Biodiversiwhat?

by Philipp Staudacher, 02.05.2022
Everyone speaks about biodiversity. But what does the term mean, and what are ecosystem services? A large part of our economy is directly dependent on biodiversity, and at the same time involved in its large-scale destruction. How can you personally do something about it?

Related SDGs

Biodiversity means the variety of life

Biodiversity encompasses the different forms of life (animal and plant species, fungi and microorganisms), the different habitats in which these species live (ecosystems such as water bodies or forests), and the genetic diversity within the respective species (varieties and breeds). In summary, biodiversity is all life existing on earth in its wide-ranging diversity. It is therefore also the basis and the potential of all ecosystem services.

Our society is based on ecosystem services

Globally, the economic value of all ecosystem services is estimated at up to 140,000 billion dollars per year. This is equivalent to approximately 25 cents per square meter of planet Earth. These services fall into the following four categories:

Economic provisioning: Numerous goods spring from the various ecosystems and their species. These include, for example, food, drinking water, energy sources, textile fibers, building materials or medical agents. Many livelihoods, such as those of fishermen, farmers, and woodworkers, are directly dependent on biodiversity.

Regulatory services: Natural systems protect against floods and avalanches and stop erosion. Further, they store CO2 and thus help regulate the climate.

Cultural services: Diverse landscapes satisfy human aesthetic demands and thereby promote recreation. Many aspects of our society that we experience as culture or tradition are derived from the local environment, and thus from local biodiversity. These include regional dishes, holiday customs, or even certain trades such as parts of medicine.

Supporting services: These include services that make all other services possible: These include, for example, oxygen production, water purification, maintenance of the nutrient cycle, or plant pollination.

Biodiversity loss is one of the greatest threats of our time

Our planet is threatened by a sixth mass extinction. Even common species that are fundamental to ecological processes are experiencing rapid and widespread population declines.

When we lose biodiversity, we undermine nearly all of the Sustainable Development Goals. Biodiversity loss imposes high costs on our economies and makes it more difficult to address other global challenges such as the climate crisis. It undermines human health and well-being, and reduces the resilience of society.

Terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic habitats are being destroyed, degraded, and fragmented by humans. As a result, ecosystem services are reduced. In addition to massive, ongoing losses, projections for the future also look grim. For coral reefs, for example, a further 70-90% decline is expected at 1.5°C global warming, and a 99% decline at 2°C.

Perpetual growth and inefficiencies as the main causes

Ecosystems are approaching critical thresholds and tipping points. When these are exceeded, permanent and irreversible changes occur, with corresponding negative ecological, economic, and social consequences.

The main drivers of biodiversity decline are growing demands for food, water, fuel, and land, combined with well-documented inefficiencies and misallocations of resources in global production and consumption systems. This is accompanied by habitat loss and fragmentation (often due to agriculture), overexploitation of natural resources (e.g. by fishing), pollution, invasive alien species, and the climate crisis.

Does a sustainable lifestyle help?

The most effective ways to protect biodiversity are at the national or international level. This involves the preservation and promotion of protected areas, legislation that counteracts the causes mentioned above, and related research.

As a private individual, however, you can still contribute: Education, as with most environmental issues, is one of the keys to success. Educate your friends and family, and don’t spare your co-workers. As public awareness increases, people become more involved, influencing government officials who can work to protect the environment.

The consumption of natural resources is one of the main causes of biodiversity loss. Therefore, it is our responsibility to consume products that are as environmentally friendly as possible. These are usually only credible if they have a label. But which label is the best? The WWF has compiled an overview for Switzerland: https://www.wwf.ch/de/lebensmittel-label-ratgeber (available in German, French and Italian) . Consumption of these products also increases the demand for environmentally friendly products, which prompts manufacturers to increase production. When in doubt, however, the following always applies: The most environmentally friendly product is the one that has not been purchased.

By making many small changes to our lifestyle, we can conserve resources and thereby protect biodiversity. A few examples are to take the bicycle instead of the car, to buy seasonal products or to move into a smaller apartment.

Protecting biodiversity with my finances

Biodiversity is central to our economy, our society, and the continuity of our environment. The ecosystem services provided are priceless and often irrecoverable. Their loss would be devastating. In addition to the tips above, you can soon make your money support you in protecting biodiversity. Instead of supporting companies that don’t care about the issue, with us you can choose companies that not only protect biodiversity, but actually promote it. More about this another time.

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