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“The Origin of all wealth come from the bosom of Earth” – Adam Smith (1776)

The impacts of human activities on the environment have grown to a large extent of concern. With climate change at the top of environmental discussions, we can no longer deny that concrete actions must be taken urgently. Economic activities such as pollution from the industrial sector, unsustainable production, deforestation, and the burning of fossil fuels have resulted in climate change, contamination of waterways, soil erosion, bad air quality, ocean acidification, and loss of habit and biodiversity. The modern world relies on an anthropocentric viewpoint with human beings as the most important entity on earth and therefore can use nature as it pleases. As an effect of this unsustainable approach, almost irreversible consequences lie in front of us. Currently, numerous data proves that if we don’t change the way in which we explore the earth’s ecosystems and how we interact with other living beings we may not be able to preserve biodiversity for future generations.

The world population is growing at a very fast pace; with now more than 7 billion inhabitants, and projected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050. The pressure this huge population causes on the earth’s ecosystems is almost immeasurable. It’s even hard to know how many species are extinct since they are uncountable and we discover new species every year. However, we can assume that a high number of them have been lost due to human activities. Deforestation, climate change, and illegal trade are some of the causes of biodiversity loss.

Biodiversity is built in three intertwined features: Ecosystems, Species diversity, and Genetic diversity. The number of Earth’s current species and living organisms can reach up to 10 million. Each species depends on each other and on services provided by other species and by the ecosystem. A balanced ecosystem is a system based on cooperation. A great diversity provides stability of ecosystems by reducing the dependence of one species on another for food, shelter and to maintain a physical and safe environment. [i] We must understand the complexity of this system in order to shape better approaches that value biodiversity.

Global biodiversity is the measure of biodiversity on planet earth and is defined as the total variability of life forms. Biodiversity has a tremendous value that is difficult to measure. However, we can affirm that we depend on biodiversity to sustain our lives and to preserve our culture, our well-being, and to prosper economically. We depend on biodiversity to fulfill our basic needs, guarantee our security, and to maintain our health. Biodiversity contributes to the sustainability of our ecosystems, strengthens the soil quality, cleans water resources, and even controls the routes of waterways. A Healthy Ecosystem can prevent flooding, soil erosion, and other natural catastrophes. This ecosystem is responsible for the good functioning of our climate, our water supplies, and air quality. [ii]

The responsibility to preserve biodiversity for future generations is part of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations which recognizes its vast value. The values of biodiversity can be direct or indirect. Direct values can be consumptive or productive values. The indirect values are the social and cultural values, ethical values, aesthetic values, optional and environmental values (MC NEELY et al. 1990).

The Direct Values of Biodiversity

The direct values of biodiversity are the consumptive use values and productive use-values. The consumptive use values are products from nature that can be harvest and consumed, for example, fishing for food, plants to produce medicines. These resources are collected and consumed locally.[iii] The productive use values are goods that go through a transformation in the market and contribute to a country’s GDP, for example, the paper industry, the silk, and the leather industry.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), goods and services provided by ecosystems generate about 33 trillion dollars per year. At least 40 percent of the World’s economy and 80 percent of the economy of developing Countries derive from biodiversity.[iv] A larger number of plants and species mean a larger number of crops. 750 million people work in agriculture and in developing countries, 45 percent of the labor force is generated in the agriculture sector[v]. Just to illustrate how small organisms have a huge impact on our ecosystems we can cite the importance of bees. Bees pollinate crops, an essential service for farmers and to our food supply. FAO’s Director-General José Graziano da Silva stated:

“Bees are under threat from the combined effects of climate change, intensive agriculture, pesticides use, biodiversity loss and pollution. The absence of bees and other pollinators would wipe out coffee, apples, almonds, tomatoes and cocoa to name just a few of the crops that rely on pollination. Countries need to shift to more pollinator-friendly and sustainable food policies and systems.”[vi]

The Indirect values of Biodiversity

In the Amazon rain forest, the largest tropical forest in the world, exists an uncountable number of living species, including endangered flora and fauna. Deforestation has increased 60 percent over the last year, due to cattle raising activities, to grow soy crops to feed these cattle and the lack of environmental policies by the current government[vii]. Nearly one million indigenous people live in the Brazilian part of Amazon and they depend on the forest for food, medicine, clothing, and protection. Other than the direct consumptive value the Amazon presents to them, these native communities also rely on the forest to preserve their social and cultural traditions. The Amazon also has an ethical value for the indigenous population, for them, it was created by God and all species and habitats need to be respected and taken care of.[viii]

