The Looming Threat of Biodiversity Loss

Reader Contribution by Michelle Martin
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Though the world hoped that 2010 (International Year of Biodiversity) would mark a reversal — if not, at least, a decline — in a frightening trend of biodiversity loss, a UN report shows the opposite. The UN’s third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook calls for “swift, radical and creative action” to correct the grave downward spikes in the disappearance of Earth’s ecosystems, contending that “economies, lives, and livelihoods” all depend on our ability to reverse these high rates of plant and wildlife extinction and endangerment.

The Convention for Wildlife Biodiversity confirmed that nations met none of the 21 targets to improve biodiversity by 2010 (though some targets were achieved locally or on a smaller scale).

Unless humans fundamentally examine and overhaul the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, including consumerism, urban sprawl, pollution and resource exploitation, the Global Biodiversity Outlook warns that several ecosystems may soon approach “tipping points,” which will drastically affect human livelihoods and economies.  An EU press release estimated the value of goods and services supplied by ecosystems at more than $31 trillion a year  twice the value of what humans produce each year.

Threatened Species and Ecosystems 

Particularly threatened ecosystems could lead to even more extreme biodiversity loss and will function much less productively if severely harmed. If climate change, deforestation and fires keep chipping away at the Amazon forests, serious consequences will arise for the global climate, regional rainfall and mass species extinction. Freshwater lakes with algae buildup endanger fish diversity and recreational loss. And the possible collapse of the coral reef from ocean acidification, warmer water (leading to bleaching), overfishing and pollution translates into the demise of thousands of dependent species. Add on top of this the fact that deforestation accounts for one fourth of greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming. And the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 70 percent of all fish species, which provide the only source of protein for more than 200 million people worldwide, are either fully exploited or depleted.

The abundance of vertebrate species fell by a third between 1970 and 2006, and at least 60 livestock species have become extinct. This depletion will inevitably rise unless we actively protect our richest land space, and despite an increase in land protection, 82 percent of ocean eco-regions and 44 percent of terrestrial eco-regions do not meet the benchmark of 10-percent protection.

World Leaders Plan 

Further discussion between world leaders will ensue in a special segment of the United Nations’ Sept. 22 General Assembly. Conclusions will create the basis for discussion at the Nagoya Biodiversity Summit in October, hopefully resulting in a new world vision that incorporates sustainable usage of our planet’s myriad life forms. The Global Biodiversity Outlook claims that only a fraction of the money mustered by governments in 2008-2009 for economic meltdown could stave a dramatic loss of life. The Global Biodiversity Outlook makes many suggestions to turn around this situation, such as expanding and strengthening protected areas; reducing pollution and invasive species; raising awareness of the importance of biodiversity; and utilizing our land, energy, water and food more efficiently.

But know that we are not powerless in the fight to keep the earth abundant and diverse. Our elected officials are here to serve our needs, so remind them. To let your political leaders know what you think, take action at the Center for Biological Diversity. They have a list of current threats to biodiversity you can speak against. Biodiversity 911 has an action page as well. And remember, most of the issues that deplete biological diversity stem from consumption, so our dollars have a lot of power. Know where your products come from, and try not to make purchases you don’t really want or need. lists little life changes you can take that can add up in favor of biodiversity.

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Peripitus and Flickr/Eye_of_Einstein