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Does Sustainable Development Help Nature?

abstract1 (full description below): Wild Earth, Winter 2000/2001: 56-64
Does Sustainable Development Help Nature?. PDF/Acrobat file  

The economic development bandwagon produced a rapid shift from modest programs supporting protected areas to much more costly economic development projects outside of parks, referred to as "sustainable development" because they may include a conservation or environmental element. An untested premise of sustainable development is that people won't be motivated to maintain ecosystem services or protect the natural world until their standard of living approaches that of the wealthier nations. The stated objective-to harmonize human economic needs and ambition with long-term social and economic stability-is commendable, but has the sustainable development strategy succeeded in protecting biodiversity? A growing chorus of critics now believes that the popular "sustainable development paradigm" has done more harm to nature than good, having set back conservation by a decade or more, particularly in rain forest areas of the tropics. By viewing economic development as an alternative to strict nature protection, conservation organizations have benefited from multi-million- dollar grants from the World Bank and other lenders, but it appears doubtful that nature has similarly profited. It is more likely that the good (for nature) has become the hostage of the expedient. The ascendance of sustainable development, in combination with expensive, ineffective, and misguided aid programs, has slowed efforts to protect existing nature reserves, particularly in the tropics. Simultaneously there has been a drastic decline in the creation of new parks, while many others have ceased to exist in practice (Terborgh 1999, Oates 1999). Moreover, retrospective evaluations of sustainable development projects show that most have achieved neither sustainability nor conservation (Redford and Sanderson 1992, Wells and Brandon 1992, Robinson 1993, Kramer et al. 1997, Sanjayan et al. 1997, Wells et al. 1999, Bowles et al. 1998).