Biodiversity Research Paper

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Abstract

It is certain that the human species has to accept sharing the Earth and its ecosystem not only with other humans but also with other living beings.

Human activities can cause irreversible changes that harm this ecosystem. Human activities, justifiable as they may be for survival or development of one group, when harmful can lead to excesses, neglecting duties to other people or other species as well as the environment. Interdependence of humans and other living beings must be addressed for the survival of all species. The human species, having a predominant position within the biosphere, has a duty to care for the Earth and its biosphere, not as its owner but rather as its manager; this means not considering only producing immediate gains but also sustaining the vital interests of our species, in present and future generations. Solutions that balance immediate and long-term benefits may be found using a global perspective, taking account of all interlinked parameters in the world system: economic growth, consumption patterns, lifestyles, scientific and technological progress, and above all justice and equity. This necessitates addressing problems in the framework of international cooperation, in the spirit of universal solidarity. There are therefore multiple ethical aspects to biodiversity.

Introduction

Since the last century, in just a few decades, concern about an increasing rate of loss of biodiversity has become widespread among the public. It has ceased to be an exclusive concern of well-informed persons, ecology or biology scientists and experts. Indeed, these losses have been examined in the media, and it is becoming common knowledge that the loss of biodiversity is intimately linked to ecosystem changes, some of which are already visible and tangible. In places, ordinary people are already directly or indirectly coping and adapting to the global atmosphere’s warming, which is a major change in the global ecosystem. In places, people are facing historically unpredictable flooding of formerly inhabited lands or islands; in other places people are facing severe droughts, the spreading of deserts and consequent famine, shortage of clean drinking water, or unexpected health problems. These local upheavals can be causally linked to the change in the global ecosystem, and increasing rate of loss of biodiversity is another result. People are experiencing these changes over the span of one lifetime; significant changes and loss of biodiversity are in some places observed and experienced not in terms of millenniums or centuries but rather over decades or years.

This research paper will outline the concept of biodiversity, its meaning, the range of its dimensions, and its implications notably from an ethical point of view.

History And Development Of The Concept

Over the ages, Homo sapiens of all cultures have observed the variability of the living organisms in nature – countless varieties of plants with leaves and flowers of different colors and scents, all sorts of fruits with various flavors, and so much variety among animals: some crawling, some walking, some flying, and some swimming.

The fact that vital resources (e.g., food, medicine, and other services) are derived from nature has inevitably convinced humans, even by intuitive understanding, that variety in living nature has importance and interest for human existence. Indeed, humans must always have intuited that for survival, diversity in living nature is advantageous. That is the source for the idea that, given human capacity to do harm, there is now a duty that the diverse ecosystem should be protected. Yet, it is possible that humans could mistakenly believe that the healthy ecosystem, which has always been there, will remain stable and unchanged for all time.

The fragility of the ecosystem was foreseen by some philosophers of antiquity like Lucretius (98–54 BC) in his poetic work “De rerum natura” and its diversity recorded by scientists of the nineteenth century. Indeed, the present assertion that the diversity of living nature is to be protected from overexploitation is due to relatively recent progress of scientific knowledge. In particular it is the theory of evolution, the basis of modern biology, that explains that a healthy ecosystem is not stable in an unchanging way. By careful observation and deduction, it is now understood that over history, some living species have declined in number, and some become extinct. After Jean-Baptiste Lamarck completed the classification of invertebrates, Charles Darwin published in the year 1859 the first edition of On the Origin of Species (Darwin 1872), in which he highlights as a principle that these classifications of living nature are not fixed and stable. He was the first to formulate a reliably verifiable argument for evolution of species, by means of the operation of natural and sexual selection. Darwin upholds the thesis that living species are not fixed in groups and that they diversify over generations. Over time a particular species or population may increase in number or decline and even disappear. To explain changes that gradually arise and spread in a population, Darwin’s concept of natural selection allowed us to recognize how success of some traits is conditioned by interaction with the natural environment. Thanks to the work on genetics by Mendel, this theory of evolution is even better understood today. Evolution describes, within a given population, change in the inherited characteristics over successive generations toward those favored by a given ecosystem. An ecosystem can condition and give rise to diversity at every level of biological organization, including species, individual organisms, and molecules such as DNA and proteins (Bowler 1989). As a system, it will also be more stable if it can withstand some loss of biodiversity (as may occur in a drought year), if populations that remain are themselves diverse enough to “replace” the losses, as they diversify with time. Indeed, the most resilient ecosystem will necessarily include a great diversity of life forms or “biodiversity.”

