TED Conversations

Drew Thompson


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How does affluence impact biodiversity?

The idea that affluence plays a role in environmental harm has been around since the 1970’s. During that time, Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren incorporated affluence into their IPAT equation which stated: environmental impact equals population times affluence times technology. While biodiversity is not explicitly mentioned in this theory, it is intimately linked to environmental health.  Biodiversity is the measure of variation among life forms from microbes to trees, and as such, the state of the environment will directly effect the diversity of organisms it supports.

This issue of affluence and the environment is more prevalent today than ever, as the number of consumers is increasing dramatically in rapidly growing nations such as China and India. These consumers often follow in the footsteps of Western countries, with appliances and automobiles becoming the norm for many households. The need for more material wealth brings the need for more energy and the extraction of raw materials. A more urbanized landscape can be expected as well. As these cultures shift in their lifestyles and values, how will  biodiversity be affected? In what ways do a society's affluence harm the genetic and species diversity of the surrounding environment?  Is it possible that positive changes in values or technology could allow for affluence to rise without detriment to natural habitats and biodiversity?

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    Apr 26 2012: As the global economy and infrastructure exists today, we cannot function without the burning of fossil fuels, use of non-recyclable plastics, unsustainable food production, and other environmentally harmful activities. These behaviors are not bad in and of themselves. People need transportation to get food, go to the hospital, visit friends; disposable plastics are critical for sanitation in the medical field; current infrastructure in countries like the US means that life-sustaining food available to people at the grocery store is often not produce locally or organically. It is thus not affluence itself that must be diminished in order to preserve the plant, but rather the way in which we attain and use affluence. We must develop and invest in technologies that can supply us with energy in a sustainable way. Resources such as plastic need to be obtained at sustainable rates and recycled whenever possible. To learn about the extent and and impact of waste production, please visit a site I produced with fellow students this past year: https://sites.google.com/site/hc441materials/home. Food production needs to be localized so that adequate food is provided to those who need it, food is not wasted where is it not required, and energy is not spent on moving food that could be produced locally.

    Sustainability is the key to conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. In a natural state, ecosystems work because their component parts interact in a sustainable way. Humans must start to view themselves as part of their local and global ecosystems so that we can also participate in sustaining life on the planet.
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      Apr 26 2012: You realize that affluence is correlated negatively with both locally and organically produced food?
      We need the markets to let it worked out whom produces what food and not let ideological preferences prevail, if we want everybody to have plentiful food available.
      Energy is already priced into the equation of food production, it forms an integral part of the cost price of any food item. Only the market will be able to achieve the lowest possible price for food products, and thus increase food availability.
      • Apr 30 2012: No offense, but it always bothers me when folks talk about "letting the market decide". Unfortunately, our economy is based on a profit/loss equation that omits important social and environmental costs: there is no doubt that organically grown food is far more sustainable and far less harmful to the environment than foods that rely on heavy use of pesticides and herbicides; it is obvious that companies that pollute reap greater profits yet cause greater harm than companies that do not pollute. As long as our economic system allows corporations to avoid bearing the true cost of their production by shifting those costs to the public, "letting the market decide" is simply not the way to go. How can we create a "free market" that takes into account all the costs -- economic, ecologic and social -- involved in any human endeavor? Such a market would allow truly altruistic endeavors to thrive.
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          Apr 30 2012: People are dying of hunger, because food prices skyrocketed, and you want to factor in ecology, to increase prices even further.
          I'd like to bring in a quote by a Kenyan scientist named Florence Wambugu:

          You people in the developed world are certainly free to debate the merits of genetically modified foods, but can we eat first?

          Also, do not forget, organic food does not have any nutrional or health benefit to us.
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          Apr 30 2012: To comment on the idea that organically grown food is far more sustainable and less harmful to the environment- this isn't necessarily true. For example, organic potatoes use less energy in terms of fertilizer production, but consequently more fossil fuel is used for ploughing. I have read that a conventional farm can produce up to 2.5 times more potatoes than organic farms. Is that more sustainable? Also, there is no strong evidence regarding organic foods to improve the overall health of individuals. Pesticides are actually used in organic farming, but they are labeled as "organic pesticides". Last, but not least, organic farms take up more land than conventional farms. Our society needs to be more aware of the products we are purchasing. Sometimes "organic" isn't all what it is cracked out to be.
    • Apr 26 2012: Really like your website, the section on bottled water was a real eye opener for me, thanks for raising my awareness :)

      Completely agree with you on the need for more local production of food, I work in the refuse industry, specifically the collection of garden waste for composting. I am absolutely astonished by the amount of pears, apples, plums etc that get thrown away by local people each autumn from trees in their gardens, sometimes literally whole bins full to the brim. All food that could be sold by them to boost their income or turned into jam, wine or anything really rather than just put in their garden bin. Will have to start badgering my bosses and the local council about this I think, Free Food Harvest Festival sounds good, will apeal to the PR value of such an initiative...

