My mum, a benevolent economist, doesn’t get why biodiversity is important to humanity. She thinks its about being kind to the fish. The problem is I have never been able to convincingly explain the importance of biodiversity to her. She won’t buy the argument that nature is beautiful, awe inspiring and a source of joy. My mum is Indian and has seen a lot of poverty. There is no point of having a joyful landscape if a person can’t feed and educate themselves. Her point is valid and highlights the commonly perceived contradiction between sustainability and economic prosperity. Or does it?
I always thought that if I was able to explain to my mum why biodiversity matters, maybe I will begin to understand how the conflict between sustainability and economic prosperity can be overcome. In my view, cradle to cradle (C2C) philosophy offers just that possibility, that shift in paradigm that is so badly needed.
I won’t go into C2C philosophy here because although it is simple (all waste = food) there are many points of nuances. I would instead like to highlight what C2C says on biodiversity. In an ecosystem, all biological waste can only be used as food back into the system if the system is diverse enough -different organisms have differing food requirements. These diverse interdependent links between various wastes / foods and the ecosystem is only possible if the ecosystem is biodiverse in the first place. So, biodiversity is important to allow waste or useless materials (from a human’s perspective) to be converted back into food or useful materials (from a human’s perspective). Biodiversity is nature’s way of converting waste into resources. Beautiful.
McDonough and Braungart (2002), founders of C2C philosophy, compare biodiversity to a tapestry – “(…) a richly textured web of individual species woven together with interlocking tasks. In such a setting, diversity means strength, and monoculture means weakness. Remove the threads, one by one, and an ecosystem becomes less stable, less able to withstand natural catastrophe and disease, less able to stay healthy and to evolve over time. The more diversity there is, the more productive functions – for the ecosystem, for the planet – are performed” (p121-122).