International Day of Biodiversity Must be Celebrated Everyday

“Far more than simply a conservation treaty, the Convention {on Biodiversity} encompasses three equally important and complementary objectives: the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. Underpinning the Convention’s three objectives is the recognition that humans, themselves exhibiting a diversity of cultures, are an integral component of ecosystems. All people and nations, whether rich or poor, share the same planet and depend upon the same storehouse of biodiversity.” www.greenfacts.org/en/global-biodiversity-outlook

May 22 is International Day of Biodiversity and these series of articles will explore the extraordinary diversity of life on this planet. Our air, water, fertile soil, climate regulation, protection from pest and disease outbreaks, medicines, food security and economic resilience are all dependent on biological diversity.


As we already know, it is truly a miracle that there is any life on this planet at all. The creation of life over billions of years has continued to expand and flourish until quite recently.  The famous biologist, E.O. Wilson, has said that there is the existence of millions of species of which humans have not made the acquaintance, and are waiting to be discovered by scientists. We have only documented the existence of maybe 1.8 million species, but scientists believe there are at least fifteen million to one hundred million species on Earth.

Every human should feel inspired by the fact that our home contains such unbelievable diversity of natural wealth. Astonishingly, people are passive in the face of the now overwhelmingly evidence that many of Earth’s life-forms are facing extinction. With that knowledge should come a natural sense of responsibility to act. People “are evidently unaware that ecological services provided scot-free by wild environments, by Eden, are approximately equal in dollar value to the gross world product. They choose to remain innocent of the historical principle that civilizations collapse when their environments are ruined. Most troubling of all, our leaders, including those of the great religions, have done little to protect the living world in the midst of its sharp decline.” (E. O. Wilson, “The Creation”).

Except for a meeting in Europe for the Convention of Biological Diversity, few governments declared their commitment to strengthen their actions to protect life on Earth this May 22. Canada is a signature to the Convention (1992) but Canada’s Convention on Biological Diversity Strategy “falls short of identifying measurable targets against which Canada can report progress.” Please see www.cbd.int/   as well as Canada’s Biodiversity Information Network  www.cbin.ec.gc.ca  for a better understanding of Canada’s obligations and its success in its initiatives.

Canadians need to learn more about how we can stop the loss of biodiversity.  Let’s start with understanding the acronym HIPPO: Habitat loss, Invasive species, Pollution, human overPopulation, and Overharvesting. Future articles will look at how HIPPO pushes species toward extinction.

Fortunately stewardship and biodiversity are taught in grades four, five and six in Ontario but what will be left to steward when these ten year olds are forty? It’s critical that adults and governments immediately steer away from biodiversity collapse and work conscientiously for our children’s future.

Making Biodiversity a Priority will Create Eco-Justice for all Life

“Every country has three forms of wealth: material, cultural and biological. The first two we understand well because they are the substance of our everyday lives. The essence of the biodiversity problem is that biological wealth is taken much less seriously. This is a major strategic error, one that will be increasingly regretted as time passes.”  “The Diversity of Life” by E O. Wilson

Habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, human overpopulation, over harvesting, and now climate change all work to create conditions that cause the loss of biodiversity, the diversity of life on Earth. For example, habitat loss is without doubt the prime driver for species to become threatened with extinction, but add climate change or any of the other drivers to habitat loss and there is an urgent crisis.

The World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report in 2006 has a Living Planet Index which tracks populations of 1,313 species: fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals from all over the world. By seeing how these selected species are doing, scientists can then measure the health of a particular ecosystem. Between 1970 and 2003 these same species have shown demonstrable decline. Without governments and communities immediately making changes through legislation and education, the world’s biodiversity is in dire jeopardy.

Recently, several respected Canadian groups put together a Wild Species and Spaces Action Agenda (please see www.TomorrowTodayCanada.ca ) that puts into action several initiatives. Most importantly, it asks that the Species at Risk Act implements recovery and action plans in 2008. There are wonderfully courageous groups throughout the world, constantly showing humanity that we have overshot our ecological footprint. It’s time to listen to them!

Canada celebrated Environment Week last week, and there is World Environment Day on June 5; June 8 is Oceans Day. Clearly we realize the worth of our ecological treasures — or do we?

