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  Biodiversity is an abbreviation of \'biological diversity\'; it is generally understood simply as conserving genes, species and ecosystems (Beder, 1996; Diesendorf, 1997).

The Convention on Biological Diversity, presented at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 (see sustainable development), defined biological diversity as (see Shiva, 1993, p. 163):

the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are a part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.This convention was signed by 153 countries at UNCED in Rio de Janeiro. The then President of the USA, George Bush, refused to sign the convention because of apparent concern about property rights from biotechnology companies in the USA, but his successor, Clinton, did sign. The convention has now been signed by 163 states (Osborn and Bigg, 1998) and quickly received the necessary thirty signatures for ratification; it came into effect in December 1993 (McConnell, 1997).

Biodiversity is a concern because of awareness of our limited knowledge of the earth\'s biological diversity, but realization that it is being destroyed. Extinctions are now occurring at a faster rate than in the past due to contemporary agricultural and forestry practices, the destruction of habitats, pollution in ecosystems and the introduction of nonnative species which eradicate an area\'s indigenous species.

Biodiversity is important for a number of reasons. ecologically, it focuses attention on habitat conservation, ecosystems and the importance of all plants and animals. It directs attention away from viewing \'charismatic megafauna\' (e.g. pandas) out of their ecological context. Maintaining biological and cultural diversity is seen as increasing the chances of survival, whereas monoculture is perceived as being vulnerable to disease and other threats (Shiva, 1993, 1995). Tropical rainforests and coral reefs are particularly \'rich\' in biological diversity, thereby justifying their conservation and preservation through measures such as national parks.

Scientifically, focusing on biodiversity helps conserve \'genetic material\' for future generations to learn about life on earth. However, economically this is often conflated with corporations taking the biological resources from one part of the world to a science laboratory located elsewhere, and then patenting the \'new\' product they claim to have created via biotechnology. It is sometimes claimed that the growth of biotechnology enhances biodiversity, but Shiva (1993, 1995) argues that it reduces it by introducing a common gene into many species, or by marginalizing less economically profitable species in favour of the genetically engineered variety (e.g. apples, cattle breeds).

Politically, biodiversity is controversial because most of the \'biological wealth\' is located in the so-called developing countries, while most of the corporations, science laboratories and existing gene pools are located in the richer so-called developed countries. The 1992 Convention of Biological Diversity failed to address the \'theft\' of biological resources that developing countries claim has occurred since colonialism. In contrast, developed countries have argued that biodiversity is part of the \'global commons\' for the benefit of humankind, regardless of where it is located (cf. tragedy of the commons). (PM)

References Beder, S. 1996: The nature of sustainable development, 2nd edn. Newham (Australia): Scribe Publications. Diesendorf, M. 1997: Principles of ecological sustainability. In M. Diesendorf and C. Hamilton, eds, Human ecology, human economy. St. Leonards (Sydney): Allen and Unwin, 64-97. McConnell, F. 1997: The Convention on Biodiversity. In F. Dodds, ed., The way forward: beyond Agenda 21. London: Earthscan, 47-54. Osborn, D. and Bigg, T. 1998: Earth Summit II: outcomes and analysis. London: Earthscan. Shiva, V. 1993: Monocultures of the mind: perspectives on biodiversity and biotechnology. London and New Jersey/Penang (Malaysia): Zed Books/Third World Network. Shiva, V. 1995: Biotechnological development and the conservation of biodiversity. In V. Shiva and I. Moser, eds, Biopolitics: a feminist and ecological reader on biotechnology. London and New Jersey/Penang (Malaysia): Zed Books/Third World Network, 193-213.

Suggested Reading Dobson, A. 1996: Conservation and biodiversity. New York: Scientific American Library Book. Shiva, V. 1997: Biopiracy: the plunder of nature and knowledge. Boston/Toronto: South End Press/Between the Lines.



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