How does Biodiversity loss affect me and everyone else?

"I understand there may be a biodiversity crisis, but how does that affect me?”

Well.

You see.

It's like this...

Biological diversity is the resource upon which families, communities, nations and future generations depend. It is the link between all organisms on earth, binding each into an interdependant ecosystem, in which all species have their role. It is the web of life.

The Earth’s natural assets are made up of plants, animals, land, water, the atmosphere AND humans! Together we all form part of the planet’s ecosystems, which means if there is a biodiversity crisis, our health and livelihoods are at risk too.

But we are currently  using 25% more natural resources than the planet can sustain As a result species, habitats and local communities are under pressure or direct threats (for example from loss of access to fresh water).

Biodiversity underpins the health of the planet and has a direct impact on all our lives.

Put simply, reduced biodiversity means millions of people face a future where food supplies are more vulnerable to pests and disease, and where fresh water is in irregular or short supply.

For humans that is worrying.

Very worrying indeed.

Human health is strongly linked to the health of ecosystems, which meet many of our most critical needs.

Maria Neira, Director of WHO's Department for the Protection of the Human Environment

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Various beetle species.
© iStockPhoto / Hernan Pardo

Ecosystem services

This is a way of describing all the services we get from the natural world that we often take for granted.

That could be water, soil formation and protection, pollution breakdown and absorption, climate stability and recovery from natural disasters.

How much are ecosystem services worth globally?

According to IUCN, the World Conservation Union, the monetary value of goods and services provided by ecosystems is estimated to amount to some US$33 trillion per year.

Let's just put the zeros on that so you see exactly what we are talking about:

US$33,000,000,000,000

The United States GDP for the whole of 2008 was only US$14.4 trillion. For the European Union in the same year it was $14.94 trillion (source)

But it's not just about money. It's about saving lives.

  • We harvest an estimated 50,000-70,000 plant species for traditional and modern medicine worldwide.

And it's also about food security.

  • About 100 million metric tonnes of aquatic life, including fish, molluscs and crustaceans are taken from the wild every year.
  • Meat from wild animals forms a critical contribution to food sources and livelihoods in many countries, especially those with high levels of poverty and food insecurity.

WWF has prepared a series of reports called Arguments for Protection. They  show how we couldn't buy this stuff even if we wanted to!

Yet nature provides it all free of charge.

She only asks that we look after her in return.
  •  A network of marine protected areas, conserving 20%-30% of the seas and oceans, could cost between $5bn and $19bn, but help safeguard $70bn to $80bn worth of fish catches, and the provision of marine ecosystem services valued at $4.5 to $6.7 trillion annually.
  • The annual economic median value of fisheries supported by mangrove habitats in the Gulf of California are estimated at $37,500 per hectare of mangrove fringe. The value of mangroves as coastal protection may be as much as $300,000 per kilometre of coastline.
  • Nature-based tourism in Africa generates approximately the same amount of revenue as farming, forestry and fisheries combined.
  • The national parks of Canada store 4.43 gigatonnes of carbon, a service worth between $11bn and $2.2 trillion depending on the price of carbon in the market. 
  • A report in 2003 estimated the total value of annual benefits of the UK’s forests to its people to be around £1 billion.
  • The Great Barrier Reef is estimated to contribute nearly AUS$6 billion to the country’s economy, counting only the value of tourism, other recreational activities and commercial fishing.

    (source)
  • Goods and Services provided by ecosystems include:

    • Provision of food, fuel and fibre
    • Provision of shelter and building materials
    • Purification of air and water
    • Detoxification and decomposition of wastes
    • Stabilization and moderation of the Earth's climate
    • Moderation of floods, droughts, temperature extremes and the forces of wind
    • Generation and renewal of soil fertility, including nutrient cycling
    • Pollination of plants, including many crops
    • Control of pests and diseases
    • Maintenance of genetic resources as key inputs to crop varieties and livestock breeds, medicines, and other products
    • Cultural and aesthetic benefits
    • Ability to adapt to change 

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