Securing a shared future for wildlife and people

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A welcome message from the United Nations:  The United Nations declared 2010 to be the International Year of Biodiversity. It is a celebration of life on earth and of the value of biodiversity for our lives. The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity.

Biodiversity is life, and this is no exaggeration.  It is the exquisite and intricate links between plants and animals that sustain all life on earth.  Biodiversity drives the systems that provide us clean air, clean water, food, shelter, pest control, and waste removal.  We are very much a part of these systems but have become used to paying for many of these services, forgetting their original source.  If we were to try to replace nature in providing these services, it would cost an estimated US $33-54 trillion/year (Costanza, d'Arge et al. 1997) worldwide. 

I have a problem with this estimate – not the figure itself but the philosophy behind it.  By putting a monetary value on these services, it gives us the illusion that we could replace nature as long as our financial system keeps growing.  The fact is that no matter how much money is spent, we simply are not capable of capturing carbon and producing oxygen, generating energy from sunlight or any other source that does not rely on nature, pollinate all of the food crops, or germinate enough seeds for forest regeneration etc.

We are not even capable of recreating the natural balance of species and relationships needed to do these things.  Really – we tried, see the biosphere project.  We poored time (9 years), money (US$200 million) and people at an experiment to recreate the essential elements of nature, within weeks oxygen had to be pumped in, pests were out of control, crops failed and the scientists suffered physical and mental health issues.  This was an extremely valuable experiment though – it demonstrated clearly how much we have to learn about nature and how to live in it sustainably.

This is our challenge – to better understand our world and to protect even what we do not understand because it cannot be replaced.

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