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Julian Caldecott

Memorialising Biodiversity Loss: a Project for Europe



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24 Nov 2009

Global commitments. In 2002, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted the goal of achieving “by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.” This target was endorsed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, by the European Council in 2004 (which hardened it into the aim of halting biodiversity loss by 2010), and by the UN General Assembly in 2005. Thus 2010 is a line in the sand.

Mass extinction. The true scale of current biodiversity loss is vastly under-appreciated. Biologists generally publish papers based on data on the loss or imminent loss of named species, even though the vast majority of species have no names, and the criteria for extinction take decades of negative field observation to fulfil. Thus only the tip of the iceberg is being reported, and finding its way into the media. Yet field conservationists know a different story, one in which the wholesale loss of entire biota within unique ecosystems has become commonplace, in which the contraction and fragmentation of ecological landscapes is committing huge numbers of wild species to extinction, most of them completely unknown to science. Their more realistic view is therefore that mass extinction is now well underway and quickly gaining pace.

The 2010 challenge. Thus many extinctions have already occurred and many millions more cannot now be prevented. There is no sign that our efforts to reduce biodiversity loss are working. The world’s failure to meet its 2010 targets will prompt agonised enquiry into what we have and have not done, what we have learned, and what we should do now. Europe will be at the forefront of this self-examination. We know a lot about how to conserve biodiversity, should the public and politicians wish to listen and act, but too few understand what has been going on and its true significance. Political will cannot grow without this understanding and forcefully-expressed public concern. The need is for millions to see what has been lost, to honour the life forms sacrificed so that humanity might prosper, and to swear to treat the biosphere with greater care. This requires a step-change in awareness, through engagement of the emotions and aesthetic senses as well as the intellect and a commitment to justice and sustainability.

The biodiversity requiem project. It is therefore proposed that Europe embarks, as part of an overall strategy for opposing mass extinction in the post-2010 world, on a project to memorialise lost species and ecosystems on behalf of the global community. This would take the form of a spectacular architectural monument, to act as a symbolic destination for pilgrimage by all people everywhere, a multiplication of fractal memorials in communities throughout Europe and the world, and a web of centres of learning, study and record where the public of all countries can contemplate the mysteries of evolution and ecology. It is proposed that Europe leads the way in this by commissioning the monument, by engaging with schools, nature clubs and museums in all nations, and by funding a system of grants and scholarships to encourage and enable worldwide participation in the commemoration of biodiversity loss and the study of nature, so that humanity will at last learn how to curb our species’ destructive instincts.


  • What a fascinating idea. Perhaps it could be kick-started by the EC inviting submissions for an online resource, open to all the communities mentioned in your proposal, which would then collect submissions and designs for the larger offline project.

    Written by James Arnold-Baker on 24 Nov 2009, at 14:57 Report this comment

  • We, the human race, are about to come face to face with the long-term consequences of our past practices. Opening our hearts and minds to the desperate outcry of all species in the brink of extinction, is our response to the call to change our ways and realize that all life is interconnected by a web of intelligence far beyond our current ability to comprehend its vastness.
    And become aware of the fact that the next species on the scale of extinction is the human race...

    Written by Valacirca on 07 Dec 2009, at 09:39 Report this comment

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