The biocapacity of most nations to sustain yearly growth has been severely diminished in the last fifty years; there is no doubt that all industrialized nations are borrowing from our ecological assets to the point that these ‘ecological services’ can’t regenerate themselves quickly enough to sustain the high rate of human demands. To put it bluntly: we have busted the bank and now we are in deep trouble, having taken out a fifty year mortgage to feed the good times. The only problem is that the planet is calling in the loan that we can’t pay back without making huge changes to how we live.

Thankfully, the provincial governments of British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec have decided to combat climate change through carbon mitigation strategies. The recent passage of the Climate Change Accountability Act by opposition federal parties has put pressure on the federal government to fulfill its obligations. If the government would live up to its responsibilities instead of blaming past governments and criticizing present provincial initiatives, Canada could work as a unified country to help end the world biodiversity tragedy. It is also civilization’s greatest failure: the word ‘ecology’ means ‘study of the household’; surely we care about our home and the future of the earth.

The Perils of Denial

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity; it is an act of justice.  {On HIV/AIDS} This is a global injustice. It is a travesty of human rights on a global scale.” Nelson Mandela

“28 Stories of AIDS in Africa” by Stephanie Nolen should be read by everyone who knows how to read. It is indispensable reading for anyone who wants to understand modern Africa and the human psyche. One of the chapters speaks of Nelson Mandela’s agony over his son’s death by AIDS in 2005. At the January 6, 2005 news conference, he did the impossible and announced that his son had died of AIDS, and not some other disease that would mask the terrible shame and stigma that Africans had placed on themselves and the dying. Millions of lives could have been saved by African governments in the late 80’s if there had not been a universal campaign of denial launched by all segments of society and steadfastly maintained till the early 21st century.  Public education and the implementation of drug programs would have meant the end of suffering for thousands of people. As a result of the tragic lack of education and government policy, a huge proportion of children in Africa have now become orphans.

There is an undeniable parallel between western governments’ reaction to climate change/biodiversity, and how African governments have responded to AIDS from 1985 till very recently: do nothing and deny everything!  In the West, the failure of our governments to implement climate change mitigation strategies has led to the compounding of the tragedies in Africa and South East Asia.  The plight of African orphans will be mirrored in the displacement and upheaval for youth around the world within the next thirty years, as a direct result of adults doing so little for their own children.

In 1993, 1680 scientists including 104 Nobel Prize laureates issued the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity which spoke of poverty, over population, sexual equality, climate change and loss of biodiversity as the key concerns for all governments. Very little news coverage was given to that profound document. With regards to biodiversity it said,   “Living Species: The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one-third of all species now living, is especially serious. We are losing the potential they hold for providing medicinal and other benefits, and the contribution that genetic diversity of life forms gives to the robustness of the world’s biological systems and to the astonishing beauty of the earth itself.”

All adults in 2008 need to pledge that the “astonishing beauty of the earth” will not be sacrificed for the rapacious desires and indifference that now defines so much of contemporary society. There are ways to instill in youth a reverence for this planet, and adults must be the mentors in this process.  Our next article will look at some of the ways we can begin to celebrate with our children this planet’s spellbinding diversity, and in so doing, start the process of healing that is so desperately needed.

“NATURE! We are surrounded and embraced by her: powerless to separate ourselves from her, and powerless to penetrate beyond her.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Be a Nature Mentor For Your Child

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.  ~John Muir

Engendering a child’s love for nature starts with ourselves being truly in awe of the Earth’s many species.  Feeling deep compassion for other life forms is a basis for a person’s sense of justice as well.

Wilderness hiking creates a strong sense of the natural world. A child needs to see how the earth is able to function perfectly well without the intervention of humans. Not only is wilderness the safety net for biodiversity, but wilderness is recognized by all conservation groups as being essential in order to be fully human; after all, we are just one thread in the web of life and humans can’t survive outside our biosphere. Don’t like camping and the bugs but you know that it is good for your children to experience nature?  There are many lodges that cater to people with all different budgets.  For example, the Alpine Club of Canada has magnificent lodges that are inexpensive to stay at.  Usually it takes a full day’s hike to get to one of them but that is part of the adventure.

In many parts of the world, International Day of Biodiversity (May 22) is celebrated by having what is called a Bio Blitz. Families, biologist, naturalists and most importantly, avid children get together and try to find how many species live in a given area of land; usually it is an acre or two.  To the amazement of many biologists, new species have been discovered during this day of celebration.  This kind of excitement and discovery helps a young person feel that they are part of a vibrant world with many living creatures. Our area will have a Bio Blitz next May 22, courtesy of Georgian Triangle Earth Days Celebrations.

