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3 Reasons Biodiversity Matters – Your Health, The Economy, Your Income

Imagine the most beautiful place in nature. What makes it so attractive?  Perhaps it is a lake or river, trees, animals, lush wildflowers, or other unique plants.  National parks and other reserved land are incredible not only because of their beauty but also due to the flora and fauna that make the ecosystem balanced.  Industrialization morphed our climates to a point where any urban place in the world is likely to have an imbalance of natural systems.  Different practices, from mining coal to clearing land for buildings, exacerbated this imbalance.

According to the USDA, large-scale family farms make up only 2.9% of total farms, but they generate 42% of agricultural outputs.  These large farms generally practice monocropping, meaning that they produce one type of plant. For many farms, this is the process: clear land, till (dig up) dirt, plant seeds, and spray pesticides and herbicides. This is conventional agriculture: inefficient, unfruitful, and all the while expensive.  It is clear to see how traditional agriculture plays a role in the loss of biodiversity, but what about other industries?

Health

In her groundbreaking book Silent Spring, credited for starting the environmental movement in 1962, author Rachel Carson exposed the ugly truth about agricultural practices and impact on our health.   Monocropping degrades the soil little by little because of the lack of diverse crops depletes the soil of its nutrients and offers little back. Also, herbicides and pesticides are sprayed to prevent loss of crops; little do farmers know that spraying for pests and weeds only makes the insect problem worse.  Fertilizer runoff pollutes and drastically changes an environment: the eradication of native plants allows for weeds and invasive species to prevail.

Pesticides not only build up in the soil, making the land weaker and unhealthy, but plant roots also take in and store the chemicals. Those pesticides are still present in the fruits when transported to grocery stores. All this said, there is not sufficient research that speaks to the long-term effect of pesticide and herbicide consumption on humans.

A significant consequence of lack of biodiversity is the effect of monocropping on soils: the practice of growing one crop depletes all of the nutrients in the soil and gives nothing back.  In fact, much of farmland in the U.S. has little to no soil left. An article by Science Daily in 2017 showcased a study that found that around 36 billion tons (roughly 36 million acres) of soil is lost each year due to water runoff (this erosion is caused by poor farming and land management practices). What remains is dirt, which is void of microbes, carbon, nitrogen, and other elements and minerals.

Crop rotation is one way to combat this: harvested fields are given a season or two to rest.  Sometimes, cover crops are sown to replenish the soil with nutrients.  However, not all rotated land is biodiverse.  Gabe Brown, a regenerative agriculture specialist, explains in his book Dirt to Soil that it is not enough to plant one crop and then plant one single cover crop; there needs to be diversity in the types of cover crops because they all do something different for the soil.

Picture a forest or protected land: there is not only one type of plant there because they all serve a purpose.  Cover crops need to be treated the same way.  Some crops add nitrogen to the soil, while others add phosphorus. Some crops send out deep roots, which keeps the topsoil from eroding, and helps with water storage in the soil.  All of these systems are necessary to regenerate the soil effectively.

Income

The end of WWII sparked many agricultural innovations, as explained in Silent Spring, namely plastics and pesticides, which proved to be more of a nuisance than innovative. Since the 1970s, laws, and protocols slowly changed to accommodate the degradation of the environment.  These regulations, dubbed “Green Laws,” impact a myriad of industries– they likely affect yours in some way or another.  Water makes up a majority of these green laws and environmental regulations as water is used in some way in most industries in the U.S and worldwide. According to the World Economic Forum, Agriculture uses the most water of any industry, compromising 80% of water usage in the United States.

Think back about pesticides and how they affect the soil, crops, water, and overall environment. Water purification is costly but necessary as clean water is a finite resource that diminishes every day.  The solution is to fortify soils. Healthy soil retains moisture while eradicating pesticides keeps rivers, lakes, and aquifers clean. Although water is vital for preserving biodiversity, it is also essential for businesses to instill sustainable practices such as land management, use of resources, and waste management.  Setting these criteria in place will fortify the circular economy, which reduces, reuses, and recycles as opposed to the linear one, which squanders precious resources.

Economy

According to the USDA, agriculture and related industries compromised 5.4% of the GDP.  This number is likely larger because many other industries rely on agriculture to function as well. Land clearing, water, and air pollution, and mass resource extraction all lead to diminishing biodiversity.  As a result, resources become more expensive to extract.

The rate at which we consume water is greater than it can be regenerated. Simply put, water is a finite resource — We ineffectively extract groundwater as opposed to efficiently capturing rainwater. The economic benefits of using water wisely are great.

For years, the restorative economy has been working to combat the damages done to the environment. The restorative economy includes businesses that follow green initiatives to either preserve what is left of the earth and/or replenish what was lost. This is achieved through efforts of reducing waste, recycling materials, composting, using sustainable energy sources (hydro and solar energy), sourcing fair-trade workers and materials, and green architecture, to name a few.

The up-front costs of green initiatives can be more expensive, but in the long term, these are what will be more impactful on the environment and economy.  These practices will save money down the road, have a positive impact on the economy, and preserve the earth.

In fact, a study by Todd BenDor showed that the benefits of the restorative economy are significant, creating 120,000 jobs and bringing in a revenue of $9.5 billion annually.  These effects are compounded when considering that restorative business generates 95,000 additional jobs and brings in $15 billion annually through indirect but related economic activity with a non-restorative business.  Our ecosystems must be saved and replenished because our current practices will further damage ourselves and our society.

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