Monday, June 21, 2010

Government 'action' on biodiversity?

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A sixth mass extinction of species is underway according to those scientists who study this field. Even Bjorn Lomborg said in his book The Skeptical Environmentalist that the current/recent extinction rate is high (his figure = 0.014 % of species per year, compared to the background/natural extinction rate of 0.0001% per year ie even a 'sceptic' says it is 140 times greater). Large numbers of scientists put the extinction rate at ten or even a hundred times Lomborg's figure, which is why they talk of a sixth mass extinction: being underway; being very rapid compared to previous mass extinctions (see image, click to enlarge); being caused largely by human activities, especially since industrialisation.

Given this, how are our government reacting? What are they doing/planning to do? Not that much - certainly not enough! You can scour over this speech by the new Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman but you wont find much about action on biodiversity apart from acknowledging interdependence and generalities on wanting to make things better (the emphasis is in fact distinctly on other matters, like money). Lets hope that this is just down to it being early days for the new government. Spelman's department, defra, said this very recently about UK biodiversity assessments /measurements,

Of the 34 component measures within the indicators, over the long-term 10 have shown deterioration, 9 have shown improvement, 2 have shown little or no overall change, 12 had insufficient data for an assessment, and 1 is provided for contextual information and is therefore not assessed.

Not good. Note that by over the long term they appear to mean from the 1970s on! Figures comparing current biodiversity with pre-Second World War, pre- First World War or even pre-industrial levels would be very interesting, though the further back in time we go the harder it is to get reliable data. I'm not that impressed by the current way we gather, treat and use data either.