Diversity in all living things enriches our lives, but more importantly, biodiversity is essential to life on earth. Biodiversity not only maintains a functional environment; it is a resource for food, shelter, clothing and other materials. The economy relies on biodiversity since it provides renewable economic resources and ecosystem services, medical and scientific benefits, and is priceless in term of cultural and aesthetic values.
In British Columbia, resources such as timber, minerals, water, fish and game animals, and agricultural products are integral to our economy. Biodiversity invigorates our tourism industry and allows us to host a vast array of adventure, ecotourism and wilderness experiences. The economic value of biodiversity in the form of natural resources is easy to measure, since its biomass is directly used in commerce. However, the value of biodiversity associated with maintaining these natural resources is much more difficult to assess.
Biodiversity provides a variety of ecosystem services, which are critical to human survival and the economy. Different organisms are responsible for controlling invasive or pest species, maintaining soil fertility, pollinating and thereby maintaining diverse vegetation, purifying air and water, detoxifying and decomposing wastes, and regulating climate. These ecosystem services are complex natural processes that are interrelated in ways that are not completely understood. Therefore, the impact of losing any one of these processes on our economy is unknown.
Medical & Scientific Benefits
Medicine relies on biodiversity since most pharmaceutical drugs are derived either directly or indirectly from wild species, mainly plants. However, only about 2 per cent of the flowering plants in the world have been studied for their potential pharmacological properties. New discoveries, often in unexpected areas, are ongoing. For example, taxol, an anti-cancer drug, was discovered in the bark of Pacific Yew trees in BC’s old-growth forests. The Yew was previously regarded as a non-commercial tree that was discarded during forest harvesting. The medicinal properties of biodiversity are important for human health as well as scientific research and the economy.
Public Values & Ideals
The most difficult value of biodiversity to measure is its aesthetic beauty and cultural heritage. Individuals and groups use their own measuring stick to assess these values. Some idealize it, and some define themselves in part by it. In 1937, British Columbia artist Emily Carr wrote in her journal “It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw, not because she is Canada but because she’s something sublime that you were born into, some great rugged power that you are a part of.”
Unfortunately, benefits from economic goods, ecosystem services and societal values are in jeopardy because biodiversity is declining. Although, species extinction is a natural process, human consumption of natural resources has accelerated the rate of extinction of species to more than 100 times greater than known background rates. This loss is an early warning of a rapidly deteriorating environment. The documented extinction and endangerment of species, loss or degradation of habitat, depletion of natural resources and associated economic impacts lead to a loss of cultural heritage. The rate of biodiversity loss must be decreased if we are to retain the magnificence of a rich biota, and sustain the natural resources that maintain our growing human population.