Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

The Death of Biodiversity


Just this past week, the United Nations issued a sweeping 1,500-page report detailing how humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscape so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction. Compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, this report is, without question, the most exhaustive - and deeply chilling - look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers this decline creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published later this year. And yet, in the same week we joined in on approving the UN biodiversity report, U.S representatives pressured the Arctic Council to issue a short joint statement that excluded any mention of climate change whatsoever.

In covering the Arctic Council’s summary communiqué, the New York Times reported: “It was the first time since its formation in 1996 that the council had been unable to issue a joint declaration spelling out its priorities. As an international organisation made up of eight Arctic countries and representatives of indigenous groups in the region, its stated mission is cooperation on Arctic issues, particularly the protection of the region’s fragile environment. According to diplomats involved in the negotiations, at issue was the United States’ insistence not to mention the latest science on climate change or the Paris Agreement aimed at averting its worst effects. The omission is especially notable because scientists have warned that the Arctic is heating up far faster than the world average because of rising greenhouse gas emissions.” 

The illogic of signing on to the U.N. report - which begins with “The main message of our report is that transformative change is urgently needed. There are no other options” - while virtually in the same breath grossly narrowing the focus of the Arctic Council’s summary conclusion, is emblematic of an Administration that does not know its gluteus maximus from its rectus femoris.

Getting back to last Monday’s U.N. report, the 145-plus scientists/authors who contributed to the massive report say they found overwhelming evidence that human activities are behind nature’s decline. They ranked the major drivers of species decline as land conversion, including deforestationoverfishingbush meat hunting and poaching; climate change; pollution; and invasive alien species. Their report - the full version of which will be published in late Summer/early Fall - also contains innumerable approaches and projects which must be undertaken by every nation on earth if humanity expects to ever reverse the all but certain death of biodiversity. Make no mistake about it: a planet bereft of millions upon millions of arable acres; of species of trees, plants, quadrupeds, birds, bees, butterflies, fish, mammals and insects is a planet which one day will no longer be able to sustain human life. And when we pass the “point of no return,” it won’t matter how rich, powerful or famous anyone is: a billionaire can drown, starve or broil just as easily and with equal certainty as a poor, backward illiterate.

What possible reason (or reasons) could any cult, country, or corporation have for turning a blind, unbelieving or hostile eye towards the overwhelming evidence of science when it comes to drastic climate change and the ensuing death of biodiversity? Several thoughts come to mind:

  • Many religious fundamentalists and creationists really, truly believe with every fiber of their being that anything and everything which occurs in this life and on this planet is part of God’s plan - whether we understand it or not. Among these, one will find folks who believe that the world is less than 10,000 years old; that dinosaurs and homo sapiens were contemporaneous; and that the death of various species has nothing to do with human action, but, once again, with Divine Will. To my way of thinking - and with all due respect, one simply cannot love God and and ignore the earth. Then too, there are those who have lapped up the Kool Aid and simply believe that scientists are all part of the “fake news” conspiracy.

  • Within the realm of politics, many oppose the findings of science not because they are intellectual pygmies, but rather because they fear the so-called “New World Order,” a cabal, working in secret as well as through official-­seeming, above-­ground means, seeking to establish an all-powerful, possibly Luciferian, one-world government. The very thought of signing on to such international pacts as the United Nations-backed Paris Agreement on global warming - to their way of thinking - merely opens the doors to other countries or international bodies telling us what we may or may not do. While this may well be a sop to a more America-central version of foreign policy, it may also an obedient response to those who fund reelection campaigns and fear losing market share.

