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Living Things

Living things include

  • crop plants (genetic diversity and resilience)
  • domesticated animals (genetic diversity and resilience) – for example, horses
  • plant species (as well as larger taxonomic groups or vegetation types)
  • animal species (as well as larger taxonomic groups)
  • species of fungi (mushrooms, yeasts etc.)
  • micro-organisms (protozoans, bacteria, etc.)
  • habitats and ecosystems

Living things are on the one hand resources, that is sources of wealth, wellsprings of abundance. On the other hand, they have needs of their own, and should therefore never be seen merely as resources, or as no more than means to human ends. An economy that promotes abundance of life must see it as one of its pre-eminent goals to preserve an abundance of life-forms.


Context within NORA

Relationships to Needs

Living things themselves have needs, for air, water, habitat (being at home), adequate space to move about (mobility). For free-living (non-domesticated) animals and plants, having these things usually also implies having access to food and whatever shelter and supportive relationships they may require (animals where parents provide for their young require supportive relationships). However, human activities of polluting the environment may have adverse impacts on the health of free-living living things. Human beings must take responsibility for all these needs of those living things that they have domesticated (crops, ornamental plants, livestock, pets).

Living things, or products made from them, provide for a wide range of human needs. The air we breathe is replenished with oxygen by plants. Water is purified of organic waste by micro-organisms, both in the natural environment and in sewage treatment plants. All of our food consists of things that were once or are still alive. Our clothing is mostly made of plant or animal products (cotton, linen, wool, leather), and our houses are to a large extent made of plant products (e.g., wood, bamboo). Living things are essential to our sense of being at home (we want more than concrete around ourselves!). Living things can provide for our mobility (by horse, mule, donkey, husky) and security (guard dogs, wooden fences). They can also provide us with supportive relationships, since we live in relationship not just to other human beings, but also to other life forms. We can learn from the behavior of animals and plants. Many of us spend time for relaxation, enjoyment of life and play in places dominated by non-human life forms, often seeking a sense of spiritual connection in the process. And we may find self-expression and a meaningful livelihood in relating to and protecting life on this planet or in a particular place. In short, virtually all our needs are bound up with other living things.


Relationships to Organizational Forms

Our economic relationships to other living things can mostly be subsumed under the natural resource management cluster of organizational forms.

Once living things have been harvested, they can be used in contexts of self-provisioning (e.g., a home garden, hunting or fishing for own use, sitting under a tree), community solidarity, individual sales (e.g., sales of farm produce), committed services or sales (e.g., provision of energy from biogas by a utility), or sharing and renting (e.g., shared use of fruit trees for harvesting). Many of these occur within the context of currencies and markets.

Coercion or denial of choice can involve the manipulation or use of living things, such as war horses, biological weapons, or the defoliation of forests. Coercion is also used in the confining and slaughter of livestock.

Free sharing of knowledge is an option regarding knowledge about living things, and about their proper management and care.


Relationships to other Resources

Living things require the resources of air and atmosphere, water, land, energy, minerals, and other living things in order to survive. Some species are dependent on human beings for their survival, meaning that we are a resource for them.

Physical, human-made assets to a considerable extent are made from the products of living things, such as wood and textile materials.

Intangible values are bound up with other life forms; social movements are not just about bread, but also about roses. Natural landscapes can help us find peace and inspiration.

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Understanding current patterns of abundance and scarcity

Currently, we are going through the largest extinction event since the extinction of the dinosaurs over 60 million years ago. Several mass extinctions punctured the approximately 600-million-year history of multicellular life on earth, and were caused by asteroid impacts or periods of sudden climate change. The current mass extinction is the first one to be caused by disruptions caused by a single species on earth, i.e., humans, and has mostly followed the colonial expansion of European power and subsequent industrialization and unprecedented human population growth.

