Have you ever looked at a glorious picture of wildlife and thought, “wow that’s beautiful. Conservation is important because those creatures are beautiful and they shouldn’t go extinct”? You can see the beauty but you don’t quite understand the depth of the significance of biodiversity.
Because the thing is, the importance of conservation and biodiversity goes far deeper than what’s readily seen.
The fact that the very existence of humankind is dependent on biodiversity is not, unfortunately, a universally-known fact.
Without biodiversity, there would be no you and me.
And no, biodiversity isn’t just about the tiger, the elephant or the humpback whale. It’s equally about rice, trees, lianas, planktons and krill, birds, fungi,… the list goes on.
The world as a whole, and ecosystems in particular, are delicate systems. The success or downfall of each species, even microscopic ones (the existence of which we currently may not even be aware of), has far-reaching consequences for the entire gamut of life on earth. Such is the world of ecology. (I’ve explained how this works in some more detail in another article.)
Living in a system so intricate, we simply don’t have the liberty to take our existence and our mass-exploitation of nature for granted anymore.
Here are just some of the ways biodiversity makes human life possible and comfortable.
1. Food and nutrition
Agricultural systems need to be robust and resilient in the face of constant change (such as soil profile changes, changes in land use and climate change). Biodiversity is critical in ensuring this resilience.
Thus, biodiversity safeguards the availability of food stocks.
Increased biodiversity also leads to an increase in the availability and diversity of nutrition.
For both food security and nutritional security, biodiversity is key.
2. The pharmaceutical industry
Biodiversity is crucial for the sustained production of medicines, often life-saving ones. The cures for the worst diseases could maybe still be found in nature, if we know where to look. Conservation, therefore is essential.
Because of the concept of bioremediation, many species of plants and fungi are able to absorb varying levels of toxins and pollutants found in the soil as well as in the water bodies. They thus effectively clean up our (often hazardous) industrial waste. We make the mess, they do the cleaning up (wow, yay humans!).
4. Biomimicry in innovation and industry
Biomimicry as a concept has existed for a very, very long time. Humans have studied the creations of nature for crafting innumerable innovations (such as aircraft and bullet-proof vests, only to name a few). Thus biodiversity isn’t just necessary as a raw material; it teaches us crucial lessons on how to make things in the first place.
5. Protection against disease
With the erratic and irresponsible proliferation of antibiotics in our medicine cabinets, the evolution of a superbug (drug resistant disease-causing pathogens) seems imminent.
Only by preserving biodiversity, specifically genetic diversity, do we even remotely stand a chance against a superbug.
6. Protection against natural disasters
We are protected from the most destructive elements of nature because of the existence of diverse ecosystems.
Take the example of tropical coastlines. The dense mangrove ecosystem found in such areas is the only line of defence against raging cyclones and destructive tornadoes. We owe the protection of the densely populated mainland to these wonderful creations of Nature.
Often, shelterbelts and windbreaks are planted specifically for this reason by humans.
We owe a lot to biodiversity.
There are many more services biodiversity provides such as purifying our air and water, providing raw materials for industries, giving us access to not just newer, more effective medication but other products such as cosmetics, enhancing our relationships and our sense of wonder, and spiritually and emotionally recharging us.
We are the only species consciously living in concrete jungles. The most primitive part of us longs to connect with the wonders of nature. Try living inside four walls with no fresh air for a few days. You’d be pretty unhappy. That’s because we all need a “nature break” from time to time.
The tangible and intangible reasons for which biodiversity conservation is essential are many.
Yet it is very important to point out that biodiversity does not need the human species. By killing nature and driving the current Mass Extinction, we are only killing ourselves.
Evolution will ensure that life on earth will go on any which way it is possible.
But whether human life on earth will remain possible or not is a question whose answer depends squarely on us. An answer we need to arrive at sooner than later.