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YOUR OPINION? Scientists' effect on biodiversity legislation

Henk Beentje H.Beentje at rbgkew.org.uk
Fri Jan 24 12:35:13 EST 1997

Student User wrote:
> I'm a law student at the University of Texas.  I'm going to write a paper
> this semester about laws relating to biodiversity.
> I believe that, when scientists influence the writing of such laws --
> either as consultants, paid lobbyists, or active political workers --
> they have a negative effect.  It seems to me, admittedly early in my
> research, that scientists frequently move the direction of such laws
> towards an otherworldly, elitist overprotectiveness far removed from the
> needs and wants of the local constituency.
> Would anyone care to share their feelings about this with me?  I would
> welcome that. 

Yes, it's difficult. But. There are ample sources speaking out for 
various interests, vested or otherwise; few people speak up for "nature" 
with factual knowledge (small though it may be). If a botanist does not 
speak up for the flora, who will? 
I have been working on the palms of Madagascar for four years. Of the 176 
species of palms there, 98 is endemic to the island, and 86 species are 
classified as Endangered, Critical or Extinct, while many of the 
remaining species are Vulnerable or Rare.
In one of the sites in the SE of the island, a mining company wants to 
stripmine the white sand forests, which have several species of palm 
restricted to that habitat. If they get permission to do their mining, 
the palm species will disappear. If they do their mining, some local 
people will get jobs for a few years, and the Malagasy Government will 
get a hefty fee for allowing them to do so. If they do not get permission 
to mine, there is a chance the palms will survive: some of these forests 
are sacred to local people.
As a botanists with specialist knowledge, I have voiced my opinion that 
the palms are endemic to a tiny area; if the specified forests are 
stripmined, the palms will become extinct. 
Now, there is not much biodiversity legislation on Madagascar: priorities 
are elsewhere, like getting a decent standard of living for people.
But as an example, it will do. As a scientist with specialist knowledge, 
I will voice my knowledge without pre-weighing it with other concerns 
(jobs, economics) because I am not a specialist in those fields, and it 
would diffuse my facts.
Drawbacks? Sure. Like you say, I will be seen as narrow-minded and 
elitist. But if I pre-weigh my opinion with other factors, it'll become 
lopsided and less factual. I can mention those other factors, to show 
that I'm not unaware of them. But, as I say, if I do not speak up for the 
flora, who will? Botanists can only fight with information. They are not 
decision makers.

Henk      troubled by this, too, and never found a solution yet

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