I went to a lecture on biodiversity recently, given by a renowned European expert on the subject. I’m sure that won’t put you off reading the rest of this column, but the speaker did reflect, with grim resignation, on the public’s obsession with following news stories on Tiger Woods’ personal life, while showing little interest in an international conference on biodiversity, which was going on at the same time.
There are two reasons for that, I reckon. Firstly, Tiger Woods is one of the most famous faces on this planet, so whatever he does is big news. But the second reason is that many of the other six billion of us in the world probably don’t know what the word ‘biodiversity’ actually means. It’s not in common parlance and let’s face it – no matter what language you speak it’s hardly motivational. On the contrary, it could actually come across as bureaucratic, technical and make ordinary people feel excluded.
Dumbing down versus disinterest
So now, thanks to semantics, a vital message about protecting our environment (and that’s another of those off-putting words) is in danger of being ignored. I’m not advocating dumbing-down, but our world can’t afford for a large slice of its population to continue to be disinterested. Maybe we can start by replacing lukewarm words like biodiversity, environment and conservation with powerful buzzwords. Anyone got any ideas?
Just for the record, the term biodiversity was coined in the 1980s, and my favourite definition is this: “The variety of life on Earth, at all levels, from genes and microorganisms to plants and animals, and the places where they live and of which they are part.” What could be more simple, and more vital, than that? Biodiversity is a complex web that holds the world and everything in it together – take one element out, like chopping down rainforest to plant palms for oil, and we could do untold harm.
We humans rely on that marvellous mixture of life to provide us with food, fuel and wealth. Yet we abuse it and the damage we are doing – the wholesale destruction of plants and animals (apparently three species die out every hour) – will surely come back to haunt us. I’ve even heard it said that if we don’t rein in our demands we’ll need to rent a bigger planet.
More than just a name change
Many countries are now trying to counteract the threat. Here in the UK we have the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), with offspring groups bearing acronyms like BRIG and BRAG to handle information and research. This might sound rather comical, but BAP is deadly serious, and has already identified 1,150 species and 65 habitats that need safeguarding in this country alone.
Worldwide, biodiversity is facing its greatest threat in millions of years – yet did you know we are now halfway through the United Nations’ International Year of Biodiversity, aimed at drawing attention to what’s going on? Not grabbed much attention, has it? It certainly didn’t crop up much during the election hustings.
Biodiversity needs much more than just a name change – somehow it has to find a rightful place in the world’s conscience.