Biodiversity and Poverty: A complicated relationship

They say that “variety is the spice of life”. After learning that variety of biodiversity is not only an indicator of the health and functioning of our ecosystem, but it also the basis for human life as we know it, I think perhaps the idiom “variety is life” is more accurate (if not nearly as poetic).

The fact is that we rely on the environment for all economic activities, either through direct or indirect goods and services. From provision natural resources, food, and water, as well as countless services, from air and water filtration, to pest and disease population control; its easy to see that how our way of life is intricately linked to our surrounding ecosystems.

Unfortunately, our patterns of economic development have taken their toll. The movement to more developed industrial economies has led to an array of threats to our natural environment; deforestation, soil degradation, habitat fragmentation, pollution, to name a few. According to a study by the Global Planet Index there has been an estimated net global loss of 28% of biodiversity (as compared to 1970) – with a 61% loss of that loss recorded in the ‘Global South’.

For 70% of the world’s poor living in rural communities, who are directly reliant on their surrounding natural resources for food and employment, their vulnerability to amounting ecological changes is all the more intense (See Linking Poverty and the Environment by Jacob Jon).


Mercifully, there is a silver lining; with higher levels of biodiversity, our ecosystems become even more resilient against impacts, human or otherwise; and the ‘Global South’ remains home to some of the most biodiverse regions in the world. Due to the variety of terrain, temperatures, climate, and altitudes animals and plants that live in the tropics are highly adaptable, new species are born at a rate we cannot know through. In fact, for all our studies of bio diversity, we have identified just 1.5 million of an estimated 3 to 5 million species currently exist, and while we worry that many will be lost to extinction before we can identify them, we should also think of those we will gain through speciation(Costello, May, Stork, 2013).

That being said, Mother Nature can only do so much, and to move forward, we need to focus  on helping the environment recover its functions, which are vital to our very existence. One thing is clear, the continued overexploitation of our natural resources must stop, and we need to commit to sustainable models of growth and development in order to help the environment to recover its functions, all of which are vital to our very existence.




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