A UN report on species under threat presents alarming data on the loss of biodiversity on Earth. It is time for humanity to take note.
Field being sprayed with pesticide.
"Farm fields are being sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, which filter the soil and kill vital pollinators like bees, birds, and bats." Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
For a global danger to really gain respect these days, it has to threaten Armageddon. Climate change, for example, is a thing of apocalyptic movies: it is about floods, fires and famines.
The loss of biodiversity, on the other hand, the decline of species on the planet, is located lower on the scale. It is about the death of bumblebees in Poland, or fewer species of fish in the Red Sea, or red squirrels that are driven out by gray ones. It's not an interesting subject for movies starring Dennis Quaid as a divorced scientist who was always right, and he tends to make headlines as a concern primarily for the bees and squirrels involved (perhaps with a line or two of experts). on chain effects). It doesn't seem to threaten the rest of us.
That perspective is changing. The United Nations' first study of the natural systems that sustain the human diet has found that declining biodiversity is affecting the Earth's ability to produce food. Our food, he says, is now under "severe threat." The report finds that 20% of Earth's vegetated area has become less productive, and what is growing on it is close to being wiped out. The report mentions the Irish potato famine and cereal crop failures in the United States in the 20th century, and asks us to expect more of that in the future.
How have we created this situation? Well, mainly due to our desperate attempts to produce food in the first place. Forests are being cut down to make room for farm fields, and farm fields are being sprayed with pesticides and herbicides, which filter the soil and kill vital pollinators like bees, birds, and bats. Cutting down large trees and plants increases the risk of flooding.
However, above all, the problem is that we depend on monocultures (just one variety of potato or sugar cane), which is a great risk. It means that a single disease outbreak or climate change could wipe out large portions of the world's food supply. Two-thirds of the world's crops comprise just nine species, while the other 6,000 species of cultivated plants wilt, along with wild food sources.
Progress is possible: Farmers must diversify and preserve wildlife, but so far it has been too slow: Only 1% of US farmland is certified organic. This should change. Biodiversity finally has its dramatic headline: will the world now start paying attention to bumblebees?
• Martha Gill is a political journalist and former lobby correspondent