On 5th June 1974, the United Nations (UN) celebrated the first World Environment Day. Every year since, they’ve used the day as an opportunity to engage with governments, businesses, celebrities and citizens to make us all more aware of the importance of looking after our environment. Everything from the air we breathe to the food that we eat comes from nature. In a single year, marine plants produce more than 50% of the oxygen in our atmosphere, while mature trees absorb 22 kilograms of carbon dioxide, providing us with oxygen in return. Sadly, despite the fact that our life quite literally depends on our environment, we don’t take enough care of it. We continue to destroy forests to build industries and continuously pour our waste into rivers and oceans.
Every year, the UN attempts to tackle one issue on World Environment Day. In 2020, they’ve decided to talk about the importance of biodiversity. Before we dive in, let’s get all our facts straight.
What exactly is biodiversity?
Biodiversity refers to all kinds of life on earth. That may sound vague, but the truth is that biodiversity is a large umbrella that covers all living organisms, from humans and trees to animals and even coral reefs.
Why is biodiversity so important to us?
Our lives depend on biodiversity in numerous ways. Of course, we all know we rely on plants to provide us with oxygen to breathe – but is that all there is to it? Absolutely not. Biodiversity includes all living things, and our lives are also dependent on bees and other animals. Without bees to pollinate plants, we wouldn’t have any of the fruits or nuts that we love to eat. The coral reefs and mangroves that we hardly pay attention to are actually incredibly important in protecting coastal areas from cyclones and tsunamis. But, that isn’t all. Animals such as tropical tortoises and spider monkeys also make our lives easier. How? Well, these large fruit-eaters help disperse the seeds of the dense hardwood trees that are most effective in absorbing carbon dioxide from the air around us.
What’s happening right now?
There is an urgent need for each and every one of us to do the best we can to preserve the biodiversity around us. Over the last 100 years, the number of tigers has reduced by 97%, while coral reef cover has been reduced by half over the last 150 years. The rate at which species are going extinct is almost 1,000 times higher than before humans dominated the planet. Scientists predict that within the next 10 years one out of four known species could be wiped off the face of the earth!
Given the current pandemic, is biodiversity really that important?
It may seem strange, but by preserving biodiversity, we can actually reduce the number of infectious diseases that spread to humans. A number of infectious diseases that affect humans are zoonotic. This means that they spread from animals to humans. Many scientists suspect that the coronavirus has also spread to humans from animals. But, when we preserve the lives of the animals around us, we can cause something known as the ‘dilution effect’. This means that if there’s a large population of a particular species, or if there’s greater diversity amongst animal host species, we can reduce the risk of the disease spreading to humans in the first place. On the other hand, if we continue on our current path and only save few species that provide us with the most, it is incredibly likely that these limited species will become carriers of infectious diseases and that they will pass the disease on to us.
World Environment Day is a good time for us to understand how healthy our planet actually is and do what we can to make it healthier. After all, our lives depend on it.