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Sensitive viewers, welcome to Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. Scientific experts fear that our world is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction and say its cause is human actions. In a two-part series we’ll explore the challenges facing biodiversity worldwide including the extreme dangers posed by global warming, the necessity of species preservation to ensure the survival of humankind as well as the most effective tools for biodiversity conservation and mitigating climate change.

Biodiversity, it’s an issue which was sometimes too much in the shadow. Also in the shadow of climate change, which is extremely important, but we should understand that biodiversity is actually the other side of the same coin.

A study published in the US journal Science examined the biodiversity levels between 1954 and 2004 in the UK as measured by approximately 20,000 British government-funded naturalists who collected data on the nation’s native butterflies, birds and plants. It was found that between 1974 and 2004, 70% of the butterfly species saw population declines as did 54% of bird species and 28% of plant species.

In 2004, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which publishes the well-known Red List of Threatened Species estimated in a report entitled “A Global Species Assessment” that plants and animals are going extinct 100 to 1,000 times faster than the background rate, or the natural rate of extinction before humans became the primary cause of extinctions, based on fossil records.

In early October 2010, Simon Stuart, chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission pointed out that prominent Harvard University, USA biologist Dr. EO Wilson’s previous estimates that within two decades the rate of species loss could be 10,000 times the background rate appears to be on the mark.

Commenting on Dr. Wilson’s predictions, he stated, “All the evidence is he's right. Some people claim it already is that ... things can only have deteriorated because of the drivers of the losses, such as habitat loss and climate change, [are] all getting worse."

The current cycle of extinctions has been referred to as “the anthropogenic period,” because, unlike the past five mass extinctions, one of which caused the last of the dinosaurs to disappear, the ongoing one is driven by human actions. Pollution from industrial activity, hunting, fishing, animal agriculture, and human population growth are also ongoing threats to biodiversity. The single greatest driver of extinctions is animal agriculture.

The United Nations report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” concludes nearly a third of the Earth’s surface has been taken up for activities related to livestock raising. The majority of human-caused global greenhouse gas emissions are from this industry, making it the chief reason for accelerating climate change.

Enormous amounts of animal waste that severely pollutes land and waterways are generated by factory farm operations. Environmentally-harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used on a tremendous scale to grow animal feed.

Production of livestock, in particular meat products, is an enormously intense one in terms of consumption of resources.

If we seriously want to talk about the questions of biodiversity, of water quality, nitrates pollution, of the CO2 emissions… we have to ask for the help of farmers also.

I take the view that we should be less inefficient; I take the view that we should have less meat in our diets and more vegetables, just as Dr. Pachauri, and I think it makes sense for nature, it makes sense economically, and it actually is a solution to the world food problem.

Today something like 25% of all land is in some form or the other used for cattle and for meat food. So if you could somehow think of more efficient ways of making use of the same land, and using it to produce food for human beings directly rather than food for animals, which are then eaten by human beings, I think that will be a huge favor that we do ourselves. So we should reduce our meat consumption in my opinion, as well.

Humanity is consuming the Earth’s resources faster than they can be renewed. The Global Footprint Network, a US-based environmental research organization, calculated that August 21, 2010 marks what it terms “Earth Overshoot Day,” meaning that up to that point in 2010 humanity had consumed 12 months’ worth of natural resources in under nine months, causing us to lose ecosystem services, or the resources and services that the environment produces that benefit humans such as the air being purified by trees or bees pollinating crops and natural vegetation. In economic terms, this is akin to using up capital rather than living on interest income.

Biodiversity brings us clean water, climate control, disease control, pollination services. These are fundamental building blocks to our life, our human well-being, and they’re declining.

If you look at this chart here that WWF (World Wildlife Fund) produces every year, something called “The Living Planet Report,” there are two really key charts in there. The first one shows our global ecological footprint.

So this is a measure if you divided up everything that we consume and allocated a parcel of land to it, how much land or other resources like atmosphere would be required? And that little dotted line that you see running along the middle, there that represents one Earth. So in 1961 we were consuming about ….. …60% of all of the resources that the Earth can renew within a single year.