      I also agree that humans need to view themselves as part of the ecosystem and not seperate from it, after all we rely so much on the ecosystem to provide services for us for free, such as bees and other insects for the pollination of crops which can be harmed by an over relience on pesticides and fertilisers.

      Thanks once again for the link to your website.

      Kind Regards :)
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        Apr 28 2012: This exemplifies the underlying problem that gives rise to the lack of sustainability that causes food scarcity: it is not underproduction of food, but maldistribution. When farmers are forced to throw away full bins of good food, that is a problem not in production, but a problem in demand. If the people of a community demand a more sustainable standard for food, ie. production at the local level of crops that are native to the local area, then production will match their demand.

        However, in communities of people that cannot predictably access food, the suggestion that they demand local production and local sustainability becomes an impossible objective for those people to reach on their own. We see this problem is many industries in developing nations: international aid organizations will send hundreds of thousands of shoes, t-shirts, etc. to developing countries. In the short term, this puts clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet, but in the long term, this makes the development of the shoe or clothing industry impractical, if not impossible. The people of their community will refuse to pay for even locally produced and sustainable goods when they can easily get those goods for free. This an enormous problem with the unsustainable way that international aid functions.

        The problem is cyclical. Affluent countries can, but rarely do, demand a higher level of sustainability. Often, those same affluent countries, under a paternalistic guise of protection, make sustainability in developing countries impossible by providing free goods that could just as easily be produced by the people that receive these goods. Instead of teaching or leading by example, affluent countries are forgoing an opportunity to set a precedent of sustainability and to assist developing countries in making their markets more sustainable. Only when countries with an opportunity to demand sustainability do so can we hope that countries without this opportunity will try to access it.
        • Apr 29 2012: Unfortunately I can not remember the name of the organisation as it was a story I heard on the radio while at work, but I know there is at least one NGO who give money directly to people in less developed nations in the form of micro-loans. As I remember they either didn't charge interest or charged a nominal rate and they specifically lent money to women on the grounds that they are most economically disavantaged and, they found, the most reliable at re-paying the money. The example in the story was very simple and allowed the budding entrepreneur simply to set up a stall outside her front door, selling shoes, saucepans and what ever else she could get her hands upon. The money returned was re-invested in other micro-loans to the community and after a while was administered directly by the community.

          On local food production, quite often the developing world simply needs food rather than worrying about sustainability, however even in the limited space of a shanty town people can come up with innovative ways to grow some of their own food. Just type 'vertical bottle garden' into the search engine of your choice to see some pretty amazing ideas all of which can and have been applied by people in developing areas. Sounds a much better idea than just throwing money at a government.

          I wholeheartedly agree with you that affluent countries should set a good example as those in less advantaged countries take a lot of ideas from what has gone before.
    • Apr 28 2012: Lauren,

      I think you make a great point. One of the biggest problems is that as humans we see ourselves as separate from the ecosystems in which we reside. I believe one of the biggest problems is how humans view themselves at the top of almost all aspects of this world. While there is no denying that we have had some of the greatest impacts, we are also just citizens of this world. How can we possibly know what is best for the world and the organisms that inhabit it? Because we view ourselves as separate from the ecosystems people are unwilling to see our role within the system. As people, we often have pride for where we come from or where we currently reside. We have pride for the state we live in, the town we were born in or the school that we attended. If we learned to identify with the ecosystem that encompasses these places, maybe people would find it easier to become passionate about conservation efforts.
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    Apr 30 2012: With cultures like China and India shifting their lifestyles and values to a more materialistic, westernized influence, the biodiversity that surrounds those area's can be negatively affected. Convenience is the main driving force for many people in the world today and more often than not technology and material items help make that possible. Unfortunately while this is being made for humans, other things have to pay the price such as biodiversity. Land that was once home to a number of plants, animals, and other organisms will be destroyed for the sole purpose of extracting raw materials that just happen to be there. Even the development of roads so that that mining area can be accessed more easily pushes the organisms further away, perhaps even killing them. The wants and needs of items made from raw materials start to outweigh the appreciation for having those raw materials and privilege that the materials are there in the first place. The notion that being able to want something and doing what you can to obtain it sets that view that anything can be yours, but why is that true? What gives you the right to feel you can have what you want? Resources are made available for the opportunity to live, not as something to make a living on.
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    Apr 30 2012: The equation by Ehrlich and Holdren that environmental impact can be expressed in terms of I=PAT is very intriguing particularly in relation to the degradation of our earth's biological biodiversity. I can't help but wonder if the equation could use some modification or possible updating or tweaking? The discussion at large here is how does Technology and Affluence affect environmental impact- and I believe there are many great ideas and arguments here for each side of different coins- is Technology the demise or possible future hero and how much Affluence is the right amount to be beneficial?

    So with all of opinions and debates on the table and once the dust settles, I can't help but wonder which of the three (Population, Affluence, Technology) variables is most important, and what, if any coefficients could go in front of them?

