When we, in North America, think about food and where it comes from, we see supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and for a growing few, our own backyard and community gardens. When it comes to clean water, we look no further than the kitchen tap or the store, for those who insist on or have no choice, but to purchase bottled water. This is not so for millions of people elsewhere on the earth.
When it comes to medicine, we turn to doctors who prescribe something for us or we rely on over the counter pre-packaged medication, perhaps we will purchase an herbal product from the local health store, and increasingly some people are growing their own healing herbs. However, we, for the most part, purchase, rather than produce the products we believe we need.
Once again, around the globe there are people who have traditionally relied on nature to meet their needs. Now, according to the recently released IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, these traditional supplies of food, water, and medicines are at risk, more so than any other period in our history.
The most recent version of the Red Lists shows that of the 63,837 species assessed, 19,817 are threatened with extinction, including 41% of amphibians, 33% of reef building corals, 25% of mammals, 13% of birds, and 30% of conifers.
What does this loss of species mean; Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) said;
“Sustainability is a matter of life and death for people on the planet. A sustainable future cannot be achieved without conserving biological diversity – animal and plant species, their habitats and their genes – not only for nature itself, but also for all 7 billion people who depend on it. The latest IUCN Red List is a clarion call to world leaders gathering in Rio to secure the web of life on this planet.”
Besides food and medicine, what services does Nature, in it diversity, provide for humanity and the planet?
One vital service is the control of air quality; a service that is generously and freely given by the trees and plants; For example, when a tree reaches maturity, it is able to produce as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year. Trees also, clean the soil, act as carbon sinks, and clean the air.
Wetland plants provide water filtration services and thus clean the water as do bivalve molluscs. Snails help to control algae. The latest IUCN Red List reports that in Africa, 42% of all freshwater molluscs are globally threatened; while in Europe, 68% of endemic freshwater molluscs are globally threatened by habitat loss, pollution, and the development of dams.
Human behaviour has a major impact on other species with which we co-habit this planet and we do so at our own peril. Once a species is lost, so are the services that species provided, and we cannot readily replace those services, while we continue to spoil ecosystems worldwide.