In this issue of Need to Know: Science & Insight I look at some of the underlying causes of extinctions, what can be done, and how you and I can help. And, believe it or not, it starts with a breakfast with a cassowary, a really big en and dangerous endangered species.
Is there a middle ground between economic interests, livelihoods and conservation?
By Stephen Leahy
VANCOUVER, Canada (IPS)
The Earth’s life support system, which generates the planet’s air, water and food, is powered by 8.7 million living species, according to the latest best estimate. We know little about 99 percent of those unique species, except that far too many are rapidly going extinct.
What can be done to slow down this process, which could eventually lead to the extinction of the human species?
“The challenge is to find the middle ground between economic interests, livelihoods and conservation,” says Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, the newly appointed head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the international agency charged with helping countries slow and reverse the loss of plants, animals and other species.
A native of Brazil, Dias holds a doctorate in zoology from the University of Edinburgh, and worked for many years at the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, where his last position prior to joining the CBD was as Secretary of Biodiversity and Forests.
An exclusive interview with BRAULIO FERREIRA DE SOUZA DIAS, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity
Q: Why are species going extinct and why does it matter?
Youth Demand Need a Voice. Halting Biodiversity Decline Impossible Without Economic Transformation
Analysis by Stephen Leahy
NAGOYA, Japan, Nov 1, 2010 (IPS)
The international community has finally awoken to the other great trans-boundary challenge of our time, with a new international agreement to halt the unravelling of the web of life that sustains humanity.
The new agreement by 193 nations that are part of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity includes a commitment to reduce the rate of species loss by half by 2020, as well as the historic Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing of genetic resources.
This awakening only applies to the few early risers. The vast majority remain asleep, unaware of our utter dependence on the living things that are the one and only source of oxygen, water, food and fuel. And unaware that nature is our reality while the economy is simply a complicated game we created.
Japan imports more than 60 percent of its food and most of Europe’s ecosystems have been trashed, with only 17 percent in reasonable shape, according to a first-ever assessment. The only reason those countries haven’t collapsed is they are rich enough to help themselves to nature’s ecological resources and services like food, timber, materials from the rest of the world.
Put a glass lid over Japan, Germany or England and they wouldn’t last long.
“We exploited the biological resources abroad, especially in the South. This is why we, the people of Aichi, Nagoya, must apologise…for the deterioration of the ecosystems and biodiversity we have caused,” says a public appeal by civil society from Nagoya, the host city of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for the last two weeks of October.
The Japanese government wanted no part of this apology, says Kinhide Mushakoji, one of the organisers and a professor at the Osaka University of Economics and Law. The appeal was signed by 156 organisations in Japan.
By Stephen Leahy
FORT LAUDERDALE, U.S., Jul 10 (IPS) – One third of reef-building corals already face extinction because of climate change, the first-ever global assessment has found.
Reefs are made up of hundreds of coral species, and a two-year study to determine the current status of corals has discovered that 231 of the 704 species assessed will be “red-listed” Thursday. This means these 231 species meet the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Criteria for species at risk of extinction in the near future.
Previously, only 10 species of corals had been red-listed, mainly because no proper assessment had been done before.
“We were not expecting the numbers to be that high,” said Suzanne Livingstone of the IUCN’s Global Marine Species Assessment (GMSA) in Norfolk, Virginia. The paper was published Thursday in Science.
If the same assessment of corals had been done 20 years ago, only 13 of the 704 species would have been red-listed, Livingstone told IPS at the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. However, in that short time span, climate change has warmed the oceans and begun to make them more acidic and corals are suffering.
“It’s frightening when you think about it,” she said.
[Update Mar 3 2011: An Alaska oil industry trade group representing 15 oil & gas companies sued the US federal government because it banned drilling in 187,157 square miles as polar bear critical habitat. They claim plenty of polar bears without offering any evidence. And it’s not like Alaskan oil interests haven’t run the state for years. My article below documents how 30 million acres of polar bear habitat were auctioned off in a big hurry in 2008. It really is all about oil/gas $ VS survival of polar bears. — Stephen]
[Update: May 1 2010 – Alaska’s polar bears are now official listed as threatened. In April 2010, the Obama administration tried but failed to get the world’s 20-25,000 remaining polar bears listed as endangered species. What a difference a new administration makes .–Stephen]
By Stephen Leahy
BROOKLIN, Canada, Mar 11, 2008 (IPS)
A coalition of environmental groups sued the George W. Bush administration Monday for delaying a decision to protect polar bears threatened with extinction due to the melting ice in its Arctic habitat. Polar bears could be the first species officially threatened by climate change.
The huge loss of summer sea ice in 2007 has caused many scientists to project that the Arctic could be ice-free in summer by as soon as 2012. Although excellent swimmers, polar bears are not very good at catching seals in the water. Seals comprise the main diet for these giant bears, which are far larger than their grizzly bear cousins.
While legally required to make a decision Jan. 9, US Fish and Wildlife (U.S. FWS) officials have been silent. Meanwhile on Feb. 6, 2.6 billion dollars in oil and gas leases were auctioned off to energy companies on nearly 30 million acres of prime polar bear habitat in the Alaska’s Chukchi Sea.
“Coincidence? I doubt it, but I don’t have the smoking gun to prove it,” said Kassie Siegel of the Centre for Biological Diversity (CBD), an environmental non-governmental organisation based in Joshua Tree, California.
The CBD, along with Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defence Council, filed the suit for missing the legal deadline for issuing a final decision on whether to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act due to global warming.
“There was absolutely no urgency to hold that lease sale and plenty of public opposition to it as well,” Siegel told IPS. Continue reading