Inability to share the planet more equitably is constraining the welfare of large carnivores and human predators alike. Nevertheless, it is humans that bear primary responsibility for hoarding the planet’s resources. New calls are being issued to rethink how we can more optimally measure and then share this natural wealth so as to create more resilient natural and economic systems.
Carnivores are wide-ranging, but rare because of their positions at the top of food webs. Most of the largest carnivore species, like lions, wolves, and bears, have experienced substantial population declines and range contractions throughout the world during the previous 200 years. Because carnivores require large prey and expansive habitats, they often find themselves in direct conflict with human interests, especially when it comes to domestic livestock.
Nevertheless, large carnivores deliver to our human economies a variety of ecosystem services. These include direct benefits associated with tourism, like photography or nature tours, as well as indirect ecosystem services, like carbon storage to buffer climate change, re-establishing native plants, regulating disease, and even controlling native herbivores that compete directly with livestock for forage. Despite these many benefits, William Ripple and other carnivore specialists recently published a study summarizing how large carnivores face enormous threats that render them exceedingly vulnerable to becoming imperiled and even driven extinct. Human economic systems typically under-value contributions of these large carnivores, and that under-valuing is costing us.
In a separate study, another group of experts led by Robert Costanza questions how we measure economic success. Traditionally, and almost undisputedly, the world has measured a nation’s success by its gross domestic product (GDP). Emphasis on that measurement has driven forms of development that are detrimental to the environment, like oil and gas drilling, or over-developing ecologically important land. A major criticism of GDP is that depleting our natural resources leads to social inequities, instabilities, and perverse incentives. For example, 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill and 2011’s Hurricane Sandy both boosted GDP in the United States. Neither, of course, could be deemed as improving social well-being overall. This study argues that a global society should strive instead for a high quality of life that is both equitably shared and more sustainable.
Is there a solution for all this anthropogenic selfishness? Perhaps. For large carnivores, promoting tolerance and successful coexistence requires novel and bold actions. To coordinate the societal challenge, Ripple and colleagues propose a Global Large Carnivore Initiative to promote greater tolerance for large carnivores, a conservation approach emphasized in Defenders’ work. Costanza and his colleagues propose that we leave GDP behind and instead adopt a new way to measure success – one that integrates current knowledge of how ecology, economics, psychology and sociology all combine to contribute to human welfare. In their words: Building the future we desire requires that we measure what we want.
J. Christopher Haney, Ph.D., Chief scientist