• Alex Taylor

As Biodiversity Declines, So Does Our Interest

We all live online these days. So analysing what we search for is a good indication of what the topics we care about are. Turns out, biodiversity loss is not one of them.

We're not searching for biodiversity

A rather depressing piece of research has been published that seems to suggest that our interest in biodiversity is declining. The research was an analysis of the frequency of Google searches that include the word “biodiversity” between 2004 and 2014. At the end of this time frame, searches were roughly one-third less frequent than at the beginning.

This was a time during which biodiversity around the world grew increasingly threatened. Does this mean that we care less as the species we share the planet with become more scarce?

What the researchers noticed was that the decline in interest mirrored the economy. During the time period, global recession was sandwiched by periods of comparative prosperity. The searches were high, but then fell while the recession took hold. As the recession lifted, the searches had started to rise again.

So it seems that the decline was not an overall decline, but could be a snapshot of the public’s fluctuating attention as ‘more important’ issues were at the forefront of their minds, such as the struggling economy. Worries about employment and pensions and social stability come first, before caring about biodiversity. This also suggests that people see these issues as being separate from biodiversity and the state of the planet. What they don’t seem to realise is that these things are all connected and are profoundly influenced by the natural world.

The scientists who carried out this research say that both of these findings are worrying. As biodiversity is a complex notion, perhaps it is too complicated to resonate with the average citizen and for many of us to discern its value. And perhaps conservationists need to change the way they talk about it.

Some small hope to take from this is that they didn’t examine searches for the words “nature” or “environment” so it is possible that they are used more. They also did not include social media so let’s hope biodiversity is more of a talking point on those platforms.

There are currently two environmental crisis - biodiversity loss and climate change. Of the two, its the latter getting all the attention. Analysis of research funding, scientific publications and press coverage over the past quarter of a century shows that academic interest has swelled in both, but in the mainstream press, climate change is getting all the attention whereas biodiversity is receiving no more attention now than it did in 1992. This has been labelled the “biodiversity communication deficit” and is worrying, given that species extinctions and population declines are rising.

Between 1992 and 2016, climate change received 3.3 times more coverage than biodiversity. Interest in the two diverged sharply after 2006, and by 2016, newspapers mentioned climate eight times for every single mention of biodiversity. Why the difference? I believe its because people think that it affects them more…of course, its all about us! They make stronger links between climate change and food production, our health and other things that people care about. They may perceive it as more urgent, but it is not. Biodiversity is just as important and the crisis is affecting us just as much.

We really have to wake up to the urgency of the plight of our fellow species. It will affect our lives in myriad ways, and we must keep telling people this. Spread the word, pass on the message, never give up trying to convey the fact that we are running out of time! For the planet’s sake, and our own.

#biodiversity #whydontwecare

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