through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) include an assessment of environmental impact. In implementing this new policy, USAID has recognized that “the destruction of humid tropical forests is one of the most important environmental issues for the remainder of this century and, perhaps, well into the next,” in part because they are “essential to the survival of vast numbers of species of plants and animals” (U.S. Department of State, 1985). In another sphere, The World Bank and other multinational lending agencies have come under increasing pressure to take a more active role in assessing the environmental impact of the large-scale projects they underwrite (Anonymous, 1984).
In addition to recommendations for international policy initiatives, there has recently been a spate of publications on the linkage of conservation and economic use of tropical forests. Notable among them are Research Priorities in Tropical Biology (NRC, 1980), based on a study of the National Research Council; Technologies to Sustain Tropical Forest Resources (OTA, 1984), prepared by the Office of Technology Assessment for the U.S. Congress; and the U.S. Strategy on the Conservation of Biological Diversity (USAID, 1985), a report to Congress by an interagency task force. Most comprehensive of all—and in my opinion the most encouraging in its implications—is the three-part series Tropical Forests: A Call for Action, released by the World Resources Institute, The World Bank, and the United Nations Development Programme (1985). The report makes an assessment of the problem worldwide and reviews case histories in which conservation or restoration have contributed to economic development. It examines the needs of every tropical country with important forest reserves. The estimated cost to make an impact on tropical deforestation over the next 5 years would be U.S. $8 billion—a large sum but surely the most cost-effective investment available to the world at the present time.
In the end, I suspect it will all come down to a decision of ethics—how we value the natural worlds in which we evolved and now, increasingly, how we regard our status as individuals. We are fundamentally mammals and free spirits who reached this high a level of rationality by the perpetual creation of new options. Natural philosophy and science have brought into clear relief what might be the essential paradox of human existence. The drive toward perpetual expansion—or personal freedom—is basic to the human spirit. But to sustain it we need the most delicate, knowing stewardship of the living world that can be devised. Expansion and stewardship may appear at first to be conflicting goals, but the opposite is true. The depth of the conservation ethic will be measured by the extent to which each of the two approaches to nature is used to reshape and reinforce the other. The paradox can be resolved by changing its premises into forms more suited to ultimate survival, including protection of the human spirit. I recently wrote in synecdochic form about one place in South America to give these feelings more exact expression:
To the south stretches Surinam eternal, Surinam serene, a living treasure awaiting assay. I hope that it will be kept intact, that at least enough of its million-year history will be saved for the reading. By today’s ethic its value may seem limited, well beneath the pressing concerns of daily life. But I suggest that as biological knowledge grows the ethic will shift fundamentally so that everywhere, for reasons that have to do with the very fiber of the brain, the fauna and flora of a country will be thought part of the national