BY YUE WANG
Biodiversity, once a strictly scientific concept, captured the limelight when G8 member countries meeting in Italy issued in 2009 the landmark Syracuse Charter, vowing to significantly reduce the disappearance of species. However, with the conflict in Afghanistan and global economic recession seeming more pressing concerns, biodiversity has a bleak chance of being addressed by either G8 or NATO this May.
Some scientists say both the cure to conflicts and the key to economic recovery lie in the variation of species. Jon Erickson, president of the United States Society of Ecological Economics, has called biodiversity “the very fabric of life” because it provides every essential material of development. Halting biodiversity degradation means richer food, cleaner water and better economic quality.
“We are in a crisis; we are losing biodiversity faster than any policies can keep up with,” he said. “None of these policies really has any teeth to reduce the tremendous loss we are losing on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. I am afraid the United States hasn’t provided much leadership.”
Conservationists say biodiversity loss is a potent threat to national security, especially to developing countries where economies rely heavily on natural resources. The depletion of species variation significantly increases risks of turmoil. One such example is the coral-reef countries of Southeast Asia where people depend on marine resources for a living.
“The livelihoods of many people depend on the reef. If you deny them these resources, where they are going to live?” asked Pavan Sukhdev, study leader of The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity, an international initiative founded in response to a proposal made by the environmental ministers of the G8+5 countries in 2007.
“Biodiversity is not a luxury for the rich. It is a necessity for the poor,” he said.
In fact, Sukhdev says developed countries are not exempt from the damage of biodiversity loss. In 2007, U.S. agriculture suffered a heavy loss from the death of millions of honeybees. A Cornell University study found more than $14 billion of domestic seeds and crops is pollinated by honeybees annually.
“Everyone depends on the services of ecosystem,” Sukhdev said.
A NATO official says NATO also recognizes the threat of environmental degradation, especially after the Kosovo crisis when radioactive chemicals in NATO’s bombs devastated regional ecosystem and haunted people to this day.
“It is very important for our military to protect the environment when they are in operation. If they ignore it, the population would be against them,” said Dr. Susanne Michaelis, with the Emerging Security Challenges Division. “There is a need to be careful about environment. What they do must be sustainable.”
However, she says doing environmental work in NATO is not without difficulties.
“A few allied nations don’t want NATO to discuss environmental issues,” she said. “They are afraid that if they gave the mandate to work more on the environment and have international staff dealing with it, we will discuss too much and diffuse national security.”
“They don’t want NATO to militarize environmental issues,” she said.
Ecological economists say the lack of government support is exactly why species are vanishing at such an alarming rate. They say leaders need to look beyond economic growth.
“We need to think about how we measure growth. If we simply measure growth in terms of circulation, money and GDP, then we are missing the elements of the well-being of humans,” Erickson said. “We need to measure what matters. We need to move beyond GDP and recession and growth.”
“It is beyond pity that NATO and G8 won’t address environmental topics this year. We are fundamentally depleting our assets. We are running our economy by depleting our assets. The most fundamental of asset is our natural asset.”