Transformative Change Needed as 1 Million Species Face Extinction

July 4, 2019 | Thomas McAuley-Biasi

Transformative Change Needed as 1 Million Species Face Extinction

UN Global Assessment finds that 25% of plants and animals will disappear within decades due to human activity

On the 6th of May, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Plenary approved the Summary for Policymakers of the Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Paris, France. This global assessment, being released in full later this year, found that human activity is causing 25% of assessed plant and animal species to face extinction, some within the next few decades.

The assessment, put together by 145 expert authors from around 8 the world, highlighted changes in land and sea use, exploitation of species, climate change, pollution, and invasive species as the main factors driving the current decline in global biodiversity. As human consumption increases, more and more natural resources are being used up, to the detriment of both the natural world and ourselves. While humans as a species are typically considered outside of the natural world, our livelihood and health depends heavily on nature.

In the natural world, we have all come to understand the negative impacts our actions can have. We’ve all seen images of pelicans drenched in oil, of starving polar bears looking for land, and of sea turtles caught in fishing nets. Without changing our actions, these images will repeat over and over as 1 million species slowly disappear- and at this point, that really shouldn’t come as a surprise.

What’s typically forgotten, but highlighted within the assessment, is the effect biodiversity has on humans. As we destroy our coral reefs and marine habitats we put 100-300 million people, worldwide, at an increased risk of floods and hurricanes. As we continue to destroy terrestrial ecosystems and lower biodiversity we put more and more indigenous peoples and poor communities through hardship and risk, altering their way of life for the worse.

Fortunately, we still have time. If we change our economic, social, political, and technological values to favour the environment, we can enact beneficial changes. It has already been found that better social, economic, and ecological outcomes can be achieved by turning ecosystem functions and nature’s contribution to humans into economic incentives. As the assessment calls out, this is the sort of transformative change that we need.

While a degree of this change will need to come through international cooperation and laws, individuals still have a large role to play. We need to reduce our consumption, our waste production, and change our own views. For Canadians, in the short term, we have the opportunity to evaluate our priorities when going to the polls in October. In the long term, we need to change how and what we consume. But in the long term, we need to change how and what we consume.

We know land use, pollution, and invasive species are all major drivers of biodiversity loss. So how can we affect positive change as individuals? Buying local, shifting away from single-use plastics, buying products with less packaging, and planting gardens with local species, are all easy ways that we can shift our consumption. Along with this, we need to hold our governments accountable for the environmental plans they promise us and campaign on- either as individuals or by joining our voices to eNGOs locally and worldwide. Money is said to be the universal language, so let’s speak with our wallets. When we collectively change our consumption patterns, we change our social priorities, and ultimately change what is valued by society.

We now know what our actions are causing - 1 million extinctions. We can either accept that fact or take our emotions and turn them into action. The story isn’t finished yet.