Biodiversity loss is low on the public agenda, but the pandemic could help us reassess our relationship with the natural world, writes Clare Matterson, the Museum’s Director of Engagement.
A newfound appreciation for weeds in the cracks of city pavements, enjoying melodious birdsong in place of the booming traffic and marvelling at quiet clear blue skies have become daily lockdown news.
Amidst the tragedy of Covid-19, nature has thrived and as we have slowed down in lockdown its variety has caught our eye.
Today is International Day For Biological Diversity, created by the United Nations 27 years ago to raise awareness of biodiversity issues and celebrate that variety.
Since then scientists have warned us about the catastrophic loss of species and their habitat because of our actions.
We need that variety of life on earth for food, medicines and clean water, never mind a spiritual boost in tough times.
Biodiversity loss a distant worry for the public
The good news is that concern about climate change has risen from 18% in 2014 to 52% according to a UK Ipsos Mori poll. But this does not translate into public concern about biodiversity. Research published last year by Special Eurobarometer and Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment shows over one third of the UK public have never heard of the term biodiversity and only 20% were very concerned about biodiversity loss. Why?
Follow-up interviews with visitors to the Natural History Museum have revealed that we associate the term with diversity in nature but not its interconnectedness. There is not an understanding that climate change and biodiversity are interdependent in that climate change can contribute to biodiversity loss, and that biodiversity loss can make climate change and its effects worse. Moreover, we do not tend to see the impact that any loss of biodiversity could have on our lives and in reality we don’t give it much thought.
Most of us haven’t experienced any negative effects of extinction at first hand, and other issues, such as Brexit, terrorism and access to healthcare are more immediate and pressing.
Biodiversity loss has become something that happens in other parts of the world, and our fast-paced lives mask the facts that we rely on natural processes and that we are dependent upon and deeply connected to nature.
The pandemic wake-up call
Could Covid-19 be a watershed moment, compelling us to think more carefully about the world and our place in it?
Everything we know about the outbreak tells us that humankind’s interaction with the natural world precipitated it. Covid-19 is a chilling reminder that our actions have consequences that we underestimate at our peril.
We are warned that our promiscuous treatment of nature needs to change because deforestation and other forms of land conversion are driving species out of their ecological homes into manmade environments. The pandemic story has habitat and biodiversity loss as strands running through it like a red thread.
The Museum’s plans to raise awareness
At the NHM we’re already making these critical connections easier for people to see and act upon. Our vision is of a future where people and planet thrive and everyone is an advocate for the planet.
Our Urban Nature Project offers those in towns and cities the chance to get involved in protecting and expanding the biodiversity on their doorstep.
We’re working as part of the Darwin Tree of Life Project to read the genomes of complex species in the UK, unlocking data to rapidly identify species and to understand ecosystems and changing patterns of biodiversity.
And because we’re an international organisation and want to join up advocates around the world we’re building on the connections we made from our last Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner coming from China. Today we’re translating our digital content to share stories on the importance of biodiversity across China reaching over 5 million people.
The impact of the pandemic is tragic and far reaching. That’s why we must learn lessons and reassess our relationship with the natural world.
Let’s agree from today to appreciate and protect the biodiversity around us. Let’s make that the new normal.