Earth for Hire - are capitalists the new conservationists?

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In an article in the April 2008 issue of Conscious Choice entitled, "Earth for Hire," writer E.B. Boyd investigates the emerging trend of businesses and communities taking on conservation programs -- for profit. Over the objections of mainline conservationists, a heretofore unlikely coalition (what more ardent commentators might label an unholy alliance) is being formed between big business, research organizations and public policy leaders to address large scale conservation projects.

The end result, when such alliances work well, are that businesses gain increased profits, more efficient production -- or both; conservationists achieve their goals of protecting threatened wetlands or rainforests which might otherwise fall by the wayside; and the public gains the benefit of just that much more available natural landscape, either for leisure and recreation or simply for its own sake. As advocates of such alliances argue, everyone wins.

For example, King County (Seattle) in Washington State, solved a budget shortfall in plans to repair levee systems by creating a plan to restore a floodplain, thereby letting nature do the work for much less money. Another example is a joint venture between retail giant Wal-Mart and Japanese car manufacturers which ship cars through the Panama Canal to pay neighboring landowners to restore and maintain forests on their lands. The aim is to reduce soil erosion and silt buildup in the canal; while also rewarding the corporations with lower insurance premiums for the barges against delivery delays and canal closures caused by the need for dredging.

Nonetheless, mainline conservationists argue that efforts to combat the impact of human settlement and industrialization should be undertaken for their own merits, not for profit. Pragmatists respond by stating that placing a bottom line value on preservation is necessary in order to raise the necessary capital to undertake such immensely expensive endeavors.

One lurking question -- what happens to those threatened environments or habitats on which no dollar figure value can be attached? What would prevent such "orphan" causes from falling into obscurity? This is an issue which would have to be thoroughly addressed before I could feel completely comfortable with this development.

Read the article and make your own judgments. ""