global Financial Crisis Endangers Conservation Gains

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Greg Fishbein, director of conservation finance and planning for the U.S.-based nonprofit the Nature Conservancy, agreed.

"Certainly in situations [where] people's livelihoods are threatened, they will be more aggressive in deforesting and overfishing," Fishbein said.

In the same vein, people in the U.S. on the brink of losing their homes to foreclosure may decide against donating money to environmental groups, IUCN's Nadal said.

(Related: "U.S. Bailout May Set Back Science Funding, Experts Fear" [September 29, 2008.])

Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International, also thinks the crisis will impact the donor base for conservation, a field that's heavily dependent on philanthropy.

But, he said, "I've seen a lot of crises over the years, and I don't waste a lot of energy in worrying about them."

The Nature Conservancy's Fishbein stressed that the crisis won't derail some long-term environmental goals, particularly those combating climate change.

"The conventional wisdom, at least at this point, is that it's a big potential challenge, [but] more of a near-term issue," Fishbein said.

"We need to keep focused on the long-term problem," he said. "If we don't address climate change, the economic implications can be far worse than the crisis we're talking about right now."

For instance, a 2006 report published by England's Government Economic Service found that taking action now would cost only one percent of global gross domestic product (GDP), but that doing nothing would eventually eat up 20 percent of the world's GDP.

New Avenues of Funding

When it comes to fixing the problem, IUCN's Nadal thinks reregulation—bringing the deregulated financial sector back under federal restrictions—would stabilize global markets and help ease the crisis.

Meanwhile, Conservation International's Mittermeier thinks the crisis should motivate conservationists to scout out new avenues of funding.

Media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner, who addressed the IUCN congress at its opening ceremony on Monday, offered his own solution: tapping into military budgets.

The nearly half-trillion-U.S.-dollar budget for the U.S. military is supporting "another Vietnam" in Iraq, he said, money that could be better spent conserving nature.

"It doesn't make sense," he said. "It's not a good investment."

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