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Embrace importance of biodiversity at Science Cafe Concord

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Biodiversity might be an overused buzzword but it’s also a very good thing, and here’s why: It is ecology’s version of capitalism.

Under that metaphor – which is an awesome metaphor, by the way – a place that lacks biodiversity is like the Soviet Union, where planners at the top eliminated competition in the name of efficiency. Just as the USSR collapsed into a rubble pile of bad cars, endless lines and shoddy buildings, places that lack biodiversity tend to collapse due to disease, resource depletion and inability to cope with change.

By contrast, locales with many species of plants, bugs, animals and other living things are the messy marketplaces of ecology, guided by nature’s invisible hand. They can roll with the punches and maximize use of water, minerals and other resources. Plus, they’re more fun to be around.

So if you want to be Ronald Reagan rather than Leonid Brezhnev, don’t groan at “biodiversity” being overused – embrace the concept.

Plus, show up at Science Cafe Concord on Tuesday, where we’ll toss the word around with abandon as we discuss the importance and status of biodiversity in New Hampshire.

“I’m not so worried about term being overused, because the idea isn’t being promulgated among the public – I’d be into more education by its use among the public,” said Peter Bowman, wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Natural Heritage Bureau, who will be one of our three panelists.

The topic is interesting to discuss partly because it’s imprecise. There is no unit of measure for biodiversity – nobody can say “Your backyard has 4.372 KiloNatures on the biodiversity scale” – and yet it’s important for many reasons.

Bowman ticked off some pro-biodiversity arguments.

One is the cautionary principle, which says don’t do damage if you can’t predict the consequences.

“Things interact with one another in ways we don’t understand, and losing some of those could disrupt the natural environment in ways that we can’t predict,” Bowman said.

Another is the utility argument, or to return to our USSR metaphor, environmental realpolitik: “There may be things out there that have value to humans and we don’t want to lose them before we exploit them.”

And then there’s the philosophical, tree-hugger argument: “We want it simply because we care about the natural world and all the things that live in it,” he said.

The anti-biodiversity argument mostly comes down to expense: It is often (always?) more costly and difficult to maintain biodiversity while doing other things that we want, such as having homes and jobs and recreation. Since short-term cost usually overwhelms long-term benefit, biodiversity often gets short shrift.

We won’t give it short shrift tonight, however.

As always, the monthly gathering is free and open to all, upstairs at The Draft Sports Bar starting at 6 p.m. See you there.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)