Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Biodiversity: Does it Matter?

This is a very basic explanation on the importance of biodiversity. It was written by me, for ADCO (my employers) for one of their publications. I hope you find it to be of interest.

The word biodiveristy, seems to be on every person’s lips at the moment. This is because human activities across the globe, have brought the earth to a biotic crises. It is no single person, or even country’s fault. This crises lays deep in our ever increasing world population and the fact that every individual born, has needs. All of these needs are met from the earth, that we live on.

Everyone has needs.

Our only home!

However, the Earth itself, is not getting larger, it is just the human population living on it, which is increasing. This simple fact, places an ever inceasing pressure on our environment and the biodiversity it contains.

More & more people.
 Growth is mainly in the developing countries.

The concept of biodiversity, has provoked considerable debate and misunderstanding among the general public, decision-makers and even on occasion, within the scientific community. It was first coined in 1986 and since that time, has rarely been out of the headlines.

Biodiversity, is short for biological diversity. It includes all living organisms that live on earth. But, biodiversity means much more than this, it includes all the genetic diversity contained in all individuals. The diversity of species themselves and the diversity of ecosystems, which enable this huge variety of life to exist, on this planet of ours. However, for me, there is one simple meaning of the word, it is the magic that surrounds us all, in the natural world. The bird singing at dawn, the silhouette of trees at dusk and the multiplicity of experiences that we all share, every single day of our lives.

Coral Reefs are possibly the most
 diverse ecosystem on Earth.

It is a sad and sobering fact, that during our lifetime, some species are becoming extinct. Quite simply, this means that they can no longer be found alive on earth. It may be sad, but does this matter to our daily lives? If a species of bird in the USA becomes extinct, will it effect us here in the Middle East? I mean, we live so far away, don’t we?

The extinct Ivory Billed Woodpecker -
in 1975 I spent two days looking for it.
Not knowing that it was already extinct!

The earth is a dynamic system, it is ever changing. Unfortunately, some events which occur in far flung corners of the world, may indeed have a dramatic impact on all our lives. The problem is, that rarely does this happen immediately, rather it is a slow and insidious effect, that many people are slow to draw conclusions of cause and effect from.

This may cause problems in our acceptance of this. For example, if  a bee stings us, it is immediately painful and we know that a bee is the cause of our discomfort. But, imagine for one moment, that a bee stings you and nothing happens for a year, or perhaps even longer. How many of us, would draw the conclusion that it was that bee, so long ago which is the cause of our discomfort? I suspect very few of us would.

The range of the Polar Bear is contracting fast!

The greatest single threat the world faces, is global warming, this is caused by human activities. It will effect all of us, all over the world and most of these imapcts will be negative. It will certainly impact the biological world and all the species that this rich world of ours contains.

What does the future hold for these young people?

This current generation which inhabits the world, are in many ways, the lucky generation, one might say the golden generation. So many things in our lives are better today, than they were for our forefathers. Housing, food, medicine and education are all better today than ever before and most of us, benefit from this situation. However, there is a downside from this. All of these great benefits, which we all enjoy, come from the resources found on earth; from our environment, which surrounds us all, which protects us and makes our lives, simply better. The problem is that the very resources we all need and desire, are not endless, infact, just the opposite is true, they are finite.

A nice view, but for how long? 

This simple fact, increases the pressure on our natural environment. Forests are cut, marshes drained, major rivers dammed, or diverted from their natural course and the seas are overfished, in our endless quest, to feed our expanding population. Of course, this expanding population, all need somewhere to live. The wild areas are decreasing and species which need large, natural areas decline and in some cases, become extinct. It is usually, the large and/or specialised species which are in danger of extinction. Everyone has heard of the plight on the Tiger and the Giant Panda. Species which are both in danger of becoming extinct.

Heading for extinction? Does it really matter?

But if they do indeed, become extinct in the wild, in our lifetime, does it really matter to us? The little girl’s eyes lighting up or the little boy’s wonderment at his first sighting of these magnificant animals. As parents, these are moments of pleasure for us too, but these fleeting moments of wonderment, of wanting to know more, may indeed become rarer, in the future.

Laughing children - for the moment! 
Will they care about rare species?
Or just where their next meal is coming from?

The predicament of these species, masks a far greater problem, that of destruction and conversion of their natural, wild habitats which they need to survive. Is it a co-incidence that one species inhabits India and the other China? Two of the most populated places on earth. With these declining wild areas, we loose a multitude of species, sometimes trees, insects, birds as well as the larger creatures. But does it really matter to us all? Will it really affect all our lives? The simple answer is, if this is allowed to continue, then yes it will. The honey we love to eat, comes from an insect, that needs a plant to feed upon; fish, which are an important part of our diet, need clean seas and other living organism to feed on; the medicine that all of us need from time to time, often comes from natural sources, (which are often wild plants). Every aspect of our increasingly complicated lives, rely upon the natural world around us. Even the very basic requirements of our continued existence, like the oxygen we breathe, the water which we drink and the soil, where we gain most of our food from, are controlled largely by natural processes, processes that our increasing human activities are intefering with.   

