The air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat all rely on biodiversity. However, right now, it is in crisis – because of us. Read on to learn precisely why it is so important to conserve biodiversity.
What is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is a contraction of “biological diversity” and is all the variety of life on earth. If that sounds complicated, then that’s because it is. There is nothing more complex on planet earth than biodiversity.
There are several biodiversity levels, beginning with genes, then individual species, and finally whole ecosystems, such as coral reefs. All levels are linked together, creating a healthy system and a sustainable planet.
Just How Diverse is Biodiversity?
Biodiversity is mind-blowingly diverse. For example, scientists estimate that there are 8.7 million species in existence and that most have not been categorized.
If we add bacteria and viruses, then the number of distinct organisms on the planet could be billions. For instance, a single spoonful of soil can contain 10,000 to 50,000 different types of bacteria.
Why is Biodiversity Important?
There are numerous reasons why biodiversity is essential, and we must preserve it.
We Rely on Healthy Ecosystems to Survive
Firstly, biodiversity is vital as humans rely on healthy ecosystems to survive. According to Professor David MacDonald of Oxford University, “without biodiversity, there is no future for humanity.”
The food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe depend on biodiversity. For instance, there would be no oxygen without plants, and without bees to pollinate, there would be no fruit such as apples and cranberries and no nuts such as almonds.
Millions of people also rely on biodiversity for their day-to-day lives globally. This reliance is especially the case in the developed world, where resources from biodiversity-rich areas are people’s primary source of food and fuel.
Biodiversity is Essential for Human Health
Research demonstrates that there is a direct link between disease outbreaks and the destruction of biodiversity. When we destroy nature, wild animals inevitably come into closer contact with us and spread the viruses they carry.
For example, the Covid-19 outbreak in late 2019 likely began in a wild animal market in Wuhan, China, where the virus jumped from an animal to humans. The more we destroy nature, the more contact we will have with wild animals, leading to additional viruses.
Also, many medicines are harvested from nature. For example, aspirin evolved from a compound found in the leaves and bark of the willow tree.
Biodiversity is a Vital Part of the Solution to Climate Change
An important reason to conserve biodiversity is that it is vital in the fight against climate change. Many ecosystems – such as forests and wetlands – store vast amounts of carbon in them. When we destroy these ecosystems, this carbon escapes into the atmosphere, worsening global warming.
Destroying forest ecosystems, for example, causes 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions since trees store carbon which is released when they are cleared or burnt.
On the other hand, expanding nature can take in more carbon from the atmosphere and help slow climate change. Restoring and better managing nature can deliver at least 30% of the reduction in emissions required by 2030 to avoid the worst of climate change.
Biodiversity is Good for the Economy
Another good reason to conserve biodiversity is that it is good for the economy. According to the World Economic Forum, more than half of the world’s total GDP of $44 trillion is modestly or highly dependent on nature. Therefore, many businesses are at serious risk due to biodiversity loss.
Also, investing in biodiversity is good for business. As shown by the United Nations Environment Program, there is at least $9 of economic benefit for every dollar spent restoring nature. Making agricultural and food production methods more sustainable to protect biodiversity could lead to $4.5 trillion per year in new business opportunities by 2030.
Biodiversity is a Fundamental Component of Human Culture
Different species are often fundamental to various cultural and national identities. One hundred forty-two countries worldwide use different types of species as national symbols. Sadly, 15% of all species national systems show population decline, while two-thirds are threatened by extinction.
We have taken steps to protect national symbols. For example, the American Bald Eagle and the American Bison – both national symbols of the USA – were brought back from near extinction through conservation efforts.
How Bad is Biodiversity Loss?
Biodiversity loss is catastrophic. It is hard to emphasize just how much biodiversity has been lost and how much we are on track to lose if we do not change course.
According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), nature is declining at a rate unprecedented in human history. Around 1 million plant and animal species are currently threatened with extinction, more than ever before.
The current rate of species extinction is around 1,000 times higher than before humans dominated the planet. According to many scientists, the sixth mass extinction of wildlife on earth has already begun.
If we look specifically at mammals, which are the easiest species to monitor, we see that the number of animals on earth has fallen by half since 1970.
