-By Rachit Bansal(Third position achieved in Article Submission Contest)
I started examining things at a pretty young age that everything was intricately connected to one another and we really lie on each other for survival. As I got older, I realized the true meaning of biodiversity: it’s every living thing on this planet from the tiniest microorganism to the largest whale porpoising in a rhythmic and delightful manner.
Isn’t it surprising that most of us do not even look to the ground beneath our feet which houses an important segment of species; we feel it is unimportant. But though we may not think about it too often, the Earth is the source of life on our planet. When the Earth was spun off from the Sun there was no biosphere. The beginning of the biosphere was with the onset of what geologists described as the Pre-Cambrian period when the continents were formed.
Over a long period of time, several reactions (synthesis and cross-linkages) led to the formation of nucleotides and then to a strand of nucleic acid. Among this one was called deoxyribonucleic which could replicate itself. Now we know that the errors in the replication of DNAs led to diversity in the first place. Had the DNA been replicating itself in perfect copies, the Earth would have just been filled by standardized DNA and amino acid strands, with no variation whatsoever. This sameness would have made evolution virtually impossible.
Now as we are progressing pressure on the world’s resources and biodiversity has increased considerably due to the fast-growing population of the world and general improvement in the living conditions of human beings. This has led to the overall degradation of the natural environment and shrinkage of various species and their habitat. Human beings started affecting the biosphere in significant ways, not just for their survival but also for their convenience. In his book Life on Earth, the naturalist David Attenborough proposed a useful year-long calendar, starting with the beginning of life to the present, where 1 day= 10 million years. On such a calendar Man did not appear till the evening of 31st December! But with the appearance of Man on 31st December, things started moving very fast or rather resulting in unaccounted damage. In the present-day world, the maximum damage has been done to the tropical rain forests of the Zaire basin in Africa and Amazon basin in South America. Obviously, this will have far-reaching consequences.
But wait how did we get here and where did things go so wrong? To understand that, we have to start right at the beginning of our evolutionary past. If the Stone Age brings up images of our cavemen ancestors living in perfect harmony with nature, you may be in for a shock. Sample this: About 50,000 years ago, for the very first time, humans entered Australia, a continent teeming with wildlife and resources and within a few thousand years of their arrival every single mega fauna in Australia disappeared. The same pattern has repeated continent after continent and island after island. Research has proven that human migration has always preceded the mass extinction of animals. In the book Sapiens, author Yuval Harari calls humans the deadliest ecological serial killers our planet has ever seen. So it’s no surprise that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of our planet.
According to the report Winged Messengers, The Decline of Birds, pressure from a human population of more than 6.2 million has put about 12% of as world’s 9800 bird species at risk of extinction. In the words of Howard Youth, we find much wisdom “Declining bird population mark the unravelling of delicate natural balance.” Moreover, according to a report made by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), more plant and species are threatened in densely populated countries than in thinly populated countries. Now causes are innumerable be its habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, habitat degradation and pollution, the introduction of exotic species, flora and fauna being prone to diseases, overexploitation, shifting cultivation, selective breeding etc.
The loss of biodiversity at the three levels (ecosystem, species, and genetic) has reduced genetic diversity. The need for diversity is not merely because of compassion alone but also because of the scientific aspect of respecting the interdependence within an ecosystem. There is another dimension towards biodiversity which is brought out in the OTA report:
“Loss of biodiversity may eliminate options to use untapped resources for agricultural, industrial, and medicinal development. Crop genetic resources have accounted for about 50% of productivity increases and for annual contributions of about $1 billion to US agriculture… Future grains will depend on the use of genetic diversity.
Loss of plant species could mean loss of billions of dollars in potential plant-derived pharmaceutical products. About 25% of the numbers of prescription drugs in the United States are derived from plants… Consequences to humans of loss of potential medicines have impacts that go beyond economic benefits…
Nature provides the basic materials; science enables the merging of desired properties into new forms or combinations. Loss of diversity, therefore, may undermine society’s realization of the technology’s potential.”
Therefore every care has to be taken for the proper conservation of biodiversity. It is often said that “while the human race cannot exist without biodiversity, the latter can exist without the human race.” We need legally binding targets for the restoration of natural habitats. This is not only important for the habitats but also for climate mitigation and adaptation and increasing the resilience of our ecosystems. We can try to reverse defaunation through animal translocations and creating sanctuaries, biosphere reserves, and using gene banks or simply we can go green in every respect. To truly rule out the fact that animals being statistics in casualty reports and protect biodiversity, we need to go beyond protecting it from foreigners to adopting economic development strategies compatible with national biodiversity goals. I would now like to conclude with Carl Sagan’s words which resonate with this idea:
“In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”