All of us depend on nature for survival, whether we live off the land, or in a city where we can buy natural resources, transported to us from a distance, at the market. When we do not take care of nature, our quality of life suffers. To illustrate this point, in the book, Collapse (2011), prize-winning author Jared Diamond describes how, throughout history, ineffective responses to ailing environments have contributed to human conflicts.
Between 1950 and 2000, 80% of the world’s armed conflicts occurred within the boundaries of the world’s 36 Global Biodiversity Hotspots (Hanson et al., 2009)—areas with high levels of biodiversity that also suffer from substantial environmental degradation. Even today, environmental degradation continues to play a major role in fueling ongoing conflicts, such as those of the Middle East (Gleick, 2014), West Africa’s Sahel region (Benjaminsen, 2008), and the Horn of Africa (Markakis, 1995). Preventing these conflicts, which also impact biodiversity negatively (Nackoney et al., 2014; Brito et al., 2018; Daskin et al., 2018), from escalating and new conflicts from developing requires political and societal changes. People in government and local communities must recognize the value of healthy ecosystems and become their champions. After all, complex and adaptive ecosystems provide jobs, food, and other resources, thereby contributing to our overall well-being.
A healthy environment improves our overall wellbeing by enabling us to live healthy and prosperous lives. In other words, it is our life support system.
But what exactly are we losing when we fail to protect biodiversity? Why should we care if a species goes extinct, or an ecosystem becomes degraded? What evidence do we have that the natural world is our life support system? To better understand the importance of biodiversity for human well-being and quality of life, and the variety of benefits people freely gain from biodiversity, the UN brought together a group of leading scientists to study nature’s contributions to people (NCP, Díaz et al., 2018), more commonly referred to as ecosystem services. This group, called the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), recognizes three categories of ecosystem services, namely material contributions, regulation services, and nonmaterial contributions. Note that there are broad overlaps and interdependence among the three categories; consequently, some contributions and services can easily fit under more than one category.