I first heard the term in David Attenborough’s film “A Life on Our Planet” and he talked about how precious biodiversity is to save the planet and halting climate change. While he and the documentary explained it a bit, I needed more of an explanation. After a bit of research, I thought it best to share it with you all here, too, for those also confused by the term. So, what exactly is biodiversity and how can biodiversity save the planet? Let’s dive in.
Before we do that, I want to point out that I can talk a lot, so this is going to be a 3-part series for now and I’m sure I’ll add it to it in the future. For now, this week will be the basics of biodiversity. Think science class. Next week we will cover how we as humans are killing biodiversity by overfishing, overfarming, and also tips on saving biodiversity by changing these harmful habits. And in two weeks we will be talking about how saving biodiversity can save the planet. I hope you enjoy these mini-videos instead of a 20-30 minute deep dive. Let me know down below, longer or shorter videos?
What is biodiversity?
The term biodiversity comes from biological diversity. It refers to the variety of life on Earth at all its levels from genes to ecosystems and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life. I think we sometimes think of biodiversity as just the rare and exotic species like the orangutan and lionfish and the long-horned beetle or even endangered species like elephants but really biodiversity is anything and everything from humans to organisms. Everything we know a lot about things we know nothing about like microbes, fungi, and invertebrates. Basically, biodiversity is every living thing on earth in all its variety. Scientists have estimated there to be around 8.7 million species of plants and animals in existence and only 1.2 million have been identified.
An ecosystem is a geographic area where plants, animals, and other organisms, as well as weather and landscape, are together to form a bubble of life. They can contain living parts (biotic) as well as non-living parts (abiotic) and can be large or small. Scientists study how species exist in a single ecosystem but also across the whole world. Ecosystems that contain the most diverse biodiversity are closer to the equator and ecosystems can even contain species that are too small to see with just our eye. All of earth’s species work together to survive and maintain their ecosystems which is why it is so vital that we protect each and every form of life within each part of the cycle.
The Center for Biodiversity and Conservation includes humans and human cultural diversity in the definition of biodiversity and use the term biocultural to describe the dynamic, continually evolving, and interconnected nature of people and place, and the notion that social and biological dimensions are interrelated. This means that human knowledge and beliefs influence and are influenced by the ecological systems that humans are a part of. This relationship makes biodiversity and the cultural links to the places we live important to our wellbeing as they all play a role in maintaining a diverse and healthy planet.
Why is biodiversity important?
Biodiversity is valued because of what it provides to us as humans but also for its own value. It provides us basic needs like food, shelter, fuel, and medicine that will run out if we use all of the earth’s resources. Ecosystems produce services like pollination, water purification, nutrient cycling, and so forth. Biodiversity even holds value for benefits not yet recognized like new medicines or other unknown services. Of course, biodiversity provides humans with spiritual and religious values. We as individuals, too, might value biodiversity for how it has shaped us, our relationships, and social norms.
Obviously, the earth has quite the economic value. We exploit the earth to her full extent and beyond for raw materials like oil, gold, silver, coal, just to name a few. This even provides jobs. Of course, we wouldn’t be alive without biodiversity providing us with oxygen, pest control, and with well-maintained biodiversity, we can have better-controlled floodwaters, protection from the sun and drought, and other natural disasters. Biodiversity also provides humans with recreation like birdwatching, skiing, hiking, camping, and many other outdoor recreation activities.
Threats to biodiversity
Like I briefly mentioned, overexploitation of the earth and her resources is one of the major threats to biodiversity. Humans have come to dominate the planet, which isn’t inherently bad, but we don’t work hand in hand with the earth. The earth has always experienced changes and extinctions, today these changes are occurring at unprecedented rates which is why experts call our current age, the Anthropocene. Because of our over-extraction of goods like trees, oil, metals, and so forth, major direct threats include habitat loss, unsustainable resource consumption, invasive species spread, pollution of all kinds, and global climate change.
Not to mention, turning natural habitats into monocultures, factories, roads, and cities as well as overfishing, blowing up mountains for mining, and dumping our waste wherever we please. We are simply killing the planet by being ignorant to the other life we share it with.
In a few weeks, we will really dive into just how much these changes can affect the planet, but I want to give you a sneak peak now, and I’m sure you all know at least a little bit about how deforestation and species extinction has an impact on us on a global scale. But, threats to biodiversity can compromise other values, too. We can potentially run out of resources. We saw just a glimpse of this at the beginning of the pandemic when we ran out of toilet paper, but if we exploit the earth too much, too quickly, we have the potential to use all her oil or aluminum or fill in the blank. Many indigenous people have already been displaced by industrialization and lost many natural resources that are a part of their life.
Though, the good news is that it is completely within our power as humans to turn it all around by understanding the threats to biodiversity. This can be done through environmental conservation and establishing protected areas like national parks, wildlife refuges, game reserves, and marine protected areas that are managed by governments but also local communities. We need to ensure deforestation is in check and resources are not over-extracted. If you haven’t heard of earth overshoot day, I talked about it in my Earth Day video. This day in summary is that day in which we exploit all of the earth’s resources. Earth overshoot day 2020 was August 22 meaning that we used all the resources allocated for 365 days within 234 days. If everyone lived like Americans, we would need 5 earths to live and, last time I checked, we only have 1.
Since we as individuals can’t go out and stop a forest from being cut down and can’t designate a piece of land as protected land, we can take individual actions to help biodiversity like become more mindful consumers. We can consume less, consume second-hand items, consume less meat (one of the causes of deforestation), consume less palm oil (another cause of deforestation), vote, and demand our companies and corporations change. Lastly, we can educate others to make these changes too because not only do our small changes have a big impact in the long run but that have an even bigger impact when multiplied.
Thank you all so much for reading along. Don’t forget to stay tuned over the next few weeks to learn more about our impact on biodiversity as humans as we dive more into overfarming, over-extracting of resources, but also how we can solve climate change by fixing biodiversity loss. I am so excited to learn more as I write this series and hope you are interested to learn more as well.
Remember that your small changes have a big impact in the long run :)