What is Happening to our Common Home? Loss of Biodiversity

This is part three of a multi-part "visual reading" of the first section of Pope Francis' Laudato Si' to commemorate the 5th Anniversary of the Encyclical.

Loss of Biodiversity

The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production. Laudato Si' 32

The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of 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. Laudato Si' 32

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. Laudato Si' 33

Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. Laudato Si' 33

We have no such right.

It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. Laudato Si' 34

But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Laudato Si' 34

Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place. Laudato Si' 34

Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state. Laudato Si' 34

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. Laudato Si' 34

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. Laudato Si' 35

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. Laudato Si' 36

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. Laudato Si' 37

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. Laudato Si' 38

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. Laudato Si' 38

In fact, there are “proposals to internationalize the Amazon, which only serve the economic interests of transnational corporations”. Laudato Si' 38

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. Laudato Si' 39

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. Laudato Si' 39

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. Laudato Si' 40

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?” Laudato Si' 41

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. Laudato Si' 41

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. Laudato Si' 42