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Biodiversity - our lifeline in decline...

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

‘To regain our full humanity we have to regain our experience of connectedness with the entire web of life and natural world’.


This is a quote by visionary systems thinker Fritjof Capra while gaining a greater understanding of our existence and what it means to be a steward of the earth. Today we face a variety of complex issues when it comes to our survival and regeneration of both ourselves and our planet. One way in which to approach this dilemma is to understand who we are, where we’ve come from and turn to the natural world for answers.


Of course, it's quite the challenge attempting to comprehend the vastness of the universe. It is beyond anything we can imagine and scientists will continue to try and understand what goes on up there beyond our skies. But, what we can start to comprehend is that the energy that comes from the universe, its planets and our sun is in everything and that includes us.


Look a little deeper and there is more to realise about our similarity with both the universe and nature. Google a picture of a brain cell, probably something you’ve seen before in school. Now search for a picture of dark matter in the universe. Their formation and structure are uncannily similar. Now do the same with a DNA molecule and double helix gaseous nebula, similar structures. Look down at your arms or glance closely at the small vessels in your eyes. They are remarkably similar in shape and style of rivers, tributaries and waterways that cover our planet. These comparisons could go on and on but hopefully you get the picture thus far. Coined by the Eastern spiritual discipline of Daoism, the human body is said to be a microcosm, a complex universe in itself and one that is consistently replicated in nature.


Planet earth, it's in our hands.

But, for about 3.8 billion years on Earth a complex web of life has been evolving. Something that human beings as well as ocean-dwelling or terrestrial species are inextricably linked to is biodiversity. The vast biological diversity of life on earth contains all animal and plant species, fungi, and microorganisms that work together in a harmonious equilibrium to maintain ecosystems around the world.


But what is biodiversity?

Science states that the biological diversity of life is split into three sections of species, genetic and ecosystem diversity. From bacteria that are unseen by the human eye to the largest terrestrial land animal and plankton in the depth of our oceans, species surround us in groups of a few or vast numbers of organisms displaying unique characteristics. Since humans have roamed the earth we have been continually discovering and naming new species. However, despite humanity's advances in technology, we are yet to conclude exactly how many species inhabit the planet today. Scientists approximate that there is a recorded 8.7 billion but there are variances between 5.3 to even 1 trillion, either way, it's a huge number that evidently outdoes that of the human population.


An Ecuadorian stream tree frog

Just this year, 5 new species have been discovered such as DiCaprio’s snail-eating snake in Colombia and stream treefrogs in Ecuador differing in morphology enough to term it a new species. Charles Darwin himself considered species discovery as ‘defining the undefinable’ as they are constantly changing due to variances in reproductive pairings and environmental pressures.



Within each species and any organism across the world, there is a vast amount of genetic diversity granting huge differences and standout species characteristics. The genetic diversity of species can be displayed in the variances of bird song, to the colour and size of tomatoes or the length of a giraffe's neck. However, the genetic variation of species can be reduced due to different environmental pressures which in time can alter the genomes within one species which consequently creates a new one.


Biodiversity itself is constructed into a variety of different ecosystems all around the world ranging from grasslands, wetlands, tropical rainforests or desert land. Such diversity enables species to flourish within the ecosystems that they are adapted to live within. However, ecosystems certainly differ in the complexity of their species diversity. For example, tropical climates or coral reefs have a much greater species diversity compared to that of the Arctic tundra or Sahara desert due to harsher living conditions and slower reproductive rates.


As we all know, organisms, animals and humans are born or created and eventually die. Some species of biodiversity have been extinct for many years such as the Dodo bird that roamed the earth until the late 1600’s. However, extinction is a greater threat to numerous species today as we are currently living within the sixth mass extinction event and a biodiversity crisis.


Why is it threatened?

Instead of considering how populous species diversity is across the planet's various ecosystems, scientists are worryingly calculating how many are in decline. Such research stems from the World Wildlife Fund and the London Zoological Society who have collectively calculated over 69% of biodiversity to have been lost since 1970. But this isn’t the worst of it, particular countries have been hit even more dramatically such as regions in Latin America and the Caribbean that have seen a 94% decrease in species diversity. Cycad trees, conifers, coral reefs, shark species, amphibians and mammals have collectively reduced the most with a 40-80% decrease. It is no surprise then to conclude that the rate of species extinction today is 100 to 1,000 times higher compared to historic records.


Perhaps explaining how we got to this point may help.


Humans have successfully evolved and dominated the planet and our natural environment. Especially since the onset of the industrial revolution, land has increasingly been intensively farmed and managed, forests felled and our seas overwhelmed by fishing quotas and deep-sea trawling. We are damaging our planet beyond its limits and eradicating the great complexity of nature. With our ever-increasing human population, predicted to be about 9.7 billion by 2050, the pressures upon resource production are unsurprising. Coupled with changing and increased consumptive habits, our agricultural productions and ecosystems have been altered on a global scale.


In a single lifetime, the planet has gone from a biodiverse global haven to a natural world in decline. At the heart and centre of this crisis is the industrialisation of agriculture and intensive livestock production. As scientists quote the few years we have left to stop climate change, intensive agricultural production continues to thrive. The global food system in total is responsible for up to 37% of global greenhouse emissions, approximately one-quarter of anthropogenic emissions. These emissions are predominantly methane from fermentation processes, nitrous oxide from poor soil management, and carbon dioxide from vast changes in land use and ecosystem degradation.

