You are lucky. Life has existed for 3.5 billion years on this planet and you happen to live during the period that has arguably the greatest variety of living organisms ever. And since we have yet to discover even one form of life or fossil life anywhere besides earth this place and this moment could be the most biodiverse period in the 13.8 billion year history of the universe. You are one lucky entity. So how can you enjoy your luck while it lasts? Here are three ways…
Variety is the Spice of Life: Aesthetics and Inspiration:
Every day you take for granted the beauty and meaning of the biodiversity around you. I’m talking about in your backyard, not just in exotic rain forests. And it is impossible to quantify the benefits that you receive as a human from the diverse and novel forms and functions of the organisms around you. For example, artists, scientists, and designers have taken inspiration or directly copied natural forms since the origins of culture. Can you imagine how boring and destitute life would be if you lived on a planet with three kinds of plants, three kinds of animals, and a handful of microorganisms? It is ridiculous to even visualize it. Even 100 of each would probably be pretty bad. (The above photo is of an orchid flower from a botanical garden in Ecuador. According to the signage Ecuador contains more diversity of orchid species than any other country.)
Luckily, you do not live in such a ridiculously un-diverse nightmare world so you might as well enjoy the aesthetics and inspiration that surround you. One way to do so is to nature journal, you could also become a birder, an orchid lover, or an amateur lichenologist. (in the photo you can see some examples of wasp biodiversity from the pages of my nature journal. I appreciate wasps as an amateur and greatly enjoy their various shapes and colors.)
Taste the Rainbow: Edible Biodiversity:
When you were a baby you experienced and appreciated the world by putting things in your mouth. You can still do that as an adult but with a tad more discretion. Eating a variety of foods is one of the greatest pleasures of being human as well as important for good health. Availability of a diversity of food is something we cannot take for granted. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN the diversity of agricultural crops is estimated to have diminished by about %75 percent in the last 100 years. In addition, around three fourths of the world’s food comes from twelve plants and five species of animals (that is starting to sound like our ridiculously boring nightmare world!) As an eater of food you can seek out and support edible biodiversity by showing interest in and supporting the preservation of different types of plant, animal, and fungal food. Not only is it the right thing to do but it is also tasty and nutritious and sometimes adventurous. Speaking of adventurous, check out this funny and controversial article I wrote about eating biodiversity.
Hedging Your Bets: Survival and Resilience:
Why put all your eggs in one basket when there are so many diverse and beautiful different types of baskets? Not only is it unimaginably boring to live on a planet with a handful of species, or to only eat five types of plants, it is also ridiculously precarious to depend entirely on a safety net made of five strands. You might as well enjoy the diversity available to you now while also hedging your bets a little bit. Depending on diversity is always a good strategy during unpredictable times or rapid change. And you live in the most unpredictable and rapidly changing period in human history. For an academic article exemplifying the diversification strategy in a traditional culture check out my essay called Diversity and Adaptation. (In the photo above I am opening an example of a food crop that is delicious and nutritious but virtually unknown outside of South America. It is a relative of breadfruit. This is the type of agrobiodiversity that is being lost every year.)
I’m sure there are more than three main ways to enjoy the uniquely biodiverse period that we are living in. What ways do you enjoy? How do you taste the rainbow? On the flip side what aspects of biodiversity have you noticed yourself or your community taking for granted? In the next article I will talk about the decline in biodiversity and the incredible opportunity and role we can play during what looks like it will be the Sixth Great Extinction.
This rant about biodiversity would not be complete without a diversity of other sources for you to check out:
Biodiversity in Geological Time
What is Happening to Agrobiodiversity?
The 6th Great Extinction
E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation
Growing Biodiversity at OAEC