Ecosystems are neither static, nor isolated entities. Relationships between animals, humans, and plants are radically intertwined. If bees become extinct tomorrow, our main pollinators would disappear, and the effects on our food supply would be devastating. Ecosystems are delicate. Like houses made of playing cards, they collapse when a single card is removed.
Changes in ecosystems, caused by man or nature, can both have positive or negative results. An article in the National Geographic issue of March 2010, illustrated this well. Wolves were reintroduced to Yellow Stone National Park in the mid-90s after a fifty-year absence. The result: a change in the park’s entire appearance and cycle of life and a return to a richer bio-diverse ecosystem. The park’s rivers, fish, shrubs, trees, and its small and big mammals all went through a metamorphosis as a result of one single change in the jigsaw puzzle. It is a powerful example of the interconnectedness of all living things.
Our role: a choice to make
Throughout history, species have been coming and going even before mankind emerged on the scene. We, as human beings, are not the sole factors affecting evolutionary change; however, it is undeniable that we are mainly responsible for species’ and ecosystems’ disappearance at an alarmingly accelerated rate during the last decennia. We do have a crucial role to play.
We can start making a difference through our daily choices as consumers and producers. We can continue destroying ancient forests by buying paper tissues for nose-blowing, or we can find ecologically-sound alternatives to do the same job. We can try to control species by genetically altering them for disease/pest resistance, or we can place our trust in biodiversity and follow more natural solutions- like permaculture or integrated pest control management - when growing our food. We can support monocultures and their ecosystem consequences, or we can incorporate livestock and interplant species and rediscover “forgotten species” of vegetables and fruits, thus encouraging biodiversity. We can continue buying, believing there are no consequences for our actions, or we can reduce and change our consumption and start repairing, pre-cycling, recycling, and reusing things.
Why contribute to biodiversity?
There are many reasons to promote biodiversity. There are ethical reasons (our duty to the next generations), ecological reasons (protecting fragile ecosystems of which we are part of), economical reasons (we depend upon natural resources) and emotional reasons (preservation of endangered species like the polar bears). Whatever motives, there is one overall reason we must bear in mind: no one knows exactly what the consequences are when one piece of the domino set-up in our ecosystems is removed. No one knows when the tipping point will be reached that will cause irreversible changes for humankind.
Why not cherish the planet? Pay it respect through your actions. Take small steps to make changes in behaviour which can lead to positive consequences. Why wait? There is still hope left, if we all start today.
What can we do?
As consumers, we can become aware of the story behind the items we purchase. Increased research provides us with knowledge of the implications of the lifetime cycle of a product: the materials used and waste generated in production, the transportation distance and energy needed before the product ends up in the shop, as well as the ethical standards adhered to throughout the production process. We can keep ourselves informed.
Whether you are a child, a student, or an adult, you can make a difference and help turn the tide. All changes cannot be accomplished overnight; however, you can start today by taking small steps, one at a time. Looking at organic, fair trade and energy usage labels is a good start. You can choose clean and renewable energy at home. You can find products with strict eco-labels that respect your body, home, and garden. You can use green dry-cleaning. These are all available in Belgium. Not all changes are difficult: you can eliminate junk mail by placing a sticker on your mail box and use reusable mugs and cutlery when not at home. Nor do they have to be expensive: you can switch your diet to more local, fresh, and organic food, buy in bulk, and reduce the meat on your plate. Take on the challenge. Preserve and cherish our planet’s rich biodiversity on which we all depend on.
http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-stuff/ : this animated video provides very accessible information on the impact of the production and consumption-oriented world we are living in;
www.fao.org has many fact sheets and background studies with figures and estimates on developments in biodiversity, especially in relation to food and agriculture;
http://www.belgium.be/en/environment/fauna/index.jsp provides information on who is responsible in the three Belgian regions on aspects of biodiversity;
www.biodiversity.be gives an overview of research and science focusing on biodiversity in Belgium.
- Ilke Pedersen-Beyst