  • One also suspects that opposition to the conclusions of science has little - if anything - to do with either religious scruples or political philosophy, but rather the bottom line. Let’s face it: in order to stem the tide of gross climate change and the incipient shrinkage of biodiversity, corporations will have to spend trillions of dollars. Retooling industry - moving from nonrenewable sources of energy to solar, wind, geothermal and other forms of energy - is not cheap. Success cannot be measured in terms of fiscal quarters or years; rather, success can take decades, if not more. Unfortunately, corporations are far, far more concerned with the next quarter than the next generation. The same goes for government: keeping taxes low today makes reelection a greater possibility tomorrow. The senator or representative who votes to raise taxes for the sake of tomorrow is going to run afoul of those who provide the majority of campaign dollars.

Research shows that every day, we use - and then toss out - over 500 million plastic straws here in America, most of those end up in our oceans, polluting the water and killing marine life.  In response to this obscenity, many cities, towns and counties here in Florida passed local ordinances banning their use in restaurants and fast-food joints. In response to an avalanche of lobbying by cash-wielding representatives of the plastics industry (who contribute tons of $$$ to politicians) the Republican-led Florida legislature caved and passed by a vote of 24-15, HB 771, which would have barred any local government from adopting or enforcing a ban on plastic straws until July 2024. Their reasoning?

  • That banning single-use plastic straws is beyond the scope of municipal governments, and

  • That there is yet insufficient proof that all the trash emanating from these millions upon millions of straws is harmful to marine life . . . that a thorough-going study by a committee of the legislature must first investigate the situation . . . which many legislatures declared “bogus.”

  • During floor debate, one legislator actually said ‘Straws make up a tiny portion of America's plastic litter, which in turn makes up a tiny portion (about 1 percent) of global plastic pollution. Banning them will have approximately zero impact on the world's oceans.

I’m happy to report that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis - a conservative Republican who is a stalwart Trump supporter - vetoed the measure. Good for you Governor!

OK, banning single-use plastic straws isn’t going to solve the worst of all possible crises . . . which we may dub geo necrosis (the death of the world). But hey, a journey of a billion miles does begin with a couple of steps.

The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is, perhaps, the greatest pro-environmental text in all Human history. For in very first chapter of the first book of that mighty tome, one finds God’s very first commandment. If one will thumb their way to Genesis 1:28, one will find:

. פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ

(Pronounced p’ru ur’vu umel’uh et ha-aretz v’khib-shuha; u’rdu beeg-daht ha-ya u’va-ofe ha-shamyim, u’khol khayah ha-romeset ahl ha-aretz)

Translated from the original Hebrew, God’s very first commandment states: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and all the beasts which walk the earth.” It all seems pretty straightforward . . . with one exception. That is the Hebrew term וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ (v’khib-shua), normally translated as “conquer it.” Sorry, but without access to commentary, people have long mistranslated what God expects of us with regards to the Earth and all its gifts. No, it does not mean “conquer,” which has long given humanity license to do whatever they bloody well please with the world and its wonders - and with Co’s Divine imprimatur. But digging into commentary, one learns that v’khib-shuha means something far more akin to act as “protectors” than as “conquerors.”

To oh so many of you who contort and pervert the original meaning of this, the very first commandment, I say “If you really, truly want to do God’s will and fulfill Co’s (“His/Her”) word, protect and mentor the earth and its many, many creatures. Come to grips with the fact that In order to safeguard a healthy planet, we need to shift from a sole focus on chasing economic growth and doing what is best for corporations to doing what is best for all that which God has created. And if it costs hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars, Euros, Yen, Rubles and Shekels, so what? Saving the world God created; rescuing the creatures co created . . . these acts can also create an awful lot of new employment. Saving the earth; protecting as much biodiversity as we can - it’s as religious an act and can be imagined.

While it is crystal clear that ‘45 and a majority of his acolytes are more interested in cutting taxes, overturning Roe v., Wade and propping up the Second Amendment than in saving the bees, butterflies and the biosphere, the 20-odd Democratic candidates for POTUS are all deeply concerned. To get a sense of where they stand and what they propose, check out what the various candidates propose. It might just give you a modicum of hope.

Remember: This planet is our one and only home. We have no other choice; we must care for it.

541 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone