Why measuring biodiversity loss is not the most important problem to solve

Biodiversity loss matters

What causes diversity loss in the food system? Monoculture, land-clearing and lack of agro-biodiversity (crop genetic diversity), Source: Food system impacts on biodiversity loss, three levers for food system transformation in support of nature

Biodiversity matters because the extinction of other species can result in ecosystem collapse, which eventually results in our own extinction.

Paradigm shifts

How might we go from A to Z? “A” is the post-war Green Revolution society that avoided world hunger through the baby boom period by intensifying agriculture through chemical inputs, which is now leading us to environmental disaster. “Z” is a hypothetical post-environmental-crisis point of stabilisation where humans and nature live in harmony again.

How might we go from A to Z? “A” is the post-war Green Revolution society that avoided world hunger through the baby boom period by intensifying agriculture through chemical inputs, which is now leading us to environmental disaster. “Z” is a hypothetical post-environmental-crisis point of stabilisation where humans and nature live in harmony again.

Imagine the transition as a set of iterations where each time we loop around the process of creating a new version of our paradigm and assess what is sill missing and we can let go of. The resulting shape is a spiral that moves from A to Z.

Unpacking carbon markets

Ecosystem services: a framework to attempt to broaden the range of value-adding aspects of nature, Source: Aarhus University, department of science

Carbon markets are a direct application of this type of tech industry thinking to the natural world.

Offsetting biodiversity loss requires a paradigm shift

Why is biodiversity metric tunnel vision limiting?

  • Metrics create a layer of abstraction: The idea that one might know the state of an ecosystem just by escalating it into a number can dangerously abstract out parameters that are key in assessing ecosystem health. Ecosystem health has a hyper-localised context and one cannot follow the old global scalable metric frameworks that have served us well economically.
  • Biodiversity simply is not measurable: When wanting to measure biodiversity one is confronted with the infinite complexity of our ecosystems. Are we talking about soil biodiversity? Larger animals? Insects? Plants? Each of these is a discipline of its own.
  • Biodiversity is a lagging metric: Biodiversity loss happens as a consequence of all damaging environmental adversities. It is the downstream effect of poor practices. When learning and doing prevention it is always best to look at leading metrics as these will change first and indicate a change in a positive feedback loop earlier. Biodiversity loss / gain sometimes will take up to 20 years for a region’s ecosystem and emergent species to reappear.
Biospheric integrity or biodiversity loss is really at the centre and the resulting effect of many systemic shifts caused by human activity, it is the lagging indicator of environmental damage. Source: Metabolic

Where do we go from here?

  • Art: art is very fascinating to me as it is the most authentic form of human expression. It is very clear to me artists channel a higher intelligence and create their work without necessarily intellectually understanding it. Art has been directional in our societies and remains the most universal tool of collective narrative building without needing to be explained. However art is always suggestive and never literal therefore the right people need to be paying attention. Many ecological projects incorporate an element of art in them to stretch further down the paradigm shift path, a good example of this is the Sovereign Nature Initiative or people like Neri Oxman.
  • Activism: activism takes political and ecological knowledge and operates through a set of tools that disincentives corporate and citizen behaviour to remain in the status quo when it needs changing. In the current world order activists serve as a myth busting system to call out when self-policed corporate environmental mitigations are performative (also known as greenwashing). They sort of fill the void for a lack of an institutional and forward-thinking governing body in many instances around environmentalism. It is a great way of identifying “what went wrong” in a solution.
  • Systemic ventures: The systemic ventures framework was invented by Metabolic (the parent company of Fresh Ventures, where I currently am an entrepreneur-in-residence). The approach is to use systems thinking tools to map a system that has an issue that needs solving, identify the lever that needs shifting and to implement a long-term profitable solution that addresses the problem. It is somewhere in between impact investing and social ventures with a strong emphasis on systemic understanding. Ventures like these tend to pioneer in an industry often leading the way for other players.
  • Climate tech / green industries: A lot of players in this field will want to invest into a direction that they believe in. They will not do it unless they can offer a traditional VC financial return profile. Hence they will come and push forward a solutions space once proven and marketable.
Imagine that each type of actor drags us in leaps along the transition, some skipping more cycles than others. Art is the furthest ahead, its function is to purely act on paradigms. The last players would be mainstream industries that enter mature markets.
Part of the evolution of paradigm shifts is to cross-pollinate knowledge and approach problems from various disciplines. The emergent behaviour is combinatory intersectional disciplines that incorporate each other’s knowledge and not only reconcile their paradigms but also synthesise them into something greater.

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Product management / tech / the envionment

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Alexandre Karim Howard

Alexandre Karim Howard

Product management / tech / the envionment

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