U.S. greatly lags in signing U.N. Biodiversity Convention

Actor Edward Norton is UN goodwill ambassador for biodiversity. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Excellent article by Edward Norton in yesterday’s http://www.guardian.co.uk.  This is the U.N. International Year of Biodiversity and Norton writes that “For the first time at the UN, heads of state and government and officials from its 192-member states will hold a meeting exclusively devoted to the biodiversity crisis.”  Norton says that at a gathering on September 22, “world leaders will call for the introduction of sustainable practices in land and resource use, an increase in protected areas around the world, and for plans to reconcile development with conservation.”

This thrills me after nearly 20 years of working with partners to get the Great Lakes islands’  biodiversity information in place such that it can be considered and protected in perpetuity.  As the world’s largest collection of freshwater islands, Great Lakes islands are globally rare and their biological diversity is of global importance.  See the excellent recent article by Tom Meersman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune that captures the work and partnerships and importance of these islands.

This pending set of commitments also ties in to findings from my dissertation research.  I conducted confidential interviews with very successful real estate developers and several land-use planners, and deeply studied the practice of development in the United States.  I wanted to walk in the shoes of developers with an eye toward finding commonalities as a basis to work together to conserve biological diversity.

My research showed that nature is pretty much invisible not only to developers, but to our entire culture and way of life.  We post signs that read “vacant land” and local planning discussions don’t consider the variety of plants, animals, and birds who already make that land their home.  Among other things, I concluded that financial incentives and regulations need to change because developers are businessmen (and I do mean “businessmen” for I found women rarely are developers and I didn’t find any in Michigan).  Developers must make money, of course, as must we all.

I was surprised to learn that developers find their work so engaging, creative, and challenging.  I was pleased to hear them talk about following federal regulations that protect endangered species and wetlands.  One developer–who spent nearly four hours with me–consults the Michigan Natural Features inventory before he will purchase land, and will go ahead with a project if he believes he can protect the habitat of an endangered species.  This developer even got into this line of work because he loves to be outdoors.

I remain hopeful yet more fully aware of the vast work ahead if we are to protect the variety of life on Earth.  Let’s all urge our political leaders to get the U.S. to sign on to the Convention of Biological Diversity and then implement it.  The Convention opened for signatures on 5 June 1992, and 18 years is long enough for the U.S. to sidestep our international and moral responsibility to conserve the world’s biological diversity.

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