Director, National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C.
Any consideration of the forces tending to produce drastic reductions in biodiversity must concentrate on habitat destruction. To slow down, ameliorate, or prevent habitat destruction we need to understand the forces that cause it. There is a widespread assumption that habitat destruction, particularly in the Third World, is caused by ignorance or stupidity or both. This assumption is reflected in the philanthropic funding of environmental education programs and in attempts to seed environmental defense organizations in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. It is often assumed that these efforts are constructive. The contrary viewpoint is that environmental destruction results from economic pressures that have nothing to do with stupidity or ignorance. It is certainly arguable that given the present international distribution of wealth, the mainly tropical less-developed countries will be forced to exploit their natural resources on a massive scale in order to try to raise living standards quickly. A discussion of whether they can do this is beyond the scope of this chapter and beyond my competence; the majority of the countries involved are certainly trying.
In this volume are a number of analyses of the causes of habitat destruction and the economic realities facing the Third World. Most tropical deforestation, and with it the major threat to biological diversity, comes from efforts to increase the level of subsistence and to generate foreign exchange for the purchase of goods manufactured in the developed world. To halt destruction we must find alternative means of providing subsistence goods (food, fuel, and construction materials) and alternative commodities to replace those resulting from environmental rape. There is a third logical possibility that is almost certainly not a real one. That is for the entire world to adopt voluntary restraints on resource exploitation and living standards. This is the pathway of so-called green politics and the small-is-beautiful