Now, come the middle of September (2010) we’ve already used up all of the resources that the planet can provide to us in one year. So, we’re 50% above sustainability at a planetary level. And at the same time, and of course closely linked to that, we are in the midst of one of the great mass extinctions this planet has ever known.

We have lost 30% of the biodiversity on this planet in just 40 years. And in the tropics we’re talking about 60% declines in biodiversity. That just cannot continue. If it does we won’t have anything to eat and we won’t have anything to fuel our economy.

To better understand the challenges we face, over the past four years a diverse group of scientists brought together by the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Environment Programme and Diversitas, a collaboration of five prominent non-governmental organizations including the Committee on Problems of the Environment, have been evaluating biodiversity’s future in the 21st century.

In a Convention on Biological Diversity report, scientists identify 10 major terrestrial systems of vital importance to biodiversity that are at risk of being pushed beyond the tipping point. These at-risk systems include the Arctic tundra, the Arctic itself, the Mediterranean forest, the Sahel-Sahara region in Africa, marine fish populations, lakes, coastal areas, coral reefs, the Miombo woodlands, marine plankton and the Amazon rainforest.

For example, in the lakes system, the build-up of nutrients, predominantly from agricultural runoff, as well as animal waste and detergents, cause the rapid growth of algae or “algal blooms.” As the algae die off, the oxygen in the water is depleted, making it difficult for aquatic plants and fish to survive, and rendering the water unfit to drink.

In the Amazon system, the widespread destruction of forest to create cattle pastures and fields to grow soybeans for livestock, is reducing regional rainfalls and injuring biodiversity, which has global effects. The low rainfall amounts can cause wildfires and lead to an eventual die-off of large portions of the rainforest along with the animal inhabitants. In turn harsh droughts would occur across much of South America.

On a worldwide scale, the reduction of the Amazon rainforest would further heat up our planet by lessening a major source of carbon dioxide sequestration and further threaten biodiversity. To reverse these troubling trends it is imperative that stakeholders truly understand the value of nature and change policies accordingly.

Forests purify and store water, prevent floods, turn carbon dioxide into clean air, and provide a home for countless species. Mountain glaciers are like giant water towers in the sky, capturing water in the form of snow and then releasing it during the spring and summer months, allowing people to irrigate crops and serving as a significant water source for flora and fauna.

How do we quantify the worth of these precious resources? Until recently, the value of these ecosystem services was not readily calculable. Recognizing this fact, the United Nations Environment Programme formed The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) initiative, led by Dr. Pavan Sukhdev. TEEB’s task is to calculate a value for ecosystems services and then create a series of guidelines for businesses and governments so that they can appreciate the costs and develop strategies for changing environmentally- destructive practices and consumption patterns.

I think the most important thing is to start accounting for the value of nature and to do that not only at that national level, at the local level, but also at the business level. So when we start measuring these values, we really start responding to them. So, as you know, when we, TEEB, worked out that the size of the losses was large, people woke up.

A 2008 study conducted for the European Commission’s Environment Directorate General found that loss of land-based ecosystem services from 2000 to 2010, amounted to €50 billion a year and if biodiversity is not protected, the study projects that between 2000 and 2050 ecosystem service losses will be around €14 trillion.

How governments can use these types of valuations to make wise decisions is illustrated in the following example: New York City, USA was considering spending US$6 to US$8 billion to build a water filtration plant, which would have cost US$300 to US$500 million per year to operate.

Instead, the city invested US$1.5 billion to maintain the Catskill Mountain watershed which had been providing much of New York’s drinking water supply for years, thus saving billions of dollars and protecting nature vulnerable to encroaching development. During an interview with our Supreme Master Television correspondent, Dr. Sukhdev urged our viewers to become aware of the value of biodiversity.

Yes, I would like to ask your viewers this: You have got private wealth and you have got private assets, but you also have public wealth - that public wealth is largely nature - every time your private assets suffer, you call up your private wealth manager; I’m telling you that your public wealth, which is nature, is suffering all the time. How many times have you called up your public wealth manager, your government, your member of parliament, your minister? Please call them up, tell them, “Manage my public wealth better.”

