Biodiversity or biological diversity is the variety or richness of ecosystems, species composition therein, and their genetic diversity too. Professor Edward O. Wilson, Harvard visionary of biodiversity, observes that the current rate of biodiversity loss is perhaps the highest since the loss of dinosaurs about 65 million years ago during the Mesozoic era, when humans had not appeared.
He regrets that if such indiscriminate annihilation of all biodiversity from the face of the earth happens for anthropogenic reasons, as has been seen now, it is sure to force humanity into an emotional shock and trauma of loneliness and helplessness on this planet. He believes that the current wave of biodiversity loss is sure to lead us into an age that may be appropriately called the “Eremozoic Era, the Age of Loneliness.” Loss of biodiversity is a much greater threat to human survival than even climate change. Both could act, synergistically too, to escalate human extinction faster.
Biodiversity is so indispensable for human survival that the United Nations General Assembly has designated the decade 2011- 2020 as the ‘Biodiversity Decade’ with the chief objective of enabling humans to live peaceably or harmoniously with nature and its biodiversity. We should be happy that during October 1-19, 2012, XI Conference of Parties (CoP-11), a global mega event on biodiversity, is taking place in Hyderabad, when delegates from 193 party countries are expected to meet. They will review the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which was originally introduced at the Earth Summit or the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is the nodal agency for CoP-11. Today, India is one of the 17 mega-diverse (richest biodiversity) countries.
Biodiversity provides all basic needs for our healthy survival — oxygen, food, medicines, fibre, fuel, energy, fertilizers, fodder and waste-disposal, etc. Fast vanishing honeybees, dragonflies, bats, frogs, house sparrows, filter (suspension)-feeder oysters and all keystone species are causing great economic loss as well as posing an imminent threat to human peace and survival. The three-fold biodiversity mission before us is to inventorise the existing biodiversity, conserve it, and, above all, equitably share the sustainable benefits out of it.
Contrary to all such utilitarian objectives of biodiversity, the concept of ‘Deep Ecology’ believes in the intrinsic value of every living being, wherein all life is to be respected for its own sake, not for any of its monetary values. There is no living being that is so abject and absolutely useless for its ecosystem, even if we have not yet understood its utility. Every living being discharges its own unique ecosystem functions or services, and hence the loss of any single species destabilises the whole ecosystem. Keystone species render more obvious or even altruistic services to their ecosystems.
The tropics have the most luxurious biodiversity but, unfortunately, overpopulation by their poor eco-societies, which are compelled to live at the expense of their own biodiversity, poses such great dilemmas and threats to conservationists that ‘hot spots’ had to be identified to save their marginalised poor as well as their biodiversity simultaneously. The Assam Himalayas and the Western Ghats are two such little explored but richest biodiversity treasure banks in India.
However, some lacunae in our knowledge base of our biodiversity still exist such as the precise ecosystem functions or services of each species, and also, the economic valuation of benefits from not only every species but also every type of ecosystem and, above all, from the more difficult gene-pools, all of which need to be studied all over the world.
The slogan of the Hyderabad CBD CoP-11, inscribed on the logo, in Sanskrit, “Prakruthi: Rakshathi Rakshitha,” and the same in English, “Nature Protects if She is Protected,” truly underscores that humans should realise the symbiotic relation between themselves and nature, so imperative for their mutual survival on planet Earth.
(The writer is a consultant ecologist, His email is firstname.lastname@example.org)