    Current equation: I=PAT

    What I wonder: I=xPyAzT

    The topic here is focused on Affluence and Technology, yet can any value be added to either three to give greater importance and how that might change from today to 2050 or 2100? I feel Population should have the highest coefficient by a long shot because we humans are undoubtedly the cause of not only biological degradation but nearly all other problems we are facing on earth- yet what weighs more detrimental with Affluence or Technology? And how might those values change as Technology becomes more advanced and Affluence shifts around our world over time? I understand such questions might be slightly off topic, yet very relevant because it is important to consider which of the three variables is most damaging to biology- for this discussion in particular Affluence or Technology- so we may then better understand what questions to be asking next.
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      Apr 30 2012: Some very interesting thoughts Neil. Obviously the simplistic nature of the IPAT equation cannot encompass the true complexity of human-environment interactions. I like that you mention how value can be added or subtracted to each component. These additions and subtractions of value could come from differences in scientific advancement or even cultural values. It will be interesting to see if in the coming decades, similar environmental "equations" come forth in the literature to try and boil down the complex balance between humans and the environment.
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    Apr 27 2012: This question remind me of the book "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" which is about the global issues of climate change, overpopulation, and the rise of the middle class. As the world becomes more even, or flat, financially the "increased quality of life" puts an intense strain on our natural resources. In response to your question is it possible that technology will allow for increased affluence without harm to the environment I would say no. The IPAT formula is not perfect, but it does highlight how important affluence and technology are. I personally do not have enough faith in technology to say that it can counteract the negative impacts of affluence. Technology is very resource dependent, and even as it improves there is no way to, for example, stop using lithium in batteries. On the other hand technology hopefully will help decrease environmental damage to a point. What really needs to be addressed is our consumer society. How we view material things is not natural and although it has it's benefits such as creating a high speed economy, we need to stop ignoring the negative side.
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      Apr 28 2012: I agree. Unless we perfect space travel to the point where we can move the entirety of our population to another planet, the advancement of technology may not be enough to propel us towards environmental redemption. Although we can continue to advance technology--as we speak, replacements for lithium in batteries are being researched--we are not addressing the issue of over-consumption. Our planet only has so many resources and although we can make things smaller and smarter, they still use resources. This poses an increasing problem as the global population increases, and with it, affluence. Maybe it isn't possible for every human to own a car? Maybe the way the average citizen lives in western society cannot be spread to the masses? We continue to ignore the role consumption has on environmental destruction. We choose, instead, to buy our new priuses to show the onlookers how "green" WE are, without acknowledging that the increased energy and resources that go into building and running a prius (including the lithium battery) may never be overcome by the fuel saved during its lifetime when compared to the clunker at the used auto lot. In this way, producers have spent billions if not trillions of dollars in advertising to let us know that it's okay to buy that bottle of water because it contains 20% recycled plastic. Isn't that nice.

      So, as I sit here on my computer, railing against affluence in my comfortable apartment, how do we make this transition from consumer to steward? Even those of us who realize that consumerism may be the problem are stuck in the way society views these products. I'm at a loss for a viable solution. How do we convince people that the solution might be to work backwards from the INCREDIBLY comfortable lives many of us live towards a life of treating the world with respect?

      Food for thought. I don't have an answer people will like.
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      Apr 29 2012: I agree with the technology part. I don't think that technology can counteract the negative impacts of affluence. Technology requires us to do lots of mining to get the rare minerals needed to make many of the technologies today. Cell phones, computers and even Prius' require rare minerals which require much more mining than coal and other minerals that are more common. This mining for rare minerals requires more mining and destruction of the environment than normal mining and most often in very remote places. These minerals are only found in small quantities in very remote places.

      These Prius' are supposedly better for the environment, but in reality they are not. Even though they are advertized and seen as the best for the environment. They require the mining of rare minerals and use other forms of energy to run, rather than gasoline. They use energy that comes from coal, nuclear, and/or hydroelectricity which is just as or more damaging than the burning of fossil fuels.

      I think in some ways technology can help, but it is more likely that is will result in more damage to the environment before it does any good.
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    Apr 27 2012: I agree that it is often the middle levels of affluence that have the greatest impact on biodiversity loss. It is these levels where people have the luxuries that have become necessities, such as cars and large homes, but cannot quite afford the more environmentally friendly equivalents. Higher levels of affluence means more money to contribute to the production of ecosystem-preserving products and conservation projects occurring locally and abroad. In these cases, affluence has more of a positive impact on biodiversity preservation rather than destruction. Also, biodiversity loss can be attributed to the necessity associated with poverty. In many African nations, bush meat hunting is a common practice, and people are killing endangered primates simply because they have nothing else to eat.

