The Importance of Natural Biodiversity for Our Health & Well-being

“In wildness is the preservation of the world”

Henry David Thoreau

The natural diversity of animals, including insects, plants and soil and water microorganisms that are native to a particular place (ecosystem) help maintain environmental health and sustainability as well as the food web. Such communities also help prevent the spread of invasive and potentially harmful species.

These controls break down and ecological dysbiosis sets in as a result of various human activities, especially industrial farming, aquaculture and agroforestry with virtual monocultures that drastically reduce biodiversity. Invasive weeds, pests and diseases take hold. Rather than change practices and adopt organic, more ecologically sound systems of production, the treadmill of reliance on herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, antibiotics, antiparasitics and other drugs has become the accepted, profit-driven, norm. The rising incidence of cancer in children and dogs is no coincidence.

Public sanitation, personal hygiene, humane animal husbandry and environmental stewardship all help avoid the need for the “preventive” use of such chemical agents and their harmful consequences. Like antibiotics and fungicides, insecticides kill many, non-target, harmless species that help control the proliferation of other potentially harmful species through competitive exclusion. The public is also part of this collateral damage along with honey bees and other pollinators.

The loss of biodiversity and its trophic, regulatory effects coupled with drug and chemical misuse and herbicide-resistant, insecticide-producing corn and other GMO crops all help create “superbugs” — resistant strains of bacteria, fungi and other pests and diseases. Some are now resident in many hospitals; herbicide-resistant “superweeds”, blights and pests constantly threaten and ruin crops; drug- resistant populations of mosquitoes and internal parasites flourish around the world. Declining, mosquito-consuming frog and bat populations mean a rise in the incidence of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. The rising incidence of Lyme and other tick- borne diseases in the Americas is not simply attributable to climate change but many factors especially a paucity of foxes and other eaters of small rodents that are disease-reservoirs, and of insectivorous birds and reptiles that consume disease-vectoring ticks..

Additional problems are created by the importation of plant and animal produce and animal feed from abroad, which calls for heightened biosecurity, along with legislation to prohibit the ownership, propagation and deliberate or accidental release of “exotic” animals and plant varieties. In a mere three years, for example, the Fire salamander has declined by 99.9% in Holland due to the chytrid fungus disease originating in Asia from imported amphibians.

Also, domestic animals that become feral, from cats and camels to cattle and pigs, are a major threat to many wild species and biodiversity on many continents.

Optimal biodiversity is the keystone of One Health—animal, plant, environmental and human— which Albert Schweitzer MD, was one of the first to recognize in his call for reverence for all life, an ethic that contradicts the ethos of consumptive and destructive societies. Having respect for all beings and things is one of the seven traditional core values of the Lakota Sioux. The contribution of biodiversity to One Health includes clean air, pure water (now via “bioremediation”), productive soils and ecosystem resilience: And, therefore, to greater climatic, economic and social stability and food security— provided our needs and numbers are more effectively self-restrained rather than by the adverse, anthropogenic consequences of intensifying planetary dysbiosis.

For detailed documentation of the degradation of planetary ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, see the 2019 United Nations’ IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. (https://www.ipbes.net/assessment-reports/eca).The Report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

Animals, Nature and the Ethics of Respect and Care

It is evident from the above United Nation’s report that we have yet to learn to share this planet with other intelligent life forms and consciousnesses. This would be for our own good which is bound to that of other beings who comprise and sustain the life community even if we do not respect and care for the least of them. Without the ethics of respect and care we are less than human and have become the most dangerous species on Earth. Inhumanity has no bounds ecologically, spiritually or ethically.

I did not foresee in my 1980 book One Earth One Mind how rapidly dystopias and planetary dysbiosis, signaled by climate change and a plethora of new pests and diseases, would come from our collective lack of respect and care. Now almost four decades later we are well into the “Anthropocene” age and awakening to the tragedy of reality and the challenge to either evolve or perish.

The ethics of respect and care awaken compassion and empathy, broadening into bioethics and now giving rise to the One Health movement. This is being embraced by more and more physicians, veterinarians and others in the healing professions along with organic farmers, foresters and other sustainable users of natural resources. The British Veterinary Association is now promoting the benefits of sustainable consumption and the concept of “less and better” farmed animal produce for animal welfare, One Health and sustainability reasons. “Eating “less and better” sees some citizens reduce consumption of animal derived products, whilst maintaining proportional spend on high animal health and welfare products.”*

Governments under corporate control and corrupted by vested interests cannot be relied upon but all must be held responsible for resisting any and all civil society initiatives driven by reason, sound science, the ethics of respect and care and justice for all beings.

Religion, Animals and the Environmental Crisis

For most of human history we humans were gatherer-hunters with an intimate knowledge of the natural world. This knowledge was the basis of our animistic religious sensibility that felt and respected the life force in all things, as in ourselves, which gave us a sense of kinship with all life.

Lakota Sioux Luther Standing Bear, in his 1933 book Land of the Spotted Eagle, wrote “The animal has rights-the right of man’s protection—-The concept of life and its relations was humanizing and gave the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of living; it gave him reverence for all life; it made a place for all things in the scheme of existence with equal respect for all.”

Christian missionary doctor Albert Schweitzer later echoed this spiritual realization in his philosophy of reverence for life especially from the perspectives of world peace and disease prevention.

Contemporary religions have taken us away from such affinities with other living beings and the natural world, long condemning such views as primitive paganism, and heretical to the divine order of man under God and man over all else. .It is surely time to make amends to all indigenous peoples and species and their ecosystems and communities..

* BVA Position on UK sustainable animal agriculture - British Veterinary Association

** For more details see Healing Animals & the Vision of One Health and Animals & Nature First, Create Space Books, Amazon.com