There are many things in life that are connected to one another. With or without any knowledge of certain topics there is a sense or even instinct, that leads to have a feeling that two or more things are related. Biodiversity has many definitions, but the one, that was mostly used in different papers and I came across was the understanding, that biodiversity is “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part. This includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems” (Markandya 2015). Since it is clear that biodiversity is made of many different things, it already begs the question, if this is something that is easy to measure, can you measure it at all and is there a way to put value on biodiversity. Similarly to biodiversity, also definition of human well-being seems to imply the same struggles.
Human well-being “is a human experience that includes the basic materials for a good life, freedom of choice and action, health, good social relations a sense of cultural identify and a sense of security. The sense of well-being is strongly dependent on the specific cultural, geographical, and historical context in which different human societies develop, and is determined by cultural-socioeconomic processes as well as by provision of ecosystem services” (Diaz et al. 2006). Even though this definition itself seems to describe in my opinion all the aspect of human well-being, the perception of well-being can be considerate from anything that human needs to survive (basic needs) to persons status in society and ect. So also putting value and measuring something, that has many different broad definitions also seem challenging, but before realizing how to measure value it is important to understand, if they share something else in common or is there any relation between them.
First of all, the basic understanding how biodiversity loss and human well-being interact is to recognise that everything is connected to one level or another. Everything starts with figuring out that biodiversity influences the processes that are happening in the ecosystems (Diaz et al. 2006). By several species vanishing forever from Earth, processes in ecosystem are starting to change as they have to adapt to doing the same thing as before with smaller variety of species. This does not seem like that big of an issue until the realization, that rate at which species are dying is rapidly growing (Hough 2013). But what is the cause it all?
Humans, ever since industrial revolution, have been changing processes on planet at unbelievably fast rate (Gómez-Baggethun et al. 2010). Different type of pollutions is just a part of the problem, but ecosystem comes in the picture, when production of products and satisfaction of basic human needs are mentioned. For centuries humans have taken advantage of services that are provided by ecosystems, for example, “conversion of natural habitats to agriculture, unsustainable exploitation of living resources, alteration of biogeochemical cycles, substitution of native and wild by exotic and domesticated species, freshwater appropriation and impoundment, human appropriation of primary production and other human activities that generally lead to biodiversity loss” (Naeem et al. 2016).
There have not been many research papers published regarding both topics interacting with each other up until 2014 after the paper by Lovell et al. (Marselle 2019). In a compilation of research paper overview there are given many different correlations between an aspect of biodiversity and its effect on human well-being. For example, in studies about bird species influence on human well-being “ Huby et al. (2006) found positive associations between mental health and greater bird species richness. Similarly, Wolf et al. (2017) found that participants in the high species rich conditions of trees and birds, reported less anxiety, compared to participants in the low species rich conditions. However, Cox et al. (2017) found no influence of morning and afternoon bird species richness on depression, anxiety or stress” (Marselle 2019). And this is just one of the examples, but because of the fact that this field of study is just recently being more discussed, there is not enough evidence between specific species intercorrelation with effect or the way it influences well-being in humans as some report on it having a positive effect, some report on having a negative effect or non effect at all (Marselle 2019). Biodiversity may also influence human well-being not only directly by providing goods and services, but also indirectly in a way where scenary of a landscape or just by the object in nature can positively influence the mood and the well-being of the person at the exact moment (Gowdy 1997).
One of the biggest issue or challenge in the topic of biodiversity loss is the fact, that there are many perceptions of the value of biodiversity from different perspectives. If from ecological point of view biodiversity is listed as one of the priorities and the goal is to strive and keep at safe environment as many species as possible than from economic point of view value of biodiversity is to provide as many goods as it is possible for humans (also in that sense providing everything for their well-being) and the point of the loss of biodiversity comes when there is not enough resources in order to theoretically provide basic ecosystems functions (Gowdy 1997). The biggest issue of these various perception on the values is that when the loss will actually happen and ecosystem functions will be changed, the consequences can be irreversible and so putting at risk human well-being and also initiating new complications, for instance, people losing their jobs like farmers, who are dependant on ecosystem services, would struggle to grow or to sustain their farms and influencing economics by putting higher price on the products so also continuing and creating even bigger inequality gap between several social groups, because higher prices would affect how many people would be able to afford things for basic human survival and well-being (Diaz et al. 2006). And then again when it is clear, that biodiversity loss is influencing human well-being, it is very important to understand if the relation between them is the same on smaller scale.
Second of all, as I mentioned before, another challenge of biodiversity and human well-being, is the way of how they are valued or the struggle to find a way to measure them. Just like understanding the relation between both, also when understanding the way biodiversity loss and human well-being is measured, economics is science that has a huge role and influence regarding these struggles. Understanding the value of human well-being just like for biodiversity is a complicated task as it can be seen from many points of view. Also measurements how to get to an answer and compare well-being of different people are very different. When it comes to measuring human well-being as one of the first things, before using indicators, is the understanding, that they are divided into two groups – subjective and objective perspective of human well-being (Sarvimäki 2006).
Objective indicators, for understanding well-beings is based of a data and values that are received by measuring things, that is considerate to be human basic needs, for example, “the level and stability of income, the conditions of residence, the opportunity of having education, the quality of the social and natural environment, safety and security, and the opportunity to realize social and civil rights and needs” (Alatartseva 2015). Subjective indicators unlike objective ones are based of human emotional world in a way to measure how humans precive happines or pain, where the way of collecting the data for measurements surveys are being used (Dolan et al. 2011). So in a way subjective well-being measurements give dimension to the basic statistical data, but then again there are complications on measuring or using the data of indicators.
When it comes to objective indicators, one of the biggest challenges comes when one of its indicators, that was never actually made to be used for understanding humans well fair, is being expluated in economics is GDP (Kubiszewski et al. 2013). As one of the problems of GDP is that it was first introduced in 1930s; 1940s as a way to keep track and see countries economic growth after the Great Depression and Second World War, but is still used now days as a guidance of human well-being, at least from economic point of view (Costanza et al. 2009). Even though it is easy to measure and compare on a worldwide scale, GDP may also be higher and pay a role on lowering human well-being from subjective perspective. As an example could be that “an oil spill increases GDP because of the associated cost of cleanup and remediation, but it obviously detracts from overall well-being” (Kubiszewski et al. 2013). Ironiclly Gross Domestic product measures something that is considerate as a basic need of the human beings, but at the same time “encourages the depletion of natural resources faster than they can renew themselves” (Costanza et al. 2009). Since the releability of GPD as a measurement of well-being has been discussed, there are also a few alternatives that were suggested, one of them being GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator). GPI can be considerate as improved GDP, where more measurements are being taking into consideration, that play a role of sustainability and overall human well-being, yet also it is not the perfect indicator, but can useful in a sense where it is taken into consideration as it provides with a more accurate number of economic welfare (being more sustainable and influencing well-being) (Kubiszewski et al. 2013). Of course there is a way of combining and finding united view on where is the limit and middle point of biodiversity conservation, without harming the whole ecosystem, and providing enough things to keep humans satisfied.