Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Crossposting - biodiversity at Bikya Masr

Original link: Biodiversity is life, biodiversity is our life

Under this slogan, the United Nations declared the year 2010 the year of biodiversity. The declaration comes as yet another attempt to salvage our deteriorating biodiversity. However, almost two months into the new decade, very few are aware of the declaration and even less are doing anything about it.

In this context, biodiversity is defined as the variations, or diversity, of life forms around the world. Though the topic may seem purely scientific, it is in fact multi-layered and different people care for different reasons.

Biodiversity is, first and foremost, a survival issue. We are all part of the world around us, our environment. We are, therefore, dependent on it for all our needs and luxuries. Our tuna may seem to come out of a tin can, but in fact, it was in the sea before being shoved into the tin can, and if we exterminate tuna from the sea, it will not keep on appearing in cans at the supermarket.

Biodiversity is also an issue of culture. In a globalized consumerist world, where cultures are degraded for the benefit of multinationals just as fast as environments are degraded for the benefit of capitals, you would notice that biodiversity defenders are, more often than not, defenders of cultures. Just as societies have a natural tendency, if not need, to preserve the way they dress, speak, and act, they also have a need to preserve their endemic species. After all, the stolen generation, in modern day Australia, happened in parallel with the extermination of the Tasmanian tiger, for example.

I suppose we are not reinventing the wheel when we say that biodiversity is in danger. But we need to reinvent certain wheels when addressing most environmental issues. First of all, when we say that biodiversity is in danger, we are not saying that the percentage of all animals and plants is decreasing, it is the diversity that is in danger. In our urban lives we struggle against cockroaches, mosquitoes, and mice everyday, we care for pets and plants ornamental plants in our living rooms. But how diverse is this world and how sustainable is it?

In fact, a healthy and sustainable world requires a wide range of living creatures. Human expansion, in general, always happened in parallel with the expansion of certain living creatures. At the dawn of the agricultural revolution, nearly 10′000 years ago, we favored the evolution of domesticated animals and plants, which, in return, improved our life standards and allowed us to better control our environment.

As a result, certain species found their numbers increase, including sheeps, goats, dogs, cats, horses, but also cockroaches, rats, mice and other animals who adapted very well to the human lifestyle and waste. Wild animals on the other hand, were useless to us, we either actively hunted them down or destroyed their habitats badly enough to drive them into extinction.

In our pop-like approach to biodiversity preservation, we have focused on saving charismatic animals such as pandas, white tigers, elephants, whales, etc. In Lebanon for example, we applaud every minister planting a cedar tree in a suit. But we disregard the thousands of oak trees burnt to make coal, or even worse, to make space for this rich man’s garden or that one.

Unfortunately for us, biodiversity is interrelated. We cannot replace wild cats by raising ten times more siamese cats at home. If we drive one component of an ecosystem into extinction, the ecosystem may fall apart over time. And if we keep destroying one ecosystem after the other, our own existence as human beings may be in danger. We can already see this happening in our own countries, where agriculture is deteriorating and desertification is increasing.

In the end, the biodiversity issue is delicate and complicated. Its preservation requires therefore collective effort. The Convention of Biodiversity, affiliated with the UN, attempted to convey this idea by suggesting ways for everyone to be engaged and involved, from private companies, to landowners, fishermen, farmers, NGOs, governments, etc.

Unfortunately, very few people are aware of 2010 being the year for biodiversity, so how can we logically expect people take action if no one hears about it?

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