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World biodiversity day

May 22nd, 2008

According to Wikipedia, today is the International Day for Biological Diversity. I don’t tend to write much about this, but my concern over global warming is based, to a great extent, on the losses in biodiversity that will inevitably result from climate change, even at rates that don’t greatly damage human economic activity in general.

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  1. May 23rd, 2008 at 00:35 | #1

    Others argue that human population numbers, even more than global warming, are destroying biodiversity. This is happening in South East Queensland where Koalas and Squirrel gliders are endangered as the result of the Bligh Government’s insane determination to cram millions more people into Queensland in coming decades.

    Without adequate biodiversity our global life support system could collapse.

    A site which promotes biodiviersity is biodiversityfirst.googlepages.com

  2. Salient Green
    May 23rd, 2008 at 09:21 | #2

    A similar fate is planned for SA and given the interconnection between biodiversity destruction, AGW and population growth, I decided recently to join Sustainable Population Australia.
    http://www.population.org.au/
    Population growth is largely being encouraged by the Real Estate industry, surprise surprise.

  3. May 23rd, 2008 at 09:47 | #3

    Too right.

    The direct economic costs of losing, say, the alpine grasslands of the Australian high country, will be minimal. But is it a disaster? Bloody oath.

  4. Salient Green
    May 23rd, 2008 at 10:08 | #4

    There is an equally insane plan to grow SA’s population massively.
    Because of the interconnection between biodiversity destruction, AGW and population growth, I recently decided to join Sustainable Population Australia.
    http://www.population.org.au/

  5. Andrew
    May 23rd, 2008 at 11:06 | #5

    It’s an interesting ethical and philosophical debate. If a species goes extinct – does it matter?

    I’d say – if it is a warning sign that the environment is getting stressed to the point that it will impact humanity – then yes, it is a problem. If there is no ongoing issue, and it’s simply a matter of a small population of rare animal (or plant) failing to adapt to a changing environment then so what. Species have been going extinct and evolving into new species since the dawn of time. The environment continues to change – adapt or perish.

  6. May 23rd, 2008 at 11:32 | #6

    I’ve become convinced that most of the population cannot even recognise environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity. Not so long ago I didn’t recognise it myself.

    I’ve been doing bush regen for 18 months now, and where I once saw beautiful rolling green hills and lush pasture, I now see environmental devastation, weed infestation, and loss of habitat.

    If there’s one single activity that I can recommend to anyone concerned about this issue its bush regen. Clearing weeds, planting trees and seeing the bush (and wildlife) come back by itself is immensely satisfying … and we all need a bit of cheering up at the moment.

  7. O6
    May 23rd, 2008 at 12:11 | #7

    5, yes, species have become extinct throughout time. The fossil record suggests that over 90% of lineages have become extinct. There are two points of distinction between pre-Homo sapiens and now:
    1. the current rate of loss of species is huge, probably comparable to the known mass extinctions millions of years ago
    2. there is no evidence that the current rate of development of new species is any faster than in the past.
    Leaving aside philosophical or spiritual considerations, simplified ecosystems are less stable and robust than complex ones.
    It all points to H. sapiens joining the great majority.

  8. wilful
    May 23rd, 2008 at 13:43 | #8

    I like (strange word to use) this website: http://www.well.com/~davidu/extinction.html

    If it wasn’t for biodiversity impacts, global warming would overall be a little bit of a good thing – faster plant growth, warmer winters, what’s not to like?

    Carbonsink, that’s an interesting point you make about the aesthetics and recognition of what is and isn’t a healthy landscape.

    Andrew, you are so very wrong. The rate of extinction is massively above anything close to natural. Last time it took a massive comet, this time it’s only human inguenity.

  9. frankis
    May 23rd, 2008 at 14:45 | #9

    Andrew at #5 you say you’re unconcerned by the harm we’re inflicting on other species. Yet you probably would like to believe that you might pass the Niemoller test (“First they came for the Jews … “) should it come to it. For instance, when Johnny Howard and his minions were for a long, horrifying moment in history demonising drowning women and child refugees as “terrorists” – I bet you weren’t thinking “Oh just let them drown”, were you? Wouldn’t it be lacking in human compassion to be careless of the suffering of other living creatures, whether or not you had calculated their suffering as likely to have a direct effect on your life (or your children’s)?

