Environmental Challenges Associated with the Loss of Biodiversity
Biodiversity is defined as the variety of life forms existing on the planet and the number of species living within an area. The notion also covers the way diversity changes over time and moves from one location to another (“Facts on biodiversity,” n.d.). There is terrestrial and marine biodiversity that includes species living on Earth and in the sea. A number of species dwelling in a particular area helps to monitor the aspects of biodiversity. Maintaining biodiversity is important for people’s well-being since it plays a significant role in the contribution to human health and provision of raw materials. However, currently people often face the loss of biodiversity. Today this process is happening at a much faster pace than it did 50 years ago (“Facts on biodiversity,” n.d.). As a matter of fact, around 90 percent of all the fish on the planet was exploited within the last 50 years, a quarter of bird kinds were killed, and 70 percent of forests was destroyed. In addition, extinction threatens 18 percent of all mammals, 5 percent of the fish, and 8 percent of plants. Thus, it is possible to assume that the loss of biodiversity on Earth, which takes place nowadays, is directly linked to anthropological factors, including overhunting, overfishing, consumerism, and agricultural practices.
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The issues that lead to the loss of biodiversity are overexploitation of natural resources and species, consumerism, and agricultural practices. All these challenges will be discussed further to see their influence on biodiversity loss. Biodiversity can be defined as a measure of the health of ecosystems (Gaston & Spicer, 2004). Mass extinction leads to the reduction of biodiversity, creating a serious environmental problem. The diversity of living organisms depends on many factors, including air temperature, precipitation, soil quality, geography and the presence of other species in the same area. They are extremely important for healthy ecosystems as well as for some issues related to humans, such as dietary health, nutrition, the development of medical science, resources security, economic sustainability, and reduction of the risk of disaster (Gaston & Spicer, 2004).
Biodiversity decrease can be observed all over the world. Many scientists say that if the situation does not change, about 30 percent of all species existing now will become extinct within the next 50 years. Indeed, this will have an enormous influence on the entire planet. Today, many species are considered to be rare or endangered. The loss of biodiversity is associated with such environmental challenges as overexploitation of natural resources, consumerism, and agricultural practices. All these challenges are anthropogenic. In order to understand the reasons for this environmental issue, it is important to thoroughly discuss all these challenges.
Overhunting and overfishing are becoming a serious issue in the present days. These notions can be defined as the practice of commercial and non-commercial hunting or fishing that influences the number of species that breed and replenish the population. It results in the reduction of breeding stock levels, making them unable to support a sufficient quality of animals or fish (“Why is overfishing a problem?” n.d.). Thus, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, 52 percent of fish stocks are fully exploited today. Moreover, 7 percent of fish species is depleted and 1 percent of them is recovering from depletion (“Why is overfishing a problem?” n.d.). Moreover, about 80 percent of fishermen’s catch is fish species that are not suitable for sale. Usually they are killed and discarded, which contaminates water (“Why is overfishing a problem?” n.d.). Thus, it is possible to say that the planet is losing the entire ecosystem as a result of overexploitation of marine biodiversity.
Overhunting is a process that has been taking place for centuries and has led to the extinction or endangerment of numerous species of animals. Heath hen, snowy egret, and passenger pigeons are some of the examples of species that became extinct as a result of hunting. People usually hunt for food or profit, either legally or illegally. Hunters often do not think about the fact that the depletion of species is a serious environmental issue. Depleted species, or those on the edge of extinction, play an essential role for ecosystems.
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Nowadays, consumerism has become a symbol of most of world economies and still remains a common phenomenon in the United States. Consumerism means consumption at a higher rate, as an indicator of prosperity (Shukla, 2009). Buying more to keep up with others gives some people a feeling of satisfaction and fulfills their need for a variety in life. The process of constant purchasing of new goods and throwing them away with their subsequent replacement has positive and negative results. Positive results are economy growth, more employment opportunities, and a more comfortable lifestyle. However, negative effects of consumerism certainly outweigh positive ones (Shukla, 2009).
Indeed, consumerism deteriorates psychological health and personal relationships creating the prevalence of material wealth over spiritual values. Above all, it has bad effects on the environment that is being destroyed as a result of pollution and creation of new goods and buildings (Shukla, 2009). Excessive consumption requires higher production levels, extraction and use of wood, ore, water and fossil fuels, and construction of factories and plants. This leads to the environmental imbalance that reveals itself in the climate change, pollution and environmental degradation. Moreover, today many people have a “throw away” mentality. The increased amount of waste pollutes the environment as well. In addition, factories and plants contribute to this situation, leaving much toxic waste that is often dumped into oceans and rivers, creating improper conditions for water animals, fish and plants.
Water consumption also contributed to the environmental issues on the planet. Nowadays, water shortage is a serious global threat for many people. Unfortunately, dams and diversions created for water storage, flood protection and conveying water to the places of scarcity often result in the decreased populations of fish and other water animals. Moreover, groundwater mining contributes to the destruction of ecosystems and drying up of rivers (Shukla, 2009). This results in the global loss of marine biodiversity as well as of many terrestrial animals that depend on water bodies. Thus, it is obvious that consumerism and improper use of resources causes numerous environmental issues.
