Loss of biodiversity a frightening new threat not to be ignored

As the world grapples with diverse crises, there is a growing need to focus on protecting its rich biodiversity.
As the world grapples with diverse crises, there is a growing need to focus on protecting its rich biodiversity.

As the house of cards built on corruption and malfeasance threatens to come crashing down in South Africa, there are more important matters still.

As the rule of law is further compromised by the violence displayed by farmers in Senekal, in response to the heinous murder of young farm manager Brendin Horner, it is important that we do not lose focus.

Our world is being overwhelmed by a rush of events which constantly demand attention and resolution.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made things worse. The devastation and socio-economic dysfunction produced by colonialism and apartheid have not been resolved yet. Instead the economic and political mismanagement of South Africa in the past 25 years has produced further socio-economic dysfunction with high levels of violence and murder.

There is an extraordinary amount of work to be done and it can only be accomplished through widespread co-operation across all sectors, cultures and ideologies.

However, we have an even more pressing existential threat in the form of environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and climate change. This type of threat is deceptive in that it does not seem to be as urgent as the high rates of violence and murder in SA.

It does not seem as imminent as the loss of jobs or the stubborn poverty which seem etched into the foundations of our society. It does not seem as threatening as the loss of many companies in 2020, and the devastating consequences of these business failures.

“Perhaps the biggest mistake has been seeing biodiversity as a conservation problem only. Leaving it as the responsibility of the [usually underfunded] environmental sector, as something you can protect behind a small, fenced-off, protected area, while the rest of the country is dug up, polluted, sold-off, trawled, and developed.” 

Prof Belinda Reyers of the Future Africa Unit at the University of Pretoria said these words as he lamented the lack of political will in the fight against loss of biodiversity.

“Its effects on us are already obvious — including the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic and social impacts we see around us.” 

It is therefore concerning that  SA has not yet signed the global pledge to reverse loss of biodiversity, which is part of the UN Decade of Action to achieve Sustainable Development.

Perhaps even more concerning is that some countries have refused to sign this pledge.

This means the urgency of what has become known as the “planetary emergency”, consisting of ecosystem degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change, has not dawned on these powerful countries.

While it is exciting to know that SA  has done some admirable work to save several species from extinction, we cannot afford to be listed along countries that have refused to sign the pledge.

Countries like India, Brazil, US, and China, among others which refused to sign, are putting the future of the entire planet in jeopardy. Yet the only way to deal with this problem, just like with Covid-19 and many other human challenges, is through a co-ordinated global effort.

Two important ideas need to be pointed out here. One is the importance of diversity. Diversity seems to be demonstrating its importance within all systems, whether in reference to biodiversity or diversity in society.

The importance of diversity in culture, language, thought, talent and skills, among others, is crucial to human development. Just as biodiversity is crucial for the entire planet, diversity sustains and grows societies.

Incidentally, South Africa scores high both in the levels of biodiversity and diversity in our society. This makes the protection of biodiversity and the promotion of diversity in our society both urgent.

In last week’s Mail & Guardian article, environmental futurist Prof Nick King decries the planned N2 toll road which runs through the Wild Coast, one of the most pristine lands in South Africa.

The Pondo people have played an admirable role in protecting that area from mining interests and the planned road.

The UN’s drive to protect at least 30% of the earth’s surface by 2030 thus requires our government to support the Pondo people in their protective role for the Wild Coast.

The second idea is the emergence of a moment in history which requires not only the greatest co-ordinated global effort, but is perhaps the most meaningful. It is a moment we cannot miss.

If we work together on this one, we may find that we will not only reverse biodiversity loss but succeed in creating an entirely new and fulfilled way of living. This is the great challenge of our times.

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