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Opinion: In the face of progress, are we becoming 'plant blind'?

By Steve Hopper, for CNN
Is the clock ticking on plant diversity as urban expansion continues apace?
Is the clock ticking on plant diversity as urban expansion continues apace?
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Director says that we are in danger of losing precious plant diversity
  • Need for economic development that is aligned with environmental concerns
  • Main threat to plant diversity is change in land use, says Steve Hopper

Professor Steve Hopper is the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Here he expressed his opinion on biodiversity and the importance of plant life.

Kew, England (CNN) -- Life as we know it would simply not exist without plants.

Biodiversity -- the web of all life on Earth -- depends fundamentally on plants and fungi.

Plants are used by every human being on the planet, every single day. Just think of what you ate for breakfast this morning, the cup of coffee at your desk, the clothes you're wearing.

Plants provide the human race with food, fuel, medicine, clothing and shelter, whether we live in the countryside or a modern city, in Europe or sub-Saharan Africa.

Economic development must go hand in hand with care for the environment.
--Professor Steve Hopper

Plants provide invaluable services, they provide us with the very air we breathe, clean water and fertile soil and they help regulate the climate. Plants also provide habitats and food for mammals, birds and invertebrates around the globe.

But we are living in an age of acute plant blindness. Somehow, while we make great strides in technology, many of us have forgotten the fundamental importance of the very things on which our lives ultimately depend.

They provide a "green backdrop" to the story of charismatic animals at risk and yet without plants, those animals would be at even greater risk of extinction.

Plant diversity is being destroyed at a greater rate than ever before and much of this is due to habitat loss through changes in land use.

What do you think? Leave your comments in the "Sound off" box at the bottom of the page.

Species extinction rates have never been higher and climate change adds greater urgency to the situation.

We believe that economic development must go hand in hand with care for the environment. The United Nations' Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity program (TEEB) is working to put a value on the goods and services we receive from nature. In truth, this is invaluable and we will have no future without a healthy natural world.

At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and other botanic gardens around the world, our plant scientists and horticulturists are working towards effective, science-based conservation solutions to ensure that we leave a healthy and hopeful world to the next generation.

The potential of Kew and botanic gardens to provide science-based practical solutions to many of the world's problems has never been greater. To unlock these solutions requires a modest percentage of the world's financial resources, the dividend could prove invaluable.

Join the CNN debate on biodiversity on August 11. Leave your questions for the panelists and comments in the Sound off box below or on the Earth's Frontiers Facebook page.