On May 6, 2019 the UN released a statement based on the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services’ research and analysis. The report concluded that the rate of species extinction is more rapid than ever before in human history—more than 1 million species face extinction within the next decade, most of which have not received media attention. However, out-of-sight, out-of-mind has never been a viable option for preventing extinction. The report states that the only strategy that shows promise is “transformative change,” that is, “fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic, and social factors, including paradigms, goals, and values.” It focuses on environmental factors that contribute to changing ecosystems and ranks five direct drivers as the most impactful:
- Changes in land and sea use
- Direct exploitation of organisms
- Climate change
- Invasive alien species
In the US, our biggest change in land use is large-scale agriculture (agribusiness) for the mass production of food. To meet US food demands, agribusiness mass produces a few crop variants. These farming practices (monoculture) limit the variety of plant species produced, which limits the number and variety of pollinators essential to crop growth. Those that do pollinate commercial crops are exposed to pesticides.
Pesticides are dangerous contributors to the extinction trend. While they target pests, they also leach into soil and groundwater and harm soil microbes as well as birds, fish, non-target plants, and favorable insects, including pollinators. The danger of soil microbe loss is difficult to reckon exactly, but we do know that healthy soils provide the backbone for healthy, resilient ecosystems. Microbes are specialized to the crops around them. Therefore, lack of crop diversity diminishes soil biodiversity which makes crops less resilient to climate change, pests, disease, and pesticides. Crop rotation can mitigate these dangers, but agribusiness only rotates crops when it is financially profitable.
According to the UN, “Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface; up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100–300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.” Loss of plant, pollinator, and soil biodiversity threatens ecosystem stability, food security, and ultimately our economy. We must push for stricter policies that embody the transformative change the UN is calling for. While we cannot stop climate change, we can fight for more resilient landscapes and less damaging agricultural practices. We can push for education on environmental issues and understanding of how our actions affect the natural world. Otherwise, species loss and climate change and the resultant economic devastation will be much worse, much sooner.
— Becky Keteltas, Member, Earth and Environment Task Force