Saving The World’s Biodiversity One Person At A Time
Yes, I’m Talking About Each One Of UsPosted on: September 24th, 2020
Sheltering-in-Place Blog Entry #24
Bio, combining form. Related to life and living things.
Diversity, noun. Related to variety, uniqueness, or a range of unique things.
When you put these two words together, as in Biodiversity, you get the diversity and variety of life in the world or ecosystems. Biodiversity is not only the sum of the species or unique types of life but also the relationships between the species and their environment. This one word encompasses life on Earth as no other word can, and it helps explain the importance of all of those lives and our responsibility to create a sustainable planet. Biodiversity is life on earth, and we’re part of that life.
There is a growing body of evidence that the world’s biodiversity is in real trouble today (see references below). The numbers are stunning. Of the calculated 8.7 million species on the planet (of which we have barely named and described only 1.2 million), almost a million face extinction in the next few decades (see report here and here). Once a species disappears, we lose something unique and precious, a genetic resource that took hundreds of thousands of years to evolve with the potential for discovering new medicines, foods, or benefits to humanity. When we lose hundreds of thousands or millions of species, an enormous library of information, potential, and a resource for our future is lost.
Many people ask themselves when hearing or reading about these dire predictions, why should I care? And for those of us that do care, the question is, what can I do about it?
Let’s take these two questions, one at a time.
Why Should I Care About Extinction?
Perhaps a better way to address this question is to rephrase it as to why is biodiversity important for humans? And before people who balk at the anthropocentric way to pose this question, the reality is that most humans will always care about humans first above everything else, so let’s start there.
Many years ago, I drew a cartoon to help explain to a group of high school youth why every species is essential. Imagine, I said, that you have a car and you open up the hood and, at random, pick up something and take it out. It can be a screw, or a small wire, or whatever first caught your eye. Chances are that the car will still run. Then, you unscrew a couple of lug nuts out of a tire. The car still runs. You may think those nuts, screws, or wires were unimportant and didn’t play much of a role. The car kept on running with no apparent harm. However, there will be a moment when you pull out something more substantial, like a spark plug, or a small hose out of the radiator, or a few other nuts out of other tires. The car still runs, but you sense it is not fully operative. The engine sputters and hesitates, the radiator loses water, and a couple of the tires are wobbly. But the car still runs, so you don’t worry much and keep going.
There will be a moment when you will pick up an essential part, disconnect a wire that kills the ignition, or one too many nuts, and the wheel falls off. Now the whole car breaks down and can’t fulfill its mission of transporting you around to do your business.
Ecosystems are like that. The species are the parts of an immense “engine,” a giant vehicle that spins around itself and travels at dizzying speeds around the sun. Once you take too many pieces, when too many species become extinct, some of these ecosystems will collapse and stop functioning. And that will not help us or nature.
So, what can you do about this? We’ve been through this before when we talked about fire and climate change, but it bears repeating.
- Ecosystem services. Ecosystems provide us with fresh water for a myriad of uses, insects to achieve the pollination of our crops, nutrients to increase soil fertility and stability, many types of food (think fisheries) and medicines, and even ideas and inspiration for new materials.
- Protection from deadly diseases. Consider that about 70% of emerging viral diseases jump from wild animals to humans. Deforestation brings human populations closer and closer to wild areas and animals, bacteria, and viruses that we had not been exposed to before. Deforestation also causes flooding, pollution of waterways, stagnant waters (perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes), and loss of air, water, and soil quality.
- Protection against the ravages of climate change. Healthy forests and oceans are buffers for climate change, capturing massive amounts of carbon and reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.
- Source of income for a large portion of the world’s population. Some 40% of the world’s economy comes from biological resources (lumber, fisheries, new medicines, new foods, ecotourism). Many developing countries depend even more on nature for their resources and survival.
- An extraordinary source of inspiration, spirituality, and growth. Since people started to keep records thousands of years ago, from prehistoric cave paintings to modern art and religion, every civilization, every culture obtained its inspiration and mythology from nature. Nature and healthy ecosystems have always been society’s pantries, pharmacies, water sources, places to recreate, to be born and to die, to worship, and to create.
It seems we’re experiencing a time when nature is striking back at people all at once, with hurricanes, heatwaves, massive fires, massive fish and bird die-offs, plagues of locusts, and global pandemics of wild-borne diseases. Thus, it behooves us to understand why these things are happening and educate ourselves about our responsibility, as big or as small it may be, to search and implement sustainable solutions.
Whether you work on your habits and make personal changes, or at the level of your family, neighborhood, community, or beyond, the most important thing is to ACT. Now. Everyone has a role to play, and everyone can make a difference. Nothing else will make a difference without the personal actions of individuals like you and me.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Today is the right time to believe and act upon this conviction.
Carlos L. de la Rosa