Scientists agree that present biodiversity losses are due to multiple factors, some natural and some attributable to human activities (ICSU 1992). According to the political concept of conservation of nature, societies have to prepare to conserve the nature’s diversity by various measures, including by ensuring that any human exploitation of nature is justifiable, equitable, and ecologically sustainable. For instance, logging today causes vast areas to be deforested, leading also to desertification; industrial-scale agriculture today results in disrupted virgin forests and the invasion by nonnative species that establish and spread outside their normal habitat; harsh exploitation of land to extract raw materials on the surface, underground, at sea bottom, or from lakes or other waters may be justified by our present human development needs. But is the destructiveness of the practices used really necessary? Multiplying destructive practices can certainly harm ecosystems and cause the loss of biodiversity. Biodiversity plays an important role in the way ecosystems function, and drastic loss of biodiversity will impede the multitude of services people obtain from these ecosystems: nutrients, water recycling, soil formation and retention, resistance against invasive species, pollination of plants, regulation of climate, as well as pest and pollution control.

Ecosystem changes have positive or negative influence on biodiversity loss/gain rates in the immediate sense, for example, when atmosphere become warmer in the context of climate change (Meakin 1992). Scientists have contributed to an understanding that some human activities contribute, and possibly exacerbate, to ongoing environmental changes, and the rate and speed of biodiversity loss has come to be used as indication of a negative influence. It is now understood that human activities have increased the extinction species rate by at least 100 times compared to a natural (prior) rate. Confronted with the decline and extinction of some species, political conscience has been raised all over the world for improving the protection of nature. In some places, nature is being viewed as part of the shared commons or shared patrimony. Especially in the case of wasting natural resources, there is great concern. The conservationist idea has gradually led to measures to protect spaces like national parks, to protect the quality of air and water, and to establish use controls, such as for hunting and fishing or for land use. In parallel, relatively recent progress in the field of genetic engineering has allowed spread and commercialization of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These novel life forms that did not previously occur in nature are thus being introduced, in agriculture, for example. This gives rises to important questions not only for the health of the first consumers but also and especially for the long-term impacts on ecosystems on which we depend. Increased political sensitivity for conservation of ecosystems may help to measure for long-term impact monitoring and control even in this area.

The twentieth century saw many persons resolutely rally for conservation, as a worldwide social movement was born. From the first international conference for the protection of nature held in Berne (1913) to the world conservation congress (Korea, 2012) held by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, this was a century of action, aiming to achieve reduction in the rate of biodiversity losses. Indeed, many reports have emphasized that human actions often load to irreversible losses in terms of diversity of life on Earth, and these losses have been more rapid in recent decades than ever before in human history. By the year 1968, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established the Man and Biosphere (MAB) group with the role of promoting an intergovernmental research program to provide the scientific basis for a sustainable management of natural resources in an approach that balances ecological, social, and economic concerns. Some years later, the project “The limits to growth” was launched, aiming to alert political and media decision-makers to the seriousness of environmental problems, notably to highlight the need to balance rapid economic growth against ecological limits. At the same time, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) was established as a result of the first Earth Summit held in Stockholm (1972). By 1980, the concerns relating to the impacts of human activities on species and ecosystems give rise to a new branch of biology, called the “biology of conservation,” meant to support the implementation of measures and actions for conserving nature.

The Earth Summit of Rio, held in 1992 at Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), could be considered as the turning point when for the first time a shared realization that environmental change is posing a threat to the habitability of the planet Earth could support a consensus for taking political action. The Earth Summit convened representatives from 178 nations, nongovernmental agencies, and many other interested parties among which thousands of members of the media; and it focused on global environmental issues that would become central to policy implementation. During this meeting, delegates adopted the Convention on Biology Diversity (CBD) marking a collective effort of wills, recognizing that sustainable development and the protection of biodiversity must be considered as a common concern of humanity. The CBD has become the framework of national strategies to preserve biodiversity (Meakin 1992).

