Global Priorities, Trends, and the
Outlook for the Future
Russell A. Mittermeier
William R. Konstant
Biodiversity, simply stated, is the total expression of life on Earth. The first living organisms, which appeared nearly three billion years ago, were microscopic, unicellular, and, quite literally, a drop in an immense sterile ocean that covered the planet at that time. Through countless millennia of progressive and sometimes catastrophic evolutionary processes, these first fragile experiments with life have yielded the diversity we know today—an enormous yet relatively thin mantle of microbes, fungi, plants, and animals that covers the Earth, a myriad of species of which ours is but one.
We are fast coming to realize that the condition and survival of the human species will ultimately depend on our ability to maintain existing levels of biodiversity and essential ecological processes. Our planet currently faces an array of environmental problems; some we have been dealing with for centuries, others have emerged more recently as global threats. While some progress has been and continues to be made with regard to air and water pollution, hazardous waste disposal, and soil erosion, we are still desperately trying to fathom the consequences of ozone layer depletion and climate change. Furthermore, we have the immense problem of explosive human population growth, especially in the developing countries, and the excessive resource consumption of the developed nations.
Critical though all of these issues may be, we believe that there is one environmental issue that surpasses all others in terms of long-term global impact: that is loss of our planet's biological diversity, that wealth of species, ecosystems, and ecological processes that makes our living planet what it is. After all is said and done—all the recent space