PD Editorial: A grim report card on biodversity

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A landmark assessment of Earth’s biodiversity paints a bleak picture of human stewardship of our one and only planet.

The 1,500-page report, based on scientific studies and compiled by experts from 50 nations working under the auspices of the United Nations, was released last week and is filled with disturbing conclusions, including:

— One million plant and animal species face extinction — more than in any other period in human history.

— The abundance of native plant and animal life already has fallen by at least 20%.

— This loss of biodiversity is projected to accelerate through the first half of the 21st century, especially in the tropics.

— Human activities such as farming, logging, fishing and mining are altering ecosystems at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

— Almost a third of the word’s reef-forming coral species, and more than a third of marine mammals, could die out.

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever, said Robert Watson, a British chemist who chairs the U.N. panel that issued the report. “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

Global warming is contributing to all of these threats.

If the findings sound apocalyptic, it’s because they could be. Indeed, some scientists worry that Earth is headed for a sixth mass extinction.

But the report it isn’t all gloom and doom. “It’s not too late to make a difference,” the authors said — if humans start making changes now.

The remedies for the planet’s sickness are familiar, and many already are being practiced in various locales: stepped up conservation of water and land, especially carbon-trapping forests; farming a wider variety of crops, enhancing soil quality to nourish those crops and adopting pest control methods that protect bees and other life-sustaining pollinators now experiencing severe declines; adding more undersea nature preserves and expanding sustainable fishing practices to maintain fisheries; taking climate change seriously.

Success requires cooperation on a global scale, including a resumption of U.S. leadership on climate and environmental issues that has been largely abdicated by the present administration in Washington.

There’s also a local role. Fortunately, there is a longstanding commitment in Sonoma County, and it’s spreading across California, to sustainable agriculture and fishing, conservation, renewable energy and other practices that protect ecosystems and promote biodiversity.

Individuals can pitch in, too. Eat more locally produced food, ride a bike or a bus from time to time instead of driving, wait a little longer to turn on the air conditioner this summer. Future generations will thank you. In many cases, the youngest among us already are focused on the challenges ahead. You can see some of their suggestions at in a Close to Home column submitted by fourth graders at Cesar Chavez Language Academy in Santa Rosa.

For those of us of a certain age, the U.N. sobering report conjures memories of Pogo, the philosopher possum of the comics page, who observed a generation ago, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

If we act now, there’s still a chance to prove him wrong.

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