    Because people are beginning to realize the extent to which our actions impact the planet, technology can be utilized to create new products and services that reduce the number of human caused extinctions. This is only possible with increasing affluence in developed and developing nations. With increased awareness of the importance of biodiversity conservation, perhaps ecosystems can still be preserved as developing nations grow and prosper.
    In order for all of this to occur, there needs to be a change in the way we view the relationships between technology, money and the environment. Utilizing technology to better the planet and prevent biodiversity loss must become a necessary process instead of one only used when it will cause minimal financial loss.
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      Apr 28 2012: Considering the first part, with which I agree completely, the logical way forward would be to maximize affluence as fast as possible. Every to humans related parameter correlate positively with wealth, so let us grow.
      • Apr 30 2012: On the scale of the individual human's quality of life, I agree that perhaps "maximizing affluence" is a way to slow the destruction of Earth's biodiversity. Hypothetically, let's say we find a person whose job is to extract oil from the Amazon rain forest and give him enough money to be able to quit his job, buy a big house, and live in leisure for the rest of his life. We now have one less person directly contributing to biodiversity destruction. However, this person is still indirectly contributing to the extinction of species by his standard of living. Even if he works to combat biodiversity loss, merely by driving a car, heating his house, and using a lot of water (the lifestyle of most residents of affluent nations), he will be supporting the industries that contribute to it.

        The affluent way of life on this planet is made possible by the destruction of habitat, ecosystems, and biodiversity by those who are not as affluent. Without the people clearing rain forest to make way for coffee and oil palms, without those whose farming practices result in desertification of already semi-arid land, without these non-affluent people who must take part in these activities or have no way to feed themselves, the affluent way of life would not be possible. Our society has developed in such a way that not everyone can be affluent. Not only are there not enough resources for everyone in the world to have a car and a nice house and running water and a computer and an ipod, but all these things are made possible by the biodiversity-destroying labors of less well-off nations and people whose activities fuel the world's infinite growth-model economy.

        Yes, with affluence comes more opportunity for combating biodiversity loss, but that does not mean that affluence should be "maximized," at least not in the way that affluent countries were able to attain their state of high quality of life--by consuming the world's resources.
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    Apr 27 2012: Consumption is a fact of existence, and we as humans have been depleting biodiversity since we evolved to hunt with tools effectively. The Pleistocene megafauna that roamed North America went extinct 11,000 years ago at least partly because humans arrived over the land bridge from Asia. There were undoubtedly other factors that contributed to their extinctions, but at least a little blame should probably be laid at the feet the early settlers of the continent who brought with them tools and disease.

    That being said, our current behavior far outstrips anything our ancestors could have accomplished with stone tools. I personally wonder if our need to buy ever-increasing amounts of things might be some kind of hoarding behavior left over from when saving food for the winter might be the fine line between life and death. Now that there's almost no evolutionary pressures, I question whether that urge to hoard might have gone haywire and been redirected by advertising.

    On the Pleistocene extinctions: http://exhibits.museum.state.il.us/exhibits/larson/LP_extinction.html
  • Apr 24 2012: I agree with your second question. It is not reasonable to expect other developing countries to put high demand on being greener while developing. I also somewhat agree that when your richer you tend to take better care of the community around you. For example, and rich neighborhood has all clean cut grass lawns, paved roads/driveways, etc. In conclusion it looks nicer and the environment is kept cleaner. But the thing wrong is that were they get all their products is in places like China, India places like that. They have really dirty and lousy manufacturing process that don't care how much they pollute. They just want money. So basically the world could never be affluence and pro biodiversity. USA is one of the few country's that is trying to lessen the pollution of the world and make inventions that will help this mission.
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    Apr 24 2012: A large impact of affluence and the rise of urbanization will bring more microbial homogenization. We constantly think of the impacts on macroorganisms, but the microbial world will be ever so prominent in our expanding urban environment. This expansion will bring with it the destruction of habitats and naturally the loss of diversity.

    Also, I think its interesting that you ask if it is possible that positive changes in values or technology could allow for affluence to rise without detriment to natural habitats and biodiversity, and I think that that is simply not possible. For our species to thrive we will must keep dipping our dirty little sausage fingers into more and more niches of the world, and by making more of an impact we will inevitably decrease biodiversity to allow room for those select few species that benefit us. Some species are just of less interest to us, and those will be sacrificed to allow for the others which will contribute more to our affluence.
    • Apr 24 2012: I agree. Even if our technology was the best it could be, we lived in a carbon neutral environment, we produced zero waste and we dedicated our lives to supporting biodiversity we would still be contributing to biodiversity loss, most likely. The problem is, and we see this in our current preservation and conservation efforts, that the human race gets attached to certain species and we become a proponent of them to the detriment of others.

