The Future of Biodiversity
Science can only deliver facts, not moral judgments. Moral values are very different from person to person or nation to nation.
However, if we are to incorporate the principle of sustainability into our personal and political decisions, we should heed a few logical conclusions:
● Some things do not come back once destroyed: extinct species are gone forever, collapsed ecosystems may be very difficult to rebuilt.
● Economic growth based on increasing resource consumption and waste production cannot go on forever on a limited planet.
● Almost every decision is a trade-off: you can either open-cast mine an area, or use it to protect biodiversity, but you cannot do both.
Biodiversity scientists and ecological economists have amassed a vast treasure trove of solutions to the biodiversity crisis which would lead us towards a more sustainable way of living. However, this will inevitably mean that we will have to cut back on some things that we currently treasure and do some things very differently.
To save biodiversity, we need more space for ecosystems
While we could conceivably solve the energy crisis and the climate crisis by using renewable energies worldwide (preferably in areas not needed for other purposes, such as food production or biodiversity protection), and while we could even reduce the use of land for agriculture by building vertical farms, there simply is no way in which we can maintain viable ecosystems and healthy populations of species without leaving them sufficient room to foster and roam.
Leaving just 10 or 5 or even less percent of the earth’s surface for biodiversity protection and converting everything else into human-dominated landscapes with virtually no biodiversity in them will inevitably consign most species to extinction and most ecosystems to collapse. On the other hand, if we can increase both the area of protected lands and the biodiversity in human-dominated landscapes, we have a chance of saving many more species. Therefore, we need many more protected areas, but also much more biodiversity conservation in areas used by humans, such as agricultural and urban areas.
The earth system is interconnected
We also need to realize that the various environmental crises are often linked, so that these crises synergistically reinforce each other. For example, the climate crisis damages rainforests, which, in turn, increases climate change, which causes food insecurity, which leads to rainforest being converted to agricultural land, and so on. On the other hand, solving one crisis, e.g. the energy crisis, usually also helps solve others, e.g. the climate, water and biodiversity crises. Therefore, we have to adopt system thinking, where we pursue the win-win-win solutions by understanding how sustainable solutions, adopted in concert, are much more effective than adopted alone.
We need global governance based on the science of sustainability
Some of these solutions will have to be adopted at the global level. Only global governance will be able to protect the global commons of, for example, the atmosphere, endangered species or the ocean ecosystem. Effective global treaties and enforcement are logical and necessary consequences.
Decision-makers must not longer ignore the crisis of life. Following only commercial interests driven by short-term objectives must be changed in favor of a sustainable world economy, one which pursues quality of life instead of economic growth.
To maintain a livable planet for us and all the other species, we need to
● realize the causes and consequences of this biodiversity crisis
● make the necessary changes so that our economies, instead of destroying natural capital in order to grow, sustain and grow natural capital in order to maintain themselves
Vandana Shiva calls this building "biodiversity-based economies." It is up to us to make it happen.