By Jaclyn Lopez
(Editor's Update: On the day the following article was published, a new report by the World Wildlife Fund documents a 30 percent decrease since the 1970s in global biodiversity.)
Biodiversity is the life blood of the planet and it is vanishing at an alarming rate.
All species – large and small – play an important role in shaping and sustaining the Earth as we know it. The concentration and variety of these species is known as biological diversity, or simply, biodiversity. While biodiversity can be measured empirically – the more forms of life sustained in an area, the more bio-diverse that area is – identifying a singular method for valuing biodiversity proves more elusive.
[caption id="attachment_17818" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="Cuttlefish are not fish but molluscs. Recent studies indicate that cuttlefish are among the most intelligent invertebrates.Cuttlefish have one of the largest brain-to-body size ratios of all invertebrates. (Photo: Flickr OSP:: MattersKnots) "][/caption]
By its very nature, the intrinsic value of biodiversity cannot be measured, yet is recognized by some as reason enough for its preservation. For others, biodiversity holds extrinsic value which is reflected in the joy it brings to our lives. An appreciation of the wonder of life and the sense that we are connected to something greater than ourselves can help us appraise the worth of biodiversity.
Meanwhile, a more practical perspective allows us to place a concrete commercial value on biodiversity. Species help ensure clean water and clear skies. They support healthy forests and productive farms by serving as natural predators and pollinators. We frequently look to biodiversity in search of cures to diseases. Biodiversity provides us with tangible, beneficial and irreplaceable products and services, in addition to emotional and spiritual rewards.
The United States is particularly privileged with an astounding variety of unique and curious species, and a remarkable citizenry passionate about defending them. In signing the Endangered Species Act into law, President Richard Nixon noted:
Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.
The Endangered Species Act is our nation’s premier environmental law aimed at safeguarding biodiversity by saving species that are on the brink of extinction. It acknowledges that all plants and animals, including invertebrates, insects, lichens, and fungi, warrant protection against the pressures of human development.
The Act has been nearly 100% successful in preventing the extinction of listed species, and some species have recovered under the Act to the point where they can be taken off the endangered species list. Despite its success, some listed species still remain precariously close to disappearing forever.
Still there are others that despite being highly imperiled, do not yet enjoy safety under the Act; these species live on the razor’s edge and are often times, one storm, one strip mall, one oil spill away from annihilation.
Whether you care about biodiversity because of the smile it brings to your face or because you value the services it provides, you too play an important role in shaping and sustaining the Earth as we know it.
Identify why biodiversity is important to you, become educated on the species and issues that interest you, and get involved in protecting what matters to you.
Jaclyn Lopez is a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.