A recent issue of Time magazine contains a review of a book that pictures life in the 21st century. "It is scary stuff," Time's reviewer observed, "and a warning the world should heed." The Future in Plain Sight: Nine Clues to the Coming Instability, by Eugene Linden, looks at the Philippines in the year 2050. Linden wrote:
"In the first half of the new century, most of the remaining forests will be cut down, and as few as 30 percent of the animal and plant species once present in the country will survive. Mud slides flowing over denuded fields will wipe out countless homes, and the silt that washes into rivers and lagoons will destroy fisheries.
"A longer, more vigorous typhoon season will play havoc with rice crops, wounding the economy and forcing the nation to import large amounts of food. Guerrilla warfare, disease and hunger will eventually drive down the birthrate, and by 2050 the population will sink to 55 million, 25 percent lower than what it is now."
At that point, things may start to improve, as the rain forest begins to reclaim the hillsides and as the mangroves return to the ravaged coastline. But, Linden writes, much of the country will be damaged beyond repair.
Most of what Linden predicts for 2050 is happening now, except for the population drop. We are in a deep ecological hole, and should be organizing to address the problems.
Conservation International (CI) conducted a massive study of the world's richest megadiversity nations. The Philippines is one of the top 17 megadiversity countries in the world.
Megadiversity refers to the wealth of species, ecosystems, and ecological processes that make up our planet. This diversity is our living natural resource base, our biological capital in the global bank. Its loss is irreversible.
Once a species of plant or animal becomes extinct, it is gone forever. Our mega-problem is not just the loss of individual species, but the loss of entire ecosystems upon which we as living creatures depend for our survival.
Russell A. Mittermeier, president of CI, told his audience at the Meralco Theater recently that the Philippines is a biodiversity superstar. Many of the world's species of plants and animals are endemic to the Philippines. (There is, for example, a rare species of reptile that thrives on pigs and is endemic to the Batasan area.) Because such organisms are found only here and nowhere else, we have a responsibility not just to ourselves but to the world to preserve these gifts from nature. There is, Mittermeier says, a high species diversity in a relatively small land area. The Philippines is ranked either first or second worldwide in biodiversity per unit area.
Mittermeier observes that most of our pristine rain forest and other natural habitats have been lost. The latest number indicates that only about eight percent of 24,000 square kilometers remains intact. Because of this, there is "an even greater packing of biodiversity in the last unspoiled areas that remain."
Conservation International has declared the Philippines the most urgent biodiversity conservation priority on the planet. Mittermeier calculates that "every single piece of natural forest remaining every little piece of biodiversity real estate that still exists is worth more than a comparable piece virtually anywhere else on earth."
Contrary to what some people say, protecting our environment pays for itself. Mittermeier sees our biodiversity as an economic advantage in the international arena. The biodiversity-rich real estate that survives will be increasingly seen as a top international priority for investment. There is also the potential for earning foreign exchange through ecotourism, bioprospecting, and scientific research. The next big medical breakthrough could come from our biodiversity reserves.
Mittermeier cited the example of Costa Rica. It earns $650 million in ecotourism alone. The Philippines has at least as much unique wildlife as Costa Rica does. To capitalize on our biodiversity, we have to make sure this ecological advantage is not eroded or ultimately lost. We have to learn how to use our living biological resources appropriately or face the tragic results of misusing natural resources.
Our forests protect major watersheds and guarantee clean water supplies. Intact ecosystems prevent erosion and serve as a buffer against natural disasters like the mud slides in Central America. Unique plant and animal species can be a global attraction to tourists and scientists and provide income to the countryside. Our rich biodiversity heritage is good for long-term economic development.
What will it be? Apocalypse or megadiversity? The choice is obvious. But we need strong political support, not just from the government but from every citizen, regarding our social and religious obligation to protect our natural megadiversity. Many of us will be long gone by 2050, but our children will reap the consequences if we continue on our self-destructive path. We owe it to our children's children to stop the destruction of our environment and protect its various forms of life.
December 7, 1998
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