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Experts Offer Solutions Integrating Conservation and Economic Development

By William L. Wang, Contributing Writer

Three experts in conservation science discussed conservation strategies that both protect biodiversity and encourage economic development at a Harvard University Center for the Environment panel Thursday evening.

More than 100 students, professors, and graduate students attended the event. The panel was held in the Northwest Building as part of a seminar series entitled “Ecological Systems in the Anthropocene.”

The panel included former Chief Scientist of the World Wildlife Fund Jon Hoekstra; Peter Karieva, director of the Institute of Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles; and Conservation International Executive Vice President M. Sanjayan. The event was moderated by Elizabeth M. Wolkovich, a professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.

Hoekstra pointed to rising extinction rates, which have “increased more than one hundred fold” as an example of a decline in global biodiversity.

“Not only are we losing species at unprecedented rates, but we are also losing the abundance of wildlife and the amount of nature we have,” he said.

Karieva said this loss comes at a price for the general public as well.

“There is a loss we all see in the natural world,” he said. “A loss of habitat, a loss of species, a loss of the opportunity to interact with nature.”

The panelists discussed the main threats to maintaining biodiversity, including habitat degradation caused by development and pollution. They proposed combining development, sustainability, and conservation goals as solutions to these challenges.

Hoekstra said conservationists should focus on integrating environmental protection into building projects, instead of trying to restore natural environments to previous states.

“Conservation is sometimes too backwards looking. We need to ask: ‘how do we bring as much nature with us as we move to the future?” he said. “You can have a successful juxtaposition of human and environmental interests in the long term.”

The panel also discussed the issue of inspiring change in the face of economic, political, and social barriers.

Karieva said the issues of conservation today need to be communicated at a more general level to inspire action.

“Scientific data and science doesn’t motivate. It’s the solution to the problem that motivates,” he said.

Audience member Anne H. Opel ’17 said she enjoyed the panel.

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