Losing Biodiversity: An Ethical, Ecological, and Political Issue

August 27, 2013

Perspective as written by Sarah Levy, CPAWS Manitoba Public Outreach Coordinator, summer intern

Our imperiled global environment is highly recognized by Canadians and people from all over the world, yet our actions are failing to adequately address one of the direst, tangible consequences: that of biodiversity loss. Due to vast environmental degradation, we have entered into an era commonly referred to as the “anthropocene,” in which many say that humanity is causing a sixth mass extinction of species which would not otherwise be occurring naturally at this time. While the loss of species is a critical issue both in Canada and internationally, it does not garner the attention it deserves, precipitating alarming ethical and environmental ramifications.

When viewing the environmental crisis through an ethical lens, it’s important to recognise that each species existing in nature holds unique intrinsic value, and that humans and nature are inherently interconnected. One of the fundamental reasons why biodiversity loss is occurring is because many people view themselves as being separate from or above nature, and therefore nature and animals as being a means to an end. This perspective is expressed clearly through examining the international endangered species trade, which is one of the main large scale causes of biodiversity loss.1 Policing this illegal activity is a role of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international body that seeks to ensure the protection of endangered wildlife through regulation of its member states. Many believe that CITES lacks teeth and fails to take tangible action in combatting the endangered species trade and that the treaty remains largely unenforced by the international community due primarily to lack of political will. 

The philosophical basis for protecting species and ecosystems is critical, but even if one does not consider the moral roots for preserving nature to be sufficient, it is imperative that species are protected from a practical, environmental perspective. The biological consequences of not curbing mass extinctions are vast; when one species goes extinct, the entire ecosystem, or web of life, is weakened.

Every ecosystem is interconnected, and the species at greatest risk often carries the most serious ecological consequences if lost. A strong example of this is with the polar bear in the Arctic; because the ice is melting due to temperature increase, the polar bear is in great trouble because they are so adapted to life on ice. The polar bear is one of the top predators in the food chain. As their population dwindles, seals and arctic foxes become overpopulated, which throws nature out of balance.  Further to this, due to melting ice, polar bears move closer in land, and they have begun entering human communities, which often creates challenging conflicts between bears and people. This case illustrates the dire ramifications of negatively affecting even a single animal in their ecosystem, for both wildlife and humans alike. Many suggest that this rapidly worsening environmental issue should be given more priority.

Addressing biodiversity loss is extremely pressing for moral and environmental reasons.  Ethically, all creatures have unique fundamental value. Environmentally, each species is essential in maintaining the integrity of ecosystems. The plight of biodiversity loss through the endangered species trade and habitat loss will only be solved if perspectives and priorities change and the political will is established to influence both domestic and international policies.
Please contact CITES to let them know how you feel about their role in protecting ecosystems and species-at-risk.

CITES Secretariat
International Environment House
11 Chemin des Anémones
CH-1219 Châtelaine, Geneva
Tel: +41-(0)22-917-81-39/40
Fax: +41-(0)22-797-34-17
Email: [email protected]

Passionate about biodiversity and conservation, Sarah Levy is presently pursuing a double major in Ethics, Society, and Law and Environmental Studies at the University of Toronto.

1.  Michael Bowman, Peter Davies, and Catherine Redgwell. Lyster’s International Wildlife Law. Cambridge UP. (2010)

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