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A few years ago, Matt Petronzio said that the fewer animals (we are part of it), plants, and microscopic organisms we have, the fewer humans we will have. The more we destroy the delicately balanced, natural ecosystems that exist, the more we put ourselves in danger. The math is simple, if looked at from one of the several prisms — over five billion of the world’s 7.5 billion people depend on bio-diversity, on specific ecologies in marine and coastal areas, forests, and drylands. The arithmetic is complex, if looked at from another prism — willy-nilly, we are directly responsible for thousands of vanishing plants and animals.  

However, the truth remains that for several reasons, largely man-made, bio-diversity, or the vast expanse of living organisms, is at risk on a global scale. Acknowledging this fact, the United Nation Milennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) says that the “Human actions are depleting the Earth’s natural capital, putting such strain on the environment that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.” The Food and Agriculture Organisation states that some of the choices we make everyday — what to eat, what to wear, how to travel — negatively impacts the “variety of life on Earth.”

In Australia, farmers were troubled by beetles. A toad, introduced to eat them, destroyed rice paddy fields

Sometimes, this can happen either deliberately or by accident, as is the case with introduction of non-native and invasive species in an existing ecosystem. For example, in Australia, the beetles troubled the sugarcane farmers. So, the cane toad was brought in from far-off Hawaii to eat the beetles. The problem was confounded, when “the toads left the beetles alone, but ate practically everything else, becoming full-fledged pests in their own right. Now, they are running amok, preying on small animals and poisoning larger ones that dare to try eating them. Scientists are still trying to figure out what to do.”

Consider another example of golden apple snail, which is found in several Asian nations. According to a document on UNESCO digital library, “In the 1980s, apple snails were imported to Asia in order to set up a snail-farming industry.” They were chosen because they breed rapidly, adapt to new surroundings, and had high protein content. But the move flopped as consumers did not like the taste, and found out that the snails could transmit parasites if not cooked long enough. They were released in the wild, but soon spread rapidly, destroying huge tracts of rice cultivation. The reason: they reproduced rapidly, and loved rice seedlings, apart from plants.

Habitats change continuously, sometimes rapidly and drastically, sometimes slowly and less dramatically. Natural forces like droughts, earthquakes, volcanoes, and ice ages primarily drive these changes, and living organisms either adapt to them, or die. The problems arise when these transformations are man-made. In the past few thousand years, we have expanded agriculture and aqua-culture, pursued relentless urbanisation and tourism, which led to large-scale de-forestation and destruction of natural habitats. According to UNESCO, humans have added five million hectares to farms in the past three decades, and would convert another 120 million hectares by 2050.

Obviously, such trends also led to monoculture plantations, which are, says environmentalist Sandy Gauntlett, “geared to the production of a single raw material, whether it is timber, pulp, rubber, palm oil, or others.” Until a decade ago, they were wrongly designated as forests, but activists now contend they are more like “green deserts.” Studies prove that such forest plantations, as they are called, lead to massive loss of diversity, and act as net emitters of carbon. For example, global palm oil plantations result in a biodiversity loss of more than 80%. A study in Nature found that while the old forests “store carbon for centuries,” the newer ones, including plantations, emit carbon. Overexploitation of the natural resources, including overfishing and overhunting, for human needs, and rapid industrialisation, as we know, leads to higher pollution of air, water, and soil. We dump tens of billions of tonnes of plastic into our oceans, and the use of fossil fuels cause acid rains that change breeding and feeding habits of living organisms. Pollution due to excessive heat, noise, and light also impacts lives. Researchers claim that exposure for long periods to certain noises can harm humans too, leading to high blood pressure, disrupted sleep, and impaired cognitive development in children.

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