Thursday, January 28, 2010

What Use is Biodiversity?

This blog post by BBC News writer Richard Black returns to our attention the perennial dilemma amongst environmental activists (and anyone trying to change the world for the better by asking others to make an effort): why bother? As this is now the International Year of Biodiversity, the question is why bother saving all those species out there? What use is biodiversity? (What has it done for me lately?) Here are a few things it does for you, all summed up neatly as "ecological services." (You want service, you got it.) * The nitrogen cycle; * The carbon cycle; * The water cycle; * Some additional aspects of the weather (e.g., microorganisms seed clouds, which end up making rain); * Filtering of waste water by bivalves (e.g., clams), plants, and other millions of organisms in streams, marshes, and estuaries; * Decomposition of dead plants and animals (by the very big all the way down to the microscopic); * Pollination by bees, bats, and butterflies of most of the crops billions of people depend on for their daily diet. Consider that the rest of the life on this planet - with the exception of millions of penned-up domesticates, race horses, and most pets - would do quite fine with no more humans, we would last only a few weeks if all the insects died off at once. If all the bacteria died, we wouldn't live even that long. So many people live in their little bubbles of processed air, food, and water that they forget how everything they need to live ultimately comes from a living being. What use is biodiversity? More than you are or I am. Maybe more than the whole lot of us.

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