BY SOFO ARCHON
Let’s talk about “biodiversity loss”. Or should I say the “mass extinction of non-human species”? For what is biodiversity loss other than a euphemism that means exactly this?
Well, if you want to be more technical, here is a definition by Britannica:
“Biodiversity loss, also called loss of biodiversity, [is] a decrease in biodiversity within a species, an ecosystem, a given geographic area, or Earth as a whole.”
If you didn’t know already, the world’s biodiversity – that is, the variety of life on Earth, in all forms and at every level, from genes to microbes to humans and all other species – has been reduced dramatically over the last couple of centuries. And that is mainly because of… humans.
The current rate of extinction of animals and plants is estimated to be up to 1,000 times greater than it was before 1800, when, through industrialization and the rapid advancement of technology, humans began to exert much greater control over the world. And as human population grows to 10 billion and more cultures across the globe adopt the ethic of economic growth and consumerism, the human-caused destruction of life on Earth is only getting worse.
But how exactly are humans driving biodiversity loss? Let’s find out.
The Many Causes of Biodiversity Loss
One of the main causes of biodiversity loss is habitat destruction. According to the IUCN’s Red List of International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are over 40,000 species threatened with extinction, mostly due to the destruction of habitats they depend on (in fact, according to a report, one million species will likely be pushed to extinction in the next few years).
That destruction can be caused by natural phenomena, such as flood and fire, but it’s mostly caused by human activity — including mining, logging, trawling and urban sprawl. But the most significant such activity is deforestation, with around half of the world’s original forests now cleared, mainly for agricultural use. To understand the level of destruction taking place, picture 30 football fields (or, if you’re from the US, soccer fields) of forest being cut down every single minute. That’s crazy, isn’t it?
Biodiversity is also threatened through pollution, particularly air and water pollution. For example, burning fossil fuels creates acidic rain, by releasing sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere, thus causing water and soil acidification, which negatively affects the biodiversity of our planet’s ecosystems. Other than polluting, of course, burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gasses that are warming our planet, which, among other things, causes soil erosion, desertification, the melting of ice caps, flooding, and extreme weather patterns, which are all immensely detrimental to the Earth’s biodiversity.
Another example of pollution-induced biodiversity loss is the sewage and chemicals that run off into water from agricultural land. Currently, humans are breeding and raising over 60 billion land animals each year, most of which are crammed in small spaces. As you can imagine, the pile of excrement of this unbelievably big number of animals is poisoning the land life around them, as well as the marine life where it sooner or later ends up in. The same is true of the antibiotics and other chemicals that are given to farmed animals in order to protect them from disease that is otherwise extremely likely to develop due to the horrible conditions they are forced to live in.
Humans are also driving biodiversity loss through “overharvesting” – or, in my words, “the mass murder of non-human life” – whether by hunting or fishing. Fishing, in particular, is responsible for the death of more than a trillion marine animals each year. Now, that isn’t bad just for those animals, but also for the entire marine ecosystems they are embedded in, since in an ecosystem, all life is interrelated and interdependent. For example, overfishing can damage coral reefs and remove essential predators, both of which mean potentially fatal effects for the oceans.
I’ll briefly mention two other significant ways humans are bringing animals and plants into extinction. The first is habitat fragmentation – that is, the breaking up of natural habitats – through activities such as dam building, which, among other things, reduces the amount of suitable habitat available for organisms. The second is the introduction (whether intentional or accidental) of so-called “invasive” species who can upset the balance of ecosystems, such as by carrying disease, or eating up entire populations of native species or the resources those depend on.
Now that we’ve looked at the most important ways biodiversity loss is being caused, let’s see why it’s such an important issue.
Why is Biodiversity Important Anyway?
Our planet is a complex system that took billions of years of evolution to reach its current state of complexity. Now, the more complex, and hence diverse, a living system is, the more healthy and resilient it tends to be. Therefore, when a living system becomes less diverse, both its health and resilience are compromised.