**some numbers on extinction rates would be useful here**

At the same time as agricultural land use is continuing to expand (though much more slowly than in previous decades), the genetic diversity of our crops and livestock is declining dramatically. A generation or two ago, thousands of varieties of virtually every crops species were actively cultivated, but now the agricultural fields are dominated by just a few commercially promoted varieties, and many of the old landraces have either become extinct, or survive only in seed banks. This represents a huge loss of genetic resources, which is reducing the resilience of our agriculture, and hence our food supply, in the face of environmental change (including climate change).

While biological diversity has been declining dramatically, the numbers of a few species are increasing along with the human population. This includes of course our major crop plants (with a smaller number of species coming to dominate a larger part of our diet) and livestock species such as cattle. Fish and other marine species that are farmed (such as several shrimp species) have also increased in numbers, though these are mostly carnivorous species, which means that this requires the fishing of larger quantities of the species that they eat. Our agricultural practices have also increased the populations of species that feed on our crop plants or successfully grow in cultivated fields, i.e., pests and weeds, despite farmers' efforts to eradicate them. Likewise, the populations of various “invasive species,” which have typically been moved into new places by human action and then became highly successful there, outcompeting native species, have greatly increased. And of course pet species that successfully breed in human care (e.g., cats and dogs, but not most tropical fish species) have increased more or less in sync with the human population.

Among the direct causes threatening the population size or the very existence of species, some of the most important are: 1) habitat loss, fragmentation, or degradation, 2) excessive hunting or fishing, 3) exposure to toxic chemicals, 4) the introduction of invasive species, 5) changes in the fire regime, and 6) climate change. These direct causes themselves result from the ways we organize our economy, as well as from human population growth. It should be noted, however, that rapid population growth is itself to a large extent a result of our economic structures and can not be seen as the ultimate cause of our impacts on other living things on this planet. The following analysis therefore largely focuses on those economic structures.

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Habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation

Major causes of habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation include the expansion of agricultural land use, logging, road building, and the expansion of urban and industrial land uses. These are all driven by market demand, motivated by the desire to sell something and make money. The destruction of habitat and the eradication of species are not recognized as a cost, however, in a market system where only those things which have an owner can have a price. In other words, because we cannot pay nature in money, the damage that we do to nature does not turn up in our accounting, and there is no reason to treat it with care and consideration.

Only if living things are “owned” by a human (or an institution) and that owner cares for the living things do they acquire any value in our market system. In many cases, the people who care most for the living things and the habitat around them are not recognized as owners. Thus, as Europeans colonized most of the terrestrial surface of the earth, they did not recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to the land they inhabited (see “land” page for more on this topic). The same process continues today, as national governments claim state property in land areas occupied by forest or mountain peoples, and make use of this land in ways that are most profitable to themselves (e.g., by selling logging concessions to the highest bidders). In this way, the people who have managed to co-exist with many other species in these places are pushed out, in favor of people or companies who have very little knowledge of the place, and have every incentive to use it unsustainably.

Incentives for unsustainable use arise from several sources. First, if there is essentially unlimited market demand for such things as timber, palm oil (from oil palm plantations that replace the tropical rain forest), meat (in the form of range-fed beef, or of livestock fed on soybeans which have to be grown somewhere), a lot of money can be made by the conversion of natural habitats to agriculture. Most of this market demand comes from the affluent people in the world, and is thus a result not so much of population growth as of economic growth.

Second, the future is discounted – meaning that the future value of harvests from a piece of land is compared to putting one's money on the bank and collecting interest, or investing that money in something else and collecting dividends. Under such accounting rules, replanting trees that will take 80 or more years to grow to maturity, or conserving soil quality so that it will remain in good shape 30 years from now, is considered “uneconomic.” This means that the foundation of our wealth is destroyed in favor of quick returns.

Third, even the potential market value of living things that are not major bulk commodities and that could be produced without major disruption of the ecosystem is often underestimated. This may be a result of the fact that it is often much more difficult for a few large landowners to control the production of such commodities, and so they are not interested. For example, the potential value of medicinal plants in tropical rainforests is often touted by conservationists. The way to harvest these plants is that local people who know how to find and recognize them search for them in the forest, and sell what they gather. There is no way for large landholders to control such activity, which is why they would rather produce some large-scale, standardized commodity on the land, even if the total returns would be less. State authorities would also have greater trouble taxing such collecting activity (it's “illegible” to them in the term used by James Scott), and therefore tend not to have much interest in it.

