As concerns the future of life, we often make our decisions on the bases of what we consider is an ordered rank of self interest before needs of the larger community. Many live by the goals of relatively short-term pleasure and profit rather than project to an axiom of what could be the benefit for maintaining biodiversity, including the human.
This past year, the US population spent between 25 to 28 billion dollars on dietary supplements, as estimated by an NIH State-of-the-Science Conference with details reported in the January 2007 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Of this amount, approximately 8.3 billion was spent on vitamin/mineral supplements. Most of these supplements were not needed and some have even proved harmful, as increasingly documented in the medical science literature (see my editorial on "The dubious use of vitamin/mineral supplements with regard to cardiovascular disease" in the above-cited journal in October, 2006). Dr. Reynearson, a former director of the Mayo Clinic and president of the American Medical Association, stated nearly a generation ago what is clearly the case today: "Americans love hogwash. They think if a little is good more is better." Though some intake of vitamins and trace elements is essential for life, amounts needed for most are small (RDA levels) and the excess provided by most supplements is wasteful and sometimes harmful. The multibillion-dollar industry grows parasitically on the back of a gullible public attuned to thinking short term and of self.
Now let's turn our attention to what has been estimated to be the similar magnitude of cost ($28 billion), as described by Prof. E.O. Wilson in his book "The Future of Life" (Vantage Books, 2003), "for maintaining at least a representative sample of Earth's ecosystems, land and sea, pole to pole." Conservation international estimates that about $4 billion is needed to secure management of the approximately two million square kilometers of tropical forest now protected plus acquisition and management of the remaining two million square kilometers. "Approximately $24 billion is needed to manage in perpetuity 800,000 square kilometers already under protection, as well as to add and permanently maintain an additional 400,000 square kilometers still unprotected." As of 2000, only about $6 billion was being allotted annually from combined governmental and private sources to sustain all of Earth's natural ecosystems.
Greater governmental funding could be obtained by ending perverse subsidies that aid individual industries but are unnecessary for the country as a whole and harmful to the environment. A few examples include marine fisheries, ranching, mining, and a host of agricultural prop-ups. In the Myers-Kent analysis from Oxford University, published in 1998, such subsidies exceed worldwide over two trillion dollars. The average American pays $2,000 a year in subsidies, giving the lie to the belief our economy runs in a truly free competitive market.
Even if we lack the understanding or will to support only those politicians who have the foresight to seek what is best for all in the long run, we can as individuals recognize the certainty that our species depends on the intricate web of life that is now in our biodiversity. Compare the actual need of about $28 billion dollars for immediate and sustainable action to protect the major part of present biodiversity with the same magnitude of what we in the US spent unnecessarily on supplements, generally not needed.