Posted by: Dan | June 26, 2007

RP: Biodiversity Loss and Humanity

Original posting from almost two years ago, on my original blog.

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) – Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Biodiversity Synthesis report (the linked file is a large, 13.7Mb PDF, sorry). For those who don’t know, MA is an international work program designed to meet the needs of decision makers and the public for scientific information concerning the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being and options for responding to those changes. One of their reports, which I discuss today, is on biodiversity and was designed to support the CBD.

The report is extensive, but it’s an extensive and thorough scientific evaluation of life in the biosphere, and I’d like to draw attention to it’s 6 findings, which are:

1) Human actions are fundamentally, and to a certain extent irreversibly, changing the diversity of life on Earth… Changes in important components of biological diversity were more rapid in the past 50 years than at any time in human history. Projections and scenarios indicate that these rates will continue, or accelerate, in the future.

2) Many people have benefited over the last century from the conversion of natural ecosystems to human-dominated ecosystems and the exploitation of biodiversity. At the same time, however, these losses in biodiversity and changes in ecosystem services have caused some people to experience declining well-being, with poverty in some social groups being exacerbated.

3) Improved valuation techniques and information on ecosystem services tells us that although many individuals benefit from actions and activities that lead to biodiversity loss and ecosystem change, the costs borne by society of such changes is often higher. Even in instances where our knowledge of benefits and costs is incomplete, the use of the precautionary approach may be warranted when the costs associated with ecosystem changes may be high or the changes irreversible.

4) The drivers of loss of biodiversity and the drivers of loss of biodiversity and the drivers of changes in ecosystem services are either steady, show no evidence of declining over time, or are increasing in intensity.

5) Many of the actions that have been taken to conserve biodiversity and promote its sustainable use have been successful in limiting biodiversity loss … to rates lower than they would otherwise hae been in the absence of such actions. However, further significant progress will require a portfolio of actions that build on current initiatives to address … biodiversity loss and ecosystem service degradation.

6) Unprecedented additional efforts would be needed to achieve, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss at all levels.

And it goes on to substantiate biodiversity loss, it’s prospects and consequences under plausible scenarious, and response options. In short, it doesn’t take sides, it’s merely an analysis. Yet this is the sort of thing that modern conservatives would (and probably have) attempt to marginalize, discredit, and manufacture doubt over, in favor of maintaining profits for one of their key constituencies: Big Industry.

Certainly science is not suggesting that we reject capitalism, but nor is it suggesting that we extend regulation of human impact on our world to the point of socialism. Profits and economic prosperity are indeed nice things, but today’s moderate conservatives would have us hold these values as greater than sustainment of our world for our posterity, in the face of common sense and solid evidence pointing out the foolishness of their position.

No matter how much we urbanize the Earth, and build up our cities, we cannot feed ourselves on profits. Even if you don’t care about an endangered species or habitat destruction or other bits of biodiversity, we are part of an ecosphere – a cycle of inter-dependent life – that we show far too little regard for.

And that’s not even getting into the intrinsic beauty of true wilderness. Do we have to sterilize nature? No, I say, we should be good stewards of our homes, so that it might take care of us.

Towards that end, there are all sorts of plans and agendas to promote biodiversity – it’s an important aspect of the catch-phrase “Sustainability,” and there are many separate battles to protect biodiversity across the world, whether it’s saving endangered species, blocking human development in natural wilderness areas to preserve habitat, minimalizing polluting heavy metals and pesticides, or countless other work being done.


  1. Many people (many of whom are in industrial seats of power) do believe they can feed themselves on profits. The difficulty in maintaining and promoting biodiversity is often caused either by short-sightedness or the notion that humans are somehow separate from the biosphere. These are unfortunately challenging obstacles to over come.

    Great post!

  2. In Florida, one of the most common problems with most of our native species has been the introduced Cane Toad. Originally from South America there is no predator that can kill the Cane Toad but this toad kills our wildlife and even our pets. I have written a little bit about this in my website:

    PS: The intrusion of what I like to call the Concrete Jungle is also covered within this archive of my blog.


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