The quickest decline in animal populations is in freshwater ecosystems, which have seen numbers collapse by 75% since 1970. According to Dave Tickner, WWF’s chief freshwater advisor, this is because “Rivers are the bottom of the system. “Whatever happens on the land, it all ends up in the rivers. For example, tens of billions of tonnes of effluent are dumped in the Ganges in India every year.”
However, this decline is evident on land, too—for example, tiger populations have declined by 96.1% over the last century.
Under the Sea
Under the sea, the situation isn’t much better. In the last 40 years. Marine animal populations have fallen by 40%, while uncontrolled overfishing has caused catches to fall rapidly since their peak in 1996. This reduction is a massive issue since fish is the primary protein source of over one billion people worldwide.
Finally, scientists have stated that we face an Insect Apocalypse, with 40% of insect populations declining and one-third endangered. This decline is eight times faster than the reduction of mammals, birds and reptiles, and as a result, we are losing 1-2% of insects per year.
What is Destroying Biodiversity?
To put it bluntly – we are. Since humans have come to dominate the planet, biodiversity loss has accelerated exponentially.
Specifically, we are causing biodiversity loss in various ways:
The Clearing of Wild Areas
As the human population rises and we consume more natural resources, more and more wild areas are being cleared.
Deforestation is particularly devastating in the Amazon Rainforest, where 17% of the forest has been lost in the last 50 years. This deforestation, which has increased dramatically in recent years under Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, is particularly concerning as the Amazon is home to 10% of the world’s biodiversity.
Poaching and Hunting
Poaching and hunting is another prominent way that humans are destroying biodiversity. In some cases, poaching and hunting is the main reason why a particular animal faces the risk of extinction. For example, between 2014 and 2017, over 100,000 African elephants were killed for ivory.
Pollution plays a big part in the destruction of biodiversity. For example, 8 million tons of plastic end up in oceans each year, killing organisms there.
Also, ecosystems are badly affected by air pollution, reducing their ability to function and grow. Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen are particularly problematic as they can deposit in water and vegetation as acid rain, reducing the ecosystem’s ability to work.
Finally, global trade is a factor in biodiversity loss. International shipping has spread many invasive species around the planet, contributing to the destruction of local ecosystems. Rats are an excellent example of this.
What Can We Do to Reverse Biodiversity Loss?
Give Space to Nature
Giving space to nature is the most effective way to conserve biodiversity, for example, through wildlife reserves. Currently, 15% of land and 7% of oceans are protected. However, many scientists argue that we need to set aside half of the world’s land surface to avoid catastrophic biodiversity loss. We would have to interlink these protected areas to allow animals to move between them and maintain genetic diversity.
We can all help conserve biodiversity by changing our diet. For example, we destroy an enormous amount of forest every year to make space for cattle to produce meat for us to eat. By cutting out meat from our diets, we reduce forest clearing and biodiversity destruction.
Also, palm oil – derived from the oil palm tree and found in everyday foods such as chocolate, packaged bread, and ice cream – is a significant driver of deforestation. There are 193 critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable species worldwide that have palm oil exploitation as their main threat. We can all help conserve biodiversity by eating fewer products made from palm oil.
Highlight the Value of Biodiversity
Finally, another way to conserve biodiversity is to better highlight the value of nature. We can do this by estimating the financial value of ecosystems and the economic benefits of preserving them.
For example, New York has spent $2 billion over the last 20 years protecting its natural watershed, which naturally filters water. The city has calculated that building a water treatment plant instead would have cost $10 billion. Placing a value and cost on conserving the watershed and building a water treatment plant made it evident that conservation was the better option.
Participate in our Energy Conservation Programs
We deliver two energy conservation programs that help income-eligible Ontarians increase the energy efficiency of their homes. Since less energy used means fewer greenhouse gases emitted, these programs also help preserve biodiversity. To learn more, visit our website.
Conclusion: It is Vital to Preserve Biodiversity
In conclusion, we are facing an unprecedented biodiversity crisis that threatens the very future of humanity. Species numbers have collapsed around us, and once they go extinct, they will be gone forever.
While the issue of biodiversity loss can seem overwhelming and hopeless, there are steps that every one of us can take to help. By changing our diet and pressuring politicians to take the issue seriously, we can reverse the destruction of nature.