1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Environment, Sustainable Development and Social Change

Biodiversity and Human Welfare



Biodiversity can be understood as the variability of life in all forms. To the consternation of natural and social scientists, the range of this variability is being reduced within ecosystems, species and genetic material. Although the exact scale of biodiversity loss is unknown, its direct causes are well documented. These include pollution, over-exploitation of species, climate change and various agricultural practices.

This paper considers the complex relationships between biodiversity and human welfare. The authors first examine how biodiversity has been understood by different groups of people, and how this affects proposals for remedial action. Although much of the current debate is couched in moral terms, it reflects a familiar conflict of interest between international, national and local concerns; between North and South; between science and politics; and along lines marked by differences of class, ethnicity and gender.

To illustrate the specific impact of decreasing biodiversity on livelihood, as well as the political struggles surrounding this process of degradation, the authors draw upon detailed case studies of forest areas in Russia, tropical forests and wildlife in Cameroon and whaling in Greenland.

The biodiversity debate can also be analysed through reference to competing intellectual frameworks for explaining environmental degradation. Blaikie and Jeanrenaud review three of these: the classic approach to conservation, the neo-populist approach and the neo-liberal paradigm. The authors' discussion of the implications of each school of thought for practical development work is useful and provocative.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 1 Feb 1996
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD