Web edition: April 30, 2010
Not to get insanely perky — but let’s not overlook the glimmers of hope among stark new stories about continuing failures to protect living things on Earth.
News is indeed dire. A Science paper released online April 29 showed that Earth’s biodiversity, basically its vast variety of living things, continues to dwindle despite goals set in an international treaty called the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The paper’s 45 authors use 31 indicators of biodiversity — extinctions, fish stocks, vertebrate populations and so on — to conclude that “the rate of biodiversity does not appear to be slowing.” In fact, pressures on biodiversity seem to be intensifying, including resource consumption and climate change.
On the sunny side, though, there are signs that nations are starting to address the problem. The paper notes that 87 percent of countries now have “outlined coherent plans” for tracking biodiversity. And the same percentage of eligible countries has joined international agreements to prevent the spread of invasive species. Forest area certified for sustainable management has increased, as has protection of areas important for bird life.
And in an upward trend for aquatic life, Asia’s water quality index has improved by 7.4 percent since 1970.
Some individual species are doing better, showing that conservation efforts can work. Examples include:
Still, the world’s goal was to significantly slow down the loss rate by 2010, and we’re missing that goal by a margin big enough for planet’s whole remaining population of endangered elephants to tramp through (SN: 3/13/10, p. 20).
Reversing the downward trend in biodiversity “is a huge goal, but I wouldn't say this is impossible,” says one of the coauthors of the Science paper, Alessandro Galli, an environmental scientist working with the Global Footprint Network in Oakland, Calif.
The treaty nations (which, by the way, don’t include the United States) may decide to set a new goal when they meet in October in Nagoya, Japan. Galli’s message: “the issue has to be taken seriously.” And, at the risk of perkiness, a bit optimistically.
Milius, Susan. 2010. Losing life’s variety. Science News 177, 6 (March 13): 20.