Here’s an analogy of the human body to illustrate what I mean. Your body is a complex, integrated system whose parts are working synergistically to maintain homeostasis and other processes necessary for keeping yourself alive and healthy. If a vital part of your body — let’s say, an organ like a lung — is harmed, then the health of your entire body is compromised. Just like your body, the Earth is a living organism comprised of organs and tissues whose condition plays a vital role in the health of the entire planet. Those include the soil, forests, coral reefs, wetlands, fish, whales, and elephants (I could offer several examples of how they all contribute to a healthy biosphere, but I won’t to keep the article shorter. A quick online search, however, would show you plenty of them). By degrading or destroying the above, therefore, we’re compromising the health of our planet. And the unhealthier it becomes, the more unable it is to recover, for the processes necessary for doing that have been interrupted.
Now, perhaps needless to say, every living being on Earth — ourselves included — totally depends on its environment. Hence, by harming nature, we’re harming ourselves and all life on Earth. So, if we want to live in a vibrant, healthy, thriving Earth, we need to stop stripping away its biodiversity. On the contrary, we need to help increase it. By doing so, not only will we live on a healthier planet, but also on a more beautiful one, for it’s the biodiversity that enriches life with animals, plants, landscapes that make the world the wonderful place that it is.
The Big Question
The big questions is: What can we do to stop driving biodiversity loss?
Obviously, we need to stop engaging in the activities that cause it. That means, we need to stop using up resources faster than the Earth can replenish them, we need to stop burning fossil fuels, we need to stop releasing toxic chemicals into the land, air and sea, and we need to stop farming animals – among other things. But, of course, that’s not a simple thing to do. And there are three main reasons for that:
Firstly, because, as paradoxical as it sounds, we need to keep destroying the planet if we want to survive in our economic system – a system that depends on infinite growth and consumption. In this system, most of us have to engage in anti-environmental behavior, such manufacturing, selling or promoting unsustainable products in order to earn a living, although earning a living this way is eventually going to kill all humanity.
Secondly, it’s hard to stop our ecocidal behavior because we’ve been conditioned since we were little kids to see ourselves as consumers whose primary purpose in life is to buy stuff. Products, we fervently believe, is what makes life rich, not realizing that we’re trying to enrich our lives by destroying the very planet we depend on and are inseparable from.
Thirdly, and in my view, most importantly, we keep on harming our planet because we don’t feel intimately connected to it. Being enclosed in man-made boxes (houses, cars, offices, etc.) and jungles of concrete for most of our lives, we have been psychologically distanced from the Earth. Hence, instead of seeing her as a sacred, living being worthy of love and reverence, we only see an inanimate bunch of resources to control and exploit. No wonder we care so little about the destruction and suffering we’re imposing upon her.
To stop causing biodiversity loss, therefore, it’s of utmost importance that we start feeling connected to our planet. And the best way this can be achieved is by immersing ourselves in nature and inspiring others to do the same. By doing so, we’ll not only discover the immense beauty, complexity and intelligence of nature, but we’ll also come to see and feel the amount of destruction and suffering we as a global civilization have been causing to it. So, whenever you can, go spend some time in the wild (or in the park or field closest to you, if the wild isn’t easily available), and if possible invite others to join you. Also, when you find the opportunity, share with others written, visual and auditory content that inspires love and stewardship toward the Earth, whether in person or through social and other forms of communication media.
Once we feel connected to nature, we’ll naturally see a shift in our values. For example, we’ll not value anymore overconsumption over the destruction of the Earth. With our values changed, our behavior will change as well, for it is largely an embodiment of our values. Then, instead of destroying our wonderful planet, we’ll want to engage in activities that have a positive impact on it. Such activities include reforestation, regenerative plant-based agriculture, as well as eco-friendly product and city design.
But then we’ll also want to radically transform the economic system we live in, realizing that it’s antithetical to the activities just mentioned. Instead of a growth-based economy, we’ll design a steady-state one that is aligned with – and not against – the natural world. Personal change is important, but even more important is collective change, and true, lasting collective change can take place only once our economic system – the very foundation of our, and any other, society – changes as well.