Apparently it’s biodiversity day.
Or, to be more technically correct, it’s International Day for Biological Diversity.
The United Nations proclaimed this day as biodiversity day in 1993, shortly after the Rio Summit of 1992. The aim was to “increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues”.
It’s fair to say that the rest of biodiversity has not been treated well by that other singular species, us, Homo Sapiens, in the intervening 23 years.
Perhaps that’s part of the problem.
We don’t see ourselves as part of biodiversity, though we obviously are. Indeed though we may think of ourselves as individuals, members of families, communities, societies even citizens of states, we don’t think too much about ourselves as animals.
Or even symbionts.
While earlier estimates that bacteria outnumber human cells by 10 to 1 are now regarded with some scepticism, recent estimates still reckon we are as much made up of bacteria, viruses and fungi as we are of human cells. We are, each one of us, a mini ecosystem.
If the aim is to increase understanding and awareness, is biodiversity even the right word to use? I don’t think so. It’s a technical word with a specific meaning, and that meaning is known to a small coterie of activists, scientists and interested people. It’s a useful word for technical scientific use, but useless or worse actively unhelpful for communicating to a wide audience about nature.
Using the word Biodiversity creates a frame, a way of thinking about nature, which influences our attitudes and actions. While the original concept was noble, the consequence is that the word has become associated with a particular view of nature, leading to ecosystem services, natural capital and biodiversity offsetting. This was the subject of a talk I gave last year to the Chartered Institute of Ecologists and Environmental Managers and I wrote up part of it here. I think it’s fair to say the audience was split, with some wondering what on earth I was talking about. You can see the slides here.
Having been a fully paid up, card carrying member of the biodiversity vanguard, I now prefer to use the word nature. Nature might mean different things to different people, but there is a core of understanding that most people will agree on. And the word nature, unlike biodiversity, creates an emotional response, an emotional connection, from humanity to the rest of non-human life.
So, forgive me, but I won’t be celebrating biodiversity day.
Does that mean I don’t care about nature? I’ll leave that for you to come to your own conclusions.