Save me, I don’t want to be extinct!

“Failure to conserve and use biological diversity in a sustainable manner would result in degrading environments, new and more rampant illnesses, deepening poverty and a continued pattern of inequitable and untenable growth…the (Millenium Development) Goals embodies the hopes of all people for a world without hunger and poverty, where all live in freedom, with dignity and equity. Biodiversity is crucial to those hopes, especially in the area of health.”

I was reminded of this erudite quote, by former UN Secretary Kofi Annan, at the dawn of the year 2010. And if most of you are still wondering what is so special about year 2010, well then I am sure this will come as a surprise to most of you to know that 2010 is designated the International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations.
So, to say that the year 2010 is an important year for life on Earth will not be an understatement – with a lot of effort being made to halt the loss of biodiversity on Planet Earth. 2010 is also the year that has been identified in the Environmental Sustainability Targets of the Millennium Development Goals by which “a significant reduction in the rate of loss” of biodiversity should be achieved; and in October this year the Tenth Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity will be held in Japan.

On realising that so much effort is being expended on a global scale, it makes one wonder:  is biodiversity so important after all? And the answer to this straight forward question is a resounding ‘YES’. Let us try and understand why this is so.

Taking a look at the biodiversity crisis

Remember when we were kids, most of us played with jigsaw puzzles and tried to fix all the pieces of the puzzle with each other to form the perfect picture. The world is also like a jigsaw puzzle with numerous species of plants and animals, natural resources and human beings forming interlocking pieces of our beautiful Planet Earth. If we remove enough of the key pieces on which the whole framework is based then the whole picture will be in danger of collapsing. And you know what the most threatening fact is?  We have no idea how many pieces we can actually afford to lose without even realizing that those are the key pieces.

The ecological reality of this argument is that biodiversity is our life support system – the very foundation of human existence. Yet by our heedless acts we are using up this biological capital at an alarming rate. In doing so we fail to understand that there is a limit to the resilience of nature to endure our atrocious acts. And we are seeing  this these days as catastrophic events beyond human control have started plaguing us as a result of  natures’ fast disappearing endurance. So, we need to understand that we have evolved in close interdependence with the ecosystem, hence the  destruction of the ecosystem means our own destruction.

Why is biodiversity our life?

Apart from the ethical and aesthetic implications of conserving biodiversity we also need to consider the social and economic implications of the situation. It provides us with the direct benefits of food, medicine and energy along with the recycling of essential elements, such as carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen. It is also responsible for controlling pollution, combating soil erosion and acting as a buffer for various environmental conservation processes.

A look at  the economical values of biodiversity reveal following facts:

•    Modern agriculture, which depends on new genetic stock from natural ecological systems, is now a $3 trillion global business.
•    Nature tourism generates some $12 billion in annual revenues worldwide.
•    Roughly 119 pure chemical substances extracted from some 90 species of plants are used in pharmaceuticals around the world.
•    In 1960, a child with leukemia had a 1 in 5 chance of remission. Now, thanks to anti-cancer drugs developed from a compound discovered in wild periwinkle plants, the same child’s chance of survival has increased to 80%. Also Taxol, a new drug developed from the Pacific yew tree, is being used to treat ovarian cancer.
•    The recreation associated with wild birds alone generated nearly $20 million in economic activity and 250,000 jobs in the United States.

What have we done in response?

Despite getting so much from nature, aren’t you curious about knowing how we have shown our gratitude? We have accelerated the exploitation of these resources at an unprecedented rate. We have become the drivers of the biodiversity crisis: it’s our unrestrained population growth, our never ending demand for economic growth, our greed in extracting more and more from available resources that has been the cause behind so many of the extinctions. And on top of all this we prefer not to show any remorse or condemn our acts. Instead we have become so convinced of our superiority as humans, many of the extinctions do not matter to us. We need to realize that the extinction of each additional species brings the irreversible loss of unique genetic codes, which are often linked with the development of medicines, foods and jobs.

What can we do?

So it is time to wake up and realize that it is now or never. We need to do our part in restoring the lost ecological balance of nature for the continued survival of future generations. So let  us take  a quick glance at what  we can do to help conserve biodiversity:

•    First of all we need to restrain ourselves from exploiting available resources by minimizing the consumption of gasoline, electricity and consumer goods.
•    We can invest in, and support, environment friendly businesses’ and collaborate with similar organizations thus actively getting involved in conserving nature.
“Pune Alive” initiative.

To get students and people involved, an initiative called “Pune Alive” has been started by the Research and Action in Natural Wealth Administration (RANWA) under the stewardship of Dr. Ankur Patwardhan. RANWA is a college student driven NGO working towards synthesis and publication of urban biodiversity in Pune city. This initiative named `Pune Alive’ is an exercise in listing and tabulating the distribution of different species of a dozen organic groups in and around Pune city.

In a close collaboration with college students  and the Abasaheb Garware College & Environmental Science Department of Pune University, RANWA has compiled a directory of plants and animals found in and around Pune city. It is the first such detailed endeavor in India and perhaps globally. Information from the Pune urban area, encompassing 1600 sq. km, includes trees, frogs, fish, butterflies, snakes, birds, mammals and even usually ignored organisms such as ants and mushrooms. The focus of this initiative is not just the listing of organisms but on how they have been impacted by human activities and how they respond to it. Suggestions for their conservation zones and measures given future habitat deterioration is also a central part of the initiative.

The gradual realization that emerged from this initiative is that biodiversity forms the living environment of the city and its conservation is very important. Current loss of sparrows in Bangalore city is a vital sign of how urban biodiversity can be affected by human activities.

So, this is the time to wake up and and act; to keep our eyes and ears open and look around our own area, our own city, our own country and our own planet for opportunities to contribute towards conserving biodiversity for a sustainable future.

It has been rightly said that “We need to treat the earth well as it was not given to us by our parents but was loaned to us by our children.”

Manisha Rana