The main effects of agriculture on the environment are soil degradation and erosion that are caused by overgrazing of animals, plowing, row cropping, and land-use conversion. These issues lead to yield decrease, fresh water contamination, frequent natural disasters, such as mud floods, and of course biodiversity decrease, and animal extinction.
One of agricultural practices that influence species population is the excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers. Over 90 percent of chemicals sprayed on plants affect not only the target species, but also other insects. They contaminate water and soil to an extreme level, in the meantime contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming. Moreover, agricultural practices represent a major threat to the population of bees (Greenpeace, 2013). Bees are necessary for the entire environment since they pollinate plants. Today, the bees’ population is decreasing due to various issues, one of which is the use of pesticides. This may kill them directly, or in case they pollinate poisoned flowers. It is also important to remember that these chemicals contribute to greenhouse gases emission and are dangerous for humans and animals. They can affect human health either directly by inhaling their vapors or indirectly by consuming contaminated water, fruits, and vegetables.
Agriculture alters the planet’s land cover and contributes to the release of methane and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Moreover, agriculture is known to be the primary driver of deforestation since as a result of agricultural practices, forests are cut down for farming, plantations and cattle ranching. The resulting lack of forests contributes to global warming since trees absorb carbon dioxide, and deforestation causes this gas to remain in the atmosphere. This leads to the emergence of the greenhouse effect and, subsequently, to global warming. In addition, the lack of trees on the planet leads to the loss of biodiversity, since many species lose their habitat. Indeed, habitat size and number of species are interrelated. Therefore, agricultural practices have a serious effect on biodiversity.
Direct and Indirect Environmental Values
The loss of biodiversity certainly has impacts on the environment. First of all, it directly leads to the loss of entire ecosystems and mass extinctions. In addition, it indirectly influences people’s health and economic sustainability. Overall, the loss of biodiversity can lead to a global environmental disaster.
In case agricultural land expands in the future and more forests are cut down, biodiversity will continue to decline as a result of habitat loss. This may cause a subsequent decline of local as well as global biodiversity (“Facts on biodiversity,” n.d.). Even in case only one species becomes extinct, all others are also influenced by it since the total number of species has a serious effect on the functioning of the entire ecosystem. Studies have been held to reveal that the functioning of ecosystems directly depends on the richness, composition, evenness and diversity of species living in it (Isbell, 2010). This happens due to numerous reasons. For example, if a certain herbivorous animal is extinct, carnivorous species will also be affected since the former are their main food source.
In addition, the loss of one species can influence others since they form extremely complex systems of interaction. Namely, they serve as prey, provide shelter, cooperate, and compete to each other. Thus, the depletion of one species inevitably leads to the endangerment of others. In addition, the loss of species often contributes to soil contamination as well as to climate change, which is a global issue today (“Facts on biodiversity,” n.d.). Consequently, there is considerable evidence that the loss of biodiversity directly leads to the decline in functioning and stability of ecosystems (Isbell, 2010).
The loss of biodiversity also affects people’s life and health. First of all, it is associated with the lack of fresh water, impacts on food resources and agriculture as well as on altered distribution of various diseases. It is well-known that the loss of biodiversity increases the risk of catching an infectious disease. This happens as a result of the loss of the species that function as buffers and kill insects carrying various viruses (Ramanujan, 2010). In the meantime, the survived species are likely to transmit a disease further to other animals and even to people. Namely, this can be referred to the transmission of Lyme disease and West Nile Virus (Ramanujan, 2010). Dietary health and nutrition security are also linked to biodiversity loss as well as to the discovery of new medicines derived from biological sources. Thus, the diversity of living organisms on the planet influences human health as well.
Economic sustainability is affected by biodiversity decline too. Mainly, this is because there are numerous industrial materials derived from biological sources, including rubber, oil, fibers, and building materials. Water and food security as well as fertile soil are also influenced by biodiversity decline. In case all these resources are contaminated, agriculture will be unable to develop, causing a substantial damage to the economy. Moreover, the loss of species increases the risk of natural disasters, the consequences and recovery from which have a serious effect on the economy as well. Therefore, numerous industries can become affected by the loss of species, which will inevitably lead to the decrease of economic sustainability and thriving. This may influence not only local, but also global economies worldwide.
Indeed, people have to understand that maintaining the existing lifestyle is destructive to the environment. What common citizens need to do is to reduce waste and consume less (Shukla, 2009). People have to be educated on the ways to distinguish what they want from what they really need. Most importantly, people need to know how the loss of biodiversity affects the environment and learn the possible results if the situation continues (Gaston & Spicer, 2004). Thus, the policy offered is to provide people with special education on the effects of biodiversity loss and ways to preserve it.
