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Sunday, Jun 21, 2020 16:15 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, Jun 21, 2020 10:44 [IST]

Protect biodiversity loss for humanity

Debapriya Mukherjee
On May 21, Cyclone “Amphan” battered the country's eastern coast including Kolkata, and neighboring Bangladesh, killing more than 100 people and leaving a trail of destruction. Further “Nisarga”  that was the second cyclone struck India in a little less than two weeks amid the lockdown to contain Covid 19 pandemic that is also a direct consequence of human activity, particularly our global financial and economic systems that prize economic growth at any cost. Covid-19 has given all of  us a new perspective on how humans can live in harmony with the natural world.  Because we are all the same species, in the same place, at the same time, with the same problem.  Counted by biomass, humans comprise just 0.01 % of global biodiversity. But humans have endangered many other species by razing forests, polluting rivers, overfishing oceans, killing off insects, and otherwise hurting nature in a headlong push to extract its resources. According to estimation, 1 million species are already facing extinction. Current rates and magnitude of species extinction far exceed normal background rates.
In this backdrop it can be well said that human is a single species responsible not only to create severe climate crisis but also cause  the Covid-19 pandemic. Thereby humans those are engaged to exploit the natural resources to maximize their profit  is more dangerous virus.  Thereby the coronavirus pandemic is likely to be followed by even more deadly and destructive disease outbreaks unless their root cause – the rampant destruction of the natural world – is rapidly halted as warned by the world’s leading biodiversity experts. The rate and magnitude of climate change mainly on account of human activities  has  increased air and water temperatures leading to rising sea levels, supercharged storms and higher wind speeds, more intense and prolonged droughts and wildfire, heavier precipitation and flooding. This climate crisis is already forcing biodiversity to adapt either through shifting habitat, changing life cycles, or the development of new physical traits. Animals, insects, and plants—already threatened by habitat destruction and pollution—will fare even worse.  This critical condition may have affected goods and services crucial for human well-being. The number of climate-related disasters has tripled in the last 30 years. Between 2006 and 2016, the rate of global sea-level rise was 2.5 times faster than it was for almost all of the 20th century. More than 20 million people a year are forced from their homes by climate change.
There is ample evidence that climate change affects biodiversity that  can support efforts to reduce the negative effects of climate change. For example, conserving in-tact ecosystems, such as mangroves, can help reduce the disastrous impacts of climate change such as flooding and storm surges. Ecosystem-based adaptation, which integrates the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services into an overall adaptation strategy, can be cost-effective and generate social, economic and cultural co-benefits and contribute to the conservation of biodiversity. But the current research shows that the decline in species diversity has not yet been stopped despite realizing biodiversity is about not just the wealth of nature, but also the health of nature.
Climate hazards particularly hurricanes, droughts and wildfires, flooding and high winds are natural events in weather cycles. But we are currently witnessing a scale of destruction and devastation that is new and terrifying.  The present global biota has been affected by fluctuating Pleistocene (last 1.8 million years) concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide, temperature, precipitation, and has coped through evolutionary changes, and the adoption of natural adaptive strategies. Such climate changes, however, occurred over an extended period of time in a landscape that was not as fragmented as it is today and with little or no additional pressure from human activities. Habitat fragmentation has confined many species to relatively small areas within their previous ranges, resulting in reduced genetic variability. Warming beyond the ceiling of temperatures reached during the Pleistocene will stress ecosystems and their biodiversity far beyond the levels imposed by the global climatic change that occurred in the recent evolutionary past.
It is already clear that many species have been lost in the recent past mainly due to intense agriculture, pollution, industrial development, mining, infrastructure development, overfishing, poaching, the destruction of natural habitats and climate change. Politicians as well corporates never put there sincere effort to evaluate whether conservation measures have achieved anything. On the contrary the ecosystems were polluted over the previous 50 years but necessity  to reverse it was not thought of. Protecting the invaluable contributions of nature to people will be the defining challenge of decades to come. While there are about 1.5 million identified species in the world, scientists estimate the true figure may be closer to ten million or even as many as two billion. Many organisms are so small they can only be identified as distinct species through DNA sequencing. Generally we think about biodiversity in terms of tigers, elephants, lions, plants  and many more but we never think and talk about the  species  those are not visible though they are playing very important role in biodiversity. Here I can mention that coronavirus that is not visible but its presence has forced the entire world to fight with this virus.
Nature makes human development possible but our relentless demand for the earth’s resources is accelerating extinction rates and devastating the world’s ecosystems.  Human action has significantly altered more than two-thirds of the environment. More than a third of the world's land surface and nearly 75 % of its freshwater sources are now used for crop or livestock production. Agriculture is itself a major driver of biodiversity loss, with pesticides, soil erosion and forest clearance destroying habitats and sinking wildlife populations. Practically  nine plant species are now accounting for more than two-thirds of global crop output and the soil on which they grow under threat.  This type of selective agriculture practice can trigger unexpected losses in the wider ecosystem. For instance, a fall in earthworms, fungi or soil microbes limits the amount of recycled nutrients in the soil and the number of holes for rainwater to flow through, stunting crop growth and hindering humanity's ability to feed itself. In addition to its effect on food systems, the devastation of the earth's soil reduces its ability to retain water, hitting humans by increasing water stress and the frequency of floods. Despite major threat to loss of biodiversity, farm owners do not  pay any  attention to all those complex interactions in the soil. Their perception is to just put on chemical fertilizers and  pesticides and make soil productive continuously.   This perception is not only practically foolish but also cause severe destruction of  natural ecosystem.
 In this view it may be mentioned that though  policymakers around the world grapple with the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss but most emergent need is to understand the linkages between the two. As a result,  their decisions and actions could not address both because what is going in the name of food production and other activities to fulfill the comfort of wealthy people would be managed in sustainable manner bringing equilibrium among economy, society and environment. Now the world needs to recognize that loss of biodiversity and human-induced climate change are not only environmental issues, but development, economic, social, security, equity and moral issues as well. Political awareness and public understanding to reduce biodiversity loss has increased but there is still much confusion and misperception about biodiversity—what it is, what it does, and why it matters. Thereby the biggest challenge for researchers now would be to predict the impacts of these combined challenges of biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution on our natural environments. In 2020, biodiversity is as much a development priority as is the climate change emergency and therefore needs much more proactive engagement and response from the development community. The future of humanity depends on action now. If we do not act, people  will never forgive us. When people reach the tipping point and their sufferings will continue , they no longer sit to face severe difficulties ; they take to the streets and demand their rights. We need to be demanding a right to a healthy environment and I think we must start to do that.

The writer is the
Former Senior Scientist
Central Pollution Control Board and can be reached at:
Mobile :  919432370163 & 916290099509

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi