Most people hardly pay attention to species lurking around when looking out their window or strolling at a local park. However, if you are the type who enjoys nature, you are more likely to notice that some species that used to be so common are now almost nonexistent. This occurrence is called “Global Biodiversity Decline”, a silent yet predominant environmental crisis with no apparent solution in sight.
What is “Global Biodiversity Decline?”
Global Biodiversity Decline (GBD) is a collapse in the number and variety of species on the earth, specifically caused by humans. While biodiversity extinction has been known to occur over the past years, the current GBD is unprecedented in both its scale and scope. Previous biodiversity collapses were caused primarily by slow changes in the environment which affected a large number of dominant species. For example, increased volcanic activity or the long-term fallout from a massive meteor impact which caused most extant species to die. But although disastrous to some species, the changes resulting from these events were slow in pace and gave many unspecialized species time to adapt.
What’s different this time?
The big difference is that rather than a slow geological process or a sudden rare event, humanity is applying a fast and consistent pressure to environments in a great variety of ways and methods. As a result, even highly unspecialized and lightly adapted species find themselves constantly changing to adapt to the environment.
In addition to climate change, human encroachment into animal habitats and disruption of traditional migration patterns are contributing to the biodiversity decline. People, especially nowadays, move very rapidly. Their movement can introduce new compounds into the environment (toxins, plastics, concrete, etc.) faster than species can hope to adapt to them. This, combined with the fact that humans must by necessity exterminate species which pose a threat to them or are pestilent to them or their domesticated species, is causing a significant number of species to perish.
What exactly is causing this biodiversity extinction?
Human existence per se does not cause biodiversity extinction, but the habit and the technology we use. The advancement of agriculture, for example, forced people to use various chemicals to combat pests and other plant-eating species. This has been compounded by the industrial revolution which increased both the availability and demand of new products that are dependent on large amounts of energy consumption and resource gathering to be produced. Construction of mines, factories, and infrastructure resulted in the destruction of forests. Similarly, the soaring growth of population means that more and more wilderness must be cleared to make room and gather resources for everyone.
What are the effects of biodiversity decline?
The most noticeable effect is on the ecosystem. Popular species and some less well-known creatures are getting close to extinction. The disappearance of certain food animals like krill, plankton, insects and other invertebrates can be disastrous not only to larger animals but also to the entire ecosystem. It is these small creatures which convert much of the energy in an ecosystem from unusable (i.e. microscopic plants, decaying matter, etc.) into usable forms, namely their bodies. Their absence makes the environment deprived of resources, with most energy and nutrients trapped in forms unusable to other species and soon die out. Only the hardiest and unspecialized species are left with limited ability to respond to other sudden changes.
How biodiversity decline affects humans?
The most noticeable change from biodiversity loss is not the absence of species, but the absence of an environment capable of rebounding from temporary setbacks. With much of the ecosystem’s energy becoming locked in the ground or simply expended as waste energy, a single harsh winter, forest fire, or another small disaster can result in an area which is mostly barren or completely dominated by a single species. This makes the environment aesthetically unpleasant, less conducive to healthy living, and less capable of producing resources that humans need. A dead forest does not produce oxygen that humans need to breathe, as well as resources like wood, wild game, or other desirable assets. Additionally, decreased biodiversity creates adversity for crops and domesticated animals that now find themselves under assault from pests and predators.
What can be done to stop GBD?
One of the primary issues in GBD is the growing human population. Although some actions (like setting up nature preserves, promoting recycling, and reducing consumption) are admirable on an individual scale, they are critical on a global scale. The acidification of the oceans, not to mention global deforestation and habitat loss, is causing many species to disappear including vital creatures at the bottom of the food chain.
Nevertheless, it is not too late to do something. Controlling population growth and preserving natural resources particularly in areas that retain a high rate of biodiversity is crucial.
What can I do personally?
The high consumption of meat products, energy for electronic devices, and other modern conveniences places stress on the environment, as does our desire to live in as large and remote a property as possible. Reduction in consumption, while individually admirable, can do little to change the system as a whole. It is, therefore, necessary for individuals to not just make good choices themselves, but to advocate for good choices to be made by their culture or society as a whole. Public transportation, improved energy efficiency, and a turn away from fossil fuels are critical as they not only help decrease individual energy use but also reduce the need to build infrastructure to harness energy. Lastly, sequestration of undeveloped areas should be encouraged to provide certain types of species a conducive place to live.