You read that right – 1/5 of all plant species are in danger of becoming extinct. We did this! Now here’s how you can help reverse the tide of extinction sweeping our planet.
It’s no secret that humans have done a number on our planet, but you may not realize just how large of an impact we have had on the planet’s ecosystem – and the species that depend on it. For example, did you know that 86,000 plant species are in danger of extinction?
Last year, the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens in Great Britain published the first comprehensive environmental assessment of the state of the world’s plants. Based on their calculations through random samplings, they concluded that 1 in 5 plants currently in existence are in danger of becoming extinct due to urbanization and destruction of habitat by humans.
Below are the 3 major areas where the most damage is occurring, as well as some actions you can take to make a difference and help save our valuable plant species from extinction:
North America is listed as moderately at risk. While most species are not threatened, urbanization and the allocation of land for the use of grazing or agricultural purposes has destroyed or severely fragmented existing ecosystems. For example, the tallgrass prairie ecosystem used to cover millions of acres in the mid-eastern states, from the Mississippi river to the Rocky Mountains. Once the largest continuous ecosystem in North America, this sea of undulating grasses supported a diverse array of plants and animals, including millions of bison, as well as other grazers and predators and numerous plants species. Today, this ecosystem has been reduced to just one percent of its former mass, the majority of the land it once covered having been converted to agricultural fields.
Brazil is a large country with several distinct biomes throughout. Unfortunately, since the area was first settled by Europeans, over 90 percent of the original Atlantic rainforest has been destroyed, converted to either urban areas or agricultural fields. 6,000 species of plants are known only from Brazil and face current threats of continued deforestation, hydroelectric dams, cattle grazing, and urbanization.
Natural rainforests in Asia are increasingly being cut down in order to establish palm oil plantations. Indonesia, for example, currently has about 14 million acres used for palm oil production and has plans to increase that number to 24 million in the near future. In 2015 alone, the country produced 32 million tons of palm oil, most of which they exported to other countries.
What Can You Do?
One of the repeated themes of the recent assessment of critically endangered plants is that our planet’s ecosystems are being threatened by the burgeoning of the agricultural use of land, whether for crops, many of which are dedicated to livestock feed, or for animal grazing. This means that the choices we make when visiting the grocery store can have a large influence on the future direction of our planet. Avoiding products like palm oil and choosing to buy sustainably grown or local food products can help, as well as considering a plant-based lifestyle. The current risk assessment for plants doesn’t even factor global climate change, which means that the estimate of one in five plants being endangered may very well be unrepresentative of the problem’s severity…. Now, more than ever, it’s important that we take a serious look at what we put on our plate and how that affects the world around us.