After the Earth Summit of Rio, the parties to the CBD agreed to achieve the reduction of the current biodiversity loss by 2010. However, the target assessment has shown that the biodiversity losses and the related changes in the environment are now faster than ever before, and there is no sign of this process slowing down. Notwithstanding the best intentions of human race to live responsibly as demonstrated at Rio, uneven and insufficient progress in sustainable development was shown 20 years later, during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD 2012, otherwise named Rio + 20). It is likely that progress on sustainable development is slow because the global political system is not working smoothly on a matter of this scale and complexity. Indeed, multiple interlinked factors have to be taken into account sustainable development practices to develop, and practices adopted in all parts of the world: notably, assessments and decisions must integrate economic, social, and environmental aspects and support transition to sustainable practices. Indeed, at the Rio + 20 summit, heads of state recognized this complexity, specifically noting “a need to achieve sustainable development by promoting sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth, creating greater opportunities for all, reducing inequalities, raising basic standards of living, fostering equitable social development and inclusion, and promoting integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems that supports, inter alia, economic, social and human development while facilitating ecosystem conservation, regeneration and restoration and resilience in the face of new and emerging challenges” (UNCSD 2012) – challenges such as financial crises, food and/or water security crises, or forced migration.

Conceptual Clarification/Definition

Etymologically, the term biodiversity is made up of two roots, that is to say biology (from Greek bios = life) and diversity, contracted to biodiversity. The term is in itself seemingly obvious and is largely used even by ordinary mortals, each one with his understanding. And yet, this term is proving to be a complex concept.

At first sight, the concept biodiversity refers to the number of species of animals, plants, and microorganisms in the nature, in other words specific biodiversity, species being the most evident element as it corresponds to the basic unit of a classification of living beings. Taxonomy has counted about 1.7 million species, probably just the most visible part of biodiversity. Recent studies estimate the total number of species between three and ten million. Many species are not very accessible for study, including unicellular organisms and bacteria. The marine biodiversity is still in large part unknown because about 95 % of oceans remain unexplored.

Furthermore, within species there is an enormous variability of genes between individuals as well as populations. This means there is genetic diversity within a same species which is essential to confront to environmental change by allowing the population’s adaptation through evolution.

Living beings adapt to different environments everywhere: on land such as deserts, rainforests, or underground galleries and in water as ocean, lakes, ponds, or other watercourses. It is in these environments, also called ecosystems, that living populations interact with each other and all that is around. So, ecosystems draw on biological diversity.

Biodiversity is exhaustively defined, in the article 2 of the Convention on Biological Diversity: Biodiversity or biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and ecosystems (CBD 1992). The concept refers also to the presence of humans who depend on biodiversity for sustainable development of societies. So, biodiversity exists at three levels of organization: genes, species, and ecosystems; biodiversity is not limited to describing the variety of species but represents also interactions between living beings and also between them and their physical and chemical environments at different levels. The term covers how this diversity changes from one location to another over time. Indicators such as the number of species in a given area can help in monitoring some aspects of biodiversity but remain incomplete and insufficient for providing an accurate picture of the extent and distribution of all components of biodiversity. History has it that the expression biological diversity was coined by Thomas Lovejoy. This conservation biologist introduced the term to the scientific community in 1980. It was then used by Walter Rosen during a congress entitled “The National forum on Biodiversity” held in Washington in 1986.

Ethical Dimensions

Human Beings Within Nature

The Unity Of The Earth’s Ecosystem

It is said that in 1854, a man named Seattle, representing several Indian (first inhabitants) tribes, replied to pressure from the US government to buy Indians’ land, by an ecological appeal that still resounds today in a universal echo. He reportedly said “We are part of this land; this land is part of us… Rivers are our sisters, they quench our thirst, carry our canoes and feed our kids… the sweet-scented flower is our sister; stag, horse, the big eagle are our brothers; the rocky crest, the sap in meadow, the heat of pony, and human; all are members of the same family. .. .When all buffalos will be slaughtered, wild horses tamed, the secret nooks of forest overload with the odor of many humans, and the view of flowered hills tarnished by the speaking wires… Then, where will be thickets? Disappeared. Where will be eagle? Extinct. And that extinction will mark the end of life, and the beginning of survival.”

The consensus of scientists is that the theory of evolution is one of the most reliably established facts. Evolution means not only change, but also it implies continuity. Each species, no matter how small, has an important role to play in a web of life. Species depend on each other. Even while there might be “survival of the fittest” within a given species, each species depends on the services provided by other species to ensure its survival. It is a type of cooperation based on mutual survival (a balanced ecosystem often refers to this cooperation). Studies on the field of virgin ecosystems tend to show that a healthy or balanced ecosystem can better withstand and recover from a variety of disasters. Indeed, ecosystems – if left alone – appear to have capacity to self-sustain. Viewed from this angle, biodiversity has an intrinsic value; it should be respected, regardless of being useful for humans. Ultimately, concern for the level of biodiversity on Earth is to be justified not just in relation with its utility but also for ethical reasons, despite that some economic methods assign monetary values to benefits (e.g., services such as recreation or clean drinking water).

