Why con­ser­va­tion of our en­vi­ron­ment mat­ters

The Myanmar Times - - News -

ON his way to East Asia last week, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama trav­elled to a se­cluded Hawai­ian atoll far from his home­town of Honolulu for a brief and de­served mo­ment of cel­e­bra­tion. The US pres­i­dent had an­nounced that he is ex­pand­ing the Pa­pa­hanaumokuakea Marine Na­tional Mon­u­ment, mak­ing it the largest pro­tected wilder­ness area in the world. This act fol­lows sev­eral other moves the pres­i­dent has taken late in his pres­i­dency to pre­serve wild lands and wa­ters, many of which, in­clud­ing the Pa­pa­hanaumokuakea ex­pan­sion, have been con­tro­ver­sial.

Bal­anc­ing hu­man needs with the ne­ces­sity of con­ser­va­tion is al­ways go­ing to be tricky. But as peo­ple con­sider the costs and ben­e­fits, it is im­por­tant to keep in mind that pro­mot­ing bio­di­ver­sity is not im­por­tant sim­ply be­cause it pro­tects cute mam­mals or beau­ti­ful fish. A study pub­lished in Sci­ence this sum­mer found that more than half of the planet’s land has bio­di­ver­sity lev­els so low they could en­dan­ger the hu­man race.

The study re­lies on the con­cept of “plan­e­tary bound­aries” – lim­its on the en­vi­ron­men­tal changes Earth can ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore hu­man safety is at risk. When an ecosys­tem loses 10 per­cent or more of its orig­i­nal species abun­dance, the au­thors say, it falls below a “safe” level for bio­di­ver­sity. Fifty-eight per­cent of Earth’s land sur­face passes – or fails – that test. That poses a global threat to plant and an­i­mal life, and it could also jeop­ar­dise hu­man devel­op­ment.

Though pro­tect­ing ecosys­tems and their flora and fauna is im­por­tant for its own sake, do­ing so has util­i­tar­ian value as well. The func­tions un­harmed ecosys­tems per­form for hu­mankind – such as detox­i­fy­ing waste, reg­u­lat­ing dis­ease-car­ry­ing or­gan­isms and sup­port­ing med­i­cal re­search – are worth tril­lions of dol­lars in global hu­man wel­fare. Though the study did not cover sea re­sources, they are also cru­cial for recre­ation, reg­u­lat­ing global sys­tems, the food sup­ply and many other things.

When ecosys­tems fail, cru­cial func­tions can fail with them: Agri­cul­ture, for ex­am­ple, re­lies on pol­li­na­tion that can­not take place in an un­healthy ecosys­tem. Bio­di­ver­sity can also buf­fer the en­vi­ron­ment against cli­mate change. The ben­e­fit-cost ra­tio of con­serv­ing the wild, sci­en­tists es­ti­mate, is 100 to 1.

A sec­ond study, pre­sented in Na­ture last month, sug­gests that the big­gest threats to bio­di­ver­sity are over-ex­ploita­tion – log­ging, fish­ing and hunt­ing too much – as well as agri­cul­ture and ur­ban devel­op­ment. Cli­mate change is far­ther down the list but prom­ises to be­come an even larger prob­lem as the world warms.

Mr Obama’s sec­ond-term ef­forts high­light the im­por­tance of con­ser­va­tion, set a strong ex­am­ple for oth­ers and should en­sure at least some en­vi­ron­ments re­main pris­tine. Yet some of the worst prac­tices are in the de­vel­op­ing world; it is harder to or­der poor peo­ple to stop ex­ploit­ing pre­cious re­sources – and also harder to en­force such or­ders when they are is­sued. Part of get­ting the con­ser­va­tion bal­ance right is con­sid­er­ing whether rop­ing off sec­tions of land and water in the United States might sim­ply lead to im­port­ing more from coun­tries with worse prac­tices. En­cour­ag­ing other na­tions to take con­ser­va­tion se­ri­ously is es­sen­tial, for their own good as well as every­one else’s.

– The Washington Post

More than half of the planet’s land has bio­di­ver­sity lev­els so low they could en­dan­ger the hu­man race.

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