On the chance that you haven’t penciled it into your calendar yet – the next United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity will be held in October in the city of Kunming, China. If for no other reason, the location has symbolic importance given that China is an enthusiastic contributor to species extinction and environmental degradation.
On my last stay in Kunming, I enjoyed visiting the Huatingsi Monastery and the surrounding traditional villages. I imagine even the monks there have more interest in biological diversity than we in the West. In as much as the value of human diversity can spark controversy in the U.S., the wider scope and conversation of biological diversity doesn’t exactly make its way to the dinner table. Darling, pass the veal cutlets.
The U.S. is the only holdout on the planet – the only country that has not signed onto the Convention on Biological Diversity. Actually, there is one other: the Vatican.
This is the second such convention. The first took place a decade ago – long before researchers saw what was all too obvious for the gorillas and bats: that the prevalent spread of nasty microbes from animals to humans is tied to decreased biological diversity. At the 2010 debut meeting of 196 nations there were many targets set, virtually none of them met. Even so, you’d think that the one country that gloms 25 percent of the earth’s resources would put a tree-hugger bureaucrat on a plane to clink a few glasses in China.
For our own sake and that of the web of life we (temporarily) inhabit, we sincerely hope that some traction is gained. French President Emmanuel Macron asserts protecting and conserving the planet’s natural systems is the “fight of the century.”
I’m not actually sure what “fight” Macron is referring to. Who is squaring off?
The obvious reference is the political will to protect forests, jungles, coral reefs and other natural environments from the human obsession to plunder their treasures. The European Union has already made its commitment to conserve 30 percent of its land mass, and the U.N. wants to follow suit with a similar commitment at the upcoming Convention.
And there are more obvious references. For example, there is mounting scientific research linking the rate of natural habitat degradation and fragmentation to the spread of deadly diseases. (Rumor has it there is one going around as we speak). The Center for Disease Control now says that three-quarters of new diseases are zoonotic – transmitted from animals to humans. A full third of all disease is correlated with land use change.
Industrial agriculture leads the way in destroying natural habitat, and that includes the billions of cows, pigs and chickens that serve as unsuspecting hosts for harmful microbes. In diverse, natural environments these same microbes are more likely to attach to different hosts – ones that do not ordinarily come in contact with humans. “The crucial point,” according to Andy Dobson, Princeton professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, “is that there are probably 10 times more different species of viruses than there are of mammals. The numbers are against us and the emergence of new pathogens inevitable.”
The unfortunate reality of Macron’s “fight” to bolster biodiversity is that it won’t even make its way out of committee – so to speak. The (imperiled) elephants in the room, the U.S. and China, are locked on a competitive collision course, a duel for economic supremacy. Even Brazil, the planet’s biodiversity epicenter, is intentionally turning a blind eye to a slash-and-burn-everything-in-sight program.
So what if 60 percent of the earth’s wildlife has been lost in the last five decades – and up to a million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction? Americans aren’t about to relinquish their backyard BBQ pork and lawn fertilizer, nor are the Chinese abandoning their own pursuit of a similar gluttonous consumer-led glory.
Catchy PowerPoint slide though: “Biodiversity: fight of the century.” What font type shall I use?
After years of globetrotting, Todd J. Broadman finds himself writing from his perch on the Palouse and loving the view. His policy briefs can be found at US Resist News: https://www.usresistnews.org/