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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Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living
Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.
However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.
They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.
What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??
Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded.
Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.
In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.
Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.
Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.
How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?
Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.
For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.
Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.
Their influence in the UK
The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.
Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.
In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.
How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018
Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.
Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:
1. Energy – produce it, save it
If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.
It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.
While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.
Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!
2. Don’t be just another tourist
Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.
3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly
We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.
To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.
It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.
4. Know thy recycling
People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.
People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.
5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool
Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.
All in all
The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.
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