Université libre de Bruxelles / Bioingeneer, plant geneticist
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I study the diversity of African plants. My scientific research allows me to discover environments hosting a remarkable biodiversity, such as tropical forests, but also to see where this biodiversity largely disappeared by over-exploitation. This environmental degradation concerns me, especially when it only benefits private or immediate interests without paying attention to longer-term consequences. The rate of species extinction has dramatically increased over a century and is likely to accelerate further as a result of climate change and pollutions. Extinct species are lost forever, but our existence depends on a large number of species to feed us, cure, clothe, shelter, etc… and no one can predict which new species will benefit future generations. The research of my team shows that we have identified only about half of the tree species from Central Africa, and our knowledge gap is still much deeper for insects or soil micro-organisms. Failure to preserve biodiversity, an heritage of millions of years of evolution, will greatly reduce opportunities for our grandchildren.
What to do then? Personally, I make my daily trips by bike and train, I’ve invested in the insulation of my home, a pellet boiler and solar panels, I favour travels by train rather than by air when possible, I try to buy mainly food produced without pesticides, I eat little meat, I compost vegetable waste and sort as much as possible what remains, and I invest my savings in ethical investments.
But in many respects the current society limits eco-friendly choices: lot of non-recyclable over-wrapping, reduced and expensive long-distance train offers due to low-cost flights, more expensive “eco” products by lack of policy to integrate the cost environmental damage into products prices, … and these choices are even smaller for low-income people.
Humans are fully capable of exploiting natural resources without destroying them, even in the context of intensive and productive exploitation, as long as they value the importance of transmitting the natural environment they have benefited from to future generations. For example, where biodiversity has been devastated by large-scale monocultures, much of it could have been preserved by planning a network of ecological corridors and protected natural habitats. Huge progresses can be achieved by placing the future of humanity at the centre of political choices and by recognizing the importance of environmental quality and the preservation of biodiversity for this future.