As with any kind of accounting process, in order to track changes in the environment and climate, a certain level of baseline knowledge is necessary – a point of departure.
The past decades have seen a steady compilation of information that allows society to gain a better grasp on the state of the planet, human impact, and possible trajectories. Conflict zones present particular difficulties – not only does war compromise the human and natural environment on almost every level, from bombing to landmines, from water and land pollution to habitat destruction, but it can also render environmental research into a lethal undertaking.
One place where research slowed to a trickle was Colombia. According to a new article out in Science, the country estimated to “rank first in the world in number of flowering plants, second in birds, and sixth in mammals” saw environmental accounting all but stop during the years of armed guerilla warfare and intense drug-trafficking from the mid-1980s until recently.
But with conflicts receding in some areas (though not all), scientists have started re-entering the field. And they have some interesting observations.
Aside from the sheer number of new species to be named, bioprospecting bonanzas and new insights into a place of extremely diverse climates and topologies, there has been an unexpected benefit – if one cares to call it that – of the years of disarray: The areas that were no-go zones also avoided the massive land development and deforestation that has taken place across the South American continent. Areas previously under cultivation have seen reforestation.
And these effects will probably be temporary, because as areas become conflict-free, developers will follow.
From the Science article:
“As fighting ebbs, road builders, miners, and ranchers are racing into many of the same regions that biologists are exploring.
The national government is encouraging development with tax breaks for palm oil plantations and biofuels. Foreign investments in Colombia’s petroleum sector leapt 20-fold in 2011 over the level a decade ago, to more than $9 billion. Mining companies looking for coal and gold account for $4 billion more invested per year.”
This is contrasted with a modest budget of $30 million dollars allocated by the Colombian government towards the protection of its 57 national parks.
It would be a sad paradox if these unique ecosystems were better protected by conflicts that render them too dangerous for most people to tread, as opposed to peace that opens them to exploitation.
Science article – Venturing Back Into Colombia by Antonio Regalado
Escape from America Magazine article – Gold Mining in Colombia Legally by Don Ewert