How a DVD player reduces fish stock
By Op Rana (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-05-22 08:07

How a DVD player reduces fish stock

I have deferred buying a DVD player for the past two years for fear of not getting enough of my favorite food: fish. Let me explain, borrowing an idea from UK Labour MP Barry Gardiner. The demand for DVD players, cell phones and computers has led to widespread mining of the metal coltan, or columbite-tantalite, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That in turn has led to a drastic drop in the numbers of mountain gorillas and elephants because wide swathes of forests have been cleared for mining coltan. Deforestation has released huge amounts of carbon dioxide stored in trees and plants into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. Global warming threatens to raise the sea level, killing marine life that includes my favorite food.

No form of life on Earth stands on its own instead it is supported by, and in turn supports, other living things. If we lose one species, we lose a vital part of an ecosystem; we lose not only a plant or an insect, but also the service it provides to mankind.

This is what biodiversity in the broader sense is all about, and what better day to harp on the subject than the UN World Biodiversity Day. It's a pity the subject rarely figures even in discussions on climate change.

Biodiversity is a measure of the health and variety of plants and animals in an ecosystem and their genetic variation. The greater the variety of plant and animal, the healthier the ecosystem. Some places and regions, especially islands such as the Galapagos and Madagascar, Indonesia's rain forests, northern Europe's peat bogs, and coral reefs are biodiversity hotspots because they have a high level of endemic species. Brazil's Atlantic Forest, for example is home to about 20,000 plant species, 1350 vertebrates and millions of insects, about half of which are not found anywhere else in the world.

But how does humankind benefit from biodiversity? Air quality, climate, water purification, disease control, biological pest control, pollination and prevention of erosion are some of the benefits of biodiversity. The economic value of the store of genetic traits in wild varieties can never be overestinated.

How a DVD player reduces fish stock

A couple of examples should prove the point. The Great Famine in Ireland killed about 1 million people and forced another million to flee the shores between 1845 and 1852. The famine was the result of planting only two variteis of potato, both of which were vulnerable to late blight. There was no third choice for Irish farmers. But a similar situation was avoided when the grassy stunt virus attacked rice fields from Indonesia to India in the 1970s. There were 6,273 varieties of rice to test, and scientists found an Indian variety to be resistant. That variety formed a hybrid with other varieties - and is now grown widely across Asia today.

Global warming, too, is a major threat to biodiversity. For example coral reefs will be lost in the next 20 to 40 years if global warming continues at the current pace.

But, as Gardiner says, arguments for biodiversity cut little ice with business leaders than reports that climate change could cost us between 5 and 20 percent of global GDP by the end of the century. Yet experts estimate that the current rate of biodiversity loss could see 6 percent of global GDP wiped out as early as 2050. Climate change is not accelerating the loss of biodiversity - the loss of biodiversity is accelerating climate change too.

But biodiversity doesn't have a body like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to provide scientific assessments and advice governments and the public. So we need an international agreement to protect biodiversity that would capture the imagination of leaders and the public alike, like the Kyoto Protocol has done. Or else, dwindling stocks of fish will be the least of our problems.

E-mail: oprana@hotmail.com