Climate dictates much of what happens on Earth.
 And climate is changing fast!
The timeless & seemingly endless dunes at Ruqaa
 But, for how long?

The future is here!

No, not science fiction - but today's Dubai!

Those of us who are lucky enough to live in the UAE, are sometimes insulated from these wider ecological problems. We have natural resources, which are in high demand across the world; we have a relatively low population, which means our share of these natural resouces are somewhat greater, than other less fortunate people, in other lands. However, if we listen to the older generation, then rapid change in our environment becomes apparent.

The modern, man-made mountains.

Those  endless seas of sand dunes, are not quite so endless today, those towering mountains, don’t seem to tower so high today and those pristine beaches are no longer as pristine as before. Even here, with good governance, an increasingly educated and skilled local population and a low popluation density, we are feeling the effects of the environment been squeezed, by our ever increasing demand for the resources it contains.

A coral reef, inside an ADCO concession area!
It may seem ironic and somewhat surprising, to some, that some of our best preserved habitats, are actually within our oil and gas concession areas. The media across the world sometimes portrays industry and the natural world, as being polar opposites, you can’t have one, with the other. If this is indeed true, then we are in terrible trouble, because virtually every aspect of our daily lives are affected in some way, with our desire for fossil fuel supplies.

The modern world  revolves around
supplies of fossil fuels, particularly oil.

This is true, not only here in the UAE, but in every nation on earth. Here at ADCO, we have major responsibilites, which are taken extremely seriously. We have of course, to extract natural resources, to develop this nation, but we also have a wider responsibility, for the safety of our workers and neighbours and the protection of our natural environment. We strongly believe that we can indeed, conduct our core business successfully, with the minimum harm to both people and the environment. This is why we have rules, regulations and strategies, which cover every aspect of our daily activities. The word sustainability is at the heart of ADCO’s philosophy and a large section of sustainability is about the environment around us.

A brown Balinese butterfly -
do we care enough to save it?

Sometimes it is wise to take a step backwards to try and comprehend the complexity of the problem. If we loose a butterfly in Indonesia and it becomes extinct, then will it directly affect our lives here? Probably not. But, if we look a little deeper into the causes of this particualr extinction, then tropical rainforest destruction, may well impact all of our lives here in the UAE, even to the extent of the quality and quantity of the very air, we breathe.

Is the Moon, a realistic site for a future human colony?
Almost certainly not!

The world has to face the fact that the world is metaphorically getting smaller. Technology, which we all love to use and need, requires the very resources that both the natural and human worlds are competing for. Sustainability is not about saving wildlife. It is about people and their present and future needs. Biodiversity, plays a large part in these future needs. Are we indeed so selfish in our behaviour today, that we would deny the same resources and opportunites that our children and granchildren need? This goes against the very nature of a human being. The vast majority of people wish the lives of their children, to be even better, than what they themselves have enjoyed so far.

We do indeed have a problem, but it is not as some would have us believe, an unsumountable problem. It is a situation that we must tackle strategically. We must establish what our priorities are, we must have strategies in place and we must implement these strategies for the fullfillment of our goals. And finally, we must monitor the situation, to establish if the situation changes, and are we indeed, doing the correct course of action? This is why a corporate biodiversity action plan is needed and it needs to be implemented effectively. It is our duty to ensure our activities cause minimum harm to the environment. This duty is based on UAE laws, on our religious and moral codes of conduct and indeed in the ADNOC codes of practice which all operating companies work under. There is also one further piece of justification, it is written into the ADCO mission statement. It is at the very heart of ADCO and its operating philosophy. It is part of us all.

Bottle-nosed Dolphin - it needs a pristine,
 marine environment in order to thrive.

We all have busy lives, both at work here within ADCO and in our private lives. Most of our most cherished moments, involve our loved ones, often in a natural setting. The morning swim on the beach, fishing and watching dolphins play, (while children squeal with excitement) and those star-lit evenings on the dunes, where we share food and thoughts, with the ones we love. All of these things can give us cherished moments, but all of these things, take place in habitats where the natural world also lives. A balance has to be achieved, between our needs today and the natural world. Because if we don’t achieve this balance, then not only today’s generation will suffer, but also generations that follow us. All of us are here on earth, but for a fleeting moment of time, but when we pass, life must continue and for that to be successful, we need all the resources of our natural environment as well. Biodiversity affects all our lives, in a myriad of different ways, from the inconsequential, to the very heart of our existance.

Destroying two natural ecosystems
 to make an unnatural one!

The pristine blue seas, the bays and beaches, the lofty mountains and the beautiful shapes and tones of the ever moving dunes. All would not be as meaningful, if the variety of life found there, was diminished. All of us within ADCO, recognise this fact. Sustainability and biodiversity are inter-dependant. One cannot be achieved without the other. ADCO knows this.  ADCO cares.

The future of the Earth,
really is in our hands!

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