Where’s the value in biodiversity?

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I sometimes get asked where the value is in biodiversity: you can’t eat it, drink it, or sell it, so what’s the good of it? Well, in a previous post I talked about some of the reasons why we need it, but that’s not the whole answer by any means. It’s also difficult to convince governments or other large groups of humans that maintenance of biodiversity is extremely important: there are so many current problems all shrieking for attention that acting in a precautionary manner gets pushed off the radar. Indeed, any politician expressing concern about maintenance of biodiversity can lead to them being excoriated and ridiculed.

I think Chris Perley explains why we need to change our system of values to incorporate biodiversity stewardship rather well in this post. We should value biodiversity, think carefully before destroying it, and act whenever possible to preserve it, because that’s the civilised way to behave.

I’ll note here, before you all pile on with outraged shouting, that it’s not just about congratulating ourselves on how ‘civilised’ we are, like a Victorian grandmother extending her pinky when drinking tea and putting skirts on tables to cover their limbs (apparently ‘legs’ was too risque a word for a lady to contemplate). No, the civilisation that Chris recommends is a matter of working for the good of society as a whole and for the good of future generations.

You don’t need to look far to see that the needs of future generations don’t get much airtime. Indeed,  the time scale our society works on has been shaved down relentlessly, until we’re no longer able to consider anything further into the future than the end of the day. News media provide daily (or even hourly or minute-ly or second-ly) updates on the value of various financial indices, even though nothing real can truly change its intrinsic value that rapidly.

Alas, trees, waterways, soil, and all other aspects of biodiversity don’t give results daily. A tree takes years to grow. A clear-felled forest can take centuries to recover, and that’s provided it receives intensive and knowledgeable attention. So far no-one has found a way to convince the wind or the rain to return topsoil that’s been blown or washed away due to over-intensive farming, clear-cutting, or other environmental abuse. And some mining activities can poison water and soil for thousands of years.

So what we’re doing now may well leave very little for future generations, unless they enjoy mine tailings and concrete. And, of course, a world without the oxygen provided by plants, the food provided by plants and animals, and the fresh water provided by the complex interplay of natural micro- and macro-systems leaves little space for future generations to survive at all – well worth thinking about, if we want to be able to consider ourselves truly civilised.

[Featured image: The endangered golden bandicoot. Image (cropped) by Amareeta Kelly, licenced under Creative Commons.]


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