rainbow insect

Photo: Smccann via Flickr

This picture of what appears to be an insect with rainbows flying out its butt was taken in Guyana.

There are untold, untapped, unknown chemistries created by millions of years of evolution harbored in what remains of the planet’s biodiversity. This is a vast storehouse of information, which would provide humanity with centuries of medicines and other benefits if we can just find ways to preserve it.

We can’t let our biodiversity disappear — one interesting (and gross) example of its importance is in this video I found on YouTube, documenting one of the unending evolutionary struggles between lifeforms. We are also locked in an evolutionary struggle with microbes. Many of today’s most important medicines got their start in nature. Penicillin and its derivatives, for example, came from a mold.

Mongabay has a hopeful article about an equity firm betting on the future:

“How can it be that Google’s services are worth billions, but those from all the world’s rainforests amount to nothing?”

A private equity firm has purchased the rights to environmental services generated by a 371,000-hectare rainforest reserve in Guyana. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the agreement is precedent-setting in that a financial firm is betting that the services generated by a living rainforest — including rainfall generation, climate regulation, biodiversity maintenance, and water storage — will eventually see compensation in international markets.

In exchange for funding a “significant” part of the costs of maintaining Iwokrama rainforest reserve in Guyana, the agreement grants U.K.-based Canopy Capital the right to 16 percent profit from proceeds generated from environmental services payments. 80 percent of the income generated would go to local communities while the Global Canopy Programme, an alliance of 29 scientific institutions in 19 countries, would receive four percent.

The game plan is to get in early while rainforests are still cheap.

Hylton Murray-Philipson, the guy behind this idea, has spent several years in Brazil and watched other attempts to preserve rainforests fail. He’s been learning from their mistakes. The key, of course, is good governance, and apparently Guyana has what we do not — a real leader:

“We can deploy the forest against global warming and … it wouldn’t have to stymie development in Guyana,” President Jagdeo told The Independent last November. “We are a country with the political will and a large tract of standing forest. I’m not a mercenary, this is not blackmail, and I realize there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I’m not just doing this just because I’m a good man and want to save the world, I need the assistance.”

I’ve noticed lately that just about every article talking about ecosystem destruction or impending famine eventually ends up mentioning biofuels somewhere:

Climbing prices for gold and timber, coupled with surging demand for biofuels derived from sugar cane, have raised concerns that developers may push for infrastructure improvements that could transform Guyana’s forests.

And while I’m on the subject, let me run a few numbers for you: 371,000 hectares = 1,432 square miles. Roughly 35,000 square miles of crops were diverted to American gas tanks last year. Assuming that Third World farmers are half as efficient at squeezing food out of an acre of land as America’s industrial ag industry, you might expect 70,000 acres to be put under the plow to make up for our shortfall in the human food chain, and 70,000 – 1,432 = 68,568 square miles of carbon sinks that need to be saved from our cars.

In this interview, Murray-Philipson was asked what motivated him. He talked about this being the last chance to halt global warming but later let slip that he has two young boys and that he is worried about their futures. I can’t think of better motivation.