Government interest in expanding the money economy, particular that part of the money economy dominated by politically powerful interest groups, often leads to the creation of further incentives for unsustainable use of the land and living things. For example, governments may grant large concessions to the land to powerful people almost free of charge, and build roads into roadless areas (at government expense) in order to make access easier. State authorities may also incentivize the clearing of land by accepting that as a valid claim to the land. And they may use force to remove unwanted people (such as indigenous peoples) from the land.

Population growth of course also requires more food production, which can be achieved either by more intensive production of food per unit area, or by expanding agricultural land to new areas. Both of these methods tend to destroy natural habitat. Where small farmers do not have secure land tenure (whether as individuals or as members of a village community), they have little incentive to invest in long-term productivity of the land (e.g., through soil conservation or the construction of better irrigation structures). Small farmers can also face huge debt burdens (a result of usurious interest rates by local moneylenders) that can force them to give up their land as payment of debt. Then, they may be forced to migrate either into squatter settlements in cities, or to as-yet uncultivated land, which is usually of marginal fertility (otherwise it would probably already have been converted to agricultural use). Such processes drive further conversion of natural habitat into agricultural use.

While the focus so far has been on habitat loss, the same processes can drive habitat degradation and fragmentation. The habitat of a species is degraded (rather than lost) if it can no longer support the same population densities as it did before – for example, there may be fewer nesting sites for birds. A habitat is fragmented if it is divided into a number of small pieces, separated by barriers to movement (what is an effective barrier to movement varies by species; birds and insects for example can fly over roads but land-dwelling animals cannot). When habitats are fragmented, breeding populations decline, and some local populations may die out, never to be replaced by in-migration from elsewhere. Their genetic diversity is also likely to decline, negatively impacting their ability to adapt to environmental change.

Road-building tends to fragment the habitat of many species. In addition, land use change that occurs in a scattered pattern spread across a wide area has a large impact on habitat fragmentation (e.g., exurban development of four-acre lots in the US, connected by roads).

Agricultural monocultures that replace polycultures tend to degrade or destroy habitat for many species. The trend toward monoculture is not driven by the need to produce more food (monocultures often produce less food per hectare or acre than do polycultures, if all food items in the polyculture are counted). It is, rather, driven by labor issues. It is usually much simpler to mechanize production in monocultures, and thus, in countries with high labor costs, polcultures have typically been eliminated in order to maximize use of machines. Furthermore, on the level of an entire farm, if different crops require the purchase of different types of machinery, it is usually more economically efficient to concentrate only on a few crops so that less machinery need be purchased. Even where labor costs are cheap, it can be much simpler to oversee and control laborers and the harvesting of the crop if an entire field is planted in the same crop that ripens at the same time. And thus, large landholders tend to prefer monocultures. And so does the government, for purposes of being able to monitor the economic activities and to tax them. It is thus not population growth, but labor control, that drives conversion to monocultures in these contexts.

Beyond agricultural land use, industrial land use, mining, and urban expansion all drive habitat loss, degradation or fragmentation as well, though the areas affected are less extensive. Here also, the losses of biological diversity and habitat are not recognized in the economic calculus. Furthermore, agricultural land is valued less than is urban land, which drives conversion of agricultural land to urban uses. Where land markets are not effectively controlled, most people have access to cars, and more roads are constantly being built (as in much of the United States), cities sprawl widely across the land. Thus, even while the populations of US cities have not changed much over the last several decades, the area they occupy and thus the habitat they destroy or fragment has increased by leaps and bounds. Unless rules governing land ownership and markets are more fundamentally changed, the only ways to slow or stop urban sprawl consists of zoning controls, or purchase by government or conservation organizations either of easements on the land (i.e., the right to convert the land to urban use, which is not used by the holder of the easement) or of the land itself (e.g., as conservation areas).

