Most literate people who know the word ‘biodiversity’ will agree today that it is essential for long-term survival of humankind. Tribals and traditional farmers and many others living close to nature probably know this truth in their bones. Biodiversity is essential for our basic survival needs of food and health. Biodiversity of bacteria, fungi and countless micro-organisms is essential for healthy soil and hence for sustainable agriculture; we need biodiversity of the oceans which also provide fish, a staple food of 20% of the world’s population and of forests, our major carbon sinks, which continue to provide ingredients for medicines and much more. Even for genetically modified organisms, (which would destroy biodiversity, ironically), genes of diverse organisms are used to make new drugs and crops.
But the human species seems to be biting the hand that feeds it. Scientists say that several species are being lost every single day. By 2050, it is expected that 30% of species on earth today would be extinct and by 2100, more than half the species will be gone. Large numbers of species go extinct when their habitat is destroyed, as for instance, to grow palm oil or corn and soya for livestock required by the meat industry; Other large-scale activities and pollution that are causing mass extinction of species are chemical agriculture, overfishing, mining and innumerable factories that pollute the air, water and land.
Only a few species, such as the Dodo in Mauritius, the Passenger Pigeon in America and the Cheetah in India, have become extinct by people hunting them down individually and in small groups. All the major ways of destruction of biodiversity mentioned above would not be possible except by big businesses, with huge investments in machinery and equipment for mining, manufacturing / processing, marketing and media campaigns. Only big businesses possess the ability to inflict such massive destruction. A small fleet of fishermen on boats can never do as much damage as a huge mechanized trawler.
Yet in school textbooks, newspapers and even in various environmental fora, the term bio-diversity is mentioned largely in connection with the importance of preserving habitats or specific species – but rarely is the biggest culprit mentioned directly and openly. Why is it difficult to see the connections? If we point a finger at the large businesses and multinationals, we often hear this reaction: after all, the big businesses are merely responding to the demand from millions of people like you and me. But is that so? Did human kind first hunger for countless consumer products and then these were provided by big businesses? Or are media and the drive for profits creating the demand? Another reaction is – isn’t our huge exploding population the problem? True, increasing population does contribute to the crises, but it is high population combined with high consumption which is the bigger problem. And high consumption is driven by big businesses.
The issue is not that we should set the clock back and close all big businesses – but that we should be judicious about what kind of big businesses it is wise to continue and what kinds of huge corporations and their products we need to dispense with, because they only leave large populations bereft of their land and livelihoods, and the earth bereft of her fantastic bio-diversity. If we are to transition at all towards sustainable living and allow future generations their right to a healthy planet, we cannot escape naming the major culprits that destroys biodiversity - big businesses that are ever spreading their tentacles across the globe. I do hope you enjoy this issue of Bhoomi, which offers several perspectives on biodiversity, understanding its value, not only in moral and scientific terms, but also to look at possible road maps for financial accounting of Natural capital, Earth Jurisprudence and Localisation of food as one of the possible solutions.