Live and Let Live: The Case for Biodiversity
As cliché as that phrase sounds, “live and let live” is exactly what biodiversity is all about. This seamless coexistence of all species is what makes life on earth so interesting. From microbes to whales, life on earth comes in all kinds of packages. If earth was a disco with each clubber representing a different species, than a Friday night is similar to what earth’s biodiversity looks like. And if some of the regulars stop coming after some time then that would be extinction of species. When the new guys join the crowd, it is like new species or sub-species being found. It might happen that the new patrons will tilt the balance in favor of hip-hop rather then disco. Then the disco will become a hip-hop club. Making the earth change its is not always for the best.
But making a case for biodiversity seems as hard as any other environmental issue. It has been tried from every angle, from threatening with the end of the world, to sci-fi concepts of mutated bugs ruling the earth. However, none of these seem to have worked.
Let’s look at life on earth. The air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink, all these exist thanks to biodiversity. The leafy greens use sunlight, water, carbon dioxide in the air to create carbohydrates and release oxygen in the process, both of which are the utilized by animals. Animals on the other hand, provide the carbon dioxide, essential for the process, when they breathe out. So without one, the other cannot function.
Like a giant air conditioner, this cycle in turn moderates our climate and temperature by controlling the quantity of green house gases and water in the atmosphere. If it weren’t for these unique properties, earth would pretty much be just the (literally) third rock from the sun! Biodiversity is the secret behind the power of nature. But when we send out some extra green house gases into the atmosphere, that pretty much puts nature out of whack.
Pests and insects are a big problem in farming. But nature also provides living pesticides in the form of organisms, birds, natural predators, etc. It’s a healthy and natural way of maintaining the balance between the pests and the crops in nature. Of course we want hectares and hectares of land to be farmed with a single crop, thus throwing the balance off and creating more pressure on the natural pesticides trying to defend such large crops. So we use chemical fertilizers, which end up harming both the pests and the pesticides, irrevocably damaging the eco-system of the area.
Our bio-diversity is also the basis of the largest recycling system on any planet, recycling billions of organic and even inorganic waste with the help of bacteria and other microbes, keeping the air, soil and water clear of natural toxic wastes. But as the quantity of non-organic artificial waste increases, the natural recycling system is overtaxed and fails to maintain the balance of the cycle.
Rainforests are a perfect example of balanced bio-diversity. Or at least they were before we decided that we need more timber, palm oil, soybeans, sugar cane and cotton, and decided that it’s okay to clear off the rainforests to make space for them. Deforestation and mining not only kills off the plants and animals in the area, but has other effects as well: soil becomes unstable, droughts occur or floods come, washing away land and settlements in its way.
Biodiversity is also the key to sustaining food security. A naturally maintained eco-system, with no artificial interference, can sustain its food supply indefinitely. Bio-diversity allows for alternate food sources. If crops fail, for example, animals will become secondary source of food or vis-a-vis. Newer species are created to supply food when necessary and simultaneous natural pesticides to control the new species are also developed within the eco-system, maintaining a balance again.
Our major modern medicines exist because of biodiversity. In the developing countries, herbal medicines are primary and most of is drawn from plants and animals. Like penicillin and aspirin, there are thousands of medicinal organisms that have yet to be investigated for their medicinal qualities and we might be destroying the cure for cancer even before we find it!
Last but not the least bio-diversity IS economically viable! If corporations realized this, perhaps they’ll be spending less time slashing and burning forests and find ways to help the environment instead. We all know how a good climate, minimal effects of natural disaster, pollution free environment and good health contributes directly to economic productivity. Then there is eco-tourism, with their natural spas, coral reefs or Jurassic treks earn billions of dollars in a year. Of course, while the integrity of the program is still debatable, carbon offsets may be a way to restore some semblance of bio-diversity. The duty really falls on the developed countries that are eating up rain forests and messing with biodiversity at the cost of our climate and environment. They must own up to their responsibility and look beyond the cash register into what the future may hold if we continue on our current path – most probably an Earth that looks more like Mars.
By Maria Belgado
Center for Biological Diversity (USA)
European Environmental Agency’s Page on Biodiversity
Canadian Biodiversity Website (English)
Australia’s Biodiversity Page
ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) Center for Biodiversity