Urban Drive Environment

Even the animals are stressed

Getty Images/iStockphoto   | Photo Credit: colematt

Earlier this month, the long-awaited Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity was released and it makes the case for why nature must find a place when measuring economic progress. Termed as ‘natural capital accounting’, the paper states it is a ‘necessary step towards the creation of inclusive wealth accounts’. This will enable us to appreciate the role nature plays in our economy and offer us a way to estimate the impact of policies on natural capital. While frameworks for natural capital accounting and assessment are being developed (through the UN’s System of Environmental and Economic Accounts), countries are beginning to incorporate natural capital and ecosystem services into national economic metrics of success(assets.publishing.service.gov.uk) with China’s Gross Ecosystem Product and New Zealand’s Living Standards Framework being examples.

A much needed intervention, no doubt, but how does the layperson wrap their head around a concept when governments and leaders continue to disregard environmental concerns even when in the midst of a raging pandemic? In the last year alone, laws have been passed at whim, polluting power sources continue to get the nod and eco-sensitive zones are the target for ‘development’. Most recently, a mega financial-tourist complex on Little Andaman Island has been proposed. A lot has been said about the damage it will cause the fragile ecosystem and its inhabitants, all to fall on deaf ears.

A study published last October by a team of researchers working with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) revealed how environmental destruction is ‘making people worse off’. A report in Mongabay India states that the team reviewed more than 2,000 studies and scientific literature that looked at various ways that nature contributes to human well-being. They categorised environmental conditions (to differentiate the way nature responds to change from how those underlying changes affect humans) and in half of those categories, researchers found “unambiguous declines” in quality of life that were directly caused by changes in nature since 1970, states the report. This included a rise in deaths through air pollution, damage to the pollination systems crucial to the reproduction of plant species used by people, and the impact of environmental catastrophes like floods and wildfires.

And it’s not just the poor and marginalised who are suffering. Anxiety and physiological stress have now been reported in animal species that live in degraded habitats. A recent study in Scientific Reports analysed habitat loss and its impact based on fur samples collected from free-ranging small mammals in the interior Atlantic Forest. Apart from high levels of glucocorticoids (e.g. corticosterone and cortisol), it highlighted how habitat loss and fragmentation are also associated with stress, immunosuppression, and disease in wildlife.

Given the pitiable state of affairs, I wonder what it is going to take for us to realise we are running out of time to keep nature’s balance intact. A pandemic did not do it most certainly so are we waiting for yet another crisis to strike us? Perhaps why David Attenborough’s foreword for the Dasgupta Review is so apt. ‘We are now so mechanically ingenious that we are able to destroy a rainforest, the most species-rich ecosystem that has ever existed, and replace it with plantations of a single species in order to feed burgeoning human populations on the other side of the world... Now we are plundering every corner of the world, apparently neither knowing or caring what the consequences might be.’

Rather than crack down on young activists, our governments need to focus on pressing matters: revamping laws that adversely impact the marginalised, translating documents such as the draft Environment Impact Assessment 2020 as per law (is required in all 22 languages) and not handing out environmental clearances like candy, for starters.

A fortnightly column on environmental sustainability and urban issues

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 6:06:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/even-the-animals-are-stressed/article33879151.ece

Next Story