[Taxacom] The Barometer of Life

Bob Mesibov mesibov at southcom.com.au
Sun May 30 06:54:04 CDT 2010

Thanks for the link.

The Barometer of Life article says we should expand our species-level conservation and monitoring effort to taxa other than just 'higher vertebrates' (that's a quote; 'higher'?). Why? Because "...if the living world is to be kept in anything approaching a sustainable condition that can adapt to changes, then politicians, government officials, scientists, and the public will need to give biodiversity the urgent attention that they are starting to give to the physical environment." And "The barometer would, from an economic perspective, be one of the best investments for the good of humanity."

The background here seems to be an acceptance that we need to prepare for a new world containing a lot more humans and lot less of everything else. The authors shy away from suggesting which other species we'll be taking with us into a sustainable future, or how that future can be designed or planned for. Instead we'll just keep monitoring - a suggested 160000 species. What will we do with the result of that monitoring? It will give us:

"a solid basis for informing decisions globally, for example, on conservation planning, resource allocation, environmental impact assessments, monitoring biodiversity trends (through the IUCN Red List Index), and enabling countries to develop national-level biodiversity indicators."

which all sounds very 20th century. What, then, constitutes a 'sustainable' future? How many humans? Eating what? From where? Maintaining how many nature reserves? Maintained where? And how do we get global agreement on any of this?

Logically, the Barometer of Life falls into the same intellectual trap that the Encyclopedia of Life has done. It's the false premise that the more we know, the better the decisions we can make. That might be true for a single person planning changes in a single life, but it fails utterly for thousands of disparate groups planning changes in 7 billion lives. On that scale, knowing more does *not* lead to better decision-making, and decision-making does not translate into a better world. If you think it does, please read the UN's Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 (http://gbo3.cbd.int/), released a little while ago.

The message in the article that susceptible politicians might heed is this one: "We're scientists, our job is to find out things, so give us USD$60 million and humanity will know more." I support that, because it might lead to more taxonomists discovering and documenting the life that humans are displacing so efficiently. As for doing anything to slow the current mass extinction, the prospects are even worse than those for drastically cutting global CO2 and CH4 emissions.
Dr Robert Mesibov
Honorary Research Associate
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and
School of Zoology, University of Tasmania
Home contact: PO Box 101, Penguin, Tasmania, Australia 7316
03 64371195; 61 3 64371195
Webpage: http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/mesibov.html

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