Dr Aaron Bersnstin spoke at the Lowy Wednesday lunch on the human health implications of biodiversity loss.
The talk can be downloaded here.
Bernstein made three major points:
1. The living world is crucially important to our health
2. We generally undervalue the importance living world to our health
3. We need to do a better job of valuing the natural world
We know little about life on Earth, we know perhaps one in five of all species alive today. The most rich and diverse group of organisms we cannon directly see - the microbial world. We are losing species today at a rate not seen in 65 million years. The asteroid impact 65 million years age meant that 50% of all species went extince at that time, it took several million years for those species to come back. Today we are losing species at the same rate. By the most conservative of estimates we expect to lose between 1/3 to 1/2 of all species by the end of this century. The two leading drivers of the species loss are habitat loss and climate change. We are clearly doing very little to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss.
Our health in every concievable way depends on the health of the living world.
How does our health depend on nature?
Two thirds of new drugs come from natural sources, one third are synthesised in the baboratory. Of the 100 most preoscribed drugs in the world, 50 are derived from natural products.
One instructive example is the Pacific Yew tree. This tree had been seen as totally worthless and was felled and discarded by loggers in their desire to get at the pine trees in northern forests. Taxol, a very important anti-cancer drug was found in Pacific Yew tree leaves and bark in a study designed to find bioactive molecules. Taxol is very difficult to synthesise in the laboratory. We still use Yew tree needles to create Taxol in a proces that combines natural and
UN Report on Biodiversity
Ecosystem functions and climate change
Brooke on biodiversity and climate