Since it is obvious that most of environmental problems are caused by consumerism, it is necessary to encourage people to alter their consumption system (Shukla, 2009). People have to realize that the strive for newer things does not give true satisfaction. On the contrary, it deteriorates the environment (Gaston & Spicer, 2004). People need to be able to distinguish their wants from their needs and buy only as many products as they really need, not as many as they desire to have. Moreover, waste recycling is important (Shukla, 2009). Therefore, people are recommended to buy beverages and food in recyclable containers. Indeed, citizens need to be educated on the ways to reduce the amount of waste and properly dispose it. Thus, it is recommended to introduce the following policy. Since people are to be educated about the ways to preserve the environment, a special subject teaching it has to be introduced in schools, colleges, universities, and even at workplaces. In this case, people of all social levels and ages will learn about the way human activities affect the loss of biodiversity and about the importance of biodiversity for the environment. This will raise their level of consciousness and help improve the situation in future.
Of course, the most effective way to save natural resources and prevent the subsequent loss of biodiversity is to transfer from using exhaustible resources to renewable ones. The latter means the use of sun energy, power of waves, rain and wind instead of oil, coal and other fossil fuels (Gaston & Spicer, 2004). Even though transferring to these resources will be expensive initially, it will ultimately bring essential benefit to the environment (Shukla, 2009). This can contribute to the reduction of air and water pollution, soil contamination, destruction of natural habitats and other issues. Using renewable resources can be made available anywhere in the world, even in rural and remote areas, if used wisely (Shukla, 2009). Recently invented biogas and biofuel can be used instead of usual fuels, creating less negative impact on the environment. In addition, it is an important factor that these resources will never be exhausted on the planet.
Pros and Cons of the Recommended Policy
The social, political, economic, and environmental pros of the recommended policy are as follows. First of all, this policy is about increasing the level of consciousness in people, which is a positive aspect. If people become more educated and realize the consequences of their actions for the environment as well as for the future of the planet, this will make them more conscious in everyday life. They will consume less and dispose waste more properly (Shukla, 2009). In addition, they might want to donate money to foundations that help preserve the nature. In case more people do this systematically, it will definitely help save the environment. On the contrary, being disconnected with nature might lead to an even bigger loss of species.
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Thus, a person’s conscious harmonious relationship with the nature is the greatest factor in attempts to preserve the environment on the planet. Today there is an urgent need to establish this relationship unless it becomes too late. A real change needs to take place in the minds of people first of all, and then in their behavior through altering their habits. A higher level of consciousness in environmental issues will improve people’s health and well-being and contribute to the development of environmentally friendly economies (Shukla, 2009).
Moreover, systematic actions aimed at preserving biodiversity will eventually lead to the reduction in the loss of species and increased sustainability. Environmental challenges that exist today did not appear overnight. Therefore, it is impossible to restore biodiversity quickly. Only systematic measures taken in harmony with nature can help to do this, but it will require much time. Every global change is the combination of small subtle shifts. To make this change, people have to work systematically towards restoring biodiversity and removing the effects of other environmental issues. Only if working patiently and persistently together, it will be possible to save the planet and restore the lost species.
The cons of implementing the recommended policy can be seen in the economic level since the reduction of consumption of different goods can affect the economic situation in a negative way. Moreover, the transition to renewable energy sources can be costly (Shukla, 2009). In addition, it is possible that not all people will want to listen to those who want to preserve the environment, but continue sticking to their habitual lifestyle. However, it is necessary to understand that if the environment is destroyed, no economy will be able to survive on the planet. It is also essential to find the ways to make people listen to the information about environmental challenges and realize that their actions may lead to the total destruction of the planet’s ecosystem (Shukla, 2009). They have to understand that in this case the Earth will no longer be livable for people.
Misuse of natural resources is the result of commercial interests, ignorance regarding the necessity to preserve these resources, self-interest, and population increase. Overconsumption of fossil fuels and other resources, deforestation, use of chemicals, and incorrect waste disposal are also significant factors. Certainly, considering these factors, it is necessary to admit that human activities seriously affect the environment. Therefore, the future of the planet and its resources is in the hands of people, who can either stick to the habitual life style, which will eventually result in complete destruction of the environment, or change it and start using planet’s resources wisely.
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Anthropogenic factors have a direct impact on biodiversity loss. Due to this, it is significant to encourage all people to adopt environmentally friendly life style and do everyday steps to preserve the environment. People have to realize that if they do not respect the planet, they will lose all the natural resources and, as a result, their lives. The conservation of natural resources is a fundamental problem, and people have to remember that the planet and the resources it gives them are essential for human health and well-being. Therefore, people have to use these resources wisely, take care of the planet and live in harmony with nature.
It is essential for everyone to understand that humanity will not survive if the nature dies since people are the part of it. An old Native American proverb says, “Only when the last tree has died, and the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught, will we realize that we cannot eat money.” People need to realize the essence of these words and live in harmony with nature instead of destroying it. Moreover, people should remember that they are not the last people on this planet, and their children will live on it after them. Consequently, it is the responsibility of everyone to leave the Earth livable for them.