BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY IS THE FOUNDATION OF CIVILIZATION
IF COVID 19 HAS GIVEN US ANY LESSONS IT IS THAT THE PLANET DOESN’T NEED SAVING, WE ARE SAVING OURSELVES. HUMANS ACCOUNT FOR JUST 0.01% OF BIOMASS. THIS YEAR’S INTERNATIONAL BIODIVERSITY DAY ON MAY 22 THUS GATHERS GREATER SIGNIFICANCE.
By: Sapna Srivastava
Biological diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms, but it also includes varied differentiations within each species. What’s important to understand is that loss of biodiversity could expand zoonoses – diseases transmitted from animals to humans, as is being witnessed by the world today.
Regardless of mankind’s technological advances, we are completely dependent on nature for our water, food, medicines, fuel, energy, just to name a few. But, in direct proportion to higher levels of global population and prosperity, our relationship with nature continues to sour with increased resource extraction, infrastructure development, pollution and biodiversity loss.
CONSERVATION & RESTORATION
Recent global assessments indicate a rapidly narrowing window for action to reverse damage to the natural ecosystem. According to UN Environment Programme (UNEP), we’re at a stage, where conservation is no longer enough. We also need to heavily invest in restoration.
Ecosystem restoration can be done in two ways –
- Passive Rewilding simply means getting out of the way and letting nature heal itself. In project at Oostvaardersplassen in Netherlands, an area of reclaimed polder land has been given over to nature. The project at Lapland in northern Sweden and Norway aims to leave some 35,000 square kilometres to rewild. In North America, the Wildlands Network aims to link up protected areas in “wildways” in which animals can freely roam spanning Canada, the US and Mexico.
- Active Engineering of entire landscapes includes mass tree planting, removal of non-native species and damaging infrastructure such as dams, and also reintroductions of species. South Korea adopted an active reforestation policy in the 1950s and forests now cover two thirds of the country. The Green Belt Movement founded in Kenya has planted tens of millions of trees acrosss Africa, and inspired many similar projects.
ROLE OF CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY
Construction sector is one of the most resource intensive industries impacting directly and indirectly the natural habitats, wildlife and plant species. The construction sector therefore has an important role to play in minimising damage to ecology. The long term environmental impacts of construction activity includes water table depletion, pollution of air and water both at site and wider geography and extraction of construction materials like timber, gravel, sand, iron ore, rocks etc. can impact regional biodiversity. Also, the construction processes affect feeding and breeding behaviours of species in the vicinity negatively impacting their long term population levels. The use of land may also divide up land and separate habitats which can influence population dynamics especially for mobile species leading to gradual decline in populations. These effects are often not acknowledged or are poorly addressed by decision makers.
Unless biodiversity can be valued and traded as a factor of production, its conservation can become a secondary objective in policy and practice. As Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary Convention for Biological Diversity says, “Every dollar spent on ecosystem restoration can accure between $3 and $75 in return.”
“IF YOU COMPARE EARTH’S HISTORY TO A CALENDAR YEAR, WE HAVE USED ONE-THIRD OF ITS NATURAL RESOURCES IN THE LAST 0.2 SECONDS. AS WE ENCROACH ON NATURE, INCREASING NUMBERS OF SPECIES ARE AT RISK. THAT INCLUDES HUMANITY.” UN SECRETARY, GENERAL ANTÓNIO GUTERRES
First and foremost, architects, planners and developers through an appropriate design can aim to minimise impacts on natural habitat, land fragmentation and species isolation. Building environment sensitive architecture can go a long way in countering the aftereffects of construction. In addition, developing local ecological networks to create new habitats, buffer areas and landscape features can help in preserving wildlife.
By managing use of building materials, disposal of waste and recycling & repurposing companies can make a huge difference in minimizing carbon footprint of the construction. Soft landscaping by means of trees, grass and shrubs support biodiversity, especially if it is indigenous species that are planted. Soft lanscaping has the added advantage of attenuating the movement of groundwater to minimise erosion.
RECONSIDER INFRASTRUCTURE NEEDS
Infrastructure development is always linked with the building of new physical structures – railways, roads, waterways, runways, buildings, etc. But does this need to be the case? For instance –
- Education needs can be met through curricular upgrades rather than building new facilities.
- Traffic congestion can be better managed by staggering office work hours, introducing peak traffic restrictions & congestion charges and increasing public transport options than building new roads.
- New technologies from mobile telephony applications to robotics and drones can be used to reduce the need to build infrastructure.