Human Responsibility

Humans are one component of an ecosystem and often in a predominant position. Indeed, at the present state of our knowledge, humans are the only living beings capable of conscience, self-criticism, and moral judgment. Humans are the only living beings to whom moral responsibility could be attributed. Moreover, in organized human society the capacity of humans is still greater than at the level of one individual.

Human responsibility includes obligations toward future generations. Indeed, the concept of humanity refers to the principle of human dignity as emphasized as well in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948) as in the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights (2005). An intrinsic value is recognized in human-kind considered as a whole, not only consisting in each of all individual humans that now exist all over the world but also including future generations. Thus, a moral responsibility is assigned to the present generation: the obligation to bequeath to future generations a planet that remains a place in which it is pleasant to live. To meet that responsibility, humans must not devastate the Earth today.

Recognition of the preeminent place of humans as a species also leads to attributing other moral obligations. Humans have moral obligations toward not only other humans of the future but also toward other living beings living today as well as the biosphere in its entirety. And, in this light, we may have now to review our management and action methods especially on pertaining to the other species with whom we coexist. The best understanding of the role of humans could be as a manager, a kind of primus inter pares, with a preeminent place and responsibility related to biodiversity. Humans then have responsibility to manage carefully the transformation of nature. Indeed, humans affect the balance of natural processes. Disrupting nature is also part of human nature. The Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights recognizes that humans have a special responsibility to protect biodiversity and the biosphere within which human beings exist (UNESCO 2009).

To yearn for well-being, welfare, good health, and comforts are, among others, legitimate motivations to justify most of human activities. It is, however, demonstrated that the interest of humanity and human health is also dependent on a pleasant environment; that means to safeguard the welfare of the biological species and their ecosystems. The ethical principle of beneficence and non-malfeasance, as stipulated in the article 4 of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, implies the imperative to tolerate and manage acknowledging this beneficial interdependence (UNESCO 2009).

Biodiversity, A Complex And Global Challenge

A Holistic Paradigm

The ethical questions posed at the present stage of history, all over the world, are sufficiently complex that they do not suggest a holistic paradigm. It is a challenge to identify at first a cohesive view. Maintaining biodiversity is unquestionably a problem of multidisciplinary nature and wide concern. Problems may in some cases be solved by unexpected compromises between interests that seemingly diverge. Maintaining biodiversity is a global challenge that entails questions such as justice and equity, solidarity and cooperation, virtue of moderation in the wild race for profit, economic growth, sustainable development, the common interest of humanity (the present as well as the future generation), etc. The Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, although it put great emphasis on humans and responsibilities toward humans, also extends the concern to the rest of living beings. The Earth’s biosphere must function, as a whole, with its constant pursuit of harmony.

Solidarity And Cooperation

The world regions cannot longer be separated and cannot pursue totally independent interests, especially in relation to the ecosystem’s problems. In some cases, ecologic damages caused in a given part of the globe could be harmful at a diametrically opposite spot. Ecosystem changes such as thinning of the ozone layer due to excess of industrialization, global warming, and necessity to conserve vegetation, for the synthesis of oxygen, may have severe consequences in undeveloped regions where people have hardly ever benefit from civilization progresses; rising sea levels are leading to disappearance of some islands that were inhabited before. In fact, atmospheric air, oceans, and other watercourses are like connected vessels for the one same Earth. And really, every inhabitant of the planet is “in the same boat”; all must realize that humans have a common planetary destiny and that there is an inevitable necessity of solidarity for survival, when it comes to giving priority to the biosphere. Sustainable development must be inclusive, benefiting and involving all people.

All countries, developed or developing, landlocked, or small islands, face specific challenges to achieve sustainable development. In the context of national and international political institutions, the challenge is to consider national sovereignty as well as to deal with international imperatives, to treat separately the problems posed in each region, as well as to have in mind integration into global interests. In a pragmatic and flexible way, actions have to be expended having to make the best of the sacrosanct principle of national freedom and sovereignty on the one hand, the imperatives dictated by the vital interests of humanity on the other hand; to find trade-offs reconciling people’s particular historical background to some established realities that can be scientifically anticipated. Eventually, these institutions are likely to impose worldwide strategies. Because it is a question of survival for everybody, there is a basis for a true cooperation, in which everyone may fully participate and contribute, even and especially those who have limited powers. To paraphrase Martin L. King, we have to learn living together as brothers (and sisters); otherwise, we will die together like idiots.