Scientists are now concluding that 75% land surface has been altered by human activities, live coral reefs have halved and the amount of plastic residing in our oceans have increased tenfold. As a result, we are now restricting the Earth's biocapacity, reducing its chances of natural regulation and regeneration. We are pushing our planet beyond its limits.


What can be done?

Early this year 200 countries signed an agreement to protect biodiversity by gathering together at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference summit, otherwise known as COP15. This agreement was said to greenlight major changes to humanity's consumptive habits, green the supply chains of businesses, land use practices and incorporate indigenous wisdom into future conservation initiatives and laws. After all indigenous cultures have referred to mother earth for millennia with an in touch deep truth about the planet that the modern world and thinkers are only just starting to understand.


The COP15 summit ended somewhat amicably with a pledge to protect at least 30% of nature by 2030 in order to halt the major decreases in species diversity and gain time to make huge advancements in conservation projects. Keeping with the theme, £30 billion was also pledged to be donated by ‘rich countries’ but how this money was going to be utilised in a ‘nature-positive’ way was not defined.


We can no longer put a price on nature and instead must learn to value what the natural world provides for us, everyday. Systems scientists are increasingly calling for the integration of a modern version of gewu, an approach to integrate a much broader understanding of human’s connectedness to nature itself’s complex web of meaning. Perhaps considering the patterns that connect all living creatures and inevitably ourselves to one another and nature may lead us to consider it compassionately within an emerging form of collective environmental consciousness.


It is said that money makes the world go round but if we look a little closer, our economy would be very lost without one thing, nature. Over 44% of global GDP, this includes our resources, medicines, food and recreational activities are all dependent on a healthy functioning natural world. Instead of continuing to work against nature whether we realise it or not, we must wake up and adopt ways of working forward with biodiversity in mind.


Societies all around the world, predominantly within the Western world, are hugely reliant on fossil fuels, but they drastically need to be fazed out. Of course, fossil fuels have enabled us to develop life-saving treatments and travel around the world but we are now using up our finite resources and destroying precious habitats while we do so. It must be realised that the more compromised our natural ecosystems become, the less valuable their services and livelihoods they provide us will become. The market-based values we have prescribed to nature must be lifted and replaced by a forward-thinking, regenerated, holistic value for the survival of us and the natural world, together.


The resources that nature provides for us are termed natural capital but we are heavily dependent on non-renewable forms of energy production. But by investing in nature-based solutions we can use natural resources and give back to nature by adopting renewable energy productions. A range of socio-economic issues can also be addressed when nature-based solutions are applied by protecting, educating and empowering communities to act in order to enhance their livelihoods and surrounding ecosystems.


A large-scale example of a nature-based solution lies in the world’s coral reef systems. Healthy reef systems are natural coastal protectors and dissipate wave energy. Low-lying communities are therefore protected during storms from large waves, flooding and coastal erosion. Our warming oceans are acidifying and bleaching coral reefs which is not only destroying these natural sea defences but also degrading the homes of lots of marine life all around the world. By investing in coral reef systems, the livelihoods of millions of people can be protected as well as the biodiversity in and around the reefs and they are much cheaper to invest in compared to man-made sea defences and infrastructure.



A biodiverse coral reef system.


In comparison, smaller and localised solutions are on offer. Off the north coast of Wales, the UK’s largest seagrass restoration project is underway with more than 5 million seeds hoped to be planted and flourishing by 2026. Being one of the three marine flowering plants forming kush meadows underwater, Seagrass is not only home to numerous species of wildlife but is also a natural carbon sequester, recorded to absorb carbon 35 times faster than tropical rainforests.


Today, 130 countries have included nature-based solutions in their national climate plans from the Paris Agreement. However, it must be considered that nature-based solutions aren’t going to fix the climate crisis. We instead need to expand our tool kit when it comes to reducing emissions and look into what’s causing them to be so high, normalising the use of renewable energy production and enhancing nature-based solutions in communities that are on the frontline of climate change.


There is no quick fix for the climate crisis or our reliance on fossil fuels. We will continue to use them in order to act on and develop nature-based solutions but we can faze them out, re-wild ecosystems and see a greater economic gain from investing in and working with nature. The Task-force for nature financial disclosure is one resource that is advisable for individuals and companies to read through and gain advice from when it comes to addressing nature-related risk. The disclosure highlights how biodiversity is something that we very rarely think of but continually rely upon for survival and ultimately enables people to track their businesses ‘biodiversity footprint’ and how to adopt localised solutions.


If you've got to this point of the blog, firstly, thank you!

Secondly, I hope you too realise the severity of the biodiversity crisis and how it will affect our lives and already is for many people around the world. Take the time to do your own research, connect to where your food comes from but ultimately connect to where we've come from and support companies who are working WITH nature and not against it.


If you happen to have enjoyed reading this post please feel free to share about it on your socials and educate others around you!


'Yes, it's about saving the planet, but it's about saving ourselves too'.



Check back in with us soon for future blog post content & updates!

MP


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