Biodiversity loss is an even greater problem than climate change, yet it is even less understood by the general public, and therefore has received very little attention by anyone other than biologists, who have called the current extinction crisis the sixth mass extinction event. We are currently loosing 30,000 species per year or about 3 species ever hour. This is a step in the right direction, but much more will be needed in order to stop the extreme lose of biodiversity.
Scientists predict that at least a third and as much as two-thirds of the world’s species could be on their way to extinction by the end of this century, mostly because people are destroying tropical forests and other habitats, over-fishing the oceans, and changing the global climate.
The world’s wealthiest countries endorsed the idea of an international study to examine the economic benefits of conserving the world’s wildlife. While this is a good first step, we already know much. Wild species of bats, birds, and amphibians add several billion dollars each year to the world’s agricultural economy by controlling pests and pollinating major crops — a free service that they get little credit for providing. Coral reefs, 27% of which have already disappeared, sustain marine resources that add $375 billion to the global economy each year.
Likewise, more than a quarter of all medicinal drugs, representing billions of dollars in sales and reduced healthcare costs, possess active ingredients derived from wild species. And when natural forest habitat is cleared, the hardened soils left behind allow pooled water to breed mosquitoes that have increased the number of worldwide deaths from malaria.
Economists already understand that for more than a billion of the world’s poorest people, income does not come from any bank or government program, but from the intricate tapestry of forests, oceans, and wildlife that surrounds them. Yet billions of the world’s poorest people live on degraded landscapes, deforested and eroded soils, and over-fished coastlines where conservation is vital to lifting them out of poverty.
As a result, conservation is as much a human rights issue as an environmental one. The new study endorsed by the G8 heads of state will certainly direct welcome new attention to this fact. But, given that many scientists believe that we have only a couple of decades left to protect the world’s remaining natural habitats, it is imperative that concrete and urgent steps to protect wildlife be taken now.