National Park Biogradska Gora, Montenegro, by Alexander Shchukin (CC 2.0).
Biodiversity Supports Ecological Assets
Biological diversity, or biodiversity, underpins the creation, health, resilience and flow of economically valuable ecosystem goods and services. These goods and services include food, fuel, fiber, maintenance of genetic diversity for crops and medicines, air quality control and climatisation, pollination, disease mitigation, water flow and filtration, coastal protection, soil formation and fertility, nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration and storage, and flood mitigation. The annual global value of ecosystem goods and services was calculated in 2014 to be US$142.7 trillion, which is considerably more than the value of what humans produce every year.
And yet, two thirds of the ecosystem services worldwide are in decline primarily as a result of human activities and interventions. This decline is manifested throughout the world by collapsing fish stocks, deforestation, widespread soil contamination, polluted rivers and oceans, health warnings against unrestricted fish and seafood consumption, agricultural produce containing pesticides, floods, landslides, fresh water shortages and disappearing wildlife. Environmental damage is also manifested in the economic output of nations as exemplified in the south and eastern Mediterranean countries in Europe in which the average annual cost of environmental damage was calculated at 5.5% of their Gross Domestic Product by the European Commission in 2006.
The financial value of ecosystem services depends on the productivity of the ecosystem which, in turn, depends on the health, strength, abundance and biological diversity of the ecosystem components which determine the ability of the ecosystem to maintain the delivery of services over time in the face of changing environmental conditions and disturbances. Healthy biodiversity contributes to the resilience of ecosystems which requires the presence of a minimum level of interdependent ecological assets.
As these assets provided for free by nature are damaged, fragmented or removed, the need for artificial replacements (e.g. human-constructed coastal defences, water filtration plants and artificial agricultural pollination by manual or mechanical means) becomes clear as does the enormous and unnecessary expense associated with the construction, maintenance and eventual obsolescence or deterioration of these artificial replacements.
Biodiversity loss, which damages the economic value of natural resources, is reflected in modern statistical analysis of biological species extinctions and extinction rates. This reveals that human population growth and human interventions in the natural environment have caused a severe increase in the current extinction rate that is conservatively estimated to be at least 100 species extinctions per million species per year. This is consistent with reports by Harvard University biologist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author Edward O. Wilson (born 1929) who was among the first to note that the actual current extinction rate is at least 1,000 times (and perhaps up to 10,000 times) higher than the natural species extinction rate that existed prior to the evolution of the human species. This has alarmed global biologists and researchers, many of whom assert that mass extinction poses a significant threat to the minimum level of sustainability of the global human population which now exceeds 7 billion.
The words of Neil Armstrong (1930-2012, Apollo 11 mission commander and the first person to step on the moon) still resonate as our task to safeguard the future of our economic livelihoods and well-being remains unfinished. He noted that “Man must understand his universe in order to understand his destiny” which begs the question of whether we have yet truly achieved the requisite understanding of the world in which we live that will enable us to build a better future together.