  10. Andrew
    May 23rd, 2008 at 15:05 | #10

    “Wouldn’t it be lacking in human compassion to be careless of the suffering of other living creatures”

    Frankis – who said anything about compassion or suffering? Be careful not to conflate extinction (a group concept) with suffering (an individual issue). A species can become extinct with no suffering involved.

  11. frankis
    May 23rd, 2008 at 15:44 | #11

    Can you prove that, Andrew? I agree it’s hypothetically possible that “a species can become extinct with no suffering involved” – but can you prove it? If you can’t prove that you’d inflict no suffering while extinguishing (via indirect effects on climate or the environment) a group, is there a burden on you to not carelessly create a possibility of suffering?

  12. Ernestine Gross
    May 23rd, 2008 at 20:07 | #12

    Re 3, Robert Merkel,

    It depends on the notion of ‘economic cost’. If an accounting-finance interpretation is used then you are probably right in saying that the cost of losing Alpine grasland is ‘small’. But ‘bloody oath’ may be right if an economic cost measure such as ‘state contingent valuation’ is used.

  13. May 23rd, 2008 at 20:16 | #13

    Andrew,

    The problem is many plant and animal species are now effectively confined to isolated ghettos surrounded by towns and farms. This makes survival in the face of perturbations like climate change much more difficult than it once was. We also don’t understand enough about our ecology to know what wider ramifications may result from the extinction of any particular species.

  14. El Mono
    May 24th, 2008 at 02:17 | #14

    frankis- While i not give any specific examples i suppose an example would be a change that makes animals sterile or unwilling to mate.

  15. frankis
    May 24th, 2008 at 07:56 | #15

    Yes not a bad point El Mono, unless I suppose you in your place suffer at all when you’re either unable or unwilling to mate? There is after all plenty of human history, psychology and Vi*gr* sales figures to suggest that depression or suffering correlates with people’s lack of ability or opportunity to mate. That being said I’d admit that I don’t mind too much the thought of either extinguishing groups of things like malarial mosquitoes altogether or at least badly cramping their sex lives. Despite the suffering such extinguishment would inflict on frogs and others that would have fewer mosquito larvae to snack upon. Point? – even the wiping out of pests like mozzies should for our own sake be done thoughtfully, certainly not carelessly or without compassion. Ecosystems are complex and we’re impacting on most of them.

  16. MH
    May 25th, 2008 at 15:23 | #16

    Carbonsink – On our bit of ‘scrub by the highway’ (My dearest’s description) the temporary cessation of agricultural activity due to climate change has given us both cause to pause and stand back objectively to realise that we actually own(well temporarily) a vast track of endangered species (flora and fauna)that has begun to bounce back in a remarkable manner, despite the lack of rainfall. So we are slowly clearing away introduced weed species and now are refocusing on a property that can sustain itself with native grasses and pastures (which were there all along and have survived very well indeed, which is despite the hard work it will entail,immensely satisfying. OUtput will never be the same levels of the past but long term viability will now make up for the short term loss. The critical thing and the key point for this discussion is; we would really be struggling if were not for this natural biodiversity and our good luck was to find a place some time ago that conventional agribusinesses would turn their noses up at. We have given up on the rest of the world that still cannot recognise the conjunction of some very serious and critical outliers have arrived to bring a slow decline and end to life and business as usual. As Kunstler aptly described the future – welcome to the long emergency. No biodiversity no future.

  17. May 25th, 2008 at 17:02 | #17

    a vast track of endangered species (flora and fauna)that has begun to bounce back in a remarkable manner

    Is it not wonderful to behold?

    After knocking back the weeds for a while you begin to wonder why you spent so much tubestock because there are so many natives popping up for free!

  18. Peter Wood
    May 26th, 2008 at 12:18 | #18

    As far as environmental issues are concerned, the elephant in the room seems to be that we are experiencing a global extinction event. Roughly speaking, factors driving this seem to be habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution, invasive alien species, and climate change.

    I would prefer there to be a halt to logging of previously unlogged forest and a halt to land clearing brought about through regulation, but we could have taxes on both the habitat loss and carbon loss associated with these activities. Reforestation and revegetation could attract a negative tax.

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