Biodiversity is integral to the planet’s life support system and is the planet’s most valuable resource. Going often unappreciated, biodiversity is what powers the many free services Earth provides, such as fertile soil, clean air, and fresh water. We need biodiversity to clean up our waste, pollinate our plants, and provide our food. Without biodiversity we could not exist. With this in mind, the benefits of conservation clearly outweigh the costs.
Benefits of Conservation – Medical Research
In the US, 25% of all prescription drugs are derived from plants, 13% are from micro-organisms, and 3% are from animals. This means around 40% are sourced from living organisms. Only a very small fraction of biodiversity has been investigated for prospective pharmaceuticals. With the rainforests harbouring 50% of all known species on Earth, they are our best chance of finding more cures to the plethora of conditions and diseases affecting our lives.
With discovery of antibiotics struggling to keep up with evolved resistance, and as we are in the wake of emerging super-diseases and ever increasing population density, there was never a better time to care for the environment.
“In the end, our society will be judged not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy.” – John C. Sawhill
Medical researchers are locked in an arms race against rapidly evolving micro-organisms that will certainly get more intense. With every species vanishing from the earth goes the unique genetic information assembled over millions of years to protect and repair the species from disease, bacterial or otherwise, in some cases identical to those afflicting humans.
In the treatment of cancers, 70% of plants containing anti-cancer compounds identified by the US National Cancer Institute are only found in tropical rainforests.
Benefits of Conservation – Global Warming
When forests are cleared, it results in more carbon in the atmosphere and less organisms able to store that carbon safely. More carbon in the atmosphere speeds up climate change, which negatively affects countless species including our own. As temperature is a cue for many animals and plants to enter different parts of their life cycle, some are out of sequence with the other organisms they depend on. For instance, if a flower is triggered to open earlier than it should due to climate change, the pollinating organism may not be active at that time of year. This means no pollination and, subsequently, no more flowers.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have assessed that global temperature will rise by 1.0 – 3.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. This will cause multiple negative effects, including the partial break-up of the Antarctic and Greenland ice shelves raising the water level by 30 cm. The rise in sea level will result in problems for coastal nations, including partial obliteration of some pacific countries. This increase in temperature is almost certainly attributed to the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide due to burning fossil fuels.
Benefits of Conservation – Conclusion
Preservation of biodiversity should be a high priority. Although it is true that extinction is a fact of life, and even paradoxically the driving force of contemporary life itself, if extinctions continue at current rates, we will lose a considerable proportion of the world’s species. The first five extinction events took natural selection ten million years to recover to pre-disaster levels of diversity. Scientists conclude we are at the beginning on the sixth. Wildlife conservation is therefore highly important and the benefits of conservation are numerous and total. In order for the wonder of the natural world to have the same effect on your children’s children as it has had on you, we need to conserve what we have.