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Excessive hunting, gathering or fishing

Animal and plant species can be driven to extinction by excessive hunting, gathering, or fishing – particularly if there is a high market demand. In the case of small, relatively isolated populations of humans, hunting pressure rarely leads to the total demise of a species, because the hunters (or gatherers or fishers) notice that it takes increasing effort to obtain a given amount of prey. Unless a hunter gains enormous prestige as a result of having killed a trophy animal, that in itself is likely to lead local people to focus more of their efforts on livelihood strategies that give a greater return for their effort. However, in addition, the hunters will likely talk with each other and find ways to conserve the hunted animals – by agreeing to restraints on their hunting (when they are or are not allowed to hunt, which age classes of prey they will take, in which places they may hunt, and so on). That is, they start treating the wildlife of the area as a commons, which they need to collectively manage. The results may not be equitable for all members of the community, but they are likely to conserve the game, fish, medicinal plants and so forth.

However, when there is virtually unlimited market demand from outside the region, such commons practices often break down. The prices offered in many cases are too high to resist, especially when we are talking about a cash-poor locality exposed to market demands from the richest parts of the world. In addition, such high prices are likely to attract hunters from outside the region, who have no interest in observing traditional practices of hunting restraint, and often have the power to ignore them. High prices furthermore justify investment in more expensive weaponry for hunting (when guns replace bows and arrows, it becomes a lot easier to hunt a species to extinction; the same applies to advanced fishing gear). Finally, as a species comes closer to extinction, it acquires greater scarcity value, meaning that prices rise, creating an increasing incentive to hunt down every last surviving individual. In economic theory, higher prices are supposed to stimulate greater production, but they cannot stimulate greater reproduction of a free-living species, only greater hunting!

Outlawing the hunting, fishing or gathering of a species may have the desired effect of reducing hunting pressure if it is being caught for fairly utilitarian purposes and buyers turn to other species instead – e.g., buying one kind of fish instead of another. However, in the case of animal or plant products that have high prestige value in a culture (**examples?**), the increased difficulty of obtaining them in the market may actually increase their price. This increases the incentives for illegal hunters (poachers) to obtain the weapons they need not only to hunt, but also to defend themselves against police and other law enforcement agents. Efforts to reduce supply by criminalizing it can thus be as counterproductive as in the narcotics trade.

Hunting for trophies can also be kept legal, but at a price. Thus, for example, in some African countries safari tourists are allowed to hunt elephants at a high price, and the revenues are used for habitat and wildlife conservation and for community development. This is an effort to utilize the “scarcity value” of trophies for the good of the community. Whether these efforts achieve the stated aims depends crucially on how the revenue is spent, and how the spending priorities are determined.

Regulations of gathering, hunting and fishing must also take into account sustainable harvesting methods that have prevailed in a place, sometimes for centuries. If sustainable traditional practices are outlawed, then local people are likely to turn against the laws, and either support big poachers, or refrain from exposing them to law enforcement. They may also undermine the trophy hunting for revenue models by hunting on their own, asserting that they have as much right to hunt as some rich foreigners. “Fortress conservation” that keeps out the local population along with all poachers can, in addition, create zones empty of any people who might observe and report on the poachers – creating a zone devoid not only of people, but also outside the law. It is thus of prime importance to develop regulatory approaches that have the support of local communities. This is the goal of community-based conservation programs, though they of course vary in their degree of success.

