Environmental Progress: Preserving Biodiversity for Future Generations

The beauty of this planet comes from the natural sight and wonders as much as it comes from the rich biodiversity. Preserving biodiversity is about much more than keeping the beauty of wildlife – it ensures the delicate balance in the ecosystem remains in check.

Earth’s biodiversity has been dramatically impacted by five massive extinction events over the past 500 million years. Scientists have discovered significant evidence that points to global catastrophes as the catalyst for those events.

Unfortunately, many of those same scientists are seeing real-time evidence that a sixth mass extinction event has already begun. And for the first time, this event is being driven solely through human activity.

How Concerned Should I Be With Preserving Biodiversity

The World Wildlife Fund publishes an analysis every two years. This analysis is referred to as The Living Planet Report and it provides a comprehensive look at the current state of animal populations across the globe. The analysis is not a product of small scale studies, but rather a comprehensive view of over 10,000 vertebrate animal populations around the globe. The intent of the report is to provide a comprehensive update on the sustainable health of these populations.

The 2014 publication of The Living Planet report announced that global animal populations including the land, sea, and air dropped by an average of 52% just since 1970.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) maintains a Red List database with the endangered status of thousands of species. The most frightening observation from their work is that the planet may be losing up to 3 species per hour. The natural rate without human interference has been estimated to be between 2 and 25 species on average goes extinct per year (excluding the catastrophic extinction events mentioned earlier). This means biodiversity is being lost at a rate 1,000 times greater than natural processes would normally occur.

The main drivers for species loss aren’t really a surprise when you pause to look at them. Those drivers include:

  • Climate change – opens the door for invasive species to take hold on delicate ecosystems.
  • Habitat loss – through deforestation or human development.
  • Pollution – drives many problems into our biosphere including the buildup of greenhouse gases and other toxins in our water and air.
  • Unsustainable exploitation – includes virtually all natural resources used by people (land, trees, water, etc).
  • Overfishing – fish are being drawn out at rates faster than the ocean can replenish.

Humanity’s impact on the planet has been so dramatic that many scientists are calling for a formal declaration that the planet has entered a new era. While you may have heard of the Jurassic or Cretaceous eras thanks to Hollywood, we currently live in the Holocene era. Scientists Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer suggested in 2000 that the Holocene era be deemed over and a new era underway referred to as the Anthropocene era.

It is in the Anthropocene era, Crutzen and Stoermer explained that humanity has undergone such vast impact to the planet hat we have begun to change the very chemistry (oceanic acidification), climate, biological conditions, and global planetary features. We have literally altered the planet is so many ways that the vast reach of biodiversity held on this planet is unable to keep pace with the changes.

How Many Species are at Risk of Extinction

This is a sampling of the IUCN Red List and the percentages represent the estimated number of species that are threatened with extinction if action is not taken quickly:

  • Birds 13%
  • Chameleons 39%
  • Cone snails 8%
  • Conifers 34%
  • Cycads 63%
  • Freshwater crayfishes 31%
  • Freshwater crabs 31%
  • Freshwater shrimps 28%
  • Groupers 18%
  • Mammals 26%
  • Reef-forming corals 33%
  • Sharks & rays 31%

These figures are estimates; however they remain alarming when you remember that the biosphere is interconnected. The loss of a single species can have a drastic ripple effect across an entire ecosystem.

Benefits of Preserving Biodiversity

The benefits to preserving biodiversity are tangible and much greater than the raw beauty. We understand that the biosphere is a tightly connected system that relies on each participant performing a unique role. When a species is lost that role often goes unperformed.

Scientists have been able to demonstrate how wildfires are able to be more violent when biodiversity in forests is impacted. Specifically, when ground species that normally turn the leaf litter disappear, it means the leaf litter takes longer to break down. More leaves on the ground results in more fuel to feed raging fires.

Additionally, there are direct benefits to industries such as pharmaceuticals. For example, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, 118 out of 150 of the top prescription drugs are based on natural sources. Scientists have only tapped into the healing potential of nature – some estimates have come in that less than 1% of organisms have been evaluated for their medicinal benefit. A loss of biodiversity results in the lost benefit to future generations.

Keys to Preserving Biodiversity – Sustainability Certifications:

We know that humans are the driving force behind the loss of biodiversity. This also means our actions are the key to preserving biodiversity.

Scientists, conservationists, and environmentalists work around the clock to tackle the challenges mentioned above that are driving the loss of biodiversity. No silver bullet is going to be found to solve the problem; it’s more likely going to take hundreds of solutions. Problems such as habitat loss need to be resolved at a global level and that’s not exactly a simple problem. The most important thing is that incremental actions continue to take place in the name of preserving biodiversity.

A key tool that has been put in place to help with preserving biodiversity is through a series of various industry certifications. These certifications have been designed with the purpose of ensuring sustainable business practices are used in managing the precious resources available.

The list of sustainable certifications continues to grow; however, here are just a few that you have likely seen as you’ve been out shopping.

  • Aquaculture Stewardship Council: Provides standards for seafood handling.
  • Better Cotton Initiative: Provides for sustainable criteria for growing cotton.
  • Canada Organic: Used for organic certification in Canada.
  • Certified Wildlife Friendly: Promotes wildlife conservation and conservation actions. Certification is typically tied to a specific species.
  • Dolphin Safe / Dolphin Friendly: Ensures tuna products remain free from dolphins via no intentional catching of dolphins. Also restricts types of nets used to catch tuna.
  • Energy Star: The national symbol for energy efficient appliance and products.
  • e-Stewards Certification: Program that ensure proper recycling and disposal of electronic waste (e-Waste).
  • Fair Trade: Ensures farmers and workers receive a fair compensation.
  • Forest Stewardship Council: Promotes sustainable forestry and word product manufacturing.
  • Leaping Bunny: Ensures no animal testing used in the development of a product.
  • LEED: The international standard for energy efficient residential and commercial construction.
  • Marine Stewardship Council: Ensures sustainable marine fishery management.
  • Non-GMO: Ensures no GMO ingredients are used in the making of food products.
  • Rainforest Alliance: Ensures sustainable products derived from forest operations.
  • USDA Organic: US-based standards for organic produce.

Additional strategies beyond industry certifications are being used to preserve biodiversity.

Governments have evolved their approaches to land conservation. Brazil for example has implemented a number of solutions that has significantly curbed deforestation. Those approaches have included the following:

  • Expanding the footprint for protected land.
  • Give local and indigenous people a say in what happens to the land they rely on for survival.
  • Improve and / or enhance anti-logging regulations.
  • Clean-up the government corruption that has enabled illegal logging to take place.

Non-Government Organizations and private investors have been a tremendous aid in the fight to preserve biodiversity. These entities work with local officials to lobby for stronger regulation and control while also purchasing land to be set aside as natural spaces for future generations.

Preserving Biodiversity – Are We There?

The debate on why preserving biodiversity is important isn’t what really matters. What matters is real action.

Pharmaceutical companies estimate that at least one major drug is lost every two years directly tied to the extinction of vital species. The need for urgent action has never been greater – we are facing a crisis if we are unable to get our act together.

Steps are being taken all over the planet: activities that range from methods to clean up the plastic in the oceans, curb deforestation, and preservation of wetland habitats.

References

Crutzen, P. J. and E. F. Stoermer. 2000. The ‘Anthropocene’. Global Change Newsletter 41:17–18, 2000; Zalasiewicz, J. et al. 2008. Are We Now Living in the Anthropocene?. GSA Today (Geological Society of America) 18 (2): 4–8.

Center for Biological Diversity

International Union for the Conservation of Nature. 2014

World Wildlife Fund

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