When we are asked to think of what we look forward to in the future, not many people would say they are excited to have to explain to their children the legend of the polar bear or the beauty of a coral reef. Not many people look forward to listening only to recorded versions of their favorite bird calls to hear their songs. Similarly, not many people would enjoy thinking of the future as an uncertain event in its entirety. The abrupt disappearance of millions of different species would not result in the destruction of human life as it is today, right? Unfortunately, the problem of today’s rapidly decreasing rate of global biodiversity is having a greater impact on humans than previously expected. This situation demands immediate action to ensure the stability of our future on this earth, and the future of generations to come.
To start, one must consider what biodiversity is and why it is imperative to life on earth. As a quick synopsis, I refer to TED-Ed’s Kim Preshoff’s video, Why is biodiversity so important? In her video, Preshoff details the differences between ecosystem diversity, species diversity, and genetic diversity. Preshoff concludes that overall biodiversity does best the “more intertwining there is between these features” (Preshoff et al. [00:00:44]). It is this intertwining that sustains the ecosystems on Earth today.
Preshoff also defines a keystone species as the “loom that allows the tangled net of biodiversity to be woven” (Preshoff et al. [00:03:06]). As such, all organisms in every ecosystem across the globe rely on one or more keystone species for their own preservation. Think, for example, how every other species in a coral reef relies on the coral for habitats, breeding grounds, and other services (Preshoff et al. [00:03:00}). Earth’s ecosystems as we know them today are dramatically reliant on keystone organisms. This reliance is at extreme risk as many species, including keystone species, are disappearing due to negative impacts caused by human activities.
The Editorial Board of the New York Times highlights that “a half-million land-based species and one-third of marine mammals and corals” are threatened with extinction (Appelbaum et al.). The United Nation’s report on the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) also reports that there are 1 million species threatened with extinction today, “more than ever before in human history” (UN Report). Specifically, the global species rate of extinction is “tens to hundreds of times” higher than the average rates over the past 10 million years (UN Report).
So, what do all of these scientific statistics mean for certain animal, plant, and human populations?
For specific species of animals, this problem poses the obvious threat of extinction. As the main stakeholders in this issue, these animals have more to lose than others: their lives. Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker, and author of Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, paints a picture of what is at stake for animal populations by outlining the death of a Hawaiian tree snail named George. Since he died on New Year’s Day, George was the “first documented extinction of 2019” (Kolbert). With George’s passing, the Achatinella apexfulva species will remain a part of 2018 forever.
As the term biodiversity extends to all forms of biological life, this threat of extinction spans not only animals, but plants as well. The farming industry should be concerned about these shocking rates. In America today, crops such as corn that feeds our livestock populations, as well as wheat, cotton and vegetables, are typically produced through the use of monocultures. A monoculture is an “immense amount of land, planted with one species of crop,” which is arguably “unsustainable and goes against nature’s plan” (Monocultures Vs. Biodiversity). Monocultures are problematic due to the fact that they create farming fields that have no biodiversity. This leaves all of the crops in that field at greater risk to be simultaneously wiped out by pestilence or disease. This in turn leaves that crop species vulnerable to extinction. Specifically, the UN Report suggests that “up to US $577 billion in annual global crops are at risk” due to these human induced rates of low biodiversity.
If the issues posed to animals like George, or to crops like cotton, were not enough to expose the seriousness of today’s low rates of global biodiversity, then perhaps the fact that we, humans, are the third population at high risk of extinction will be more alarming. These risks have certainly resonated with me, and I fear for what the future might bring. Sir Robert Watson, Chair of the IPBES, pressingly insists, “we are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide” (UN Report). Additionally, Prof. Dr. Josef Settele, Co-Chair of the Global Assessment of IPBES, insists this loss of biodiversity “constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world” (UN Report). What do these threats this entail? One on hand, the UN Report states “100–300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection,” while the Washington Post’s Helaine Olen suggests “we are killing off the life that makes human life possible.”
All in all, things are looking grim for the animals, plants, and humans that inhabit this earth. Perhaps it is most alarming that we are the ones causing this issue for ourselves. Over the past few decades, we can clearly see how increased human populations have negatively impacted the habitats for multiple species and thus serves as the main contributor to the loss of global biodiversity. As the Center for Biological Diversity reports, “extinction is the most serious, utterly irreversible effect of unsustainable human population,” citing that “human population density predicted with 88-percent accuracy the number of endangered birds and mammals” (Human Population). Also, the five top drivers of “change in nature” include “(1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species” (UN Report). Here, humans can claim responsibility for all of these drivers.
