International Biological Diversity Day - May 22nd

the percentage of land with trees three metres or taller, is less than four per cent, the lowest in the metropolitan urban area... - Photo:canva.comthe percentage of land with trees three metres or taller, is less than four per cent, the lowest in the metropolitan urban area... -

The Theme of Biodiversity Day 2024: "Be part of the Plan"

The evolving news on climate disruption, biodiversity loss and social vulnerabilities means we can’t stand alone to make a difference. Being part of groups that want to gather people to respond together is important and having even small wins also helps to sustain participation with very difficult and complex issues over time. 

Knowing our local place too, is part of restoration work for nature. Compared to former days, many of us don’t know a lot about the ecology of the place we live. Things like soil type, average rainfall, direction of seasonal winds, where water flows to and species of plants indigenous to the area, are not commonly known anymore, nor even where to find such information. A local volunteer Friends land restoration group recently led an event for the wider community, and during the welcome, a long-term member of the group spoke of the joy of knowing the rich treasures of the history and ecology of the area through his involvement. The talk and planting activity that followed for volunteers who turned up for the day led some present to enquire about ongoing opportunities for participation.

Finding fulfilment in actions to care for Earth can also be considered a spiritual practice. At a 2017 presentation on food sovereignty, Dr Anne Elvey, poet and researcher pointed to the example of the Good Samaritan who noticed the suffering of the man who had been attacked by robbers and left on the roadside and was moved by compassion to respond. Making the comparison between the injured man in the parable (Luke 10:25-37) and the cries of our Earthly home in great need, Dr Elvey said the Good Samaritan was prepared to notice what was happening and did not turn away.

Taking the analogy offered by Dr Elvey, we could say Earth’s damaged biodiversity is still lying on the roadside. Biodiversity is essential for human existence, yet the rate of its destruction over past decades is unprecedented in history and continues to increase. Overarching global threats to biodiversity stem from climate change, changes to land and sea use, pollution and invasive species.

The local context reveals the details. Here in the Western region of Melbourne the percentage of land with trees three metres or taller, is less than four per cent, the lowest in the metropolitan urban area.[1] The health of grasslands that are natural to the region and also have core benefits is elsewhere rated as critically endangered. Research of urban areas, which is where over half of the world's population lives and set to rise, shows the need to improve habitat and increase connectivity between a range of green spaces to support species, reduce heat in summer, improve air quality and promote wellbeing among other benefits.   

Social connection, listening to one another and learning together about what can be done to support biodiversity in our local place can also be an antidote to the isolation and loneliness that many experience today. Keeping in mind coming generations is another common motivator.

On a bigger scale, sustained grassroots action for the environment has historically been behind new norms such as the protection of the Earth’s ozone layer via the Montreal Protocol of 1987. Concerted efforts of scientists and environmental groups over decades led to the formal recognition that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) hurt the ozone layer and facilitated the reforms that followed. 

Columban missionaries participated in the COP 15 meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity that culminated in 2022, to reflect the voices of the communities where they live and serve, including coastal communities suffering from sea-level rise and communities suffering from massive deforestation.

Columban missionaries continue to be active in the multi-faith group, Faiths for Biodiversity that grew from the engagement with COP 15. The next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity is due to take place from October 21 to November 1, 2024, in Cali, Colombia. Columban missionaries plan to be involved. 

Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM
Peace, Ecology and Justice Office
Columban Mission Centre, Essendon

[1] The Nature Conservancy and Resilient Melbourne (2019) Living Melbourne: Our Metropolitan Urban Forest. 

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