Earth Matters

Earth’s Living Systems

The web of life consists of networks within networks of living cells, organisms, species and ecosystems and the variety of life at any of these levels is referred to as biodiversity. In the spirit of International Biodiversity Day (May 22nd) I thought it would be fitting to reflect on earth’s many living systems.

Mechanisms of the earth

Let me share the following caption from the book I am reading: The Web of Life by Fritjof Capra.

“Just as the bark of a tree protects the tree’s thin layer of living tissue from damage, life on Earth is surrounded by the protective layer of atmosphere, which shields us from ultraviolet light and other harmful influences and keeps the planet’s temperature just right for life to flourish. Neither the atmosphere above us nor the rocks below us are alive, but both have been shaped and transformed considerably by living organisms, just like the bark and the wood of the tree.”

This is great example of how the patterns of life are repeated in many ways throughout nature, and yet varying cells, organisms, species and ecosystems can be so unique and diverse.  Whether you consider the large scale living system of the earth, or the small scale living system of a cell, life is precious and special. Biodiversity of these systems and within these systems provides the richness and strength for life to adapt and survive. According to an article from the guardian: “research has shown that more diverse ecosystems are better at supplying amenities like food and clean water, and at recovering from shocks like hurricanes.” This is very important to healthcare because healthy ecosystems play a vital role in maintaining mental and physical health. (see the Guardian Article linked below)

Sadly, changing climates, habitat loss and overexploitation of food, medicine and materials are threatening biodiversity. Although the loss of biodiversity is not as widely talked about as climate change, the consequences may be just as detrimental to our society if not more so. In fact, there are many reasons why we should care about preserving the earth’s biodiversity. Nature is not only beautiful and fascinating, but also holds so much economic and scientific potential. (see the link below for the top 10 reasons everyone should care about biodiversity)

Of particular importance to healthcare is the scientific potential of biodiversity. According to the WHO: “Significant medical and pharmacological discoveries are made through a greater understanding of the earth’s biodiversity.” A research report by the WWF titled Vital Sites – A contribution of protected areas to human health suggests that protecting areas such as national parks and nature reserves not only helps preserve wild life and biodiversity, but also contributes to better human health as well. (see the link below for the WHO website)

Perhaps you have heard the philosophy: your body is a temple and should be treated with the utmost respect and care. Many people live by this philosophy and try to make healthy life decisions concerning stress reduction, regular exercise and good food choices. What if we take this philosophy one step further and also view the earth as a temple for all life, respect and care for our environment and try to make sustainable life decisions.

More Information on Biodiversity:

Q&A on Biodiversity – How is biodiversity threatened and what is being done to protect it
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/apr/06/q-and-a-biodiversity

Top 10 Reasons to Care about Biodiversity
http://www.cincinnatibirds.com/wildones/Ten%20Reasons%20to%20Care%20About%20Biodiversity_2_.pdf

The contribution of protected areas to human health: WHO Website
http://www.who.int/globalchange/ecosystems/biodiversity/en/

About the author

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Laura Berndt

Laura Berndt (Hough) is the Manager of Energy & Sustainability in Plant Operations at Sunnybrook.