“Bio-prospecting” is a term used to describe the search for organisms that can provide new drugs, foods, medicines, or other valuable products. Bio-prospectors work for pharmaceutical companies in biodiversity-rich countries trying to discover new species for commercial development and exploitation.
This can result in “bio-piracy” – harvesting indigenous species to create commercial products without compensating the country of origin. Recently, Costa Rica reached an agreement with Merck Pharmaceutical that allowed them to evaluate several species for commercial use in return for $1.1 million dollars for any products developed. This helped to finance the training and employment of new Costa Rican scientists.
People have made medicines from plants for centuries, and today most drugs are derived from chemical compounds from wild plants. For example, the rosy periwinkle produces compounds that treat Hodgkin’s Disease and a deadly form of leukemia. Had this plant from Madagascar become extinct, these two fatal diseases would have claimed many more victims. Each year pharmaceutical companies who have developed life saving compounds from products wild in origin generate $150 Billion in sales and save hundreds of lives. Every species that goes extinct represents one lost opportunity to find a cure for cancer or AIDS. Recent international surveys indicate animals that show particular promise, yet may be lost to extinction.
- Amphibians – Antibiotics, pain killers, chemicals to treat heart disease
- Bears – Acids for treating gall bladder disease, chemicals for osteoporosis
- Cone Snails – Compounds to treat head and brain injuries
- Sharks – Appetite suppressants, drugs to shrink tumors, agents to treat kidney disease
- Horseshoe Crabs – new antibiotics, chemicals to detect cerebral meningitis, compounds that may be more effective in treating AIDS.
What role can we play in helping to secure those needed discoveries? As residents of Our Blue Sphere, we can get involved and support efforts to protect ALL species from endangerment or extinction!
By Rod Harris
In a poem titled “The Rime Of the Ancient Mariner”, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, (1798), reference is made to “Water, Water Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink”.
Water is essential to survival on our planet, and our life on earth cannot exist without safe drinking water. Water covers 70.9% of the Earth’s surface. 97% is found in the oceans, 2.4% in the polar ice caps and glaciers, 1.6% below ground in aquifers and .001% in the air as vapor, clouds, or precipitation. Only about 0.024% of the earth’s vast water supply is available as liquid freshwater in accessible groundwater deposits from rivers, lakes, and streams. The remainder is too salty or is stored as ice, or is to deep underground to extract at affordable prices.
The Water Cycle or Hydrologic Cycle collects, purifies, and distributes the earth’s fixed supply of water. This cycle is considered to be a cycle of natural renewal of water quality. Through evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and transpiration (water loss through evaporation from the surfaces of plants) the Hydrologic Cycle continues to re-supply water to the “water planet”, earth. Surface runoff of water continually re-sculptures the earth. Groundwater replenishes streams and lakes. Water is the number one way in which nutrients are transported between ecosystems.
Humans alter the Water Cycle in three ways.
(1) We withdraw large quantities of freshwater from lakes, rivers, streams and underground sources faster than nature can replace it.
(2) We clear vegetation that increases runoff and reduce infiltration to replace underground aquifers. This also alters weather patterns by reducing transpiration by plants.
(3) We increase flooding by draining wetlands for farming and other purposes. If wetlands are not disturbed or altered they act as a natural flood control by absorbing the overflow of water like a sponge. When we cover many acres of land with roads, parking lots, and buildings it lowers the land’s ability to absorb water, which increases water runoff. The runoff often picks up a variety of harmful water pollutants.
It is estimated that by 2025 half the world will be facing water-based vulnerability. Water demands may exceed supply by as much as 50% making water an enormous commodity in the world economy. As stewards of all the natural resources our earth contains, protecting our freshwater supply is essential to sustaining life on Our Blue Sphere.
Photos by Susie Harris, HarrisPhotos.com
By Rod Harris
“If I do not use this resource, someone else will. The little bit I use or pollute is not enough to matter, and anyway, It’s a renewable resource”.
The idea that open and free access areas with renewable resources are available for use by anyone at little or no charge gave rise to the concept of the “Tragedy of the Commons” by Garrett Hardin (1915-2003). Examples of shared renewable resources, include clean air, underground water supplies, and open ocean and its fish.
There are three types of property or resource rights:
- Private property where individuals or firms own the rights to land, minerals, or other resources.
- Common property, where the rights to certain resources are held by large groups or individuals.
- Open access renewable resources, owned by no one and available for use by anyone at little or no charge.
When the number of users is small, the problem is minimal. However, the cumulative effect leads to exploitation that can ruin the resource. This, in turn, causes total loss of benefits. The concept of satisfying short term needs, causes long term economic and sustainability loss of open-access resources such as clean air or an open ocean fishery.
One solution is to use shared resources at rates well below their estimated sustainable yields by reducing use of the resources, regulating access to the resources or doing both. For example, governments could establish laws limiting the annual harvest of ocean fish that are being harvested above sustainable rates In their coastal waters. Nations could agree to regulate access to open-access renewable resources such as fish in the open ocean.
A second solution might be to convert open-access resources to private ownership. This approach is not practical for global open-access resources, such as the atmosphere, the open ocean, and most wildlife species that cannot be divided up to private property.
Our Blue Sphere is to be shared by all mankind. Environmental decisions whether local, regional, national or global, will ultimately affect our existence. Planet Earth, our home, must become sustainable for us and all future inhabitants!