07 February 2011

Biodiversity Hold the Key to Humans' Future

Excerpt from G Magazine, 3 May 2010

'...An UN-sponsored report, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, published in November 2009, estimates that ecosystem services - from pollination to seed dispersal and air purification to water and nutrient cycling - are worth tens of trillions of dollars to world GDP each year.

The value of biodiversity to recreational activities such as appreciating national parks, birdwatching, hiking, fishing, snorkelling and diving isn't even included in this figure.

"Putting a price on the benefits of nature is not easy but... we are learning about the true value of the natural world and the costs of its loss, said Stavros Dimas, European commissioner for the environment, at the report's launch. "By 2050, the costs of a business as usual scenario on terrestrial biodiversity loss would amount to about 7% of global GDP."

Biodiverse ecosystems store carbon and are also important to fight climate change, say experts, and in this way their economic worth has already been valued at hundreds of billions of dollars.

One successful part of the UN's failed climate talks in December was a bid to stem tropical deforestation. This effort to 'reduce emissions from degradation and deforestation' (REDD) is close to being agreed upon, and would see wealthy nations pay tropical developing nations to restore forests.

Deforestation contributes 17% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation put together, and is estimated to currently cost the world economy US$2 to 5 trillion a year.

Biodiversity isn't important for its economic value alone, though, says Healy Hamilton of the California Academy of Science in San Francisco.

"Biodiversity is the foundation of human well being. You cannot exist without biodiversity, and indeed you are part of it," she says. "Every bite of food you eat is biodiversity. The crop genes for resistance to droughts and disease are biodiversity. Every time you open your medicine cabinet, chances are you are taking a drug that is derived from or inspired by biodiversity. The clothing on your back - cotton, wool, linen, cashmere, hemp - all biodiversity."

There are two ways to look at and value biodiversity, says Brad Murray, and they have roots in very different philosophies. "One philosophy is that biodiversity has an intrinsic value - irrespective of whatever economic values humans might put on the different components. And that is the basis of the second philosophy - that biodiversity should be looked at as an economic asset."

Species and ecosystems represent many millions of years of evolutionary history, and experts argue that it's conceited and egocentric to ignore the intrinsic and aesthetic beauty of the natural world. Murray argues that "we need to take responsibility for the environmental carnage we have caused, and to do this, we need to invest time and energy into prioritising and conserving biodiversity."

The two philosophies are not mutually exclusive and a "healthy view" may be one that weds them in a constructive approach to conservation, he notes. "Linking intrinsic values with human values has the potential to be a very powerful tool for biodiversity conservation that leads to the betterment of the human race."'

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