      One over used example of this in the Pacific Northwest is the history of Salmon stock preservation. In the beginning we reacted to threatened and endangered stocks by treating just the salmon population, focusing on the species as a separable piece of the ecosystem. Next we tried to support salmon life by enhancing the community, and finally we moved into an ecosystem approach that we are still using today. But despite our improving efforts we are still overtly harming other species in an attempt to protect Salmon diversity and PNW ecosystem diversity. A lot of this harm to biodiversity is likely happening in ways we don't recognize yet. However some threats, and here's the controversial part, we are actively pursuing. California sea lions are a native species. More than that they are a threatened species which is finally coming back after nearly 70 years of being fully protected and here we are attacking them because they are new to this generation and because, in theory, they are drastically impacting the salmon stocks. There's a lot to be said on this specific issue but the fundamental point is that even trying to protect biodiversity with our best technologies and efforts we still end up having a negative impact because we latch onto the charismatic species of our choice and defend them to the detriment of all others.
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    Apr 24 2012: As developing nations become more affluent, we can predict similar impacts that have resulted from the affluence of developed nations will become more prevalent and frequent. In the globalized world we live in today it seems inevitable that developing nations will take on western or developed nations’ ideals and lifestyles, which will bring about more biodiversity loss, increased over exploitation of resources, climate impacts, and far more environmental impacts we witness today. A large problem that may be associated with affluence is the waste that society produces as a product of affluence. Affluence does not need to be correlated with wastefulness. A society can live just as comfortably or at least very close to it, without wasting the earth’s gifts such as its resources and living organisms. To cut down on the amount we consume does not mean we are less affluent, in fact often we are left with more money. The quality of a life is not lessened by carpooling or taking the bus to school, or by using both sides of a sheet of paper, it simply makes sense to completely use the resources you are consuming. By cutting back on the amount of unnecessary waste, and by disassociating affluence with waste can deter from the negative impact of becoming a more affluent society.
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      Apr 24 2012: That is an excellent point about the difference between waste and affluence. However, I would like to ask (to you or others) how reasonable it is to expect currently developing nations with growing affluence to follow a path that is less wasteful than the precedent set by the US and many other western nations.
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        Apr 24 2012: The jury is not out anymore. The verdict is in. Rich people in Western countries don't give a damn for the state of the world or the survival of the planet or the suffering of others. They will waste and consume and discard and foreclose and grab for themselves trying to surround themselves with fences to protect just them.

        Second point: with the leading over-consuming, militaristic, imperialistic resource-hogging country falling apart from rampant selfishness, what makes you think that other countries are going to be following in the quicksand footsteps of the US? Situations change. Empires collapse. It has happened a thousand times. Why would the American Empire be any different? A new synthesis must emerge. Look ahead, not behind. Find what must be new. Don't just ape what we have become used to. It's not going to continue.
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          Apr 30 2012: "A new synthesis must emerge. Look ahead, not behind. Find what must be new. Don't just ape what we have become used to. It's not going to continue."

          Let's hope so Paul........let's hope so.
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    Apr 30 2012: Your question reminded me of an article I have from the 1990's on the rainforest. I am only giving you the first few paragraphs of the article. It is food for thought:

    "A CROWD is watching a soccer match and cheering wildly. They wish the game would last forever. But they keep shooting the players. One by one, the dead are carried off the field. The crowd becomes enraged when the game slows down.
    Deforestation is much the same. Humans enjoy the forests, depend on them, in fact. But they keep killing off the equivalent of the players: the individual species of plants and animals, whose complex interplay is what keeps the forest alive. This is more than a game, though. Deforestation affects you. It touches the quality of your life, even if you have never seen a rain forest.
    It is the tremendous variety of living things, what scientists call biodiversity, that some argue is the greatest asset of the rain forests."

    (The article is longer, but I am cutting it here)

    Affluence in and of itself does not have to harm earth's biodiversity. It is thoughtless humans who are responsible for not looking at the consequences of their irresponsible acts and wastefulness.

    Let's hope that we see a dramatic change soon....as Paul Palmer mentions in his comment.

    But how will the change come? And who will take the lead worldwide? We'll have to wait and see.

    Finally, you ask as your final question: "Is it possible that positive changes in values or technology could allow for affluence to rise without detriment to natural habitats and biodiversity?"...........my reply.......I hope so, I sincerely hope so!!!!!
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    Apr 30 2012: The consumption of Americans is at an all time high and is still on the upward swing. And, as you mentioned, other countries are growing to the level that we have been operating at. This has to cut down drastically on biodiversity since more humans and more consumption means that there will be a huge decline in the diversity health. Simply because there is a limited amount of space and if humanity continues to use up and take up resources, we are a sort of invasive species that spreads and thrives in the environment that we degrade. I don't mean to say that we don't have the capacity to live within our means, but we do live outside of what it should be.

