The ‘immeasurable importance’ of biodiversity

June 30, 2021

“Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness… Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:2, 6).

“Each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous… From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a continuing revelation of the divine… We understand better the importance and meaning of each creature if we contemplate it within the entirety of God’s plan… God wills the interdependence of creatures.”

By Friar Wellington Buarque, Order of Friars Minor
Laudato Si’ Animator and of the Franciscan Province of St. Anthony of Brazil

“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 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.

“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” (LS 32-33).

 Biodiversity is a common good essential for humanity’s survival on Earth. In addition to the value in itself that each species carries, as part of God’s work, biodiversity is essential for human life because of the ecosystem services it can provide.

In a careful reading of Laudato Si’, we find the term biodiversity being mentioned 11 times! Looking at what Pope Francis tells us in Laudato Si’, we realize once again the immeasurable importance and value that the maintenance of ecological diversity has for the care of our common home. This has been backed up by various scientific studies, which annually have their results published by renowned scientific journals known worldwide.

The value of biodiversity has been widely recognized by governments and civil society as a whole, in addition to the growing concern on the part of the great religions about the care for our common home.

For us, Catholics committed to caring for God’s creation, it has been no different! And Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’, since it was published in 2015, has helped to awaken us more and more to this problem.

The loss of biodiversity, we should remember, is a natural event that has always occurred in nature, given that evolutionary processes have led, throughout natural history, to the extinction of many species, for not having presented what we scientists call “evolutionary success.”

What we have seen, however, is that this loss of biodiversity has been dramatically enhanced, and has worsened over the past two centuries, mainly as a result of human action. In other words, the human species, through its action and intervention in nature, has accelerated the extinction and disappearance of species of fauna and flora, due to its indiscriminate way of exploiting and extracting natural resources.

It is estimated that the extinction rate of species today is up to 1,000 times higher than the natural rate, precisely as a result of human intervention. And about this Laudato Si’ tells us, “We have no such right” (LS 33).

Some international agreements have been made in recent decades, aiming to stop this accelerated loss of species, which is intrinsically connected to the gradual increase in global temperature, as well as to the uncontrolled exploitation and devastation of natural areas to be used for agriculture and cattle ranching.

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That’s right: the farming industry has been one of the main parties responsible for the degradation of important biomes (in Brazil, for example, the Amazon), in order to create new areas for pasture and monoculture plantations, which has led to the loss and extinction of species that are still unknown to science!

Still, it’s important to mention that, for example, in the 1960s, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established the so-called Red List of Threatened Species. This list has become an important resource for compiling and providing valuable information on the conservation status of species, with different criteria for classifying the threats and vulnerabilities of the thousands of species already known and studied all over the planet.

It is extremely important to fight the climate emergency and the biodiversity crisis together. This is how we, as Catholics, can live out our faith and care for all members of creation.

We are called to sign the “Healthy Planet, Healthy People” petition that will instruct world leaders at two upcoming United Nations Conferences how to care for our common home the way Pope Francis instructs us in Laudato Si’.

In November, at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), countries must announce their plans to meet the goals of the historic 2015 Paris climate agreement.

At the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity (COP15) in October, world leaders will be able to set meaningful targets to protect creation. Such targets are badly needed in order to define biodiversity management and conservation plans, and should be embraced by countries as a decision that will have a significant impact on reducing or halting the rates of biodiversity loss.

Wellington Buarque is a Friar of the Order of Friars Minor and belongs to the Franciscan Province of St. Anthony of Brazil, based in Recife.

Reflection questions:

  1. Think about the different species you come across in your daily life. Do you think of them as fellow members of creation? If not, what steps can you take to embrace an approach that views all members of creation as part of God’s kingdom?
  2. Signing the “Healthy Planet, Healthy People” petition is a start to making sure world leaders address the biodiversity crisis and climate emergency. What’s another way you can amplify this work by living out your faith and helping to spread the word?

The above reflection and questions were adapted from the July Laudato Si’ Encounter. The spiritual resource is produced monthly for Laudato Si’ Animators, Laudato Si’ Circles, and everyday Catholics to use and help them grow closer to our Creator.

You can find the entire resource, as well as past editions, here. Have an idea for a future resource or blog post? Email us.