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Biodiversity: What is it and why does it matter?



Today – 22 May 2015 – is International Day of Biological Diversity, intended to raise our understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. Guy Petheram takes a closer look at a concept many of us don’t fully understand and examines why it matters.

Biodiversity is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat, a high level of which is usually considered to be important  and desirable.” Put simply, it is a measure of the variety of life on earth, and estimates of the number of plant, animal and microbial species range from between 2 and over 30 million.

The decline of many species, and the extinction of some, has reached critical levels according to the World Wildlife Fund and others. It is virtually impossible either to calculate the number of species on the planet or to estimate accurately the rate at which they are declining. However many believe that species loss is not only a reality but also a serious issue.

The State of Nature Report in 2013 found that 60% of wildlife species in the UK had declined over the last 50 years, 31% strongly, and that 1 in 10 species were in danger of extinction, with climate change acknowledged as having an increasing impact.

In 2010 Natural England undertook an English wildlife audit. It concluded that of the estimated 55,000 native species, nearly 1000 were endangered and that almost 200 had become extinct, mainly in the last two centuries.  On publication of the audit, Dr Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, explained, “We all lose when biodiversity declines. Every species has a role and, like rivets in an aeroplane, the overall structure of our environment is weakened each time a single species is lost.

Biodiversity is important because it is the foundation of balanced biological systems which arise from the dynamic interactions between plant and animals, and their environment. These ‘ecosystems’ provide a range of essential services to human society, the value of which is hard to underestimate.

Historically, ecosystem services have largely been taken for granted but there is an increasing trend towards putting a value on these natural resources.  The UK National Ecosystem Assessment in 2014 concluded that “the natural world, its biodiversity and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to our well-being and economic prosperity, but are consistently undervalued in conventional economic analyses and decision-making.” It also estimated what the environmental economy was worth to the UK and found, for instance, that the marine environment added value equivalent to £49bn in 2011.

This year, an assessment of the UK’s freshwater ecosystems estimated the total value of their services to be £37bn. This included the extraction of fish, water and peat, outdoor recreation and carbon sequestration.

Bats are worth at least $3bn a year to US agriculture in the form of pest control, and pollinating insects provide a service to global agriculture that in 2005 was valued at over $150bn.  Other valuable services provided include water purification, hazard management, such as coastal protection afforded by mangrove swamps and coral reefs, and flood reduction by forests.

The link between environmental biodiversity and human health is also being made. A 2012 study in Finland concluded that, “Rapidly declining biodiversity may be a contributing factor to …the rapidly increasing prevalence of allergies and other chronic inflammatory diseases among urban populations worldwide.”

Healthcare systems depend on biodiversity. 80% of Africans still rely on traditional herbal medicine and new drugs continue to be synthesised by pharmaceutical companies from plants. Taxol from yew (a treatment of cancer), Digitalis from foxgloves (for the treatment of heart disease) and Galanthamine from snowdrops (for Alzheimers) are just a few developed in recent decades.

Only around a third of Europeans feel they know what biodiversity is, while the majority see no immediate personal impact from its loss. That suggests that the natural world is now remote to many of us. However the research suggests we are as connected to and reliant upon the environment as ever.

Biodiversity is complicated and ecosystems are intricate webs of interaction that we may never fully understand. Despite continuing expeditions by scientists to survey and catalogue remote parts of the planet, and new initiatives to balance immediate economic and social needs with species protection, such as last year’s global conference on biodiversity offsetting, it is likely that biodiversity will continue to be lost even before it is discovered.

Photo: Rudolf Getel via flickr


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Further reading:

Organic farming benefits biodiversity, claims report

Sustaining the UK’s Future: Environment and Sustainability at the Heart of Decision Making

Great British Bee Count: allotments better than parks for bees




Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family



Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace --

When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?

What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?

As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.

Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.

5 Good Options

As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:

1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country

Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.

2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.

3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.

4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.

5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel

If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?

Putting it All Together

You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.

You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

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How Climate Change Altered this Engineer’s Life



how climate change affect our lives
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By --

Living the life of an engineer likely sounds pretty glamorous: you are educated and highly regarded, typically have high paying gigs, and with the breadth of knowledge and array of fields of specialty, your possibility for jobs is usually immense.  But what if there was something else that needed your attention? Something bigger than just being an engineer, going to work every day and doing the same technical tasks typically associated with the profession?

For Kevin McCroary, that is exactly how it played out.  A successful engineer, gainfully employed in a prosperous job, a simple trip to the Philippines made him see that there was a bigger issue at hand than using his engineer training in a traditional profession.  This bigger issue was that of climate change.  And working as a volunteer for underprivileged children in the Philippines, he saw first-hand the extensive pollution and poverty that existed here and that impacted the livelihood of these kids and their families.

Upon returning home, from his trip to the Philippines he had a new perspective of the impact we as individuals and as humanity have on the earth, and more than that Kevin wanted to know more.  He started to do some research and study these human-environmental interactions, and shortly thereafter ended up in Greenland.  There, he spoke to a man who had lost his home in a tsunami, and, who, through consistent weather tracking could indeed confirm that the current weather trends were “strange:” there was undeniably a general warming tendency happening in the arctic, causing an array of negative effects.

The combination of these observations, as well as his own research, led Kevin to conclude that something had to be done.  With that in mind, he launched his project Legend Bracelet.  The mission is simple: create a reminder of the legacy we are leaving behind.  As individuals and as humanity, we are leaving behind an imprint on the earth, and the magnitude of it is something that needs to be brought to the forefront of public awareness.  The idea is to have a bracelet that can serve as a daily reminder of the impact on the earth that each of us can have every day, regardless of how big or small.  The bracelet has two capsules: the first is filled with sand or earth, and the second is empty.  As the owner, you are to fill the empty one with your own earth, carrying it with you as a reminder and symbol of your connection and commitment to helping look after our environment.

We are all impacted by climate change, and we all have a responsibility to help.  And it can start with something as simple as putting on a bracelet.  Support Kevin on his Kickstarter campaign for Legend Bracelet, tell others about it, or take action in your own way and play your part in slowing down the effects of climate change.  You may think “but I’m just one person!” You are indeed.  But so is he.  Every change starts with one.

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