Yet, not all of us on this earth are wallowing in our self-inflicted pain without trying to bandage the wound. In fact, there are many today who are addressing this issue, and figuring out ways to combat our seemingly inevitable future of self-destruction. Robin Perkins, a DJ, composer and producer, has created albums that mix electronic music and the sounds of endangered birds from around the world. Perkins has made two albums over the past five years, in order to distribute the desperate songs of the multiple birds that might not be around to perpetuate their own melodies (Johnson [01:01:20]).
In 2011, the Convention on Biological Diversity proposed the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020. These in depth and complex targets stood as the proposed solutions to protecting our species on this earth and promoting global biodiversity rates. These targets range from halving the rate of loss of natural habitats to sustainable harvesting practices of “all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants” (Hirsch et al. [Page 13]). Unfortunately, the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, while reviewing the progress of these targets, discouragingly reports that “at the global level none of the 20 targets have been fully achieved, though six targets have been partially achieved” (Hirsch et al. [Page 10]).
Since most of these targets were not reached by the 2020 deadline, further estimates predict a new end goal of 2050. Hopefully, 30 more years will be enough time to accomplish these goals, which were originally planned to be completed in only nine years. But whether it takes us nine years or thirty, these efforts must be successfully implemented across the globe. This problem, which we created for ourselves, has always been our responsibility to fix and now we have arrived at the point in time in which the excuse of ignorance is unacceptable. Today, proof of the rapidly declining rates of global biodiversity is hard to avoid and clearly documents just how reliant the lives of all animals, plants, and humans are on these Aichi Biodiversity Targets. These targets give us hope by showing us exactly how we can ensure our future generations will know the awe of coral reefs and polar bears. What happens next is up to us, and begs the question, what can we accomplish today for the preservation of tomorrow?
Appelbaum, Binyamin, et al. “Life as We Know It.” Edited by Kathleen Kinsbury and Nick Fox. The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 11 May 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/05/11/opinion/sunday/extinction-endangered-species-biodiversity.html. Accessed 20 Sept. 2020.
Hirsch, Tim, et al. Global Biodiversity Outlook. Edited by Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Report no. 5, Montreal, Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 15 Sept. 2020. Convention on Biological Diversity, www.cbd.int/gbo/gbo5/publication/gbo-5-en.pdf. Accessed 20 Sept. 2020.
“Human Population Growth and Extinction.” Center for Biological Diversity, www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/extinction/index.html. Accessed 29 Sept. 2020.
“Humans & The Extinction Crisis.” Center for Biological Diversity, www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/population_and_sustainability/extinction/index.html. Accessed 11 Sept. 2020. Chart.
Johnson, Catalina Maria, host. “A New Album Turns the Sound of Endangered Birds into Electronic Music.” Morning Edition, NPR, 16 July 2020. NPR, www.npr.org/2020/07/16/891432319/a-new-album-turns-the-sound-of-endangered-birds-into-electronic-music. Accessed 11 Sept. 2020. Transcript.
Kolbert, Elizabeth. “Climate Change and the New Age of Extinction.” The New Yorker, Condé Nast., 13 May 2019, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/05/20/climate-change-and-the-new-age-of-extinction. Accessed 20 Sept. 2020.
“Monocultures Vs. Biodiversity.” The Lills, Graphic Design, Photography, Video & Text by The Lills, 2017–2020, thelills.com/monocultures-vs-biodiversity/. Accessed 11 Sept. 2020. Infographic.
Olen, Helaine. “We’re in Danger of Killing Off the Biodiversity That Makes Our Way of Life Possible.” Medium, 7 May 2019, medium.com/thewashingtonpost/were-in-danger-of-killing-off-the-biodiversity-that-makes-our-way-of-life-possible-c44fcc9a3c51. Accessed 20 Sept. 2020.
Preshoff, Kim, et al. “Why is biodiversity so important?” TEDEd, TED Conferences, ed.ted.com/lessons/why-is-biodiversity-so-important-kim-preshoff#review. Accessed 4 Oct. 2020.
Turtle Swimming on a Coral Reef. United Nations, 6 May 2019, www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/. Accessed 11 Sept. 2020.
“UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating.’” Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Plenary, 29 Apr. 2019, Paris, France. United Nations, 6 May 2019, www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/. Accessed 11 Sept. 2020. Conference session.