How Biodiversity Loss Impacts Humans as well as Nature
According to the UN, there are about 1 million species currently at risk of extinction. The knock-on effect of this loss would lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems, spelling disaster for not only the natural world, but for humanity, too.
The natural world which we inhabit is an incredibly delicate network, an intricate balance of dependency between species, and one in which slight changes are felt far and wide like the toppling of a domino brick. Humanity has acted like we’re impervious to these changes for too long, and science is teaching us that this profligacy will come at a huge cost to us all.
The UN states that biodiversity loss will impact our ability to secure food and water production, affect human health, and stifle our efforts to escape poverty.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) warns us that the actions of our society, from consumption, to regulation and governance, are responsible for the changes in our usage of the land and seas. This causes the destruction of natural landscapes to accelerate, resulting in pollution, climate change, and the establishment of invasive species to new habitats.
Why is biodiversity so important?
Like a delicate mechanical watch movement, or an intricately choreographed stage routine, our planet depends on all the individual parts performing in harmony with each other or the entire system can grind to a halt. We rely on bees and other pollinators to ensure we can grow crops to eat, and we need trees to create the very air we breathe, but of course these are the well established and understood needs of humanity. There is such a fine strata of bacteria and microorganisms underpinning our entire ecosystem, so numerous that we struggle to calculate the numbers involved, all at risk due to human activity.
If we were to lose certain species of earthworm for example, such inconspicuous little creatures, then fields used for crop growth would be unable to drain effectively, causing flooding and damaging yields. A slight change in the balance of soil microbes due to pesticide and fertilizer use would leave future generations unable to harvest enough food to feed our ever-expanding population.
We now rely on just 9 different plant species to provide more than two thirds of our global crop production, which places us under significant risk of crop epidemics or climate change.
How we can stop it
The United Nations have regularly established targets to prevent biodiversity loss over the decades, but nations have failed to reach the required levels of behavioural change required to meet them. But it’s not too late. With concerted efforts we can restore damaged ecosystems, and through changes in behaviour we can minimise further damage.
Unfortunately, this requires action on a vast scale. We need changes in governmental policy and a shift in economic practices. This doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference as individuals, however.
We can make choices in our day-to-day lives, such as reducing our beef consumption and only buying sustainably-sourced fish. We can avoid products containing palm oil or other foods which require deforestation. Changes in what we consume will force entire industries to respond through economic pressure. Consumer power has the ability to dictate what large, disruptive industries can do to our planet’s resources.
We can also support organizations who are working on the ground to save the planet.
The work of these individuals on localized projects may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but they demonstrate to governments the desire of communities to change the way we manage our resources, and show tangible evidence that our efforts can make a difference to the future of our planet, and therefore humanity.
As with most of the environmental issues facing our planet and its inhabitants, we’re responsible for the changes to the environment which have accelerated species extinction and shifting ecological balances. We can still do something to halt biodiversity loss, but we must act now. Soon the damage will be so great that it becomes irreversible. So be conscious of your consumption, support people working hard to fix things on our behalf, and make sure governments and corporations hear your voice, demanding change.