The United Nations has just come out with their third Global Biodiversity Outlook. It's a big report assessing our progress on protecting life on earth, and the news isn't good. The abundance of vertebrates on the planet fell by a third between 1970 and 2006 and governments have fallen short of their goals to curb that trend. The chart here shows the "red list index": the proportion of species that are expected to survive and how that's changed over time.
As the BBC article on the report notes, this loss of biodiversity isn't just a problem for sentimental treehuggers:
The relationship between nature loss and economic harm is much more than just figurative, the UN believes. An ongoing project known as The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) is attempting to quantify the monetary value of various services that nature provides for us. These services include purifying water and air, protecting coasts from storms and maintaining wildlife for ecotourism. The rationale is that when such services disappear or are degraded, they have to be replaced out of society's coffers. TEEB has already calculated the annual loss of forests at $2-5 trillion, dwarfing costs of the banking crisis.
The "environmental" movement (or whatever we want to call it... I call it not being shortsighted and selfish) has benefitted a lot from the happy harmony between saving money and curbing carbon. When gas prices climb over $4 a gallon, people can understand how what's good for the planet is also good for energy independence and their personal finances.
But at the same time, there's been less of an emphasis on conservation in the old Sierra Club sense. That's in part because there isn't an obvious connection between the loss of biodiversity and your wallet. But that doesn't mean there isn't a connection.