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May 22 is International Day for Biological Diversity, a celebration first established by the United Nations in 1993 to create awareness about the importance of biological diversity aka biodiversity, the variety of life on Earth, and the need to protect it. Civilizations are built on biodiversity and the human species is completely dependent on healthy and vibrant ecosystems for our water, food, medicines, clothes, fuel, shelter and energy.
A diverse ecosystem helps regulate the Earth’s climate and provides a home for millions of different plants and animals; it is essential to food, clean air and water and medicines. In addition to helping regulate our climate and providing us with recreation, an intact biodiversity system is also one of the best ways to guard against pandemics like those caused by coronaviruses.
And when biodiversity has a problem, humanity has a problem. Humanity, we have a problem!
A 2019 UN Report found that an estimated 1 million animal and plant species are currently threatened with extinction, more than ever before in human history. If the current trend continues, those species could be extinct by 2050.
The threat to biodiversity has been dubbed the sixth mass extinction which, unlike previous extinction events, is driven by human activity like deforestation, overfishing and pollution and climate change.
As human populations increase, mankind moves into undeveloped land and exploit it to meet our needs, completely disrupting the species that live there. Using the land, water and energy in this way is unsustainable for a healthy planet. Climate change is also a factor because species have difficulty coping with the warming temperatures and habitat loss.
So, why should you care? Because the many different types of biological diversity are all interconnected and interdependent: Genetic diversity helps different species adapt to changing conditions; Species diversity maintains the balance of an ecosystem; Ecosystem diversity is key to the planet’s overall biodiversity; Landscape diversity provides habitats for different species of plants and animals; Human cultural diversity helps us understand and appreciate the variety of ways that people live around the world.
The theme for 2022 International Day of Diversity is “We’re part of the solution.” In other words, each of us can play a role in protecting biodiversity. Here are a few things you can do:
Plant more trees or start a garden with species that are well-suited to live in the climate of your local area.
Rethink your purchasing habits. The products you buy and the companies you support should ensure that you are not contributing to habitat destruction elsewhere. Look for biodiversity-friendly indicators such as certifications that assure sustainable management, sourcing, and harvesting practices.
Renowned biology and ecology expert Tom Lovejoy keeps it simple–get reacquainted with nature. “Not in the form of some big required study that you’re going to have to take an exam on, but just open your eyes and your ears to what’s around you,” says Lovejoy.
**Cover image: United Nations Environment Program