Conscientious viewers, please join us again next Wednesday on Planet Earth: Our Loving Home when we’ll explore the links between climate change and biodiversity loss and discover why changing to an animal-free diet is the most effective tool for protecting our beautiful planet and her inhabitants.

Thank you for your company on today’s program. Coming up next is Enlightening Entertainment, after Noteworthy News. May we all do our best to safeguard our one and only planet.
“It's about your life, it's about life on this planet and it is about what we are doing to this planet with our eyes open today and increasingly being culpable of being accused by the next generation of having acted irresponsibly and increasingly questionable from an ethical point of view.”

Virtuous viewers, welcome to Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. Scientific experts fear that our world is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction and say its cause is human actions.

Today in the conclusion of a two-part series we’ll further explore the challenges facing biodiversity worldwide including the extreme dangers posed by global warming, the necessity of species preservation to ensure the survival of humankind as well as the most effective tools for biodiversity conservation and mitigating climate change. As discussed last week, biodiversity loss is occurring with such speed and severity that it’s threatening all life on Earth.

Human activity itself is a combination of population, levels of consumption and the particular technologies that people choose. We may have lost tens of thousands of species out of the estimated 12 million that exist.

But I think the important thing is that the rate of losing them is going up very rapidly. In the past, in the geological record, we were losing about a dozen or so per year. Over the last 500 years, since people began writing about well-known groups of organisms, we’ve been losing hundreds a year.

And now we seem to be losing thousands per year, going up towards tens of thousands, which makes this by far the strongest level of extinction since the end of the Cretaceous Period 65-million years ago when the dinosaurs disappeared and mammals came into the ascendancy and the whole quality of life on Earth changed radically.

We are in this extraordinary moment in history where through our collective capacity to affect the life support systems on this planet, that terms such as “thresholds,” “tipping points,” and “collapse” are becoming part of our vocabulary.

The Global Biodiversity Outlook that was published earlier this year (2010) by the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity) and the significant support also from the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre was a very sobering report. Not a single country could document its ability to have reversed the rate of loss of biodiversity.

Many species are disappearing every day, and if we just leave it, biodiversity will be completely destroyed without fail.

Species decline in our beautiful oceans is accelerating due to toxic pollution generated by industrial activities, hugely destructive intensive animal agriculture operations, global warming and massive overfishing worldwide.

The pollution problem is strongly related to agricultural practices which produce much of the nitrogen, phosphorous, pesticides, and herbicides that enter the coastal waters and cause a lot of damage to marine ecosystems in general.

There were more than 400 known dead zones, or spaces in the ocean devoid of oxygen and hence most marine life, in coastal waters worldwide in 2008, with only 49 zones in the 1960s.

Those dead zones are frequently caused by too many fertilizers that enter the coastal areas around our countries and one of the most important ways of dealing with that is changing the way that we do agriculture and that means doing a much more reasonable practice of agriculture, especially in the way that we use fertilizers, reducing greatly the amount of fertilizers. And that can be done actually without affecting very much the yields.

And it also has to do with the amount of meat that we produce. Meat production actually increases the amount of plants that we have to grow and it also creates a lot of animal wastes that are part of the problem of that nutrient pollution. So those are two important things we can do that are largely to do with improving agricultural practices.

With so many dead zones in the ocean, again it’s really the way we farm that’s contributing to these dead zones. The soils run off, the soils contain high levels of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that kill the ocean. So as long as we keep dumping on so much fertilizer, as long as we crowd cows together and make so much waste and crowd pigs together and make so much waste, we’re going to have dead zones.

Marine biodiversity has especially been seriously destroyed. Why? It’s due to destructive fishing or overfishing, such as trawling.

Recent research led by Dr. Boris Worm of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, indicates that up to half of ocean species have disappeared due to overfishing.

A bit more than 80 percent of the commercially exploited stocks are over-exploited, they are collapsing. Some stocks like, for instance, the lobster has been collapsing for a long time already. The number of fleets increased three to five times in the last few decades in some fishing areas and the fish stocks can’t handle such a level of exploitation anymore.

