The Year of Biodiversity: Or Not

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Image by fred1st via Flickr

This year, 2010, is the UN Year of Biodiversity, a year of global focus and action to reverse the recently accelerating pattern of species extinction. Or it is just another year not at the beginning but somewhere on its way to the middle of the Sixth Great Epoch–the first (and probably only great extinction era) that will be caused by man. It has been called the Anthropocene.

Niles Eldridge (Museum of Natural History) has this conclusion about the odds we will change our relationship to non-human parts of the biosphere:

Though it is true that life, so incredibly resilient, has always recovered (though after long lags) after major extinction spasms, it is only after whatever has caused the extinction event has dissipated. That cause, in the case of the Sixth Extinction, is ourselves – Homo sapiens. This means we can continue on the path to our own extinction, or, preferably, we modify our behavior toward the global ecosystem of which we are still very much a part. The latter must happen before the Sixth Extinction can be declared over, and life can once again rebound. Read more…

That our impact on the atmosphere plays no small role in species extinction is a considerable contributor to my interest in “climate chaos” issues.

SourceWatch has this to say about the relationship between climate change and habitat loss:

Per Feeling the heat: Climate change and biodiversity loss and Never Mind That Boiling Kettle, “International scientists from eight countries have warned that, based even on the most conservative estimates, rising temperatures will trigger a global mass extinction of unprecedented proportions. They said global warming will set in train a far bigger threat to terrestrial species than previously realized, at least on a par with the already well-documented destruction of natural habitats around the world. It is the first time such a powerful assessment has been made and its conclusions will shock even those environmentalists accustomed to “worst-case” scenarios.”

On recommendation on how to reverse our indifference to biodiversity comes from Britain’s environment secretary, Hillary Benn:

“We have got the Climate Change Act that means for the first time the carbon consequences of the decisions we make have to be taken into account by government, and so the next thing is to do that in the same way with the natural world. The report prepared by Sukhdev can do for our understanding of the natural world what Nick Stern did for the understanding of the economic impact of climate change.”

The Stern report led to the Climate Change Act, which requires the government to publish carbon budgets setting out how it will cut emissions. One consequence is that “dirty products” become more expensive for the consumer.

Asked how nature could be priced, and biodiversity targets set, Benn said:

“We will need to think about the most effective mechanism for taking account of the economic impact of decisions we make in relation to biodiversity.”

We’ve vastly underestimated the integral role that creatures besides man play, functions that are necessary to health on this planet just as the mix of blood cells with their various antibodies and protective functions are necessary to the ongoing health of a single human body. It’s called homeostatis. We’ve undervalued the role that the mix of organisms play in providing the “environmental services” that have maintained global homeostasis. The opposite of homeostasis is called illness.

We have only a little time and one chance to turn our ship away from the reef. We don’t get another. This is the year.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Very scary times for those who are informed. Will humans prove to not be intelligent and eliminate themselves (and other living organisms) from plantet earth, or will we finally realize that all is inextricably related and must be shown respect?