    Surrounding environments are always changed by urbanization either through edge effects or lack of range for larger animals. This would in turn lead to a cascade effect of the negative kind. As to whether or not we can continue to consume at this rate, or even a higher one, without affecting the biodiversity and natural habitat; I don't think we can. We are very good at changing our environment and dealing with problems after they have occurred, but I feel like we would adapt too little too late.
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    Apr 30 2012: I think that the way that affluence is measured has a negative impact on biological diversity. Affluence in our culture is seen as something to flaunt, have a big house which requires lots of materials to build and energy to heat, have a big car that consumes gasoline, etc. As more countries have the ability to follow this model of "affluence" which leads to environmental degradation, then more and more biodiversity will be lost. However, if there is a shift from such unnecessary excesses to more sustainable consumption of resources then biodiversity can flourish. There are enough resources on earth to sustain every person, but not at the rate that resources are being wasted and destroyed.
    However, affluence makes this change seem unnecessary and counterproductive because everything seems fine as it is. People who live with affluence are generally happy to live as they have and changing the value structure of society would disrupt what many see as normal and positive. Affluence can lead to apathy and the desire to remain at the status quo.
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    Apr 30 2012: I think affluence is undeniably inversely related to biodiversity and will be so for the forseeable future, until the Green Age -- that is, the time when the paradigm shifts -- comes to fruition. Today, there are "green" entrepreneurs, a select several businesspersons who are able to capitalize on the environmental wave sweeping through (parts) of America, but the majority of the affluent (those who have the highest "standard of living" and income) are those have the largest footprint.

    Traditionally we think of the affluent as the technology-producers. All else falls to the wayside. However, I think a paradigm shift will be marked by a grassroots passion, in which the sparks that lighten up the country will be born from marginal and unmarked movements. "Corporations are people" too, but it is the individuals (who do not necessarily fall under a larger umbrella term) who are most potent, who have witnessed the earth's energy ebb and flow, who are free to weave the stories which will bind the web of diversity together once more.
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    Apr 30 2012: More likely than not, as developing countries try to obtain the same affluence as the developed countries, biodiversity will take a hit. I say this because thus far, most of the developing countries will be trying to follow the infrastructure, plans, and so on that were already set down in the past by the developed countries- it's already there and they're trying to "catch up" anyways, so they'll choose the easiest path (or at least, the path that seems to have the least risk). For the ones that choose this path, this will result in things that we've seen in multiple other areas; exploitation of resources to gain revenue, fragmentation of ecosystems and environments, etc.

    As for the possibility of positive changes in values/technology allowing for affluence to rise without damaging natural habitats and biodiversity... I think it's there, in that we'll be capable of doing it. It just becomes a question of whether people will become motivated enough and do so in time to make it reversible. People are capable of many things, some of which are brilliant and wondrous, and I really hope that we can get -both- the change in cultural values and the right technology in time. Because if we don't put our whole being into preventing biodiversity loss , or at least do some little bit that we can do to help, it won't be enough.
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    Apr 30 2012: I think that with positive changes, that affluence could continue to rise and not have such a negative impact on biodiversity and the environment. I think that it all depends on what the affluence actually is. Sure we might have an abundance of wealth or of products but if they are things that do not damage the environment as much such as eco-friendly products, then I think that we can reduce the negative correlation between affluence and the environment. In some ways an increase in affluence and technology could be beneficial if it is used in the right way such as advancements to help the environmental causes. We cannot go forward and fix all of the damage that has been done to the environment and to biodiversity without an increase in affluence. For example, in the early 90s there were high levels of lead found in the air due to cars. Now, even though the amount of cars has significantly increased, the process in which they are made and the materials in which they are composed of are much more eco friendly causing less overall lead concentrations in the air. This is significant because lead is a heavy metal that can bioaccumulate in many species which could directly result in the loss of bio diversity.
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    Apr 30 2012: I think that if we continue to grow populations and expand on technology in a way that is ignorant of the environment, we will most certainly see biodiversity begin to be affected. As areas become more urbanized we will begin to see certain species disappear as their natural habitats are tampered with. However, I think that there is hope in maintaining biodiversity in developing nations while also advancing technology. While other countries such as India and China have already affected their environments to a point of near no return, I think that more recent ideas about being eco-friendly will be incorporated into areas that are not fully developed as they become more affluent. Remaining conscientious about our surroundings and evaluating the consequences that our actions may have are key in moving forward.
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    Apr 30 2012: These questions immediately make me think of the book "Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh" by Helena Norberg-Hodge. This ethnography illustrates how the affluence of modern society can negatively impact not only the environment, but also interpersonal relations of the people that live on the land. When Helena first arrived in Ladakh the air and water were clean and clear, and the people happy and content without the need of any modern conveniences. Helena watched over the course of twenty years as modern society reached out to infect this society. As the Ladakhi became more and more involved in modern society, the air and water became polluted, and the people became homeless and unhappy. In this situation not only was there a negative impact to the environment, but the people were also severely affected. This exemplifies how modern technology as we know it negatively impacts the environment as well as the people. At this point, most indigenous cultures that once lived in harmony with the land have now been exposed to modernization. With this modernization comes abuse of the land to expunge its resources, and general discontent at the inability to become affluent. Material wealth isn't important if both the people and the environment are suffering, especially when the means to obtain material wealth involve sacrificing the land and biodiversity that maintain this planet.
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    Apr 30 2012: To me it seems inevitable that affluence has a negative impact of biodiversity. Greater affluence=Consuming more of the world's carrying capacity=less carrying capacity to support others=less organisms can survive=less biodiversity. Although like with many things, the issue of affluence's effect on biodiversity is more of a "how much" than a "whether or not" and in that sense, I think there are far too many factors to create some sort of "conversion factor" between the two.