Scientists project that if the current trend continues, a complete collapse of global fisheries will occur around 2050, creating “ghost waters” devoid of fish. Fish farms, a type of aquaculture, which some say are a so-called “sustainable alternative” to fishing, environmentally devastate the waters in which they operate and speed up the depletion of ocean life. It takes one to two kilograms of sea-caught fish to produce one kilogram of farm-raised fish, essentially making the captive fish artificial ocean predators.

Given the state of our world, species preservation, whether on land or at sea, appears to be a highly daunting task, but fortunately there is a ready solution at hand. The global adoption of the plant-based diet can protect ecosystems, plants and animals and halt climate change, because both biodiversity loss and global warming have a common cause: the consumption of animal products and the livestock industry.

Eating a lot of meat is not a very efficient way to nourish the populations. In fact there is a really high environmental cost in eating meat, which is really high up in the (food) chain and it would be much more efficient to eat lower in the food chain – that is for more people to be vegetarians.

The 2006 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ landmark report “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” estimated 18% of all human-caused global greenhouse gas emissions are related to livestock raising and more recent estimates by other researchers, when accounting for the entire cycle of producing and consuming animal products, put the percentage at 51% or higher.

How are our dietary choices driving biodiversity loss? In “Livestock’s Long Shadow” the authors explain the effect of meat-eating as follows:

“Livestock now account for about 20% of the total terrestrial animal biomass, and the 30% of the Earth’s land surface that they now pre-empt was once habitat for wildlife. Indeed, the livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species.”

The livestock industry is the leading cause of an alarming decline in wild species. In a new October 2010 study, Dutch researchers found that protecting natural areas is not sufficient to stop these fast extinctions of flora and fauna; rather, one of the most effective policies is changing to a no-animal diet, meaning plant-based food.

In that study, entitled “Rethinking Global Biodiversity Strategies,” the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency evaluated the efficacy of modifying global-level production and consumption patterns to stem species decline. The level of biodiversity on land was estimated using a benchmark called “Mean Species Abundance” (MSA) which is “the composition of species in numbers and abundance compared with the original state and provides a common framework to assess the major causes of biodiversity loss.”

As an example, converting forest land to crop fields would mean a huge drop in an area’s MSA level as all species dependent on trees and forest cover to survive would be gone. Comparing eight different policy options to reduce an assumed baseline 10% global biodiversity loss between 2000 and 2050, including protecting natural areas, managing forests better, and humanity adopting a meatless diet, the animal-free diet was found to best safeguard species survival out of all the possible choices.

So if we stop all animal products – fish, eggs, meat and dairy - we will save the oceans, save the climate and we could halt also biodiversity loss.

I’m Jo Leinen, the Chairman of the Environment Committee in the European Parliament in Brussels.

The protection of biodiversity means that we have to reduce emissions and the consumption of resources; and that means we have to change our lifestyle – our lifestyle is much too heavy for nature and the ecosystems, and especially our eating habits have to be changed. I think we eat too much meat and we eat too much fish, and we have to reduce both and be more vegetarian.

The 2010 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) study “Assessing Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials,” found that animal-based food is the common denominator with respect to most of our planet’s serious environmental issues. The paper states, “Agriculture and food consumption are identified as one of the most important drivers of environmental pressures, especially habitat change, climate change, water use and toxic emissions.”

Regarding the report, UNEP’s executive director Achim Steiner said: “The Panel have reviewed all the available science and conclude that two broad areas are currently having a disproportionately high impact on people and the planet's life support systems — these are energy in the form of fossil fuels and agriculture, especially the raising of livestock for meat and dairy products."

The ecological damage caused by animal products is so severe that the UNEP study concluded: “A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

Given the unprecedented threat all life on Earth faces, as global citizens it behooves us to take immediate action and spread the good news about how taking the simple step of embracing the vegan diet can simultaneously halt species decline and climate change. Let us all quickly convert to an animal-free way of life to usher in a bright new era for our planet.

Precious viewers, thank you for joining us today on our program. Coming up next is Enlightening Entertainment, after Noteworthy News. May the Providence always grace our lives.

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