Public Awareness

Debates on biodiversity questions are, with good reason, carried out among intellectuals, scientific and technology experts, taking account of their complexity. However, because solutions depend not only on political decisions but also on the attitudes of those who will have to carry them out in their daily lives, it appears obvious that public awareness of different possible schemes should be increased. The public has to be informed about the benefits of conservation, especially so that it may consider trade-offs between different options; this could help to maximize the benefits to society.

Economic And Social Issues

From an economic point of view, various goals pursued in society to improve business activities depend on biodiversity and modify ecosystems. It has been demonstrated, for example, that actions to increase food production can lead to reduce water availability for other uses with, as a consequence, deterioration in other ecosystem services. The value of services lost may greatly exceed the short-term economic benefits that are gained (UNESCO 1999). It has to be pointed out that a large number of the world’s poor people rely directly on biodiversity and ecosystem services, and then livelihoods would be affected first and foremost by decrease in the services related to food production, nutrition, water, and sanitation. Indeed, over the last century, some people have benefited from the conversion of natural ecosystems and increase in international trade, while others have suffered from the consequences of biodiversity losses and from restricted access to resources they depend upon. Changes in ecosystems are harming many of the world’s poorest people, who are the least able to resist these changes (UN 2014).

Virtue Of Moderation And Ethics Of Care

The consequences of biodiversity loss and reduction in ecosystem services call out to the conscience of each the virtue of moderation. Indeed, any enterprise inevitably leads to nuisances for other sectors if it goes too far. Businesses that aim only at the highest profits and unlimited growth cumulatively result in excesses in the consumption patterns of goods or services and endless innovative technologies consuming ever-increasing raw materials, though these are limited in quantity and increasingly precious. Considering, for example, the controversies raised by GMO production, the GMO developers view this technology as aiming to increase agriculture and livestock yield, enhance nutrition, and provide other benefits for humans; on the other hand, GMOs may be connected with health problems and environmental damage, and, most importantly, the long-term impacts of GMOs are unknown. Indeed, no one, even the biggest chemical companies producing GMOs, can anticipate their future consequences; moreover, they cannot tell if the novel life forms they create, once widely released into the environment, could be recalled if they are proving to be harmful. When actions are taken without considering potential consequences, these will lead inevitably to imbalance. Implementation of an ethics of care is proving to be a vital necessity for all, especially if things are considered in the long term. Direct and indirect drivers of biodiversity loss must be addressed to better protect biodiversity and ecosystem services

Conclusion

Considering things at the planetary scale, it is now assessed that biodiversity losses and its corollary, the deterioration of ecosystem services, are faster in recent decades than ever before in the history of humanity. Even if parts were attributed to natural causes, the damage resulting from human activities can be addressed.

Normal human activities, even legitimate and perfectly justifiable by several human needs like agriculture, livestock, business, and exploiting raw materials for development, become harmful and, at the end, inevitably lead to serious imbalance if they go too far, without taking care not to harm other people or other living species as well as the environment. Ethics of care is proving to be appropriate, with consideration of the long term. Moreover, biodiversity should be attributed an intrinsic value, beyond its utility for humans. So, firstly considered as res nullius, biodiversity gradually appears as having amenity and ethics value.

The Earth is one and common not only for the whole humanity but also for nonhuman living beings, that is to say animals, plants, and microorganisms. Humans have to confront this reality that cannot be ignored. Taking account of the particularities of human capacities from a moral point of view, in comparison with and in relation to other living species, humans have a preeminent position within the biosphere. Humans therefore have a responsibility to carefully manage this Earth, not as the owner but just as the manager. There is an interdependence that must be addressed for survival of all species including humans.

Reflections on issues related to biodiversity and ecosystem balance inevitably lead to consider things at the global level, aiming to harmoniously integrate the interests of many. This work has to be done in universal solidarity, international cooperation, and open, sincere, and honest dialogue, with benevolence and attention to other people, listening even to those who are limited in their power, as well those who have great expertise in scientific, technological, financial, or other domains. The long-term continuation of life on the planet is at stake.

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