NEWS

Greece’s huge biodiversity maintains ‘environmenal quality’

In 1995, the Goulandris Museum, with the cooperation of Greek universities, undertook and evaluated a scientific list of proposed sites in Greece for inclusion within the European Network of Special Areas of Conservation – Natura 2000. Data on habitat types and flora and fauna species were collected. The 296 proposed sites were reduced to 269, a total of 2,400,000 hectares. That is 18 percent of the country’s area. Greece has a wide biodiversity at every level (genetic biodiversity, biodiversity of species, biodiversity of plant communities and of habitats, and biodiversity of landscapes). In Greece, we still have undisturbed ecosystems that maintain this biological function as well as large areas, which, although degraded, still keep the… wealth of variety of their flora and fauna… For Greece in particular, this inventory and cartography shows the survival of Greece’s diversity and its resistance to man’s use and abuse over thousands of years. It marks the mosaic of complexity and multiformity of the areas that remained outside man’s exploitation and have therefore kept this biological cohesion and function… No other Mediterranean country… has preserved such extensive biodiversity. Even degraded forests and shrubby areas keep qualitatively their natural composition. Biodiversity provides a wide array of direct benefits for people in the form of food… and other goods, but also serves us in more indirect ways by maintaining the ecological and biophysical processes upon which environmental quality depends, which in turn, is an indispensable anchor to social and political stability. Our understanding of the significance of biodiversity on the functioning of ecosystems is still very limited. For example, science is still exploring the depths of the oceans… Soil contains the highest biodiversity of all ecosystems on Earth. The number of different species in a gram of soil may be in excess of 10,000. …The threat posed to the planet’s ecology became more and more apparent during the second half of the 20th century… What we are experiencing today is a paradox. Excessive success threatens to turn itself into catastrophe by destroying its own achievements and the natural world and its life-support system. To address this problem, a new concept of mankind must be developed that takes into account that man is, on the one hand, a part of nature itself and on the other, man transcends it… …Man has the freedom of choice and thereby declares himself responsible for his actions. And since these actions now threaten the entire planet, his mind is also capable of recognizing its responsibility for the planet’s survival. We can no longer keep silent on these problems… All the sciences which concern nature and all the human beings who are concerned with economics, politics and society must cooperate in drafting a planetary assessment of conditions along with suggestions for arriving at a balance between human being s and nature… …Only an ethics of responsibility, a self-restraining moderation freely accepted can save humanity from the worst. In our acquisition of power and the necessity for its control, the Promethean warning of hubris and revenge has once more emerged. Permit me here to quote from Sophocles’ «Antigone,» in a recent English translation by Professor C.A. Trypanis. The chorus’s interpretation of man’s interference in Nature in the fifth century BC, that is 2,500 years ago, still sounds relevant today. The world is rich with wonders, Yet none more baffling than man. Driven by the stormy South He crosses an ocean white with rage; He opens a path through the waves That hunger to engulf him. He ploughs the old, unwearying earth, Turning the soil with horses, Year after year breaking the furrows. With woven nets he snares the careless birds, The tribes of savage beasts, The sea-brood of the deep – So excellent is his wit. His cunning controls the animals That nest in the wilderness, Or roam across the hills. He has tamed the rich-maned horse, Putting a yoke upon its neck, The wild mountain-bull he has conquered. And he has taught himself to speak, Trained his wind-swift thoughts To build an ordered state. So he escapes the arrows of the frost When it is hard to sleep under the cold sky, Under the slanting shafts of rain. From baffling sickness he has found escape, Anything he can meet – Only death he will never master. How skillfully he comes to evil and to good. When he honors the laws and justice Oh! Zeus, his cities stand proud and tall; But he, who rashly sinks into sin, Is homeless and lost – May I never share his thoughts. Is this the ancestral fate from which man cannot escape? In the last 50 years man’s skills in sciences and technology have brought huge changes to the conditions of life with great discoveries… This has created a perilous imbalance between our knowledge and the power that has been put into our hands. It is a serious strain on our ability to choose how to handle that knowledge and how to apply the potential responsibility it entails. However, modern science presents a unified and impressive picture of the physical world, infinitely beautiful and free, which attempts to bridge Being and Becoming, the microcosm and the macrocosm… …I am convinced that the end of this long journey will mark the merging of the natural and the ethical order. In this immense spectrum of dimensions and complexity, a new world is being built.