What are we going to do about this?

Jorge Soberon Mainero jsoberon at MIRANDA.ECOLOGIA.UNAM.MX
Wed Oct 23 19:43:56 CDT 1996

I like the last couple of interventions (Paulsn & Barkworth) because they
stress something that I believe is what most of us really believe in our
hearts: we have to protect and study nature just for the sheer hell of
it. Because plants and beasts are beutiful and fascinating, and yes,
sometimes, of economic value.

Before we are flooded with a zillion bytes about the need of economic
arguments, let me give you my personal belief about the real economic
value of taxonomy and museums: I think that they suffer of the tragedy of
the commons. The benefits of taxonomy are spread very thinly over a lot
of species, with very few chances of "privitazing" taxonomic knowledge.
Therefore we do not have an industrial or military establishement for
taxonomy the way physics, chemistry and molecular biology have. How many
taxonomic firms do you know that are listed in the Dow Jones? Since human
kind does very well with knowledge of a handful of food crops, their
pests, biological controls, etc, why bother exploring the remaining 98%?
Certainly we will get a lot of "hits", but only in the long run and the
marginal value per species is very, very low. So the incentive to
maintain  dusty professors studying the Strepsiptera is very weak,  since
there is no guarantee that he or her will ever get anything economically
valuable out of the efforts.

My very personal belief is that we should stress the very real fact that
the whole bunch of species provide us with irrepleaceble environmental
benefits, and that people with culture (whatever the culture) normally
enjoy a diverse nature. We should stress the richness of our local
environments, all the rare species and the unique forms.

Perhaps you US of A people have forgotten that, by stressing the definition
just a little bit, the US is a also a megadiversity country. In Mexico we
are using this argument all the time (to senators and representatives):
we have to be proud of our rich and unique nature, the same way we are
proud of our indian monuments and colonial architecture and thus we better
pay the people that study it.  Of course we also use some economic
arguments, since being a country with 30% of peasents a lot of use is
made of wild species, but I have a gut feeling that many people is more
sensitive to the "cultural" argument than to the "economic" argument.

So down here some of us stress services and culture, rather than
economics (and I repeat, it also has a part in a truly convincing
argument about the value of taxonomy). This ranking is perhaps
unfashionable among  administrators and other barbarians, but apparently
not so much with certain donors.

I was very much thinking while writing and perhaps a lot of the above
would require fine tunning, but this last bunch of contributions were
very interesting and I had to jump in.

Jorge Soberon

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