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Booming population bad for biodiversity

20 April 2010 No Comment
The Earth’s species are disappearing, and this time we can’t blame the asteroids. But just what is biodiversity, and why should we be worried? Annie Hastwell talks to Dr Aaron Bernstein about his mission to stop the world’s next mass extinction.

Endangered Species

Biodiversity is set to decline by mid century. Image by: Donna *Deestea*

Population growth and human consumption are killing the world’s biodiversity, according to author Dr Aaron Bernstein.

As a paediatrician with a passion for biodiversity, he predicts that we are on a fast track to a species wipe out similar to the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction 65 million years ago.

“We’re on a pace to lose roughly a third to a half of all species by mid-century or shortly thereafter. The difference is that 65 million years ago an asteroid struck the Earth and precipitated those extinctions,” said Dr Bernstein.

But today, the drivers of extinction are habitat loss and climate change – both a result of human interference.

So what is biodiversity?

“What biodiversity really means is the variety of all life, not just the beautiful birds and colourful fish that you go out of your way to see at zoos and aquariums,” Dr Bernstein said.

“It includes the species that make up the ecosystems that filter the water here in Melbourne, or the trees that purify air outside Sydney or the farms that provide food to all Australians- and indeed to all people.”

Dr Bernstein states such life should be protected and the way to do it is to address the leading threats to biodiversity.

“First is climate change. We need an internationally binding agreement,” he said.

“No single nation can solve the problem of climate change.”


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The second issue is that of habitat loss due to human consumption- mainly of fossil fuels.

“Fossil fuels, which [are] really the fundamental source of all of our consumption, [are] much too cheap right now,” Dr Bernstein said.

“Addressing carbon will be a major way to reduce consumption.”

Dr Bernstein says that as the world moves toward a dense urban lifestyle, we are forgetting the important bond between human and nature.

“It’s important to recognise that most people in today’s world live in cities and that trend has been continuing. It has become extremely difficult for us to identify the bonds of nature which were so clear and so real when all of us required land to farm,” he said.

“This message that our health is dependent on the health of nature needs to get out.

“In order to re-establish the connection we need to give people information on how our health is tied to nature so we can act in ways that are in our own interest.”

But to truly make a difference and save biodiversity once and for all, Dr Bernstein says that each individual must do their part.

“It is the sum of our actions that lead to these problems and in fact there is a tremendous amount that individuals can do… like trying to eat locally grown foods when possible, trying to take public transport, limiting our use of cars, or owning fuel-efficient cars.”

Annie Hastwell is a producer for The Wire

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