Imagine losing 40% of your garden to aphids, 40% of your back yard to fungal blight, or 40% of the food in your refrigerator to slimy black mold.
It’s not a pretty thought.
Now, imagine losing an equal percentage of our planet’s plant species to a much more insidious threat, human negligence. If you need some help picturing this nightmare, just look outside.
It’s happening already.
At least 40% of all plant species on Earth are at risk of going extinct, according to the State of the World’s Plants and Fungi report by the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, in the UK. Many of them are useful as food, medicines and biofuel, The Guardian reports, and perhaps even helpful in treating pandemic diseases like coronavirus.
“We would be able not survive without plants and fungi – all life depends on them – and it is really time to open the treasure chest,” Prof. Alexandre Antonelli, director of science at the RBG Kew and lead author of the report, told The Guardian.
Tragically, the chest may be emptied out by the time we get it open.
“Every time we lose a species, we lose an opportunity for humankind,” Antonelli said. “We are losing a race against time as we are probably losing species faster than we can find and name them.”
The report pointed out that humans rely on a relatively small number of plant species in comparison to the whole of existence, which puts humankind at even greater risk as plant diversity plummets. Half of the world’s population eats gains like rice, corn and wheat for a majority of their calories. And with fewer species around new diseases and climate events can have a devastating impact on those left around, no matter how critical they are to human survival.
“The good news is that we have over 7,000 edible plant species that we could use in the future to really secure our food system,” said Tiziana Ulian, a senior research leader at RBG Kew.
There seems to be no slowing the disappearance of our plant’s flora. A recent UN-funded report titled the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, admonished world leaders for failing to meet required targets to stop destruction of nature.
“Each of the conditions necessary to achieve the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity requires a significant shift away from ‘business as usual’ across a broad range of human activities,” the GBO5 website maintains. “The shape and nature of such transformative change can already be identified through a series of transitions under way to a limited extent in key areas. This Outlook examines the promise, progress and prospects for interdependent transitions on the following issues, that collectively can move our societies into a more sustainable co-existence with nature:
- Land and Forests
- Fisheries and Oceans
- Sustainable Agriculture
- Food Systems
- Cities and Infrastructure
- Climate Action
- One Health
Six of these areas have been partially addressed, and 44% of vital biodiverse areas are now protected, but 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of marine habitats have been lost, The Hill reports.
“Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, and the pressures driving this decline are intensifying. None of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets will be fully met, in turn threatening the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and undermining efforts to address climate change,” the report reads.
“Natural habitats have continued to disappear, vast numbers of species remain threatened by extinction from human activities, and $500 billion of environmentally damaging government subsidies have not been eliminated,” the Guardian reports.
The UN now holds that the Earth’s diverse ecosystems are collapsing, and misaligned initiative to stop this collapse falls afoul of the Paris agreement on the climate crisis. UN biodiversity head Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, said today’s choices have never held greater impact on the lives of tomorrow.
“Earth’s living systems as a whole are being compromised. And the more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own wellbeing, security and prosperity,” she said.
Learn more in the video below.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.