Today, the internationally acknowledged basis for agreements on environmental protection, resource management, and conservation, consists of the principles of sustainable development and the maintenance of biodiversity. The concept of sustainable development is based on the realization that the conditions for economic activities will continue to deteriorate in the future, if the natural resources underlying these activities continue to be destroyed at the present rate.
By exploiting non-renewable raw materials, we consume resources as if making withdrawals from a limited saving account, without making deposits. At the same time, our species is using renewable resources above and beyond their regeneration capacity. The earth’s limited absorption capacity is overtaxed by emissions and waste volumes, leading to consequential ecological costs, which can no longer be ignored. A discussion about the fundamental rules involved in our economies is tantamount to a renaissance of nature as a factor in the production-function concept.
The supplies of resources, and the absorption of residuals, both prerequisites for economic activities, are to be seen as irreplaceable functions of nature. The preservation of the capital stock (= natural resources) is a key element of sustainable development. Unlike current approaches, this capital stock should at least be kept at a constant level to prevent future generations from suffering from shortages of natural resources or a deterioration of environmental quality. First and foremost, sustainable development means preserving the vital functions of the environment, including the potential for change, evolution and self-regulation.
Biodiversity is meant to be all-inclusive; it is the genetic-based variation of living organisms at all levels. It includes the world’s millions of species and the ecological systems they live in, ranging from Polar Regions with relatively few species, to the tropics with their great abundance of different life forms. Conserving biodiversity provides us with at least three domains of benefit:
- Maintenance of our ecosystems in healthy condition
- Source of new pharmaceuticals, crops, fibers etc., all holding economic value
- ‘Biophilia’, which is a term used by E.O. Wilson to describe the natural affiliation humans have for the natural environment
In the words of paleontologist Niles Eldredge, it is our failure to recognize our connection with the global ecosystem that lies behind the biodiversity crisis facing our planet. We have to recognize that biological diversity is part of our heritage and is incomparably older and more complex than anything else.
Our own single species, out of the 5-30 million species that exist today, consumes nearly half of the total produce from land-based ecosystems, and 25% of all plant energy from the land and sea combined. Today there are less than 1 million elephants, but 100 million cattle on earth. These numbers do not reflect intrinsic worthiness, but rather developed usefulness. And yet, we must confront the demographic realities honestly, if we hope to preserve biodiversity, achieve a sustainable development, and to prevent a massive Sixth Extinction.
Although it may be impossible to determine the exact rate of extinction, estimates are that about 27,000 species are lost each year, which means that three species are lost forever every hour. It is also commonly accepted that there is a relationship between habitat loss and species numbers. Reducing a habitat’s original size by 10% is expected to eventually lead to the numbers of species inhabiting that area dropping by half. Every species that disappears is a loss of evolutionary potential. Human-caused extinction is up between a thousand and ten thousand times over what it was before humans came to Earth. This is far in excess of the rate at which new species are being created. So again, we are quickly running out of the capital that took many millions of years to create.
We all depend on a healthy ocean; a healthy ocean depends on us. Let us be the change we would like to see in the world. Our new Ocean Sentinels Club is proof that conservation can be fun, rewarding and effective. The Club unites and empowers citizens to advocate for the conservation of dolphins and the marine environment across Palm Beach County, and beyond. Join us. The time is now. It begins with you.