In the wake of this week’s UN commission report warning of up to a million plant and animal extinctions in the next couple of decades, biologists in Quebec are raising alarms about species loss that is already happening, while U.S. media focus on the challenge of getting the issue on the agenda.
The coverage from Quebec focuses on two Montreal-area biologists who say they already see the initial impacts that prompted the stark warning from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
“My initial reaction was, ‘Finally they’re talking about it,'” said Pierre-Alexandre Bourgeois, a researcher and conservationist at the Ecomuseum in Ste.-Anne-de-Bellevue, on the city’s West Island. “It’s not just happening around the world, outside Canada. It happens here, in front of our own eyes.”
Maxim Larrivée, head of research and collection at Montreal’s Insectarium, cited the rusty-patched bumble bee as a once-common species that is now extinct in Quebec, and brown snakes, monarch butterflies, and swallows as species that are endangered. “You can just look at your windshield or your bumper. It’s a lot cleaner than it used to be in the 80s and 70s,” he said, adding that citizen science programs can definitely have a positive impact.
“I think every citizen can make a difference,” he told CBC.
But not if people aren’t hearing about the mass extinction crisis—or seeing themselves in the picture.
“Almost everywhere you look, nature is vanishing before our eyes,” the New York Times writes, citing IPBES. “But the report, which was written for world leaders and policy-makers, also wrestled with another big question: Why should anyone care about the loss of nature? Why should countries take drastic steps, as the report urges, to halt the decline in biodiversity?”
Reporter Brad Plumer notes that the IPBES authors “spent a lot of effort trying to frame biodiversity loss as an urgent issue for human well-being,” building on “an entire field of research around ‘ecosystem services;’ scientists try to quantify in dollar terms all the benefits that nature provides to humanity, in order to make an economic case for conservation.”
But “some ecologists have long been skeptical of this line of thinking, and have countered that it’s simply wrong to drive other species to extinction, even if they’re not crucial for economic growth or humanity’s survival,” Plumer notes.
“Life on Earth is an intricate fabric, and it’s not like we’re looking at it from the outside,” said Argentine ecologist Sandra M. Díaz, one of the lead authors of the report. “We are threads in that fabric. If the fabric is getting holes and fraying, that affects us all.”
The other question is whether any message at all on biodiversity is getting through to the wider public. In the U.S., Media Matters for America concluded that prime time shows on ABC, NBC, and MSNBC all ignored the IPBES report release, while three other networks confined themselves to one segment each.“Out of 26 total prime-time news programs on the networks, only three reported on the UN assessment,” Media Matters researcher Ted MacDonald writes for EcoWatch. “On the broadcast networks, neither ABC’s World News Tonight nor NBC Nightly News mentioned the UN biodiversity assessment. Significant segments on these networks instead focused on a Russian airplane fire, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen reporting to prison, and the birth of a royal baby in Britain. CBS Evening News was the only broadcast nightly news program to air a segment on the biodiversity report.”