We have begun to reach the climatic “tipping points” environmentalists worry so much about – the point where the glass of (camel) milk is leaning, leaning and it hasn’t leaned so far that the milk has leaked out but then boom, the glass falls over, milk splatters everywhere, and someone has to come in to mop it up. The United Nations (UN) looks to the dismal health of the Amazon forest, certain freshwater lakes, and coral reef ecosystems like the Red Sea for signs that unless our leaders implement schemes that protect biodiversity more urgently, humanity is going to shed some serious tears.
So what is biodiversity?
According to the UN, which will convene in 10 days to discuss the efficacy of the International Year of Biodiversity campaign, biodiversity includes: diversity of species, diversity within species, and diversity of ecosystems.
The more variety of grain and vegetables and fish we have to eat, the more likely we are to survive. But our survival depends on the ability of other species along the food chain to survive as well. Just as we need a variety of foods to survive, so do other species.
Genetic diversity within species is the reason you aren’t allowed to marry your relatives. Whereas a lack of genetic diversity leads to increased vulnerability to disease and in-breeding, the opposite makes species more adaptable to change and facilitates evolution, also necessary for survival.
Ecosystem diversity refers to the different kinds of ecosystems that each play their own complicated, intertwined role: wetlands, for example, keep our lakes clean, while forests and the ocean are “carbon sinks.” Each ecosystem represents a planetary limb. If we cut off all our legs and arms, we’ll have a hard time keeping up with all of nature’s work.
Habitat change, over-exploitation of resources, pollution, invasive species, and climate change are the five major pressures the UN believes are driving biodiversity loss.
Following are four conclusions among several derived from the UN’s 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment:
- The ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted
- Human actions are depleting the earth’s natural capital
- Because of human actions, species are being lost at a rate of 100 x the natural rate of extinction
- In the past century, 35 per cent of mangroves, 40 per cent of forests and 50 per cent of wetlands have been lost
The possibility that we can reverse these problems within the next 50 years exists because of universities in the Middle East that are going green with gusto, conservationists that work in heinous conditions, organizations such as FoEME that keep an eye on our rivers, and companies that invest in clean technology. It’s now time for our leaders to get their hands dirty, risk their political careers, cap carbons, and stop polluters dead in their tracks.
And they have to mean it, otherwise the land as homo sapiens have known it could be rendered unlivable.
:: image via Dano
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