Man's disregard for the natural world is monumental, to say the least. However, the need for its conservation is also felt and discussed across the borders.
Recent years have indeed been a 'good' time to realise why we need to protect wildlife in particular, and wild habitats in general.
Researchers have suggested that the novel coronavirus passed from smuggled pangolins to humans at a wet market in China. The virus responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is also thought to have jumped to humans from civets.
Horseshoe bats have also been identified as a natural reservoir of SARS-like coronaviruses. The Ebola virus is also believed to be animal-borne, with bats or nonhuman primates being the most likely source.
Known as zoonotic diseases, these diseases spread when human incursions into wildlife habitat exposes them to these pathogens.
But destruction of disease-bearing wildlife species to protect humans is not an option, because nature does not seem to like it.
Wildlife is an enormous reservoir of pathogens. When a forest is destroyed or degraded, and the host of a pathogen is threatened, the pathogen finds a new host. In the process, it does get transmitted to humans at a stage.
Based on the recent experiences and numerous other studies, environmental experts are now warning that the novel coronavirus will not be the last pandemic to wreak havoc if human beings continue to ignore links between infectious diseases and destruction of the natural world.
Zoonotic diseases are best kept under control by protecting wildlife habitats and preventing exposure to wildlife.
Also, there is this 'dilution effect', which refers to decreased disease risk due to the presence of high diversity in host species.
Thus, recent pandemics have shown that if a wild species is in danger in China, or perhaps in Congo, human lives on the other side of the planet can be lost, and our beloved economy may crumble.
In his book titled 'The Nature of Nature: Why We Need the Wild', Enric Sala, explorer-in-residence of National Geographic explained the many ways the presence of the wild is crucial for human existence and wellbeing.
The topic is already good enough, but the book drew me for a rather funny reason. In June last year, I wrote a piece in The Business Standard titled 'Nature is money'. As Enric Sala's book came out a few months later in August, I was having a look at it, and my eyes got stuck at the chapter 13 of the book: The economics of nature.
The chapter describes somewhat the same things that I wrote in my piece: How preservation of nature contributes to creation of more wealth, and how its destruction eventually translates into economic doom. That was when I gave myself a pat on the back and thought, "Great minds think alike!"
Joke apart, it is really pleasing to see that the prophets of economic growth who place economy over nature conservation can be now dealt with solid science-based economic arguments, thanks to such works.
Enric's book has 14 chapters and a bonus one on the coronavirus which he wrote after the publication of the book was halted by the pandemic, and it is a guide to understanding why preservation of ecosystems and wildlife is so important.
The book is not constituted of just a bunch of theories; it is an essence of Enric Sala's experience gathered from his life's work, where he also assembled many other scientists' and co-workers' knowledge.
For example, Enric describes how Octavio Aburto's PhD research under his supervision resulted in some fascinating discoveries of economic benefits of mangrove forests.
Swimming in the small green mangrove patches in the shores of Baja California during the late 1990s, Enric and Octavio realised that the mangrove trees' intricate mesh of roots provided the main habitat for juvenile snappers.
Once the snappers achieve a size that gives them protection from most predators, they migrate to adult feeding and reproductive grounds in the rocky shores nearby, where they may be caught by fishermen.
Then he goes on to explain how ecosystem services of mangroves -- carbon sequestration, erosion control, protection from storms, food production, and recreation -- can generate far more economic value than converting them for shrimp farming.
Speaking of shrimp farms, Enric identifies them as one of the main drivers of mangrove loss in Southeast Asia.
This we Bangladeshis can relate to, and recall how shrimp culture played a major role in complete destruction of Chakaria Sundarbans, an 18,000 ha mangrove forest at the confluence of the Matamuhuri River at Chakaria in Cox's Bazar district.
As much as the writer talks about the problems that the planet's ecosystems are facing, he goes on to show what needs to be done: How simple changes to our diet, changing the way we farm and market agricultural produce, and of course, preservation of key ecosystems can reverse our course to annihilation. And that makes it different from another doomsday book.
Being an oceanographer, Enric Sala's book focuses more on marine ecosystems, with occasional references to land based ones.
The book is woven with the stories from the writer's childhood, his PhD research in Corsica-- an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, his work as a university professor and his myriads of exploratory adventures and conservation efforts with National Geographic Society, which makes it a really interesting read.