Biodiv Home

Eöffnungsrede von Ruth Eichhorn (GEO-Magazin Deutschland)

One might think that mankind has more important things to do than trying to save the Folding Door Spider (Antrodiaetidae) from disappearing forever from the face of our Earth.

At least that's what a number of people would like us to believe. Especially some journalists who never seem to question that headline-conscious tycoons with single-cell brains are entitled to exist, but who wouldn't mind the idea of transferring the Northern common house mosquito to the list of highly endangered species. Not that we at GEO magazine don’t understand how this is possible. Being journalists ourselves. We do.

But then, let’s not forget: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore we thought it might not be such a bad idea to take a second look and to invite you, courageously, to this exhibition.

It deals with unimposing (discrete) beings. And only visitors with an eye for details will discover that remarkable creatures and interesting habitats do not only exist in the communities of homo sapiens.

You have had a short opportunity to see some of the images we selected for this exhibition. And I must admit that it is a little weird for a photo editor to introduce a photo show for organisms people normally can hardly see. At least not with the naked eye.

In a world threatened by terrorism, it can seem frivolous to talk about tiny plants and animals, many of us have never even heard of. In this age of information overload a crisis had better be really serious, big and immediate if it wants our attention.

In the glare of cameras and media attention, bombs will always steal the show from problems that burn with a much slower fuse. War, natural disasters, corporate scandals: they provide dramatic headlines against which issues like sustainable development pale in comparison. Preventing climate disasters or ensuring sustainable development is a lot less glamorous and a whole lot more complicated than the marriage problems of Victoria and David Beckham. And discussing the loss of biodiversity is a whole lot quieter than the upcoming election in this country.

But the lack of gripping headlines concerning the steady loss of biodiversity underlines, in a way, how big a problem we face. It is a subject too big for our attention span. But it makes it all the more important that we make an effort to understand. All the more vital that we look closely at the causes and effects. Just because this story doesn’t come in news-bite sizes doesn’t make it any less important.

Let me take a moment to explain why we at GEO took the time to create the exhibit to which we are welcoming you today. It all began with a project called the GEO-Tag der Artenvielfalt or Biodiversity Day.

The first GEO Biodiversity Day took place in 1999. Each event has the same goal: to take a small segment of the European landscape and make a meticulous inventory of all of the plant and animal species found there during 24 hours. This provides us with valuable data on the state of nature in that area. It gives us a baseline for later comparisons, and it allows us to compare the health of one region with another.

The main event, held annually on the first weekend in June, has become a sort of summit meeting of biodiversity experts and an informal exchange program for many of the world’s foremost botanists and zoologists. But those are really only extra benefits to the main purpose.

The more important aspect is the broad participation in our events. Experts, interested novices, and schoolchildren took part in over 200 GEO Biodiversity Day-related events in 2002. In Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Luxemburg, and in Italy. We even had small events in China and, together with the GTZ, events in Columbia and Brazil. Between 10,000 and 20,000 people participated.

All of this shows how successful the GEO Biodiversity Day has become. It is now the largest field research event of its kind in Western and Central Europe.

We believe that it helps build awareness to the fact that nature is all around us. It’s not just something that happens in rain forests, national parks, or on the Discovery Channel. It happens on rooftops, in the middle of traffic circles, in your backyard.

Our partners have taken our idea and made it their own. Whole cities now organize entire weeks of events. Youth groups and environmental associations are participating, institutes, museums, universities. In several German states, or Länder, we even have received the support of the environment ministries. These groups have formed a large network to which we are fortunate enough to have recently added the German Ministry of Environmental Protection as well as the GTZ.

Perhaps the most exciting achievement—if I may briefly speak in the language of headlines and news bites for a minute—was our event last year along the so-called Green Band. The Green Band is the long strip of land on which the Wall stood that used to separate East Germany from West Germany. During its forty years as no-man’s land, it developed into a sanctuary for a remarkably diverse number of plants and animals, many of them endangered. After our event which highlighted the region’s natural habitat, the German federal government agreed to donate some of the areas to the Länder, or states, on the condition that they protect it as a park. In Germany, nature conservation is a task for the Länder, not the federal government.

Protecting and managing our natural resources should become as habitual for us as protecting our historical monuments. Subsidizing the protection of genetic resources of nature should be seen as being as important as subsidizing our opera. Protecting biodiversity doesn’t mean learning to appreciate the twelve types of cockroaches infesting the area under your sink. It means protecting what we know and treading softly on that which we don’t. It means protecting the vast web of life we depend on but of which we can often only see the tip of. And perhaps most importantly, in the context of this exhibit, biodiversity needs to be understood as a remarkable economic treasure which, if well managed in the developing nations that are blessed with it, can represent a way for those nations to allow their citizens to build a better future for themselves while safeguarding their surroundings.

I think we can all agree that this kind of win-win situation is best for all. But if we want to mix ecology with the economy, we have to be able to compare them in like terms. This raises a question with profound economic and philosophical implications for mankind and our collective future: what is biodiversity worth? Is saving the spotted owl worth thousands of logging jobs in the Pacific Northwest? What is it worth to mankind to save an acre of Brazilian rainforest from clear-cutting?

It is not easy to answer these questions. Don’t forget that we live in a world in which the value of a company – a well-defined man-made entity - can vary by billions of dollars in the course of a single day.

But the difficulty of reconciling the abstract values of nature with the immediate concerns of development should not deter us from making the start. The longer the journey, the more important it is that we begin as soon as possible.

This exhibit won’t solve any of these problems—how should it—but I do hope that it will give you an impression of some of our projects that aim to do something more than nothing.

At the very least, enjoy the pictures.

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