Biodiversity, Deforestation and Conflicts in Development

I’ve heard the word ‘biodiversity’ being thrown around by scientists and politicians alike, but what is biodiversity and what has it got to do with benefiting the human race?

Biodiversity is defined as “the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.” (Source: IUCN)

It can be measured by the Simpson’s Diversity index and species richness. However, the difficulty arises in the sampling of biodiversity. The closest we could get to an accurate measurement of how biodiverse an area is, would be by sampling an area and applying that as an estimate. (Right now would be a great time to obtain some magical book which documents every living organism on earth.) The greater the variability, the greater the diversity, the greater the stability of an ecosystem, we’re all happy. Sort of.

Yeah, but how does this really affect humans?

We are often preserved in a bubble of humanity and forget about the natural world (depends where you live really – but with urbanisation on the rise, I’m presuming you get what I mean). Scientists need areas like the Amazon to be very biodiverse with a variety of healthy species in hopes of finding new medicines and materials for industry. So, in point of fact, it affects you quite a lot. Deforestation is an issue which threatens the potential to develop new drugs which could possess the cure for cancer or a new kind of rubber that is much more resistant. We just don’t know yet. But removing something that could potentially solve innumerable problems for the sake of economic and industrial development really doesn’t weigh out that beneficial. Deforestation is a burning issue that needs to be controlled and addressed appropriately.

It’s also closer to home, not just out in the Amazon, with Cameron’s new plans to sell off our forests (which was, thankfully, scrapped – yes, I’m one of the many who signed!). The fact the British public managed to get so many signatures showed a real demonstration of people power.

In terms of schemes for ‘environmental services’ (whereby governments pay other governments of countries with a substantial amount of forest to conserve sections of their forest to absorb CO2 emissions), I was initially quite optimistic. However, my view changed when I went to a talk with Bjorn Lomborg on his book – Cool it: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming. A question about the reliability and effectiveness of these schemes was raised. He answered that while it’s a nice concept, in reality there is no way of ensuring 100% that the receiving government will follow through. Just because one patch of forest is conserved doesn’t mean that another part will not be destroyed.

There’s really no way of being sure that the government receiving payment will protect the area. Even if they promise to do so, illegal logging is still a threat (which having seen a documentary on Brazil’s illegal logging trade, I believe is a very serious threat). The lengths these people will go to – they will even produce fake ‘license tags’ on their wood. The Amazon rainforest is just so vast in size that despite Brazil’s best efforts to patrol the area, deforestation is still inevitable. This means that much of the wood that is exported out of Brazil (statistics suggest around over 70%) is, in fact, unsustainable and illegal.

I hate to use the phrase ‘sustainable development’, but that’s what we have to achieve if human activity in these areas is to continue. The question is: are sustainability and development two things that can even be combined? Economic and industrial interests will always trample on the environment, but really we should attempt to inject some humanity into our industrial processes.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention; I’m with Lomborg on this one – we need to look more into the research and development of new ‘sustainable’ (that word, again) technologies before we can really put them to use. However, there’s conflict over the reliability and truth of global warming. Is it actually happening? I’m undecided on the prominence of the human impact on global warming, but there are other environmental concerns raised over deforestation than just CO2 emissions to worry about.

So far, it’s all ‘niche’ technologies and marketing which can only ever be bought and used by the select few – not by a mass market. The human race’s affinity for fossil fuels is still reigning strong. Green technology is achievable; it’s the issue of scale and availability which needs addressing. I’m sure if there’s a will, there’s a way.

Charlotte Tidman

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