My Biggest Concern for the Future of Life on Earth

Court Whelan, Ph.D. December 14, 2019 0

Court Whelan, Director of Sustainability and Conservation Travel at Natural Habitat Adventures, recently sent out an insightful office-wide email, and we couldn’t resist sharing his eloquent and valid concerns with our travelers.

Monarch butterflies in Mexico.

I often get asked the question, “what is your biggest concern when it comes to the future of our planet?” My answer—loss of biodiversity, plain and simple.  Yes, climate change is bad, but it’s really the loss of biodiversity resulting from a warming climate, or habitat destruction, or any number of other causes that worries me most.

However, when it comes to why biodiversity loss is so important and so grave, people often don’t understand the reasons. I feel that it’s crucial we understand the reasons here, not just because it’s our business to showcase the world’s biodiversity and we actually depend on it for our livelihoods, but because we are positioned as some of the best to explain this issue in our respective roles here at Nat Hab.

Orangutan in Borneo.

What is biodiversity and why does it matter to us?—If I could make this article required reading I would 😊.  But, I do humbly invite you to give this thoughtful piece a read, as the whole story is the best way to digest and form your own takeaways.

I would, however, like to provide a few takeaways that will help you understand what biodiversity is, why it’s important, and a little about one of the largest crusades to save it.

  • Biodiversity is the variety of life on earth, in all its forms and all its interactions.
  • Biodiversity is comprised of several levels, starting with genes, then individual species, then communities of creatures and finally entire ecosystems.
  • Biodiversity represents the combined knowledge of life, learned (both actual learning and genetic learning) by evolving species over millions of years, about how to survive through varying environmental conditions, from catastrophic storms and droughts to day-to-day life.
  • The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat ultimately rely on biodiversity. There are obvious ways, like bees that pollinate crops, but also complex ones like hardwood tropical trees, which abate climate change and depend on land tortoises and spider monkeys to distribute their seeds…the list goes on and on with complex relationships we barely even understand.
  • There are currently 1.7 million species of animals, plants and fungi recorded, but experts predict the actual total that exist in the world to be closer to 9 million…we haven’t discovered nor cataloged even a quarter of life on Earth.
  • The current extinction rate is thought to be about 1,000 times greater than before humans spread across the planet. Experts feel this rate is as fast or even faster than the extinction rate that wiped out the dinosaurs.
  • Habitat loss is the primary driver for biodiversity loss.  We must save areas and ecosystems to preserve biodiversity.
  • Organizations like WWF and the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation are working to set aside half of Earth for wildlife.  That is, if we can protect half of Earth’s land area, we can protect 85% of life’s current biodiversity, which is deemed excellent for the future of life. I highly encourage you to dig deeper into this half-earth concept if you wish to view the future of conservation biology on our planet.

Lions and Nat Hab travelers in Africa.

To put this in context of what WE do at Nat Hab, we’re adding value to life’s most critical ecosystems around the world—the biodiversity hotspots.  As I like to say, we in the office along with the guests on our trips are doing disproportionate good here, because we’re not just adding value to places randomly, we’re targeting the areas that have the most biodiversity—Africa, the tropics of Central and South America, Madagascar, Borneo, India and so on.  Yes, we travel to these destinations because people want to see a lot of species, but it has the dual purpose of creating advocates for these biodiverse areas, giving further value to the most valuable places and animals on our planet. Be proud.

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