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Prospects for Reconciling the Conflict between Economic Growth and Biodiversity Conservation with Technological Progress

Conservation Biology, Volume 22, No. 6, 1389–1398, 2008

Brian Czech, 2008

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Summary :

The conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation is understood in portions of academia and sometimes acknowledged in political circles. Nevertheless, there is not a unified response. In political and policy circles, the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC) is posited to solve the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. In academia, however, the EKC has been deemed fallacious in macroeconomic scenarios and largely irrelevant to biodiversity. A more compelling response to the conflict is that it may be resolved with technological progress. Herein I review the conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation in the absence of technological progress, explore the prospects for technological progress to reconcile that conflict, and provide linguistic suggestions for describing the relationships among

economic growth, technological progress, and biodiversity conservation. The conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation is based on the first two laws of thermodynamics and principles of ecology

such as trophic levels and competitive exclusion. In this biophysical context, the human economy grows at the competitive exclusion of nonhuman species in the aggregate. Reconciling the conflict via technological

progress has not occurred and is infeasible because of the tight linkage between technological progress and economic growth at current levels of technology. Surplus production in existing economic sectors is required for

conducting the research and development necessary for bringing new technologies to market. Technological regimes also reflect macroeconomic goals, and if the goal is economic growth, reconciliatory technologies

are less likely to be developed. As the economy grows, the loss of biodiversity may be partly mitigated with end-use innovation that increases technical efficiency, but this type of technological progress requires policies that are unlikely if the conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation (and other aspects of environmental protection) is not acknowledged.