Loss of biodiversity – part of chapter 1 of research study

The term ‘biodiversity’ denotes variety of life, be it on Earth at large or in specific ecosystems. Biodiversity is crucially important: each life-form in a given system plays a part in maintaining the balance of that system, and the loss or considerable decrease of any one kind of plant or animal life has an impact on the system as a whole. However, as Kovel (2006:19) points out, at the start of the 21st Century, “species were vanishing at a rate that has not occurred in 65 million years”, an allusion to the mass extinction of life on earth and which ended the reign of the dinosaurs.

According to the World Wildlife Foundation’s ‘Living Planet Report’ of 20121, the “global Living Planet Index declined by almost 30 per cent between 1970 and 2008”. The Living Planet Index is a measure of the state of the planet’s biodiversity, and in the same report the WWF lists several more alarming index trends for the same period, i.e. between 1970 and 2008: the global tropical index declined by 60 per cent; the global terrestrial, freshwater and marine indices all declined, with the freshwater index declining the most, by 37 per cent; the tropical freshwater index declined even more precipitously, by 70 per cent.

Human activity is the cause of catastrophic loss of biodiversity, a statement that can be supported with reference to a plethora of scientific investigations. For example, in 1999 the 16th International Botanical Congress was held in St. Louis, Missouri, where approximately 5000 scientists met to discuss issues surrounding plant life, its importance, and breakthrough research in the field of botany. An article by the Environment News Service summarises the meeting’s main research themes: “humanity’s impact on the earth has increased extinction rates to levels rivalling the five mass extinctions of past geologic history, transformed nearly half of Earth’s land and created 50 dead zones in the world’s oceans”.2 The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report of 2005 reiterates the concerns of the 1999 Botanical Congress example: as stated on the website greenfacts.org3, the MEA report “shows that human actions often lead to irreversible losses in terms of diversity of life on Earth and these losses have been more rapid in the past 50 years than ever before in human history”. The Living Planet (LP) report of 2013 concurs – the website that houses the report opens to the words, our “current consumption levels pose an unsustainable threat to the planet.”4