Hummin’ humans

Counterpoint: Hummer beer? From Atlanta’s own Sweetwater brewery?

Biodiversity—the variety of all life, from genes and species to ecosystems—is intimately linked to Earth’s climate and, inevitably, to climate change. Biodiversity and poverty are also inextricably connected. For instance, changes to natural ecosystems influence both climate change and people’s ability to cope with some of its damaging impacts. And in their turn climate change, as well as people’s responses to it, affect biodiversity. Unpicking all these strands clearly shows that conserving and managing biodiversity can help natural systems and vulnerable people cope with a shifting global climate.

Is this assertion by Hannah Reid and Krystyna Swiderska in the abstract of a paper for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) correct? Certainly, the first instinct is to say yes.


Let’s start with biodiversity: it is not fixed, but instead something that has always fluctuated, both through time and across space. The assortment of species we see today and their home ranges have no special or sacred qualities—in fact, they were different five hundred years ago, ten thousand years ago, etc. (let alone, say, thirty million years ago).

So, yes, among the many factors that influence biodiversity, climate is one.

Here’s where I start to struggle: “people’s ability to cope with some of its damaging impacts”…. Climate change is both damaging and enhancing, because those words evidence judgemental perspectives. “Damaging” assumes any change is only negative. Not so.

You sorta have consider the history of the human species as a long, complex trail of significant human-induced landscape change (maybe more of a spreading blotch). These alterations accelerated with the shift away from subsistence that was exclusively from gathering and hunting, and with concomitant demographic increases. Duh. The flip side of all this is that humans are around in such numbers as we see today because we are good at this adaptation stuff, aka coping. But. [Hope I don’t come off as flip.]

It is virtually impossible to prioritize preserving biodiversity as the most important or wisest goal in our reaction to climate change. It may be a wise goal to promote the preservation of biodiversity as leverage to induce people to be more responsible about impacts on the environment within their control, but otherwise the argument evinces more rhetoric than logic.

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