Wake-up call to preserve our planet

Biodiversity is life. Biodiversity is our life. This was what United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated at the start of this year's International Year of Biodiversity.

Students look at the winning entries in a biodiversity photo contest displayed at the Science Centre for Education in Bangkok during a recent Science Week. UNESCO

We humans coexist in this world with other species that make important contributions to the survival of the ecosystem, and they should not be neglected.

"Parents gave birth to us, nature gives us an opportunity to live," said Phak-khamon Dangnoi, 51, a science teacher at Tubtong School, Bangkok, at a recent Unesco teacher-training workshop on biodiversity.

Nature consists of an abundance of biodiversity that is intertwined in such a way as to contribute to a balanced environment. That balanced biodiversity leads to the stability and maintenance of the ecosystem, which brings about the purification of air and water, the promotion of biodiversity itself, the moderation of weather extremes and a partial stabilisation of the climate.

"Over the past half-century, human activities have caused an unprecedented decline in biological diversity. Species are becoming extinct a thousand times faster than the natural rate, a loss now being further compounded by climate change," said UN chief Mr Ban.

"The failure to protect biodiversity should be a wake-up call," he said.

The UN proclaimed 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity to raise awareness of the impending crisis and to spur the global community to act.

As for Thailand, the government approved a resolution last year that 2010 be recognised as a "Year of Biodiversity" to promote cooperation in the conservation and use of biodiversity in a more sustainable manner here.

Director of the Science Centre for Education Salin Weerabutra talked about biodiversity education in Thailand.

"In the past, people didn't understand its meaning and were not aware of it. When we learn biology, we learn about plants and animals.

"But now people are more aware of the diversity of lives and [appreciate] that we need to preserve our natural resources and use them for the maximum mutual benefit of the world," she said.

In conserving biodiversity, and as an education agency promoting ethics, Unesco Bangkok has combined the work of ethics with biodiversity in education, to increase awareness of biodiversity and love of life and ways to teach young people about these issues.

"Ethics and biodiversity is about understanding humanity's role among the changes and how we can aid the natural environment to withstand the mutual threats," said Darryl Macer, PhD, Unesco's regional adviser on social and human sciences in Asia and the Pacific.

A Unesco series on teacher-training workshops, hosted in conjunction with the Science Centre for Education, has been used to disseminate knowledge of ethics and biodiversity, through presentations, interactive educational games and feedback from participants.

Science teacher Witoon Tanasivasub from Wat Lat Krabang School, Bangkok, said: "I told my students that the environment is connected to them and how destroying it impacts them. Then they realised they shouldn't destroy [the environment].

"If biodiversity decreases, our choices decrease. For example, some medicines come from forest plants. If they vanish, the biodiversity decreases and opportunities to discover new cures may be lost."

Education is very important, added Sangchan Limjirakan, PhD, of the Institute of Environmental Research, Chulalongkorn University.

"[To learn about ethics and biodiversity] for adults, it should be an exchange of information and experience within a village," she said.

Dr Sangchan gave an example of villagers in the north of Thailand who burn forests to get hed poh (barometer earthstar mushrooms) or nor mai (bamboo shoots).

"Produce flourishes after the burning and the first rain, but carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases. Directly affecting the villagers, this leads to health and smoke inhalation problems. An indirect effect is that the burning can result in monopoly plants and biodiversity decreases," she said.

For more details on the workshop, you may send an email to rushsap.bgk@unesco.org .

Kantanach Chayapong is an intern at Unesco Bangkok. She has a master's degree in management from the University of Warwick, in the UK. She can be contacted at k.chayapong@unesco.org .

About the author

Writer: Kantanach Chayapong
Position: An intern at Unesco Bangkok