2019: The Year Biodiversity - Actually - Died
By Olivia Baccellieri
Reminders of global warming and our ever-changing environment surround us on a daily basis. Each year, global temperatures seem to reach new heights, while the ice sheets in the Arctic continue to break. We see pictures of cities inundated with pollution, and see the Amazon burning before our eyes during global news reports. These focuses are not new, and have remained hot-button topics in schools, businesses and politics. 2019 saw great dialogue and concern for our changing world, albeit in a more extreme sense. The Intergovernmental Science‐Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services [IPBES] released a damning report about the state of our global environment: we are sitting on a ticking time-bomb as biodiversity in plant and animal species has dropped significantly in 2019 alone.
In their 1,500 page report, IPBES notes that of the 8 million species of plant and animal species worldwide, 1 million are currently in danger of becoming extinct (Bongaarts 2019). Perhaps most alarmingly, a significant proportion of marine life have become increasingly threatened in 2019. IPBES documented 40 percent of amphibians and 33 percent of coral specials as nearly extinct.
Earlier this year, I traveled to Cairns and Whitsundays in the Australian state of Queensland to visit the Great Barrier Reef. Located on the northeast coast of Australia, Queensland is home to beautiful mountain and ocean scenery, and attracts thousands of visitors every year who want to witness the beauty of the Reef. While I was underwater myself, I saw firsthand how the coral reefs were no longer as vibrant as I once saw in National Geographic photos, or ‘Animal Planet’ features. Some of the corals were heavily bleached, while others appeared to retain more of their natural color. Incredible fish - starfish, clownfish, jellyfish and beyond - swam around me. I couldn’t help but wonder - could these animals sense that the very waters they swam in were being threatened by our increasing volumes of carbon dioxide and maritime pollution?
Additionally, IPBES reported that in 2019, more than a third of the world’s land and three-quarters of the Earth’s water are devoted to crop and livestock production. Especially concerning is the rate of unsustainable harvesting of fish for commercial purposes, as one-third of fish is secured in ways damaging toward the environment. These trends of overproduction and underprotection will likely continue to rise in the future if our attitudes and approaches regarding environmentalism do not change.
2019 saw catastrophic hurricanes, devastating wildfires, and other events catalyzed by our seemingly continuous descent into global warming. The IPBES report on biodiversity confirms that climate change is, indeed, real and that it affected the world’s aquatic and land species on a daily basis in 2019. If we desire a future rich in biodiversity and opportunities for later generations to experience the splendors of the world, we must act now - not next month, next year or next decade. Communities around the globe were galvanized to stop using plastic straws in favor of reusable metal ones after seeing pictures of turtles caught in plastic debris in the ocean. Why can’t we approach similarly situated issues with the same urgency? Unfortunately, the state of our environment is not in a place of being able or wanting to act - we have to.
Bongaarts, J. (2019). IPBES, 2019. Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science‐Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Population and Development Review, 45(3), 680–681.