By Dr. Nicole de Paula
“As we encroach on nature and deplete vital habitats, increasing numbers of species are at risk. That includes humanity and the future we want.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Biodiversity protection improves our health
What is biodiversity? Often understood as the ensemble of plants, animals and microorganisms on Earth, biodiversity is, above all, a rich sample of genetic differences among species and the variety of ecosystems. In fact, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to wicked challenges such as climate change.
Human activities are at the core of biodiversity loss. We are undermining the health of future generations without their consent and this has serious ethical implications. According to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), at least 40% of the world’s economy and 80% of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources.
More than providing food, medicine and regulating our climate, biodiversity is also a medicine against zoonoses, the diseases transmitted from animals to humans. “On average, one new infectious disease emerges in humans every four months, with 75% of these infections coming from animals. These so-called zoonotic diseases can spill over to humans, when we destroy animal habitats or trade illegally in wildlife, given that our exposure to pathogens increases.
This means that biodiversity protection can be a large part of the response to reduce our risk of future pandemics, avoiding the nightmare that the world is going through with COVID-19.
Academic knowledge is not enough to drive the change needed to put humanity on a safe path. Public outreach is vital to engage all citizens to promote Planetary Health, or "the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems on which it depends". Considering the ultimate importance of public education and awareness about biodiversity, the UN celebrates the International Day for Biological Diversity annually. Traditionally on 22 May, the International Biodiversity Day (IBD) 2020 is a global call for action under the theme “Our solutions are in nature”.
With the support of global leaders, we are collectively invited to rethink our impact on nature and the importance of living in harmony with nature as a way to protect our own health and wellbeing. It is undeniable that we are losing a battle: nature is in crisis. We are losing species at a rate 1,000 times greater than at any other time in recorded human history. In fact, one million species face extinction. Reversing these trends seems impossible for a normal citizen. However, given the urgency of the task, every little action matters. While the bulk of transformation must happen at the policy level, you, as a person, can also take part during this celebration. Experience nature and improve your mental and physical health
There is growing scientific evidence of the negative effects of our disconnection from nature. This is especially true for our mental health. Depression and anxiety are now called the modern diseases. Research has been showing that people are more stressed and sad than ever and COVID-19 can only make this scenario worse.
Scientists showed that two factors contribute the most to conservation mindsets within children in the future: positive direct experiences in nature during childhood; and role models of care for the Earth by someone close to the child—for example, a parent, grandparent, or other trusted guardian. Importantly, children and adolescents with access to nature showed greater enjoyment in more physical activity; which helped them benefit from reduced rates of obesity and other chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, in addition to enhancing emotional well-being and resilience.
Biodiversity protection is not a “nice to have” but essential for our wellbeing. In many communities, there are possibilities for volunteering in the outdoors. Activities can range from collecting climate data or monitoring species. While engaging in a citizen science experiment is more challenging during this COVID-19 pandemic, you can also check inspiring virtual options here. A garden is always a place that brings us joy. Check out this guide Garden for Life for tips about welcoming life, colors and birdsongs even if you have only a small balcony. In times of global lockdowns, even a glimpse of a green leaf can bring us some inner peace. On this 22 May, let’s take a few minutes to be grateful for everything Nature offers us and commit to the mantra “building back better” for a healthier post-COVID19 world.