Caring for Creation: Biodiversity Loss

AUSCP NewsBlogCatholics and Climate Change
Submitted by: Jim Bacik

“Biodiversity loss impacts food supplies and access to clean water – without it we have no future on our planet.” This dire assessment comes from a report by the United Nations Environment Protection Programme. The report attributes this loss to the “human impact on the environment in the past half century causing a “catastrophic decline” in the Earth’s biodiversity unprecedented in human history. In the past 50 years, the earth has lost two-thirds of its wildlife and over 80% of its fresh water population. Modern science tells us that there are some 8 million animal and plant species on earth with about 1 million threatened with extinction, many within decades.

Healthy biodiverse ecosystems contribute to the well-being of our common home and its citizens. For example, intact wetlands help filter out contaminants, so they do not enter our waterways. Soil rich in organic matter helps prevent flood damage and boosts agricultural yield. Preserved rain forests, the home of many indigenous species, keep open the possibility of developing nature-based medicines that benefit the whole human family.

Deforestation, the decrease of forest areas around the world, accelerated by human activity especially agriculture, is the major source of biodiversity loss and the impairment of ecosystems. For example, corporations make a profit turning large sections of the Amazon rainforest into cattle ranches to satisfy the world-wide desire for beef. Likewise, commercial overfishing is a major threat to marine life, putting many species at risk of extinction.

In his 128-page encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis devotes almost five pages to the Loss of Biodiversity. He begins by blaming “short-sighted” commercial enterprises which “plunder” the earth’s resources. The depletion of forests and wetlands entails the loss of species which have “infinite value as God’s creatures.” Because of human activity, “thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us” (n33).

Francis warns against excessive, destructive human interventions in nature. “We seem to think we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something we have created ourselves.” The pope castigates developers who exploit nature for economic benefits and perpetrate “terrible injustices” against vulnerable peoples and poor persons.  We must not be “silent witnesses” to injustices that make “the rest of humanity present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.”

Pope Francis lauds countries that have established sanctuaries on land and in the oceans which prohibit human intervention. He urges the world to pay special attention to protecting areas vital to the health of the earth, such as rainforests and coral reefs, each home to huge numbers of unclassified species. Francis reenforces his plea for conserving biodiversity with a reminder that “all creatures are connected” and “all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.”

Various U.S. environmental groups offer suggestions on what ordinary Americans can do to preserve biodiversity: buy produce from local farmers; consume less meat and more plant-based foods; plant local fruits and vegetables in a backyard or hanging garden; buy more organically produced food, even though it may be more expensive and harder to identify; and respect parks and nature preserves.

Pope Francis invites us to pray in the “great cathedral of creation” and “revel in the grandiose cosmic chant made up of countless creatures, all singing the praises of God.”


What can I do to preserve biodiversity?

About the Author

Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at

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