The estimated 9 million species on Earth play an immeasurably important role on our planet and act as an indicator for the health of individual ecosystems and the world as a whole. Many people value the benefits of biodiversity without being actively aware of its critical importance. A healthy planet is essential to every aspect of our lives, from obtaining food to discovering new medicines, sources of fuel, or shelter and protection from the elements. Healthy, bio-diverse ecosystems provide essential natural services such as pollination, seed dispersal, water purification, nutrient cycling, environmental cleanup, and climate regulation.
Beyond purely utilitarian aspects, the value of biodiversity for cultures, religions, spirituality, and connection may be harder to put a price tag on, but are no less relevant to humanity. When we dream of a holiday at the ocean, we depend on the natural systems that maintain these environments. Places with a particularly high degree of biodiversity are called hotspots. When we long for adventure in the rainforests of Borneo, biodiversity is just another word to describe the natural treasures we hope to see and discover, such as orangutans, pygmy elephants, or clouded leopards.
For decades, scientists have warned about the effects of climate change. No less pressing or dramatic is the human-caused crisis of mass extinction. Biodiversity represents the knowledge and adaptive power of evolving species over millions of years. When species are lost, this knowledge dies with them. Some have said that this loss is akin to “burning the library of life.” Because each species is a small part of an interconnected puzzle that underpins all life on Earth, the loss of individual species has a domino effect on the food chain. The consequence of a loss in biodiversity and species extinction is ecological collapse. The good news, even in spite of a lack of public awareness, is that it’s not too late and many positive steps are being taken!
In focusing on the value of natural systems, the environment, and biodiversity, both practically and intrinsically, it is possible to reorder and prioritize the value that biodiversity has in our lives. After all, when we say biodiversity, what we really mean is quality of life!
In his speech to the ICUN, Senegalese Forestry Engineer Baba Dioum famously concluded, “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.