Biodiversity is fundamental to human survival, and it is threatened by the unsustainable consumption patterns of our industrial civilization. We have irresponsibly trespassed the natural boundaries set by millions of years of biodiversity evolution and have done so without a contingency plan to restore the environmental balance that sustains all life, including ours.
Unsustainable consumption of natural resources and the resulting destruction of natural habitats contribute to the decline of biodiversity, which exacerbates climate change. Natural habitats composed of thousands of plant species depend on other forms of life to maintain a sustainable life cycle, and as we know, these plants help us combat climate change. Unfortunately, accelerating climate change further threatens biodiversity, creating a vicious cycle. Warmer temperatures have also been shown to directly contribute to the extinction of species. This snowballing issue needs to be addressed now.
Thankfully, many forward-looking corporations have been integrating sustainability and environmental protection into their company mission statements. Among the top-performing global businesses, many are already addressing these issues in innovative ways. As investors, it is an imperative to identify and support those industry-leading companies that focus on climate change mitigation, biodiversity protection, and animal welfare.
As the inexorable growth of resource-hungry human populations continues into the billions and beyond, ecologically diverse animal habitats are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Humanity is the architect of a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene. Characterized by the gigantic scale of changes and disruptions to the Earth’s biosystems, such as global warming and resource depletion, the Anthropocene is the only geological epoch in history to have been directly caused by human activity.
Human activity has contributed to the ongoing sixth great extinction event, leading to the loss of species at an estimated 100 to 1,000 times higher than normal rates. These extinctions are caused by climate change, deforestation, hunting and habitat destruction. Each of these causes pose a direct threat to human survival. For example, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted economies and societies on a global scale, is a zoonotic virus that originated from animals and passed to humans. The risk for the spread of any zoonotic disease increases as we destroy habitats without a full understanding of the biodiversity inhabiting the underlying ecosystems. The same economic and resource demands that degrade nature and push humans into ever-greater interactions with wildlife populations, ultimately has led to a destructive, cross-species viral transmission that is a veritable case study of the hazardous interconnectivity between human and animal health.
Climate change, fueled by industrial and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, damages biodiverse ecosystems. Climate change has caused more intense weather events such as hurricanes and droughts that adversely impact both natural and urban environments. The recent devastating wildfires on the United States West Coast, which has taken human lives and caused extensive property destruction, is just one recent example of how climate change is harmful to humans.
New and emerging zoonotic diseases are similarly accountable for some of the most prolific and damaging health threats on the planet. As we work to combat the risks created by industrial and commercial activity and human consumption of natural resources, we will need to identify creative solutions for a long list of problems, including:
- The widespread harvesting of natural resources from biodiverse ecosystems without conducting comprehensive environmental impact studies, which raises the transmission risk of zoonotic viruses such as COVID-19
- Up to 60 percent of new infectious diseases in humans have originated from animals, and research finds that one in three new outbreaks of zoonotic illnesses are directly attributable to deforestation and other land use practices that result in habitat encroachment
- Industrial activity in the mining and agricultural sectors that relies on clearing dense woodland inadvertently sets the stage for further zoonotic transmissions. As human populations move into the cleared areas, millions of wild animals are killed as a source of cheap protein which brings them into contact with unknown viruses and bacteria. This is believed to be the vector through which diseases such as Ebola were originally transmitted to humans.
- Industrial scale operations that produce food for human populations create conditions that could result in the evolution of bacteria that are resistant to all currently available antibiotics. This is caused by the overreliance on the use of antibiotics in many meat production facilities to prevent disease in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions.
- Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control released a report that identified eight other equally dangerous zoonotic diseases that threaten Americans: zoonotic influenza, salmonellosis, West Nile virus, plague, coronaviruses, rabies, brucellosis and Lyme disease. Warmer temperatures caused by climate change may further exacerbate many of these threats by expanding the geographic range of the insects and animal hosts that carry them.
Making a Difference
Over the decades and centuries, human activities have affected the loss of biodiversity and contributed to the growing reality of climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic is a clarion call to the private sector to tackle the underlying causes of climate change and the loss of biodiversity. At the same time investors must use their voices to encourage companies to prioritize the Earth’s biosphere – the foundation of human resilience and progress – by integrating ecological protection, biodiversity preservation and animal habitat conservation into their business operations and supply chains.
This is not a feel-good, performative exercise in “doing the right thing.” It is indicative of smart business strategies and initiatives that the best-performing companies worldwide are already pursuing to minimize environmental impact, improve animal welfare, and protect the planet for future generations. These companies understand that more than half of the world’s total GDP is moderately or highly dependent upon ecosystem services provided by nature. They know that as nature goes, so goes their ability to continue to earn profits for their shareholders and that embracing nature at this critical moment in time provides a competitive advantage. By encouraging corporate management teams to adopt sustainable, forward-looking corporate behaviors, investors can help make the companies in their portfolios more resilient while benefiting from business transformations that form the foundation for a prosperous future.
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