The Climate Clock is ticking. In key cities all over the world the clock illustrates how little time is left to attempt and achieve net zero carbon emissions if we want to keep the global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Currently, it says 6 years, 298 days, and 23 hours, and 5 seconds.
It’s now 2030. The world missed its climate targets and extreme weather events pound the planet. Scientists observe a most confounding pattern of plant migration from the infernal equator towards the poles, while a variety of species move to warmer and wetter climes. A climate sensitive industry, agriculture has been hit hardest. As the shifting climate disrupts the natural rhythm of seasons making warmer summers longer, winters become colder and shorter. Dangerous levels of droughts, or heavy snowfall and precipitation attack farms, degrade soil nutrient levels, and drastically reduce yields. With diminishing floral species, the balance of supply and demand tilts towards trepidation. In a couple of years, famine fears could become a reality.
The forests, many of which have started to be replanted massively in the 2020s in a bid to create more carbon sinks, have begun dwindling due to widespread wildfires or killer frosts, eliminating various tree and plant species. Forest simplification minimizes its own ability to cope with the changing climate and invasive species and diseases, further weakening its capacity to rejuvenate and survive as an ecosystem. While a biodiverse forest provides humanity a plethora of cures, as a habitat, simplified forests lose viability. This causes many wild species of insects and animals to venture out and find food and shelter, taking with them viruses and bacteria that have been locked away from humanity for millennia. These vectors fulfill the prophecy of a pandemic era, the black elephant to which nobody paid attention until the mad rampage.
While plants and animals migrate to seek more benign conditions, humans do not just flee climate extremes, harsh environments, and consequential famine. They also try to escape the pandemics that vectors bring. Once in a while, zoonotic diseases strike the already weak and undernourished, threatening even the healthier segment of the population. Often, families have to make the devastating decision to leave the infected behind in their search for more benevolent circumstances.
Countries with poor environments and weak economies could hardly provide what their people need. The most affected communities start to lose faith in government. They simply want to survive but there is very little to live by, so populations start to move towards places where there is at least a promise of food. We see the beginnings of this today in Africa. The conditions during mass migrations are dismal, but it is a choice between hunger and danger. Cross-border migration brings its own ills such as human trafficking, abuse of women and the vulnerable, and other unspeakable crimes. Left with no choice, people decide to risk what little they have and their very life for a hint of hope.
Governments that are faring better are prepared for large-scale cross-border migration earlier on. They barricade their otherwise pockets of hope with military might, keeping them impenetrable from outsiders. They have food, medicine, resilient infrastructure, cooperative systems and functional governance and they are not in any way giving it all up. They are poised to attack any potential threat. We can see this today in the way in which the European border is policed. Cross-border conflict is expected to worsen and war seems inevitable. It’s only a matter of time.
Facing a host of challenges, other cooperating countries can decide to focus. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault began to open to the world’s leading scientists through the biggest global cooperation initiative to propagate food and medicinal plants in a highly controlled and closely protected environment. While the rest of the world reels with wicked problems, hope is high in that Norwegian island. But scientists soon realize their progenitors failed to see the forest for the trees. Having seeds and a few preserved DNA here and there is not enough. Trial after trial, the world’s greatest minds fail to generate the plants en masse because the current conditions are not conducive to address the challenge at hand. The missing ingredients: millions of types of soil, air, and water bacteria, diversity of other plants, insects and animals symbiotically supporting each other, as well as the most appropriate weather conditions that different species require to provide the perfect environment for the plants to thrive.
There is no dearth of knowledge and information in the digital world. Super artificial intelligence churns out various possible solutions. But whatever solutions computers take seconds to come up with, humanity takes a long while to put together and deploy in the physical world. It is a race against time, a luxury that humanity simply doesn’t have.
In the last two hundred years, human awareness of the inherent value of each life form in the web of life has succumbed to myopic perspectives of separation and utility. A failure to recognize the individual and collective value of all life forms translates to a failure to protect them. What is it but either ignorance, greed, and a lack of foresight to allow the world to unravel as it has?
Biogenesis is essential to the planet. At least for the foreseeable future, only natural life could create life on the scale and reach required to sustain the fragile planet as we know it. Johann Gottlieb Fichte said "you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby changing something throughout all parts of the immeasurable whole". Could a crushed butterfly trigger a series of events that could change the trajectory of the future? If so, what are the other probable futures that massive biodiversity loss could bring about? What might be the blind spots that could suddenly surprise or even shock us?
Could technology catch up fast enough to create lasting and impactful solutions? Could comprehensive DNA banking offer an assurance that when appropriate technologies mature, we can recreate animals and plants that have gone extinct and refabricate our natural world? And if this recreated world is seen as a remote possibility, would humanity rally behind biodiversity in the present?
Biodiversity is what differentiates the earth from other planets in the solar system. It provides for everything that humanity requires and thus protects us from the threat of possible extinction. Why is biodiversity important? Life begets life. Loss of life induces loss of life. The clock continues to tick.
© Shiela R Castillo 2021