III. Loss of biodiversity [32-42]

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora & Newsvine and will add my comments over time. Papa Francisco's 180 page letter is much less about religion than it is about nature and the planet earth. He proposes some fairly radical yet simple and understandable solutions for humankind. It is way past time to start paying attention to what we are all doing or allowing others to do.

32. The earth’s resources are also being plundered
because of short-sighted approaches to
the economy, commerce and production. The
loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of

23 Cf. Greeting to the Staff of FAO (20 November 2014):
AAS 106 (2014), 985.

species which may constitute extremely important
resources in the future, not only for food
but also for curing disease and other uses. Different
species contain genes which could be key resources
in years ahead for meeting human needs
and regulating environmental problems.

33. It is not enough, however, to think of different
species merely as potential “resources”
to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that
they have value in themselves. Each year sees the
disappearance of thousands of plant and animal
species which we will never know, which our
children will never see, because they have been
lost for ever. The great majority become extinct
for reasons related to human activity. Because of
us, thousands of species will no longer give glory
to God by their very existence, nor convey their
message to us. We have no such right.

34. It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction
of mammals or birds, since they are more
visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems
also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles
and an innumerable variety of microorganisms.
Some less numerous species, although generally
unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining
the equilibrium of a particular place. Human
beings must intervene when a geosystem
reaches a critical state. But nowadays, such intervention
in nature has become more and more frequent.
As a consequence, serious problems arise,
leading to further interventions; human activity
becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks which this
entails. Often a vicious circle results, as human
intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates
the situation. For example, many birds and
insects which disappear due to synthetic agrotoxins
are helpful for agriculture: their disappearance
will have to be compensated for by yet other
techniques which may well prove harmful. We
must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being
made by scientists and engineers dedicated to
finding solutions to man-made problems. But a
sober look at our world shows that the degree of
human intervention, often in the service of business
interests and consumerism, is actually making
our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more
limited and grey, even as technological advances
and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly.
We seem to think that we can substitute an
irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something
which we have created ourselves.

35. In assessing the environmental impact of
any project, concern is usually shown for its effects
on soil, water and air, yet few careful studies
are made of its impact on biodiversity, as if the
loss of species or animals and plant groups were
of little importance. Highways, new plantations,
the fencing-off of certain areas, the damming
of water sources, and similar developments,
crowd out natural habitats and, at times, break
them up in such a way that animal populations
can no longer migrate or roam freely.
As a result, some species face extinction. Alternatives
exist which at least lessen the impact of these
projects, like the creation of biological corridors,
but few countries demonstrate such concern and
foresight. Frequently, when certain species are
exploited commercially, little attention is paid to
studying their reproductive patterns in order to
prevent their depletion and the consequent imbalance
of the ecosystem.

36. Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness,
since no one looking for quick and easy
profit is truly interested in their preservation. But
the cost of the damage caused by such selfish
lack of concern is much greater than the economic
benefits to be obtained. Where certain
species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the
values involved are incalculable. We can be silent
witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we
can obtain significant benefits by making the rest
of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely
high costs of environmental deterioration.

37. Some countries have made significant progress
in establishing sanctuaries on land and in
the oceans where any human intervention is
prohibited which might modify their features or
alter their original structures. In the protection
of biodiversity, specialists insist on the need for
particular attention to be shown to areas richer
both in the number of species and in endemic,
rare or less protected species. Certain places need greater protection

because of their immense importance
for the global ecosystem, or because
they represent important water reserves and thus
safeguard other forms of life.

38. Let us mention, for example, those richly
biodiverse lungs of our planet which are the Amazon
and the Congo basins, or the great aquifers
and glaciers. We know how important these are
for the entire earth and for the future of humanity.
The ecosystems of tropical forests possess
an enormously complex biodiversity which is
almost impossible to appreciate fully, yet when
these forests are burned down or levelled for
purposes of cultivation, within the space of a
few years countless species are lost and the areas
frequently become arid wastelands. A delicate
balance has to be maintained when speaking
about these places, for we cannot overlook
the huge global economic interests which, under
the guise of protecting them, can undermine the
sovereignty of individual nations. In fact, there
are “proposals to internationalize the Amazon,
which only serve the economic interests of
transnational corporations”.24 We cannot fail to
praise the commitment of international agencies
and civil society organizations which draw public
attention to these issues and offer critical cooperation,
employing legitimate means of pressure,

24 Fifth General Conference of the Latin American
and Caribbean Bishops, Aparecida Document (29 June 2007), 86.

to ensure that each government carries out its
proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve
its country’s environment and natural resources,
without capitulating to spurious local or international
interests.

39. The replacement of virgin forest with plantations
of trees, usually monocultures, is rarely
adequately analyzed. Yet this can seriously compromise
a biodiversity which the new species being
introduced does not accommodate. Similarly,
wetlands converted into cultivated land lose the
enormous biodiversity which they formerly hosted.
In some coastal areas the disappearance of
ecosystems sustained by mangrove swamps is a
source of serious concern.

40. Oceans not only contain the bulk of our
planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense
variety of living creatures, many of them
still unknown to us and threatened for various
reasons. What is more, marine life in rivers, lakes,
seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the
world’s population, is affected by uncontrolled
fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain
species. Selective forms of fishing which discard
much of what they collect continue unabated.
Particularly threatened are marine organisms
which we tend to overlook, like some forms of
plankton; they represent a significant element in
the ocean food chain, and species used for our
food ultimately depend on them.
41. In tropical and subtropical seas, we find
coral reefs comparable to the great forests on dry
land, for they shelter approximately a million species,
including fish, crabs, molluscs, sponges and
algae. Many of the world’s coral reefs are already
barren or in a state of constant decline. “Who
turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater
cemeteries bereft of colour and life?”25
This phenomenon is due largely to pollution
which reaches the sea as the result of deforestation,
agricultural monocultures, industrial waste
and destructive fishing methods, especially those
using cyanide and dynamite. It is aggravated by
the rise in temperature of the oceans. All of this
helps us to see that every intervention in nature
can have consequences which are not immediately
evident, and that certain ways of exploiting
resources prove costly in terms of degradation
which ultimately reaches the ocean bed itself.
42. Greater investment needs to be made in
research aimed at understanding more fully the
functioning of ecosystems and adequately analyzing
the different variables associated with any
significant modification of the environment. Because
all creatures are connected, each must be
cherished with love and respect, for all of us as
living creatures are dependent on one another.
Each area is responsible for the care of this family

25 Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,
Pastoral Letter What is Happening to our Beautiful Land? (29 January
1988).

This will require undertaking a careful inventory
of the species which it hosts, with a view
to developing programmes and strategies of
protection with particular care for safeguarding
species heading towards extinction.

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