    A tricky thing about affluence in terms of affluence is that it's a situation where the bar is set high. By that I mean is that that average level of affluence in a nation like America is, as far as I've seen, set as a sort of minimal acceptable level-everything below that is considered to border on inhumane. This all despite that fact that, compared to most of humanity's history, the average American basically lives like a king, and a lot of the things we take for granted are really very much luxuries. But because this kind of lifestyle has already been attained by many, it is considered inhumane for people to be stuck with less-and I can't say that way of thinking doesn't have its merit; it's certainly the "kindest" way of thinking about things. But for everyone in the world to live at such a high level of affluence, and even for the people who already live the high life to continue indefinitely isn't feasible. And the bar can't be lowered. For now at least, that high level of affluence is attainable and everyone knows it, and the idea that it lasts now but can't last forever doesn't stick and it never has. I do think, however, that if education and-dare I dream, advertisers-started treating like new advancements as added luxuries rather than all new necessities that you absolutely need even though somehow everyone before got by just fine without it, and treated advancement itself as a luxury as opposed to some inalienable right, I think it might be possible to stop the bar from going higher.
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    Apr 30 2012: I don't believe that an increase in affluence necessarily equates an increase in environmental impacts. I am not of the thought that technology will solve all of our problems. I do agree that with the right motivation and development affluence can promote biodiversity when applied towards technological and scientific advancements which promote biodiversity.
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    Apr 30 2012: What I don't understand is the role of "technology" in the equation by Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren stating: environmental impact equals population times affluence times technology. If anything, I would think technology would decrease environmental impact with the switch to cleaner energy sources such as wind turbines and hybrid cars. It seems to me that the increase in technology would help the environment considerably. I do believe however in the case of hybrids, they need to make them appeal to a different group of people. Currently it feels like they are made to appeal to those who already are trying to reduce their carbon footprint, whereas they should be targeting those who are unaware of their actions. This could be done by putting the cleaner system methods in meaner looking cars such as the mustang, camaro, challenger etc. I for one would never drive a Prius based purely on aesthetics, until a hybrid muscle comes out, I will stick to my 15 miles to the gallon 2 seater. I have veered off the point a little, but the bottom line is with increasing affluence, they need to make the cleaner choice more appealing not to those who are actively looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, but to those who do not decide what products they buy based on environmental impact.
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      Apr 30 2012: And technology has always been as such, when automobiles replaced horses as the main transport, it was an environmental blessing. 20% of all land in agriculture was used for feeding them. The amount of methane they produced was insane, and horse dung lay knee deep in all the big cities, with vacant plots filled with dung piled higher than people.
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      Apr 30 2012: The technology component to the IPAT equation can positively or negatively contribute to environmental impact. There are obviously endless technological advancements that reduce ecological damage, but there are also a good deal of technology that allows humans to cause more destruction.
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    Apr 30 2012: Obviously as the numbers of humans rapidly grows, and perhaps more importantly, the amount of damage to the Earth each person does grows, biodiversity will be more and more negatively affected. Growing societies are becoming more industrialized and this will only add to the pollution, habitat loss, and resource loss that humans create on Earth. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect developing countries to forgo using and implementing many of the technological advancements that developed countries have been enjoying for decades, even if so many more people using these advancements will be more than the environment can handle. So, since it is inevitable that vastly more people will soon be contributing a massive amount of energy and resource usage on the planet, the best thing to do now is try and prepare for that. Research towards greener technologies is key because humans cannot continue to consume how they do now and expect to be on this Earth for much longer. The best thing people can do now is prepare for a future with higher energy needs and hopefully come up with better ways to get the energy.
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    Apr 29 2012: There are over 7 billion people on the Earth today. The energy used to keep this place we call home functioning is 259,000,000 MWh and counting. More than 90% of that energy comes from a non-renewable source. If we take a second to think about the what this means, not only are we denying future generations the use of natural resources such as coal and natural gas, but we are also emitting so much greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels that it is starting to affect the climate. This drastic climate change is affecting not only the animals and the overall biodiversity of our planet but also affecting us humans. If this isn't enough, the timber we are using per year to heat those big houses that we built are knocking out a number of species at a time. A lot of people are avoiding this topic because it doesn't seem like a big enough issue. And we have plenty of money, technology, and even intelligence to fix the problem when it gets here. And its true, we are a smart and if we all put our minds to it, we could fix the problem when its at its worst. But will it be too late? Will we have lost too much by that time? I believe we could have a positive impact on the environment and biodiversity but only if we start soon.
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    Apr 29 2012: Until there is a paradigm shift in the way we interact with other nations and nature itself, biodiversity is going to suffer. The ever growing need of resources from affluent nations will out strip most short term benefits. That being said technology can help alleviate some of the issues, such as burning fossil fuels into another resource, but will other resources like solar, wind, and/or hydrothermal on a large scale be any better?
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    Apr 29 2012: It is clear that biodiversity is being affected by humans, but biodiversity would be changing whether humans were here or not. I feel like another way to look at it is how much are humans affecting biodiversity beyond what would be naturally occurring. However, are humans not also natural? Where should the line be drawn between naturally occurring human activity and the unnatural?