Give your child a microscope, and let them find a whole new world to appreciate and discover; a drop of water from a pond will have her or him realize how large the Earth really is.

Let your children know they have a voice in their government.  The Youth Climate Summit at the University of Alberta in Edmonton this July is meant to let politicians know that youth cares about nature and our long term survival.    Canadian Youth Climate Coalition is there to give a voice for youth.  They are in Edmonton to work out a strategy for stopping Canada’s ‘greatest’ contribution to climate change: the tar sands. Being a nature activist is what every parent should encourage in their children.  Democracy is at stake as climate change will shape our political future.

Join a local, national or international biodiversity focused organization and help your children get involved with activities. Groups such as World Wildlife Fund, Nature Canada, Sierra Club of Canada, Ontario Nature, Canadian Wildlife Federation, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, EcoJustice and  David Suzuki Foundation are just a few of Canada’s national organizations that educate and inspire youth.

Plan a trip to an organic farm where they care about seed diversity and conservation as well as selling produce at the farm gate. Niagara Escarpment Organics in Clarksburg does; call 519 599-5136.
Look into Scouts Canada. They have many programs that are fun and give youth an opportunity to appreciate biodiversity.

Life long naturalists start at an early age. By taking a young person to our local conservation or wilderness areas such as Kolapore Uplands, you can turn a child’s initial excitement into a life long love for nature.  The planet never needed that more.

A New Model for Global Cooperation

It seems as if there are two great tectonic plates – scientific necessity and political pragmatism – that meet very uneasily at a fault line. – “Climate Code Red: the case for emergency action” by  David Spratt and Philip Sutton

“Despite the urgent need for increased global cooperation, such cooperation has been slipping away in recent years. The paradox of a unified global economy and divided global society poses the single greatest threat to the planet because it makes impossible the cooperation needed to address the remaining challenges. “Common Wealth” by Jeffery D. Sachs

There have been many influential politicians and economists who have come to realize that cooperation is the only way to proceed successfully through the biodiversity/climate change crisis. This may appear to be common sense, but sadly many governments, including our own, have relinquished the long held Western democratic view that governments are there to protect its citizens from the kind of threats that climate change poses. In order to do just that, the bottom line must include the services that nature provides.  Many non-governmental organizations realize they can no longer be nice guys and are mobilizing their members to stop the carnage. They are demanding cooperation.
Drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (see www.defenders.org)  for one year’s oil supply, or causing irreparable damage by allowing the Oil Sands (see www.environmentaldefence.ca) to continue unabated, is to allow incredibly short term political goals to tragically eclipse future needs of both humanity and ecosystems of which we are undeniably a part. Clearly, governments must learn anew to cooperate with their citizenry and not be door men for multi-national corporate greed.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (www.cms.iucn.org) is the world’s oldest and largest network of nature organizations. Its World Conservation Congress is held every four years, and the Barcelona Congress will have 8,000 people attend its meetings. Since climate change has now been reluctantly accepted by even the most virulent deniers in governments and industry, this October’s Congress may find it possible to create a world action plan to combat both the loss of biological diversity and climate change. Remember, guiding this cooperation are the United Nations Millennium Goals for 2015. Here are some of the questions that will be debated and delved into at the Congress: 1. How should we decide where our limited resources can be most effectively applied to conserve biodiversity? 2. Should we sacrifice some species so that others may live, or vigorously oppose the loss of any species? 3. How do we determine the most effective means of communicating with the general public about conservation? 4. What are the best ways to deal with conflicts between people and wildlife in different situations? 5. Has the human population exceeded the carrying capacity of our planet?

A quick look at IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species lists 16,306 species facing immediate extinction, up from last years’ 16,118. Extinct species are now at 785. Another 25,000 species are endangered.  Moreover, the great biologist, E.O. Wilson has found that thousands of species are doomed each year with the loss and fragmentation of habitat. His “Diversity of Life” should be read by all adults wanting to understand what exactly is at stake and be a part of a powerful and educated cooperative effort to save biodiversity.
In 1998 the Town of Collingwood resolved to make large cuts in its Green House Gas emissions, and since climate change has such a huge impact on all species’ ability to survive, our next article will investigate how successful they were when they resolved on July 26, 2006 to recommit to “reduce total community-wide GHG emissions” ..

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