Humans habitually value nature either through its consumerist worth or through a distant gaze of admiring spectatorship, forgetting its priceless inbuilt-value to human ecosystems.
The World Economic Forum calculates that $4 trillion of economic value generation, that is, over half the world’s total GDP, is moderately or highly dependent on nature.
The Value Of Scavengers
A recent report conducted by Warwick Economics finds that in India, the socio-economic costs of the “functional extinction” of vultures to poisoning, came to a loss of around $34 billion between 1993 and 2006.
The drug, diclofenac, used by farmers to treat cattle but lethal to vulture renal health, left residue in carcasses scavenged by the birds, leading to “the fastest population collapse of a bird species in recorded history.”
Vultures are amongst the most threatened group of birds today.Given this scenario,every single vulture in the wild is critically important.The rescued Cinereous vulture Ockhi from TN was airlifted & rewilded by #TNForest in Rajasthan with advise of Wildlife Institue of India pic.twitter.com/Z5ViFyPZFT
— Supriya Sahu IAS (@supriyasahuias) February 20, 2023
In correlation with vulture decline in India, came an incline in human mortality from the deterioration of public health due to increased vector-borne diseases. The vultures are reported to hold “natural capital” in their ecosystem service carried out through their crucial role in vector control.
Furthermore, the importance of the vulture is compounded twofold through its status as a keystone species, strongly impacting their ecosystems, comparative to their abundance. It is therefore extremely positive news that vultures have made a comeback in India this month.
The Irreplaceable Role Of Keystone Species
We see another example of the importance of keystone species through the 1926 eradication and 1995 reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
Their trophic cascade recalibrated the detrimentally imbalanced ecosystem which, in their absence, saw a rise in elk and a decline in beavers, another keystone species, due to the elk’s overgrazing of willow stands. The plant is integral to beaver survival and therefore the land’s hydrological functioning.
Wolves and beavers also provide valuable ecosystem services, with wolves, as predators, averting an estimated $10.9 million of damages related to deer collisions in Wisconsin, and beavers, as ecosystem engineers, delivering water supply and purification, flood control as well as carbon sequestration.
A nice montage from the Northwoods in fall with all the iconic characters: wolves, beavers, moose, and some large bucks in the rut! pic.twitter.com/XJTfsKDidS
— Voyageurs Wolf Project (@VoyaWolfProject) February 22, 2023
The Economic Expense Of Pesticides
Entomologists have found that insects are declining in annual rates of about 1-2% due to stressors such as habitat destruction, climate change and pesticides, calling it the “insect apocalypse.”
Insects involved in organic degradation provide essential recycling services. Dung beetles, for example, ensure a healthy pasture ecosystem in their processing of manure, saving the cattle industry an estimated $380 million annually. Pesticides threaten not only the insect, but their entire ecosystem.
This includes avian insectivores (some of whom are pollinators), who have declined by about 40% between 1966 and 2013 in North America, recalling Rachel Carson’s unheeded warnings in Silent Spring: “It was a spring without voices.”
The dependence of the world’s total GDP on pollinators can only be described as “high.” Almost 75% of the crop types across the globe require pollination, their economic value estimated between $235 and $577 billion per annum.
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With the steep declines in pollinators and a growing population of 8 billion people, there is an urgency to catalyse conservation efforts particularly considering that 40% of the Earth’s population is facing food insecurity.
As a keystone species with marked socio-economic value, bees ought to be legally protected, particularly in light of their rapid decline. However, pesticides lethal to pollinators, such as neonicotinoids, are still widely permitted.
With 35 UK bee species under threat of extinction, and despite a ruling by the European Court of Justice to ban neonicotinoid exemptions, this year, the UK government granted emergency authorisation under Brexit freedoms for the use of the neonic, thiamethoxam, for the third year running.
Described as “a thousand times more toxic to bees” than DDT, neonicotinoids pass systemically through all parts of the foliage-tissue, working their way to the pollen and nectar that is then consumed by pollinators. Bees are particularly vulnerable due to their genetic inability to detoxify harmful chemicals.
“If the bees disappear off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.” #SaveTheBees #ActOnClimate #climateemergency #Climate #nature #GreenNewDeal #biodiversity pic.twitter.com/yrqWvcEGth
— Mike Hudema (@MikeHudema) February 23, 2023
Despite the environmental protections won through the EU Court of Justice, protests occurred last month in France in light of the neonics ban, due to concern about farm production. The UK National Farmers Union (NFU) Sugar Board Chairman Michael Sly also opposes the ban, claiming “there are currently no sustainable alternatives to neonicotinoids.”
However, the Bureau for the Appraisal of Social Impacts for Citizen Information (BASIC) finds that costs attributed to pesticides came to around €2.3 billion in European subsidies, double the net profits generated by the pesticide industry.
Further, the biomimicry sector is also working on alternatives to neonics that meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The development of nematode pheromones as a natural pesticide meets three SDGs, suggesting that sustainability is not only achievable, but profitable.
With such measures being taken as the EU’s absolute ban on neonics, and the European Green Deal’s goal to cut pesticide use in half by 2030, progress is being made to reduce species decline. However, is this enough?
“Extinction breeds extinctions:” Scientists warn that we are accelerating towards our sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth, with our current species decline occurring faster than the previous five mass extinctions.
Studying the Permian-Triassic mass extinction that occurred 252 million years ago and wiped out 95% of Earth life, researchers found that it is impossible to predict when species decline and extinctions will tip over into total ecosystemic collapse.
With this in mind, incentive to prioritise conservation efforts must extend beyond purely the financial to the existential, or the current rate of extinction will cost us our lives.
The World Economic Forum advocates for the concept of Gross Ecosystem Product (GEP), modelled on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), in order to translate the biophysical value of ecosystem goods and services.
They emphasise the core importance of the UN’s SDGs to this model, so that the Earth may shift from a socio-economic value system to better support and sustain the “socio-ecological” system that we live in.
Arguably, the most crucial movement away from the “tipping point” can be found in listening to and working in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. Their inhabited land contains 80% of the world’s biodiversity despite making up only 5% of the global population, making them the world’s experts on conservation.
A study shows that expanding protected areas (PAs) to reduce biodiversity loss comes at a cost to the rights and livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples even though biodiversity is shown to be declining more slowly in areas managed by Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLC) than anywhere else.
Instead, following Australia’s example, Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) ought to be instead implemented and expanded globally. In fact, Indigenous Peoples should not only ought to be granted their “Land Back,” but also be the world’s point of authority for how to proceed in preventing the extinction crisis.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: A pollinating bee. Featured Photo Credit: Lisa Fotios/Pexels