    In regards to positive changes in values or technology, I feel as though a positive change to one person may be seen as negative to another. For example, an advancement in technology may seem positive to people who will directly benefit from it but if this advancement requires a further destruction of an ecosystem in order to harvest raw goods, others would likely view this advancement as a negative. So to answer the question, no I don't feel like it is possible for there to be advancements without detriments because no matter how one goes about it, resources will always be taken from somewhere and someone will always end up disappointed.
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    Apr 29 2012: I would have thought that developing countries nowadays would be more environmentally conscious than they are, given the changing worldview that the environment is a precious resource and we are destroying it at a rapid rate. However, I don't find this to be the case in many areas of the developing world, China would be a good example of this. Poor water and air quality in many areas of the country only goes to show that, like the United States, they are prioritizing human concerns such as housing over environmental ones. Only when people are negatively affected by prior decisions to neglect the environment in favor of more housing, farmland, etc. will they begin to manage resources more carefully and thus slow the rate at which they damage the environment.
  • Apr 29 2012: Thought this was an interesting article on affluence and the environment

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    Apr 29 2012: Although technology could potentially reduce our impacts on Earth’s biodiversity and natural habitats, we all need to make lifestyle changes to avoid complete destruction of Earth’s biodiversity. We live as if Earth has infinite resources and humans are the primary cause for the current mass extinction. In my opinion, it will be very difficult to increase our affluence without harming our biodiversity since this current mass extinction is directly correlated to the industrialization of many different countries. Furthermore, the world population will continue to grow and place greater stress on our planet. Given our history of over-exploitation of Earth’s natural resources, I believe it will take something truly catastrophic, such as severe water shortages, for humans to make the necessary lifestyle changes needed to preserve our planet’s biodiversity.
  • Apr 29 2012: For those of us working in the developing world these issues are never going to be straightforward, but quite alot of theory has been generated around appropriate technologies in support of decentralized communities and services which, as you can imagine, are the counterweight to urbanization and big industrial downstream processing centers (as China has planned). In Papua New Guinea, as with other Pacific Island States, wealth creation has tended to rely on environmentally destructive practices, but the communications media has become an centripedal force away from these, allowing small farmers to access markets, services, politicians and ideas from distant locations and cutting out the middlemen and transport costs, including envrionmental costs. Much the way countries like PNG tend to jump forward faster than large first world behemoths, getting fax machines before telexes and mobile phones before landlines, things like solar technolocgies, wind turbines, small scale fermentaries and processing facilities will soon outpace the centralized dinosaurs of the past and in fact create more sustainable wealth for remote people (who dont have to move to towns, can invest in their own areas, bank at home, educate in the village etc), and in this way support biodiversity of a micro order: cultural and linguistic diversity, the richness of plural ideas and thought processes, and thus the constant motion of trial and error and invention---and not least, the protection of local lands and habitats by their natural guardians. It's not a balanced equation by any menas right now, but it could be soon enough.
  • Apr 29 2012: If the United States were to step up and create very strict ordinances to combat biodiversity losses, would developing nations feel the need to follow in our footsteps or would they take the path with the least resistance? Unfortunately, the topics of biodiversity loss and the effects of our consumerism tends to be limited to academia and often fails to reach the vast majority of the public who may not be aware of the damaging effects our economy has on biodiversity. If the United States were to put consumerism at the backbone of the issue, then perhaps we could demand "greener" products and help ebb the losses of biodiversity world wide. The affluence that leads to consumerism certainly does not limit the damage to biodiversity to just the country of affluence but also to the countries who produce our products. Essentially, our economy may be able to wield immense power globally because foreign countries which produce our products would be forced to decrease their impact and increase their infrastructure.
  • Apr 29 2012: I believe that the current trend of "urbanization" and "modernization" has created a threat to our planet that has never existed before. With more developing countries gaining affluence and consumerist ideals, their effect on climate change and the loss of biodiversity will also continue to grow. This does not necessarily spell doom for the human race however, as developing countries gain affluence they also rapidly gain knowledge. This knowledge base continues to grow as more countries join and share within the global society. Our planet is definitely facing a grim picture right now, but with our ingenuity and a crisis mentality, we can quickly change our malpractices and reverse the effects our society is having on the planet. This challenge must begin at the local level but as more support for a better society is gained, it's momentum will spill over into many different fields and a positive chain reaction will occur on a massive scale. So I believe that the current rise in affluence around the globe can correlate with a healthier planet, however, for this to occur, we can no longer be living in a fog about our effects on the planet. The truth must be realized before our society can truly make a positive change.