Heading to the African continent, according to the UN environmental program, African biodiversity has an aesthetic value. Nature-based tourism generates as much income as agriculture, farming, and fishing combined. Africa’s unique wildlife creates jobs for the local community, improving the livelihood of many people. The continent’s 8,400 protected areas produce billions every year. Wildlife is the biggest African revenue, 80 percent of the trips to Africa are for wildlife watching with Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, and Zimbabwe as main destinations. Unfortunately, climate change and the booming wildlife trade compromises the African biodiversity and the economy in the continent. Public and private investments are urgently needed to ensure the conservation of biodiversity and to unleash the full potential of nature-based tourism.[ix]

Biodiversity is so rich and complex that every year new species are discovered. We still have so much to research in the field of biodiversity. This translates into an option value, the potential value that biodiversity could generate in the future. Biodiversity has brought the cure to many diseases. For example, the Rosy Periwinkle, a native and endemic plant from Madagascar is used to produce chemicals to treat childhood leukemia. The antibiotic Penicillin drug is derived from a fungus called Penicillium. Quinine, the cure for malaria is obtained from the bark of the Cinchona tree, while Digitalin is obtained from foxglove, which is an effective cure for heart ailments.[x] Biodiversity still has a lot to offer to the medical field.

Last but not least, biodiversity has an environmental value, which are the services provided by ecosystems for the prevention of soil infertility and erosions, floods, and provides for the cycling of water, etc.[xi] Such services guarantee the regeneration of resources for the future. Sustainable development was defined by the United Nations as: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[xii]

Several conferences such as the Stockholm Conference and Rio+92 have stimulated environmental regulations, attempted to set principals and action plans for the preservation of the environment and of biodiversity, at the national level as well as at the international level. However, little success has been achieved. It seems that economic interests prevail without taking into consideration the values of biodiversity. There is still a lot to be done to better guarantee the maintenance of biodiversity. Legislations have to be respected and is essential that the private sector gets involved. Public and private partnerships must be made to halt biodiversity loss as well as incentives to change the use of operating practices and to introduce innovative technologies.

Moreover, I strongly believe that changing the way we look at the components of our planet Earth and understanding that we are all part of an interlinked ecological system is a step forward in understanding and preserving the values of biodiversity. In other words, we must understand that humanity and nature are not separate. For so long, biodiversity has been treated as a natural capital which we insist on treating as expendable and as a means of income. Now we begin to realize that the existence of humanity relies on it. We can’t deny that the values of biodiversity are unmeasurable in every aspect and field. And even in a capitalist world, we must assume that biodiversity is extremely important economically and we should show willingness to pay for its conservation.

[i] Conserve Energy Future “What is biodiversity” ( n.d.) https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/what-is-biodiversity.php acess on July 2020

[ii] Anup Shah “Why is biodiversity important?” (2014) https://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares  access on July 2020

[iii] Puja Mondal,  “8 Main values of Biodiversity” (n.d) https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/biodiversity/8-main-values-of-biodiversity-explained/30156 access on July 2020

[iv] Julie Shaw “Why is biodiversity important” (2018) https://www.conservation.org/blog/why-is-biodiversity-important/

[v] Jeffrey D. Sachs, “The age of Sustainable Development” (2015), Columbia University Press

[vi] FAO, “Declining bee populations pose threat to global food security and nutrition  (2019) http://www.fao.org/news/story/pt/item/1194910/icode/ access July 2020

[vii] Hypeness, “Desmatamento na Amazonia” (2020), https://www.hypeness.com.br/2019/07/desmatamento-na-amazonia-cresce-60-e-especialistas-temem-efeito-bolsonaro/ access July 2020 access July 2020

[viii] WWF, “Inside the Amazon” (2020) https://wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/where_we_work/amazon/about_the_amazon/ access July 2020

[ix] UN Environmental Organization, “Africa yet to unleash full potential of its nature-based tourism” (2019) https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/africa-yet-unleash-full-potential-its-nature-based-tourism access on July 2020

[x] Samiksha S, “7 Classifications of biodiversity value” (n.d) https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/biodiversity/biodiversity-value-7-classifications-of-biodiversity-value-explained1/27380 access on July 2020

[xi] Samiksha S, “7 Classifications of biodiversity value” (n.d) https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/biodiversity/biodiversity-value-7-classifications-of-biodiversity-value-explained1/27380 access on July 2020

[xii] UN Organization, “What is sustainable development?” (n.d) https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/ access on July 20

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