Understanding Ecosystem & Society on World Environment Day
Every year on World Environment Day we hear speeches, campaigns and slogans on saving our planet. We plant saplings on this day – without really knowing anything about the sapling, we vow to never use plastic again (when the very next minute we end up buying groceries that come packed in plastic). What if we told you that merely planting a random sapling on one day of the year, trying to cut out plastic from our lives, drinking with re-usable straws in reusable cups and wearing sustainable clothing is just not going to ensure the longevity of our planet?
Today, we are going to try to break it down and help you understand the basics of our Environment, let us talk about Biodiversity and protection of which should be the most important environmental conservation activity that governments across the globe should be considering.
The variety of life on Earth in all its forms, shapes, structure and interactions is known as Biological Diversity (biodiversity, in short). This biodiversity is the core of any Ecosystem on this planet and the most intricate feature on Earth.
There are many levels at which we need to understand the biodiversity of any ecosystem – Genes and Species come first, then the biodiversity of our local community and then comes the wide range of ecological systems on this planet which have made this planet suitable to live. The air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat is all because of the ecosystems and the biodiversity.
Coral reefs, mangroves, swamp forests, etc are a few of the physiological features of our Ecosystem - these protect us from floods, drought, cyclones & tsunamis, and are especially valuable for those living around ecologically sensitive areas. In addition, biological diversity and its richness have innumerable benefits to human beings. For example, several medicines are derived from nature to fight deadly diseases such as cancer. The Western Ghats (a biodiversity hotspot) are rich with plant varieties that have been found to control diabetes, respiratory ailments, etc.,
When we calculate the goods & services of biodiversity and ecosystems in terms of money as a measure then it is easily worth trillions of dollars - higher than the whole world’s GDP. Many studies have been carried out in terms of the value of ecosystems and also about their loss. There are approximate calculations about the losses, which roughly estimate up to about $ 4,500 – 7,000 million a year. And this loss is irrecoverable and sometimes irreversible. It’s called irreversible because with every deforestation activity the world permanently loses certain species of flora & fauna.
Did you know that there are 1.65 million species of animals, plants and fungi that have been recorded? Recent studies say that there are more than 7.5 million species that are yet to be identified and the maximum diversity is found to be in the tropics with India being one of the mega-diversity hotspots in the world! (Fascinating, right?)
Let’s look at it in this way - in a small plot of 50 acres in the Western Ghats region, one can find about 500 species of trees, which is equivalent to the whole of North America. Unfortunately, many of these species are lost even before we can identify them or even understand the role they play in the circle of life.
Sequestering(absorbing) atmospheric carbon, maintaining the global hydrological cycle, protecting & enriching the soil, regulating temperature and precipitation and thereby maintaining the global climate (which is under severe threat as of now) are a few reasons you need to maintain a healthy ecosystem. Also, it’s good to remember that the Indian sub-continent is blessed with a wide range of ecosystems- the Himalayas, the Thar Desert, the Western Ghats, the coastal & marine ecosystems which have been sustaining us and their protection should be the need of the hour.
It is time our governments focused on policies to strengthen natural resources and prioritize agriculture-based programmes and schemes. It is extremely necessary to design & implement grassroots level policies and framework with a focus on sustainable development models. Additionally, it is also important to constructively engage and involve the youth in promoting market-based conservation practices that will gradually open up larger green businesses, which will address environmental issues and concerns in the long term.
Next time, whenever our leaders take the stage to talk about the environment, let’s raise questions on what their policies are for protecting our ecosystems.
About Akshay Heblikar
Akshay Heblikar is a Director at Eco-Watch. Akshay completed his Masters in Environmental Sciences and was selected to represent India as a Kinship Conservation Fellow for his innovative conservation programme on protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems across Uttara Kannada dist. Karnataka. He is a member of BBMP Biodiversity Committee. While he is heading the CSR projects at Eco-Watch, his personal interest lies in developing a sustainable model of eco-tourism in Uttara Kannada. You can reach out to Akshay on firstname.lastname@example.org