Why Are We Not Talking About The Biodiversity Crisis?
Despite its importance, it doesn’t get the attention it rightfully deserves
I expect that most of you have read the staggering headlines about mass extinctions in the last few years. If not, here are a few below:
“One million species at risk of extinction, UN report warns”
“The sixth mass extinction is happening faster than expected. Scientists say it’s our fault”
“40% of world’s plant species at risk of extinction”
Although these headlines are clickbait-y and do not paint a perfectly accurate picture, there is truth behind the words.
It is true that we are currently undergoing our sixth mass extinction, one that is accelerated by human activity. Arguably, our current-day crisis started when we lost the Pleistocene megafauna during the Quaternary extinctions. Even back then, these extinctions are said to have been partly caused by overhunting by humans.
As we continue to repeat this legacy of exploitation of our natural resources, we don’t talk about biodiversity enough.
The biodiversity crisis does not get the attention it so desperately deserves. While climate change dominates the front pages of our media outlets, biodiversity loss takes a backseat to its more charismatic sibling. In fact, many people do not realize how interconnected these crises are, and both deserve their time in the spotlight.
However, why are conversations about biodiversity loss non-existent in our everyday lives? I’ve outlined 3 main reasons below.
People do not know what the word biodiversity means
Quite simply put, the everyday person does not understand the word biodiversity. The most common remark I get from people when I tell them I study biodiversity is, “huh, what’s that?”
The term biodiversity is a combination of two words: “biological” and “diversity”. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) describes it as:
The variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.
But as you can imagine, it’s much simpler just to tell people it’s essentially all living beings on this Earth.
When you do not know what a word means, it is hard to wrap your head around associated problems and possible solutions.
The biodiversity narrative is more complicated than climate change
When we think about climate change, the messaging is quite simple for most people to understand. By reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the overall temperature of our Earth decreases. To my climate scientists, I apologize for this oversimplification of the problem, but essentially this is the underlying goal in raising awareness about the issue.
The biodiversity crisis is not so simple. There are hundreds of different types of ecosystems and billions of interactions between organisms. Also not to mention the human dimensions to solving the biodiversity crisis, since a lot of solutions to biodiversity loss need to begin at a local scale.
The messaging behind the biodiversity crisis is not so neat compared to climate change. Even when I try to begin explaining what it is, my caveat always starts with, “well, biodiversity loss differs from place to place, but here’s my take of it in __________…”
Media coverage of biodiversity is lacking compared to climate change
Generally, media coverage of biodiversity is minimal compared to climate change. One study found that in the US, Canada, and the UK, biodiversity is 8 times less covered than climate change in English-speaking media outlets.
There is a disparity in how information about the biodiversity crisis and climate change is being communicated to the greater society.
This is incredibly important because public awareness is integral to the success of any global movement, be it environmental or not.
With all of this being said, what can we do as environmentalists, or more specifically conservation scientists and ecologists, to shift this narrative?
- Connect the term biodiversity to human daily life
- Increased collaboration
One of the best ways we can get the message out about the severity of the biodiversity crisis is to reach out and engage the general public. Twitter is a powerful social media platform that many researchers utilize to communicate their research and share opinions and opportunities in the biodiversity space. In addition to Twitter, I also think it is important to be present on other social media platforms and even implement methodologies such as citizen science in our research to galvanize the movement.
Another method to increase the public portfolio of biodiversity is to make it more tangible to the average person. Communicating how connected the biodiversity crisis is to our everyday lives can garner a sense of urgency that tends to be missed when talking about the global scale of issues. For example, some of my friends began to understand the drawbacks of our biodiversity loss when I connected that to declines in hummingbirds. When one friend commented that they haven’t seen hummingbirds all that much this past Spring, I used the opportunity to explain to them that the majority of species are in decline because of the combined effects of climate change, habitat loss, and agricultural intensification. This case study put things into perspective for them that they had not realized before, which I think can be an effective way to have people think more about biodiversity loss in their own backyards.
In my opinion, as a society, we implement more effective solutions to complex issues when we work with multiple partners and stakeholders who possess different perspectives. Since the biodiversity crisis is a complicated issue to tackle, especially on a global scale, I believe that increased partnerships in policy and research are necessary. This means working with researchers, policymakers, the private sector, local communities, and Indigenous groups, as some examples, in order to address biodiversity loss.
Similar to that of climate change and the formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in the late 1980s, I am hoping that in the next few years, the issue of biodiversity loss will become more prolific now that there are established intergovernmental initiatives that are aiming to address biodiversity loss (i.e., Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services).
In this day and age, it is necessary to not only raise the profile of biodiversity but also to communicate and identify the leading causes, which are human-driven, so we can implement effective management strategies to mitigate the effects of this under-appreciated issue.
Overall, the climate change crisis and the biodiversity crisis are two sides of the same coin that deserve equal attention.