Historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari put it ever so bluntly in his best selling book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ (highly recommended reading):
“Long before the Industrial Revolution, Homo sapiens held the record among all organisms for driving the most plant and animal species to their extinctions. We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of biology”
In 2019, the United Nations published the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services which echoed Yuval’s comments. This report provided overwhelming evidence that nature is declining at unprecedented rates and reiterated it is not too late to make a difference. A summary of the report can be found here.
Despite our destructive tendencies, there are still some places that remain relatively undisturbed by modern society. Recent studies highlight the whereabouts (3) and value (4) of these wilderness areas to:
- biodiversity conservation, by reducing species extinction risk,
- earth system functioning, by stabilising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and
- supporting the cultural integrity of many indigenous communities worldwide
An area-based approach is often considered one of the best techniques to maintain a large proportion of the world‘s biodiversity. Like the wilderness areas above, biodiversity hotspots have been identified by multiple environmental organisations to ensure targeted investment in biologically rich and threatened ecosystems. The principles behind these priority zones are quite interesting. For example, Conservation International have identified 36 biodiversity hotspots that account for only 2.4% of the earth’s landmass yet represent 35% of the ecosystem services that humans depend on (ie. food and water, flood and disease control, climate regulation) and over 40% of the world’s endemic species - those found nowhere else (5).
Emerging evidence suggests ‘hotspots’ run the risk of devaluing other areas or ‘coldspots’. As a result, a preferred approach is one where scientific policy guides conservation priorities (6). The power of leadership and policy can not be underestimated. We’ve seen the Trump administration significantly alter environmental policies, speeding up nature’s decline (7). I’m sure you can imagine how pleased we were to see Joe Biden announced as the president-elect - it’s promising to see his commitment to overrule some of these detrimental decisions (8).
Protecting the precious ecosystems that remain and aiding their recovery is not a one size fits all approach.