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Exposure to toxic chemicals

The environmental movement to a considerable extent got started as a result of the publication of Rachel Carson's book, Silent Spring. In this book, Carson described many cases of massive pesticide poisoning, especially as a result of the indiscriminate use of DDT. Although DDT has been outlawed in many countries, the problem of pesticides has not at all diminished. New poisons are being invented all the time, partly because many pests have become resistant to the old ones, which are therefore no longer useful. While pesticides are touted as ways to produce more food from the land by preventing crops from being destroyed by pests or outcompeted by weeds, the reality is that pests largely allow monoculture to happen while minimizing the use of labor. Massive monocultures favor vast pest outbreaks (since they have an unlimited amount of food, and many of their predators require such things as nesting sites that are few and far between), and therefore require more pesticides. Essentially, modern farming is pressing the accelerator and the brakes at the same time as far as pest populations are concerned. Many weeds could be controlled by more labor-intensive methods in the context of smaller fields, but can only be controlled by herbicides in the case of vast fields under a single crop. Often, pesticides are more effective at killing the natural enemies of pests than the pests themselves, which leads to a later “secondary outbreak” of the pest (it recovers before its natural enemies do. There are even “secondary pests,” insects which were formerly controlled by their natural enemies but now no longer, and only grow in population after their natural enemies have been removed. Once the natural enemies of pests have largely been removed from the landscape, the farmers are dependent on pesticides for continued control.

Pesticides are of course not the only toxic chemicals that we distribute in the environment. Sensitive species, such as certain kinds of lichen, are recognized as indicators of pollution – if they no longer survive, it shows that pollution has exceeded a certain level.

It is “cheap” to distribute toxic substances in the environment because the people responsible for distributing them do not pay for the consequences – or pay some of them only belatedly with their own health. Agricultural workers in plantations may of course have to re-enter fields very soon after they have been sprayed, suffering massive health effects as a result. We hardly keep track of how animal and plant species in the same conditions suffer.

To get off our dependence on toxic substances, both in agriculture and industry, requires far-reaching changes in production methods. In order for changes to be adopted by more than just a few virtuous farms or companies (e.g., organic farms), it is important to make sure that poisoning the environment is more expensive than keeping it clean, for example by outlawing the use of particularly harmful substances (and imposing stiff fines if these laws are violated), and imposing taxes on substances that are not quite as unsafe. Furthermore, it is important to publicly support research into the adverse environmental and health impacts of all the chemicals we use, not leaving this research up to the companies that benefit from selling or using those chemicals. Public research support is also important for the development of safer production methods following “cradle-to-cradle” concepts of a “circular economy” where all waste products become raw materials for new products, similar to biological nutrient cycles. Taxes imposed on companies that produce or use harmful chemicals could be used for the specific purpose of supporting the research and development of safer alternatives.

Ironically, nutrients introduced into the environment to stimulate more plant growth can also have negative impacts on species populations. The two most important such nutrients, nitrogen and phosphate, are often applied to fields in such quantities that they cannot be absorbed by the living things in the soil, and are instead transported into the groundwater and surface waters. In the latter, they stimulate the growth of huge amounts of algae; once those die and accumulate in the dark depths of slow-moving water in depths or certain marine areas (e.g., in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Black and the Baltic Seas), they decay, using up most of the dissolved oxygen. Fish and many other organisms can no longer survive in these “dead zones.” As long as fertilizers are kept cheap and farmers do not pay for the ecological consequences they cause, this pattern is likely to persist.

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Introduction of invasive species

Much of the biodiversity on Earth has evolved as a result of species that shared a common origin becoming separated from each other, and then evolving in different directions. Thus, for example, North America and Asia were once joined by a land bridge allowing terrestrial species to cross, but have since become separated, isolating populations from one another. In Southeast Asia, at times of low sea level during the Ice Ages, islands such as Borneo and Sumatra were joined with the mainland, allowing the migration of terrestrial species across what is now a barrier of sea. The evolution of distinct species has occurred since that time. Distant oceanic islands have received migrants through a more haphazard process of a few individuals of a species making it across the marine barrier by pure chance, and then diverging to adapt to play a variety of specialized roles in the new environment (such as Darwin's finches in the Galapagos islands).

