This is your life and it is ending one species at a time.
Yes, ok, so Edward Norton was recently(ish) appointed UN goodwill ambassador for biodiversity and this gives the possibility of all kinds of Fight Club quips. Fight Club remains one of my all time favourite films, but unlike his character in the film that redefined IKEA, this time Norton seems to have worked out who he is and what he wants to say. He has written a Guardian piece worth reading.
I've said many times before that climate change is not the greatest moral challenge of our time. Indeed, I don't even believe it is the greatest ecological challenge (and not just because putting in the basket labelled "environment" can make it seem like a luxury cause for the rich). Out of all the ecological crises we face, some are more pressing than others. Yet there are (at least) three ways to measure threats: how soon they will really begin to hurt, how much hurt they might do, and how long they will continue to hurt. In other words, their proximity, scale and duration.
From what I've read, biodiversity loss "wins" as the real elephant in (or disappearing from) the room. Perhaps not on proximity - other issues may well cut into human well-being sooner - but in terms of both scale and duration biodiversity losses have all kinds of potentially enormous (and largely unknown) knock-on effects. Most biologists agree that we are currently at the opening of the sixth great extinction event, that, viewed in retrospect, the present era will likely be visible as on a par or worse than most of the cataclysmic biological events on geological timescales. Humanity has become a force of nature.
And it is not just extinctions, but the loss of genetic diversity with species and of the functions that species decimated but not yet extinct no longer play in the web of life.
Haven't species always gone extinct? It's true; we don't see many dinosaurs around today. Indeed, based on fossil records, only about ten percent of all the species to have existed are still around today. Yet the current rate of loss is likely to be between one hundred and one thousand times the background natural rate, and all the primary drivers of these trends are linked to human activities: land use changes, habitat destruction, pollutants, logging, over-exploitation, invasive species and anthropogenic climate change.
Why do we care? Once again, if our undoing of God's creation isn't enough to make us sit up and take notice, there remains naked self-interest. Biodiversity loss has been likened to flying in a plane and watching the rivets pop out, one by one. Each one may not cause the failure of the plane, but cumulatively, things will get far less stable once enough rivets are lost.
And yet public awareness of biodiversity is poor. Campaigns in the past have focussed on individual charismatic megafauna. But while whale or rhinos might steal the headlines, the real losses are occurring all over the complex webs of interdependence that hold ecosystems (and the services they provide human society) together.
Currently underway in Japan is a major international Convention on Biological Diversity. A previous convention in 2002 set targets for 2010 that have been missed by a wide margin, according to a major biodiversity report published earlier this year.
Disappointingly, Australia hasn't really bothered to take the present meeting seriously, sending neither PM nor even environment minister, though over 100 heads of state or environment ministers from around the world will be present during the final days of the convention.
This too is part of our world today. Unless we begin to understand the effects our idolatries have on our planet as well as our souls, then we will remain enslaved to self-destructive patterns of life.