The Biodiversity Crisis

Tuesday 7 October 2014
6.00 - 7.30pm

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Law School Foyer Level 2, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney



In association with Sydney Ideas

What can we all do about the extraordinary environmental, social and economic impacts?

In association with Sydney Ideas

Chair: Professor Christopher Wright
Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies

Professor Lesley Hughes
Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University

Prof. Manfred Lenzen
Professor of Sustainability Research, The University of Sydney


Humans have had an extraordinary impact on the life of the planet. Species extinction rates are 100-1000 times the background rate, mostly from habitat loss and over-exploitation. But rapidly accelerating climatic change due to human activities poses a new, and perhaps the greatest threat of all. Many scientists believe we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event in the Earth’s history, and that the impacts on biodiversity, our life support system, will accelerate over the next century. How did things get this bad? Do we still have a chance to save the Earth? What can we all do?

Professor Lesley Hughes is an ecologist in the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University who studies the impact of climate change on Australian species and ecosystems. In addition to teaching and research at Macquarie, Lesley is active in a number of different conservation and climate-change associated organisations, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), WWF Australia, the Climate Council of Australia, and the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. At Macquarie University she also is the co-director of the Climate Futures Research Centre, the Director of the Biodiversity Node of the NSW Climate Adaptation Hub and the Acting Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Science.


Human activities are causing Earth’s sixth major extinction event —an accelerating decline of the world’s stocks of biological diversity at rates 100 to 1,000 times pre-human levels. Historically, low-impact intrusion into species habitats arose from local demands for food, fuel and living space. However, in today’s increasingly globalized economy, international trade chains accelerate habitat degradation far removed from the place of consumption. Although adverse effects of economic prosperity and economic inequality have been confirmed, the importance of international trade as a driver of threats to species is poorly understood. In recent work we show that a significant number of species are threatened as a result of international trade along complex routes, and that, in particular, consumers in developed countries cause threats to species through their demand of commodities that are ultimately produced in developing countries.

Manfred Lenzen is Professor of Sustainability Research in the School of Physics at the University of Sydney. He has a PhD in Nuclear Physics and 15 years of experience in renewable energy technologies, life-cycle assessment, and carbon footprinting. His current research interests revolve around the application of input-output analysis to global environmental problems. To this end he has recently published an article about international trade driving global species threats in the journal Nature. He currently leads two research initiatives aimed at developing a collaborative research platform to building large-scale physically-extended global multi-region input-output frameworks, employing advanced computation and a cloud environment. He is Associate Editor for the Journal of Industrial Ecology, and is the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Economic Systems Research.