Humans are breaking down many of these barriers that once separated species from each other. This is sometimes inadvertent, for example by carrying rats on ships all over the world (often with devastating consequences for island life), and sometimes intentional (for example, bringing kudzu vines from Japan to the United States, where they have proliferated tremendously). The impacts are usually unpredictable, and a species may not be able to survive in the new environment. However, some species proliferate and are then known as “invasive species,” often outcompeting native species and leading to the impoverishment of biodiversity in the new place.

After the fact, it is often very difficult to do anything really effective about the introduction of an invasive species. In some cases, biological control can be used – for example, the prickly pear cactus in Australia has been controlled through the introduction of a second foreign species, the moth Cactoblastis cactorum, which destroys only this cactus and nothing else living in Australia. However, this control strategy requires the identification of a biological control agent that is sufficiently specialized so that it does not otherwise disrupt the ecosystem. Prevention of the introduction of potentially invasive species is very difficult to control, because that requires controlling the baggage of millions of travelers, and inspecting millions (billions?) of tons of freight.


Changes in fire regimes

Human land use can lead to the suppression of fire where it is an integral part of the ecology (as in many grasslands), or widespread fires in places where fire was extremely rare under more natural conditions (as in tropical rain forests). Although changed frequencies of fires may not lead to documented extinctions of species, they do have a great impact on population numbers of both plant and animal species.

Fire suppression occurs especially in places where affluent people have established houses far away from any settlements, and there is therefore great political pressure to prevent natural forest fires from burning – for example, in much of the western United States. When forests are prevented over an extended period of time, dead branches and leaves accumulate over time, leading to a much more intense burn once a fire does happen – and then it is extremely difficult to control. Conservation agencies have recognized the need for controlled fires in certain environments for some decades now, but such a policy is difficult to implement if influential people in the area do not support it.

Excessive fires can occur for several different reasons. Where clearing the land allows a person to claim title to the land, burning can be the easiest means to achieve that purpose. Arson can be used as a means of protest against government policies that are seen (correctly or not) as taking the land away from the people who live in the area. The drying out of wetlands that contain a large amount of peat can allow that peat to burn out of control. By whatever cause, if fires become frequent in places where they were rare or totally absent before, only fire-adapted species will survive and endemic species that are not adapted to fire may die out.

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Climate change

We are now beginning to see significant climate change as a result of global warming. Glaciers are receding in mountain ranges around the world, and Arctic and Antarctic sea ice is becoming less extensive. In mountain environments, this means that species adapted to a specific elevation range have to move upward in order to continue living in the same environmental conditions – and those that live near the highest elevations of a mountain range have nowhere to go (or see their habitat shrink dramatically). Mountains are places where there tend to be many endemic species – that is, species that exist nowhere else in the world. These species have evolved there in isolation from similar species elsewhere, as if they lived on an island (islands are also places with lots of endemic species). Hence, the warming of mountains is likely to lead to the total extinction of species that are found there. Similar reduction of habitat may occur for many species in the polar regions as a result of global warming, such as the well-publicized case of polar bears.

Climate change may also involve changes in rainfall regimes, making a place either drier or wetter. Such changes will have strong impacts on local environments, leading to the decline of some species and the expansion of others. Usually the species that gain are relatively ubiquitous ones that can spread to new places easily, while the ones that decline are those that are adapted to very specific local conditions and do not expand their range easily. This means that on balance biodiversity is more likely to decrease rather than increase as a result of rapid climate change.


Loss of genetic diversity of crops and livestock

While we are causing massive disruptions in ecosystems, we are also causing a massive erosion in the genetic diversity of the plants and animals that we cultivate and rear. This is occurring even while intellectual property right are promoting massive research and development to breed new varieties. How is this possible?

