Here's my guess: if you were to list the major issues of our world today--even within the spectrum of sustainability that I focus on here--biodiversity is probably not at, or near the top. After all, there are enough tree huggers out there protecting the habitats of the endangered. There are plenty of 'other' fish in the sea to replace those temporarily in short supply. And with all the reforestation going on, what's to worry about the Amazon?
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to dismiss biodiversity. It seems so 'scientific'. It involves complex relationships within complex systems that are difficult to grasp. And of course, it's not nearly as sexy a topic as melting icecaps and glaciers.
But here's the rub: we remain ignorant about biodiversity and its role in our lives today at our own peril. While we often "feel ourselves to have escaped the limits of nature" (David Suzuki in The Sacred Balance), we have not, and we cannot--even with all the technical prowess we command. Biodiversity does matter. But how?
Here's where my notion of three things you need to know comes in. Three things I know we can all remember. Three things that capture the essential message of biodiversity, but will forgive you from having to memorize species and classifications, or study photosynthesis, or describe the carbon, nitrogen, and decomposition cycles...unless you want to, of course.
1. Remember that nature is cyclical. In natural systems there is no waste. In other words, species biodiversity assures that all waste products from one sub-process are the raw material for other sub-processes. This is important because it reminds us that continuous re-use of the planet's resources--the true natural state--has enabled many millennia of adaptable, robust life. Consider this when our 'civilized' societies choose to release amounts of greenhouse gases far in excess of that which our forests and soils have evolved to absorb.
2. Remember that nature is balanced. For as long as there has been life on Earth, there have been interdependent cycles at work providing essentials like water, oxygen, and nitrogen (needed by all organisms to live). Ecological biodiversity, with its delicately balanced, co-evolved systems and services that we take for granted runs like advanced, precision machinery. Consider this when we choose to despoil or otherwise change the conditions of our natural estuaries or intact forest ecosystems.
3. Remember that nature is resilient. Indeed there has been much change in our physical and biological world over the ages, including 'naturally caused' extinctions. But nature has prevailed, and adapted. Genetic biodiversity, enabling species to cope is behind this survival. Let us consider this when we choose to forego genetically diversified, native crops for those which we breed to be overly specialized, and often turn out to be poor adapters to changes in temperature, sun, and moisture.
So there it is...my overly simple take on biodiversity, though I must credit the likes of David Suzuki (The Sacred Balance) and Paul Hawken (Natural Capitalism) for the facts and inspiration behind it. Use it, if you will, to help choose the things you decide to do. And the things you decide not to do...in your home, your business, at school, with your vote, and with your wallet. I don't know about you, but I don't think we can mess with biodiversity and get away with it for long.