Biodiversity is the cornerstone of the natural world. The diversity of species – the basic unit of classification of a living organism – of plants, animals, birds, insects, etc. that exist, live, interact, survive, grow, reproduce, expand, thrive or die within our world. It is a measuring stick of the overall health of our environment – how diverse the mix of species are in a particular living space or habitat.
I promised myself when I began writing that I would try to provide a more optimistic view of our natural world. Try to offer solutions and actions we can all do to improve our environment and the many challenges we are facing. But sometimes, particularly with the anthropogenic changes to our climate and overall environmental health of the planet, it is difficult, nearly impossible, to put forth positive ideas and actions without discussing the major hurdles we face as a world community.
You have to make the case for taking positive action. And sometimes it comes with gut wrenching truths.
Nature (living species) is declining globally at a more accelerated rate than any time in human history. Last year a landmark report from the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) stated:
“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
The report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference. But only if we start now at every level from local to global. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”
Sounds like a giant challenge. And it is. But it is doable! Think about what other generations have done and overcome. Think “Great Depression”, and the response by FDR with the New Deal. Think about WWII, and how the “greatest generation” responded with a unified response to building needed military equipment and keep our country running. Think Rosie the Riveter.
This time of Covid, I am hopeful, will also be a time of intense personal reflection and positive change for our global community. We are all spending more time where introspection, and sole-searching is more available to us. We are spending more time with those closest to us. For me, it has made me look more closely at my life. And I’m trying to improve it. I am constantly asking myself “Am I doing what I want to do?” “Am I appreciated in my current position?” “Am I living my best life?” “What things can I do to make a positive difference in the world?” “How can I use my talents to make the things I care about – my children, nature, friends and family, humanity, the future – better?”
Biodiversity and nature’s contribution to people (ecosystem services) are humanity’s most important safety net. But it is under extreme stress. Also from the IPBES: “The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened. The Report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.“
There have been 5 periods of mass extinction in world history. Many scientists believe we are now in the sixth period. Not a good thing.
What can we do? How can we address biodiversity and help preserve our natural world. From Dr. David Hopper at Western Washington University:
What we can do for Habitats:
- Reduce use of pesticides and fertilizers in lawn care. These often run off of lawns intoadjacent lakes and streams with adverse effects for the plants and animals living there.
- Get involved with ecological restoration in your area. Most areas have groups active in restoration. By volunteering, you can help restore habitat for native species and eliminate invasive species, all while learning something about your local plants and animals and getting active out in the fresh air. Do you own land adjacent to ecologically sensitive areas (e.g., woodlands, riparian areas, lakes)? Check with local conservation or restoration groups about the prospects of enhancing or restoring habitat on your property.
For our Waste Stream:
3. Reduce, reuse, and recycle, with an emphasis on the first one. The more we can each reduce our demand for new resources, the less habitat conversion will be necessary to get those resources or the energy to make the products we demand, and the less waste goes into the landfill.
4. Composting both reduces the overall waste stream and thereby the need for landfill space, and it provides natural slow-release fertilizer for your flower or vegetable garden.
5. Use environmentally friendly products for cleaning. This reduces chemical contamination of habitats both during manufacturing and when those chemicals go down the drain. One link of many: http://www.ecomall.com/biz/cleaning.htm.
What Food Choices can we make:
6. Buy organic foods. This helps reduce inputs of fertilizers and pesticides into the environment, which in turn reduces negative impacts on nearby beneficial insects (for pollination and pest control) and adjacent aquatic biodiversity. Organic foods are increasingly available, even in regular supermarkets. Buy sustainably harvested seafood. Many seafoods, though delicious, are not harvested sustainably – either for the individual species itself or for those species that are unlucky enough to be ensnared as “by catch”.
7 Eat less red meat. I love to grill burgers & steaks, but I’ve cut way back. Beef production is particularly harmful to the planet; it requires 160 times more land and produces 11 times more greenhouse gases than staple plant-based foods such as potatoes, wheat, and rice. For every pound of beef produced, the equivalent of 14.8 lbs. of CO2 is released into the atmosphere. That is 36 times the amount for a pound of asparagus. Eat asparagus.
Energy Use – By reducing your energy demand, you reduce both carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming, and the need to disturb habitat for fossil fuel prospecting and extraction. Plus, you save money!
- Aim for energy conservation in your home. Switch to LED lightbulbs. They will last forever, cost slightly more upfront, but pay for themselves. Insulate windows, doors & walls. Turn down the thermostat in winter, up in summer. Take shorter showers. Plant trees!!! Lots of them. They add shade, insulation, and beauty to your yard. Sugar maples are a winner. Home energy audits are often available from your local power companies. They know that it’s more economical to conserve than having to build new power plants. Check out the Home Energy Saver web site.
- Reduce single-person car use. Each gallon of gasoline burned releases ~20 pounds of the greenhouse gas CO2. Car pooling, public transport, walking, and bicycling are often options. Gotta drive? Look into the growing number of fuel efficient vehicles, either gas-electric hybrids or turbo diesel (tdi) models. If you use 100% biodiesel, you can even make your driving “carbon neutral” – no more CO2 released into the atmosphere from your vehicle than was taken up by photosynthesis by the plants used to make your fuel.
- Incorporate renewable energy and/or energy efficiency into your next home. Think about some of the many alternative building and “green landscaping” materials out there. See the Home Energy Saver.
11. VOTE – Keep abreast of legislation affecting biodiversity and support people who demonstrate their support for long-term ecological sustainability. Very key in the upcoming election, where the differences in our choices are very clear!!!
One of my pet peeves is that the teachings about our natural world in elementary and secondary schools is sorely lacking. Some of what we talk about today – biodiversity, ecosystem services, climate change, extinction, etc – should be part of a basic educational curriculum taught in all US schools. It is essential to our everyday lives, and for the long-term thriving of humankind. I will be putting out more educational content in the future targeted at a younger audience.
Remember, all things are connected. Biodiversity is a cornerstone of the health of our global environment. Yes, we can help restore biodiversity. We can have positive impact on the health of our natural environment. We can make a difference. There is a positive path forward – take the steps above. We can do it!