The breeding of new varieties of crops and livestock used to happen slowly over centuries, but with multiple breeding programs in every place where those plants and animals were grown. Thus, every little valley in the Andes would have its slightly different potato varieties, and in each elevation zone, each area with somewhat different rainfall amounts or soils or food preferences, there would be varieties that differed slightly – or greatly. The same applied to every other crop in every other locality, even if the distances over which the same variety of wheat was grown in France, for example, might be considerably larger because the environmental conditions were less variable there. The genetic diversity was not necessarily a result of conscious breeding efforts, but simply of sowing seeds from the plants that did best under local conditions. Hence, with countless small, local, almost imperceptible steps of innovation, a tremendous diversity of crops and livestock was bred over the 10,000 years or so since agriculture began.In most places, farmers exchanged seeds with each other, and thus there was genetic interchange among the crops of different farms. Such interchange usually did not occur on commercial principles, but based either on community solidarity or barter systems. Farmers typically earned their money in commercialized systems from the crop they sold, not from the seeds they exchanged.

Since the “Green Revolution” that promoted highly capital-intensive research in the development of new and improved varieties, this picture has changed dramatically. In the 1960s, the original research was supported by government or charitable foundations, and the new varieties were made available without patents – in fact, living things could not be patented until a US court judged that micro-organisms weren't much different from chemicals and could therefore be patented, a ruling that opened up the patenting of just about any living thing! Even without patents, however, the new varieties were developed to fit a model of industrialized agriculture, with high inputs of fertilizers and dependable sources of water. This greatly helped those farmers with good land who could afford to make the necessary investments early in the season, and who did not depend on usurious money-lenders. The other farmers would still rely on older varieties, but were increasingly marginalized. Meanwhile markets, dominated by large commodities traders, tended to favor the few new varieties, no matter if they did not have the qualities of taste preferred by consumers. This led to great reductions of the amount of land planted in traditional varieties, even in places where their yields would be competitive (which they can be in the context of polyculture fields, and in conditions which are not optimal for the high-yielding varieties).

The erosion of genetic diversity has accelerated since it became possible to patent living things. This has created a huge incentive for private businesses to breed new varieties, especially by the means of genetic engineering (the products of which can be more easily patented). These companies may sell entire packages; e.g., Monsanto sells both glyphosate (Roundup) and “Roundup-ready” corn that is not killed by this herbicide. Meanwhile, the work of preserving the multitude of existing crop varieties is not encouraged by intellectual property law; at worst, such laws promote the piracy of genetic materials from elsewhere (in an infamous case, a US company was allowed to declare a patent on basmati rice, which has been grown for ages in India). It is companies which can hire patent lawyers who benefit from patents, not peasants who nurture genetic diversity in their fields.

Since the genetic diversity of crops and livestock is maintained not by individual innovators, but by entire communities of farmers, legislative models focusing on individual rights of innovators can do nothing to promote preservation of crop and livestock diversity. Programs and policies that work with communities, that foster the commons of seed sharing and livestock breeding, are needed instead.

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Approaches to creating greater abundance


community-based resource management (includes fire management)

respecting/restoring land rights of indigenous communities


land rights for migrant workers?

programs to help new farmers get established

extension services for more environmentally friendly agriculture




not subsidizing destructive agricultural practices

not building roads in roadless areas

policies and programs in support of small-scale, diversified agriculture


land for nature preservation

conservation easements

zoning of agricultural land

Ebenezer Howard concept of garden cities


commons resource trusts

regulations of harmful chemical substances (outlawing or taxing them)

organic agriculture (not using pesticides, using moderate amounts of natural fertilizers that release nutrients slowly as they decay or are weathered as in rock phosphate)

seed saving

integrated pest management

cradle-to-cradle, circular economy production methods


research support for organic agriculture, and cradle-to-cradle, circular economy production methods


not granting patents for living things

supports (programmatic, legislative) for community-based seed sharing and livestock breeding


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Links related to biological conservation

Convention on Biological Diversity

International Union for the Conservation of Nature

The Nature Conservancy

Rainforest Action Network

World Wildlife Fund

World Wildlife Fund. Wildfinder. This site allows you to find information and literature about species and habitat conservation issues in terrestrial ecoregions around the world.


Links related to sustainable agriculture and crop/livestock genetic diversity

Confederation Paysanne

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements

Michigan State University. Arthropod Pesticide Resistance Database

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